But just because the Patriots did not emerge from South Beach victorious doesn’t mean everything went poorly. As usual, both the positive and negative are noted in this week’s New England Patriots Report Card…
This grade might seem harsh, but there are a number of areas that continue to be frustrating with the Patriots performance.
On offense, the pre-snap motion worked last week against the Bills. The fast-paced offense getting up to the line of scrimmage was effective. Getting the ball to Hunter Henry is effective. Running the ball on second-and-long is not effective. Throwing the ball down the sideline is not effective. So why does New England repeatedly stop doing what is working? The old Patriots teams would run the same play 100 times in a row if it worked. After an encouraging game against Buffalo, Sunday felt like an obvious step backward. The personnel changes at guard were also a head scratcher, as Sidy Sow played great, but was rotated with Atonio Mafi and Cole Strange regularly.
The defensive game plan in New England has been to take away the other team’s best weapon for over 20 years. Against Tyreek Hill on Sunday, the defense failed in that regard. After defending both Hill and Jaylen Waddle well in their first meeting this season, things did not go as smoothly in Miami. The duo combined for 15 receptions, 233 yards and two touchdowns. On Hill’s touchdown reception, he simply ran in between J.C. Jackson and Marte Mapu to get wide open and score. On Waddle’s touchdown, there wasn’t a Patriots defender in the screen. How are these guys so wide open? Even while causing two turnovers, the defense never seemed to make Miami feel uncomfortable. The talent gap, especially with the injuries in New England, played a part. But allowing 34 points despite forcing multiple turnovers is just not good.
Miami caused problems for New England all day, and neither the Patriots players nor their coaches had enough answers.
Mac Jones followed up his best game of the season with a subpar performance. His final numbers were not awful, but they did not tell the whole story. Jones finished 19-for-29, 161 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. But the story, as it usually is, was ball security. With the Patriots driving deep into Dolphins territory to close out the first half, Jones floated a ball toward the end zone that was intercepted by Jalen Ramsey. It was a bad decision, a bad read and a bad throw. Instead of New England being able to tie up the game before halftime, Miami added three more points. The Patriots trailed by 10 going into halftime and it seemed to affect Jones’ confidence of the remainder of the game.
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) October 29, 2023
Unlike the Buffalo game, Jones seemed less calm in the pocket. He was sacked three times, but not all can be blamed on protection. It is up to the quarterback to get the ball out quickly. If the play doesn’t develop is the appropriate amount of time, Mac Jones either needs to be running or throwing it away. Standing in the pocket to pump fake twice is going to end poorly for the Patriots every time.
Jones also showed some indecisiveness on a third down rollout play in the fourth quarter when Kader Kohou of the Dolphins stood in between Jones and his intended receiver (Jalen Reagor) in the end zone and easily defended the pass. Again, it appeared the lack of deciciveness was as much of a factor as the execution. Although the Patriots scored on the next play, a fourth down touchdown to JuJu Smith-Schuster, it was a potentially costly play at the time.
Mac Jones has said he is at his best when he is having fun. He did not look like he was having fun in Miami.
Running Backs: C
Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott played fine. They are not put in particularly good situations on the second-and-long runs that fool nobody. It would be nice to see Elliott more involved in the passing game. He had no targets on the afternoon. Stevenson had four targets, making two receptions for 11 yards. Their running combined for 75 yards on 17 carries. As with much of the season, the running backs are neither winning not losing games for the Patriots. It might be time to let them try to be a deciding factor. Elliott in particular feels like he could be more involved than he has been. Rhamondre Stevenson is still looking to find the right balance between being patient and dancing in the backfield.
Wide Receivers: C
Kendrick Bourne was the biggest playmaker from this group, and his injury shortened his afternoon. He still led the Patriots in receiving yards, but that total was only 36. Bourne had three receptions, including a touchdown, which was New England’s offensive highlight of the afternoon. He will be sorely missed moving forward.
.@Patriots take the lead on the Kendrick Bourne touchdown!
— NFL (@NFL) October 29, 2023
Demario Douglas was involved quite a bit and finished with five receptions, but totaled only 25 yards. DeVante Parker had a 14-yard reception, before being injured on his second target (no flag) and being forced to leave the game with a head injury. JuJu Smith-Schuster was only involved in two plays: a three-yard touchdown reception on fourth down, and a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty which ended the game. Jalen Reagor and Ty Montgomery were non-factors. The two touchdowns are the only thing preventing this grade from being lower. In fairness to this group however, there were a few opportunities for Jones to hit guys across the middle, and he was either looking elsewhere or simply didn’t get the ball out on time.
Tight Ends: B-minus
This is a tough group to grade because they are not used enough. Pharaoh Brown caught both of his targets for 33 yards. Hunter Henry caught all three of his targets for 28 yards. Mike Gesicki caught two of three targets for 11 yards. The total production from the group: seven receptions and 72 yards, which is a solid afternoon. Brown continues to excel in the blocking game as well. Gesicki only had 15 snaps on the afternoon, making him the in effect the third tight end. He is not as strong in the blocking game, and if he cannot contribute there he needs to be a difference maker as a receiver, which he was not.
Offensive Line: B-minus
Maybe this is generous, but the offensive line did not appear to be the problem on Sunday. The running game again got some push against a good Dolphins front. As stated above, they did allow three sacks, but Mac Jones shares in some of that blame. There was only one sack where Jones had no chance.
Trent Brown did not play great at left tackle, but he was clearly dealing with some of the aftermath of the ankle injury he suffered the previous week. He still managed to play 100% of the snaps, as did David Andrews and Mike Onwenu. Andrews was beat on the Christian Wilkins sack. That is a tough matchup for any center and Sunday was no different. Wilkins had a big game for Miami. Onwenu was beaten badly on the Jaelen Phillips sack around the end. It was reminiscent of the play New England had gotten at right tackles prior to moving Onwenu there last week.
The New England Patriots rotated their guards, Cole Strange, Sidy Sow, and Atonio Mafi. Sow had the best game of the three as he continues to look very comfortable playing guard. It is unclear why the Patriots felt the need to rotate after the line played so well against Buffalo. Perhaps it is a matter of health/conditioning for Cole Strange. Atonio Mafi’s play did not warrant him taking snaps over other options. It would be nice to see Sow lock in the right guard spot.
Defensive Line: C-plus
Christian Barmore continues to be a difference maker for the Patriots. When he is healthy, he is a very disruptive player out there. Keion White also played a solid game, including a big tackle for loss highlight. Veterans Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise continue to have disappointing years after being so solid for so long in New England. Guy played 39 defensive snaps and was not noticeable. Wise came into the game banged up, and White ended up taking a significant number of his snaps away. Neither Guy not White was a factor on Sunday. Same goes for Sam Roberts. Davon Godchaux was stout on the inside once again. If everyone can get healthy, Barmore, White and Godchaux are good building blocks for a solid front in 2024 and beyond.
Christian Barmore powers through a double team for the sack on Tua Tagovailoa.
He's playing fantastic football right now pic.twitter.com/dH2D6B1WxR
— Ben Brown 🌻 (@BenBrownPL) October 29, 2023
The New England Patriots linebackers played a very solid game on Sunday, especially since captain Ja’Whaun Bentley was forced to exit with a hamstring injury. With Bentley leaving and both Matthew Judon and Josh Uche already out, there was a lot of pressure on the backups to perform. They did a very good job. Anfernee Jennings made a nice play to bring in the fumble recovery to start the second half. He got momentum, at least temporarily, on New England’s side.
Jahlani Tavai continues to play very well this season. He finished with seven tackles and a pass defended. Tavai did miss a tackle that went for a big Miami gain, but he then made consecutive solid plays of his own to force a Dolphins punt. He continues to be a bright spot for New England this season. Due to Benltey’s injury, Mack Wilson, Sr. saw his most extensive time of the season due to the Bentley injury. He had four tackles, including one for a loss. There were times he looked too aggressive and over-pursued, but a generally solid showing for Wilson.
Defensive Backs: C-minus
This grade could and would be significantly worse, if not for the play of the New England Patriots safety-duo Kyle Dugger and Jabrill Peppers. Dugger led the team with nine tackles, grabbed an interception, and recorded a sack. He played his best game of the season and was New England’s defensive star of the game. Peppers was solid once again with four tackles, including one for loss. Injuries are obviously affecting the play of the cornerbacks.
With Christian Gonzalez out, everyone else needs to stop up a notch and they were unable to do so on Sunday. J.C. Jackson really struggled, aside from the questionable pass interference call that went against him. Obviously, the Dolphins passing game is no easy feat for any defensive backfield, but New England was not up to the challenge. Communication appeared to be a major issue on both Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle’s touchdown receptions. Jonathan Jones, Jack Jones, and Myles Bryant all struggled to varying degrees.
Jack Jones does not look game-ready since coming off IR. Bryant made a nice tackle on a completion to Hill, but lacked awareness of the first down marker enabling Hill to pick up a big first down for the Dolphins. Marte Mapu was playing safety when he let Hill run by him in coverage. He looks tentative and somewhat lost out there so far this season. After suggesting his role expand in last week’s Mid-Week Mailbag it was good to see him on the field, albeit not in a preferred way.
.@KingDugg_3 bringing it the other way!
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) October 29, 2023
Special Teams: B-plus
Another solid effort from the special teams unit. Punter Bryce Baringer continues to impress. He has been very solid for the New England Patriots this season. Kicker Chad Ryland hit his only field goal attempt and made both extra points. The coverage teams allowed some yardage from former Patriots draft pick Braxton Berrios, but nothing outrageous. Very good on the whole.