Phil Perry

Patriots Report Card: Trouble in the trenches costs Pats vs. Dolphins

New England lost the battle on both sides of the line of scrimmage Sunday night.

NBC Universal, Inc.

FOXBORO, Mass. -- The Patriots had a chance in this one.

Despite rolling out an offensive line that lacked continuity -- Left tackle Vederian Lowe, left guard Cole Strange and right guard Mike Onwenu all made their season debuts Sunday night -- and despite lacking the firepower their opponent possessed in spades, the Patriots were an inch away from having a chance to tie the Dolphins in the fourth quarter Sunday night.

Didn't happen. Strange was ruled short of the line to gain after a bold lateral from tight end Mike Gesicki on fourth-and-4, and Bill Belichick's team fell to 0-2 for the first time since 2001.

What was there to like about the Patriots' performance Sunday, and which position groups left something to be desired?

Let's get to the grades... 

Quarterback: B

Mac Jones was under pressure on 36 percent of his dropbacks, completing eight passes for 64 yards and a touchdown. This may have been one of his best off-script games as a pro.

He rolled to his right and extended the play to find Hunter Henry in the end zone. He hit 19 miles per hour, according to Next Gen Stats, to convert a late third-and-18. He converted another third down on a short fade-away throw to Rhamondre Stevenson with pressure getting to him.

He rolled to his left for a first-down strike along the sideline to JuJu Smith-Schuster. He converted another third down over the middle to Smith-Schuster on an anticipation floater when he was hit as he released. Another scrambling completion to Smith-Schuster got them to the goal line late in the fourth quarter.

It was far from perfect. His 50-50 lob to DeVante Parker resulted in a costly turnover. That docks this grade. But with no running game to speak of... no down-the-field passing game... and with little in the way of protection... it was his second consecutive good (but not great) performance of the season.

Running Back: C

The Patriots have to hope that as their offensive line gets healthier -- and as guards Mike Onwenu and Cole Strange get their legs under them after missing the vast majority of the team's summer practice time -- that they'll get more out of this position. Right now it's not pretty.

Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott combined to average 3.2 yards per carry on Sunday.  That's after they averaged 2.8 yards per carry in Week 1. At least that initial performance was against a stout defensive line. The Dolphins had just given up 233 yards on the ground (a ridiculous 5.8 per carry) the week before traveling to New England.

🔊 Patriots Talk: Patriots’ self-inflicted wounds doom them vs. Dolphins Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Stevenson had one run for 12 yards as the highlight of his 50-yard, one-score day. But Elliott doesn't appear to give the team much in the way of a dynamic threat in the backfield.

Wide Receiver: C-

Parker made contributions in his first game of the season -- six grabs for 57 yards -- but his biggest miscue came on a football he never touched.

Ever go to Patriots training camp practice and see a red line traveling parallel to the sideline, about five yards inside the sideline? It's there so that receivers understand how to run routes down the field while giving quarterbacks ample room to throw in the direction of the sideline without throwing out of bounds. If a receiver can control the red line, he can give his quarterback a chance to the boundary.

Not that the Jones was interception without fault -- I'm not sure Parker ever looked open -- but for the receiver to have both feet out of bounds as the ball got to him... that's the definition of not giving the quarterback a chance. It's a more competitive play -- Parker is supposed to be a 50-50 threat -- if the intended target doesn't get so significantly jostled off the (imaginary, on game day) red line.

Parker was limping through the locker room after the game and is clearly still dealing with a knee issue that kept him limited in practice all week. Demario Douglas' first-quarter fumble also looms large here. 

Tight End: B+

Mike Gesicki and Hunter Henry combined for 11 catches for 85 yards and a touchdown on 13 targets, and Gesicki's heads-up play to lateral to Cole Strange on the last Patriots snap of the game gave this grade a boost.

It was worth noting that with the Patriots running their hurry-up offense and trying to come back late in the game, they leaned on their 12-personnel package. Could the Patriots have found some 11-personnel looks they liked? If Douglas had been an option -- he had 19 yards after the catch on two catches -- would he have bumped Gesicki off the field?

Out there or not out there, the tight ends did well with the opportunities they got. Henry's touchdown catch in traffic was another example of Jones showing real trust in his veteran target.

Offensive Line: D

Four sacks hurt. Several seemed avoidable. Vederian Lowe going one-on-one with Bradley Chubb late in the fourth quarter was perhaps a doomed-from-the-start kind of rep. But Cole Strange seemed to allow a free runner when there was some confusion along the interior thanks to a Dolphins second-level rusher.

Strange also seemed to be on the scene when immediate pressure got to Jones on the final Patriots snap of the game -- the only option Jones had to throw to there was Gesicki because he was the only one with his head turned that quickly.

Atonio Mafi was beaten badly for a sack after he filled in for Onwenu. Calvin Anderson allowed a stuffed run on third-and-short and gave up a sack to Andrew Van Ginkel despite a strong chip from Henry on Van Ginkel at the snap. Between the per-carry average in the run game and the 36 percent pressure rate on Jones dropbacks… rough night. 

Special Teams: B+

The Brenden Schooler blocked field goal was a thing of beauty. And would you believe the tell the Patriots picked up from the Dolphins was thanks to their former punter and holder Jake Bailey?

Former Colts punter and holder Pat McAfee did a phenomenal breakdown of how it looked from his vantage point. A deep breath from Bailey right before the snap seemed to be the trigger for Schooler to start his sprint.

Nice game from Bryce Baringer here, too. He had three of his four punts drop inside the 20 with a long of 58. And Chad Ryland made his first-ever field goal from 49 yards out.

Chris Board's moving-during-the-kick penalty -- on a touchback, no less -- docks this grade from getting to A-level. The punt team also allowed a late-game 18-yard punt return. It should've been brought back by a block-in-the-back call, but it wasn't flagged.

Defensive Line: C-

The lowlight here was a between-the-tackles run where both Davon Godchaux and Daniel Ekuale got walled off to allow Raheem Mostert to get to the second level untouched on his way to a 43-yard touchdown run.

As a team, the Patriots allowed 4.8 yards per carry. Both Godchaux and Christian Barmore missed tackles in the run game. This unit also came up with just one pressure as Tua Tagovailoa had the football out very quickly over the course of the game. Just not an impactful day from this group.

Linebacker: C+

Josh Uche came up with four pressures. Matthew Judon had two more, including a sack. But Both Uche and Jahlani Tavai gave up the edge on chunk Dolphins run plays. Ja'Whaun Bentley uncharacteristically missed a pair of tackles, hurting this grade as well.

Secondary: B-

This unit wasn't without fault in the running game, either. Peppers was kicking himself after the game for missing a run-stuff opportunity on what turned into a long gainer. Both Peppers and Kyle Dugger were on the field for Mostert's long touchdown, with Dugger seemingly taking a poor angle as the last line of defense to stop the Dolphins back with sprinter speed. Christian Gonzalez was targeted on a couple of wide runs that put him in the difficult position of trying to bottle up the edge of the Miami running game. (They got him on a Patriots staple -- "crack toss" -- early in the game for 10 yards.)

But what Gonzalez did in coverage here helps buoy this grade. He made his first pick, he helped hold Tyreek Hill (with safety help) to a meager stat line, and now through two weeks he's the third-highest graded corner in football, per Pro Football Focus. Bright spot.

Contact Us