Patriots-Dolphin Game Exposes New England’s Weaknesses

Final Score: New England: 49, Miami: 28.

Well, congrats to the New England Pats. Brady executed a near flawless game against a torn, deflated, and winless Miami secondary. Despite a few incomplete passes and nearly being sacked four times (only one of which was official), Brady got a perfect passer rating, mostly due to a whopping six touchdowns.

In fact, no one expected much less from New England and they performed as well as expected, if not better against the worst team in the NFL (Miami) - at least as far as the standings go.

The game was well more than a 10-point difference for which I had hoped, at one time being a 35 point difference (42-7), but ending as a 21 game difference. However, it was still well away from one Boston fan’s hope for a 74 point difference and a shut out. If this were “The Price Is Right”, I would have won the Chrysler Sebring convertible for being closest without going over. Thankfully for that wild-eyed New England fan, it was the NFL, not a game show, and I don’t like Sebring’s anyway.

New England scored no more against Miami than they did last week against previously undefeated Dallas. Well, one point more. But you would have thought they would have done better. The Pats scored all their points in their slim 24 minutes of possession, although one of New England’s goals came from a kick return for a touchdown.

We could pick apart Miami to death, but there would be no point. Already losing 6 games before this contest, their flaws are noteworthy and well-established.

What this game was, as I predicted it would be, was a tutorial for other teams on how to defeat the Patriots - or a tutorial for the Pats to fix their problems before their little winning streak ends.

And those were glaringly obvious today.

We learned that the Patriots have no running game anymore. They once did. But the Dolphins defense - notoriously weak in stopping the run the past six games - held the Pats to 84 yards rushing. The Dolphins have the 31st worst rushing defense in the league. Which means good teams should be able to stuff the run down the throat of the Pats even more so.

We also saw how ineffective their team is when Brady isn’t the quarterback. Backup quarterback Matt Cassel had two incomplete passes and an interception in his first three snaps. He was promptly yanked by Belichick and Brady put back in. What does this mean to other teams? Maybe not much. As long as Brady stays healthy we can expect the Pats to do well. But by all appearances today, the Pats don’t have much of a fallback plan if Brady goes out. Even knocking Brady out of the game for a few plays could prove beneficial to other teams.

If you watched the game, or if you know Brady as well as Dolphins do, you’ll know his utter disdain (and ability to be rattled) from being hit. Even late hits could be worth their price in gold, even with the penalty yardage, when it comes to pretty boy Brady. Unlike tougher quarterbacks around the league, like Steelers Roethlisberger, the Manning brothers, Kurt Warner, and even the new (ex-Dolphin) Sage Rosenthals, Tom Brady is known for being a wuss. He hates being touched at all. So getting in his face would seem a sure way to get him off his game.

Of course, the Dolphins didn’t have the defense powerful enough to do that effectively (other than sour looks by Brady which don’t count for much on the scoreboard), but other teams with far better defenses will certainly look to exploit that angle.

We also never saw Brady once out of the pocket today. That is a key for every team - rush early, rush often, hit late, hit often. Keep Brady on the ropes. Clearly, without him, they have no running game, and they have no other quarterbacks who can make significant contributions. By the way, I’m not advocating cheap shots or unsportsmanlike conduct, but the league’s newer rules for late hits are ridiculous. They have attributed directly to the rise of shootout football. Rushers should make sure Brady feels the dirt and mud of the game on every play possible. As long as it’s in keeping with traditional sportsmanship of football (and not new rules designed to make football some hybrid of figure skating and water polo), then I have no problem with it. If it causes a flag occasionally by an over-sensitive ref, so be it. Take the 15 yards and do it again. In other words, make Brady play football - not some backyard deep route two-hand touch game. Who wouldn’t want to be the quarterback in that situation.

Of course, I would have given this advice to any team going against Marino all those years. Rarely was it heeded, but when it was - the Dolphins lost.

One other important note: When the Pat’s opponent grinds out the ball, as the Fins did in the second half, keeping Brady on the sidelines, he paces. Like a caged lion. He can’t stand not playing. He gets frustrated. Say what you want about whether or not his frustration produces mistakes (we didn’t see any today), but its arguably better to have a frustrated quarterback than a calm, collected one. Brady loves to have a shootout. Don’t give it to him. Keep him benched and you stand a chance to win. Put him on the field and let him sit in the pocket for four out of five plays, and you will certainly lose. The only question will be… by how much.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, the Pats don’t have much of a run defense. This would correspond great for a team that likes to run. Grind it out, keep Brady pacing on the sideline, and make long, slow drives that result in touchdowns. Even if Brady gets on and produces a TD in return in less than 3 minutes (as he did today), as the game wears on, he’ll grow increasingly frustrated. Monopolize on that frustration with frequent rushes, a few late hits, dirtying up his uniform, and his effectiveness will go way down.

So far, no team has been able to do this. They instead let the Patriots play “their” game and try to react against it. The Dolphins did the same for the first half. Which is why it was 42-7 at the half. In the second half, what might be lost on some people, is that when the Fins played like I advised above, they won. 21-7 Dolphins in the second half. But the damage was done in the first half.

Some might argue that the Pats played softer after securing a wide lead. Maybe so. But I’d prefer not to speculate and just call the facts as they were. The Patriots can be beaten if teams will take the time to execute this strategy against them.

If not, the Pats will go undefeated. Not so much because of any greatness on their part, but because of scared and broken strategies by their opponents.

The good news for those who want to see the Pats fall from grace (and I’m not one of them) is that the upcoming schedule promises a bevy of teams that have the muscle and power to utilize these strategies should they choose. Whether they will or not remains to be seen.

The nearest and most obvious challenger is the Colts. Not only can they respond to New England’s ferociously fast passing offense, they have the fifth best rushing offense in the NFL right now. They also have the third best pass defense. They will give Brady and company fits. Even more dangerous is the Steelers, but before they’ll get a chance, the Eagles will have given the Pats a run for the money. At the end of the season, depending on the health and mobility of the Pats, the Fins and the Giants could be positioned to add a few more losses to the Pats.

The Pats won’t go undefeated. Nearly every NFL commentator outside Boston agrees. But I’d like think that the Dolphins demonstrated this week a few tips on how to get at the Patriots.

Let the wise take heed.

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This is what people think might be the Achilles heal. The Patriots think that they can just core 6 or 7 touchdowns a game without much opposition. Then sooner or later, they’ll relax and some mediocre team will challenge them. What a conundrum!

I have to admit, I didn’t watch much of the second half because I find these kind of games boring. Watching receivers catch long bombs in the end zone with no hands — just using one lone bicep to cuddle the ball while fighting off a double team of defenders — it really didn’t look fair. And I sort of felt sorry for the Dolphins fans who paid hundreds of dollars to see this game. Not that Patriots fans haven’t suffered the same indignity — it’s just that in New England we are used to suffering. Miami just assumes their teams will always win. They aren’t used to humiliation, so I almost felt sorry.

The game was so lopsided that CBS didn’t think they had any more viewers left, so they had to switch to a real competition Buffalo vs. Carolina.

Go Red Sox! Whether they win or lose tonight, just remember this. The Fenway Faithful got them there.

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