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12 Dec 2006

Any Given Sunday: Dolphins over Patriots

by Ned Macey

The Patriots had played with fire the previous two games. They turned it over eight times but managed to escape with wins over Chicago and Detroit. There was no escape on Sunday when Miami's pass rush punished Tom Brady, and the Dolphins posted a 21-0 whipping.

The Dolphins have now won five of six games. Their one loss, a week ago to Jacksonville, looks less troubling in light of that team's demolition of Indianapolis. At 6-7, this improvement is definitely too little, too late. Sadly, the Dolphins are again going to be just short of the playoffs and face the future with an unsettled quarterback situation.

The Dolphins have been Brady's nemesis for a number of years. For his career, Brady has averaged 5.7 yards per attempt with a 1.45 touchdown-to-interception ratio against the Dolphins. Against everyone else, he averages 7.2 YPA and has a 1.9 ratio. Brady has now thrown for under 100 yards in three full games of his career. All are against Miami.

What is hard to understand about this consistent play by Miami is the lack of continuity between the 2001 Dolphins and 2006 Dolphins. OK, Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas are still around. But, the only other starter even on the team before 2005 is Yeremiah Bell. The coaching staff was completely turned over last year by new head coach Nick Saban.

Even odder about the shutdown of Brady is that the Dolphins had been substantially better against the run than the pass this season. The secondary is mostly a combination of veteran cast-offs. When you start raiding the Lions for cornerbacks not named Dre' Bly, you would think your secondary would be hurting. But there was Andre Goodman holding his own. Erstwhile Cardinal and Raider Renaldo Hill manned the safety position. Will Allen, the former Giant, was considered a mediocre starter before signing with Miami.

Holding this patchwork group together is the aforementioned Bell. Bell had been a reserve player for several years. He got his first start in Week 6 against the Jets. To that point, the Dolphins pass defense had been terrible with a DVOA of 21.5%, 26th in the league. Since then, they have a DVOA of -20.6%, fourth in the league.

The switch from Travares Tillman to Bell has come at a cost to the run defense. That unit was dominant early in the season, fourth in the league with Tillman starting. With Bell, it has ranked 11th.

Against the Patriots, it is better to have a good pass defense than a run defense. The Patriots like to run the ball and have the talented Laurence Maroney and Corey Dillon to do the pounding. Still, the results are just not that good. Their run offense DVOA is -2.7%, a mediocre 15th in the league. Maroney looks very impressive on the field, but at the end of the day, his DVOA is -9.9%, worse than Wali Lundy's. Dillon is about average, but he clearly has lost a step at age 32.

Maroney was out on Sunday, leaving Kevin Faulk and Patrick Pass to help out Dillon. Despite the 21-0 whitewashing, Maroney was not missed. The running backs gained 123 yards on 25 carries. On kick returns, an area where Maroney has excelled, the Patriots averaged 32.8 yards per return. Maroney is certainly a very talented rookie, but this Sunday's loss had nothing to do with Maroney's absence.

Despite the success on the ground, the Patriots offense stalled repeatedly. Poor pass protection was the leading culprit. The Patriots offensive line has completely broken down. Through the first five games, they allowed five sacks. They have allowed 20 in the last eight. Against Jason Taylor and the Dolphins they were no match. As the game progressed, the Dolphins started blitzing more and more players, and the offensive line was completely overwhelmed. They sacked Brady four times and pressured him on numerous other occasions.

Increased pressure made Brady a much less effective quarterback. As the hits mounted, he started getting happy feet in the pocket. He threw to covered receivers, rushed throws before the pressure actually came, and almost never got the ball down the field.

The Patriots receiving corps is a much discussed topic, but never has it been less of a factor than on Sunday. They combined for four catches for 47 yards. Brady attempted only six passes to his outside receivers. He attempted five to Troy Brown, who plays mostly in the slot. The outside receivers were almost never open even when Brady had time. The safeties stayed deep when they were not blitzing, allowing the cornerbacks to be physical at the line of scrimmage.

The second problem for the Patriots is a rash of turnovers. Brady avoided the interceptions that had plagued him in recent weeks, but fumblitis has invaded the team. They have 20 fumbles in their past eight games. They now lead the league in total fumbles. Daniel Graham put one on the ground to set up the Dolphins' first field goal. Brady fumbled twice on his four sacks. Brady's ability to hold on to the ball is becoming a problem. He has 12 fumbles this year despite only 23 sacks. The only quarterback with more is David Carr.

Finally, penalties are a massive problem for New England. Overall, penalties do not correlate at all with wins and losses, but in a given day, penalties can kill. They had nine penalties for 71 yards. The first two Dolphins field goals came on drives extended by roughing the passer penalties, one admittedly dubious. An illegal formation penalty cost them 15 yards on a punt. They even got flagged on their well-conceived trick play. They have now averaged 8.5 penalties over the past four games.

The Dolphins were not passive observers in a Patriots' meltdown. They applied the pressure that overwhelmed the offense. As importantly, their own offense was just effective enough to control the clock, win the field position battle, and convert several scoring opportunities. They only scored six first-half points, but they had no three-and-out drives and consistently reversed field position.

The Dolphins offense has been below average most of the season, but offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey has finally developed a system to make Joey Harrington effective. Who knew such a system existed? Over the past four weeks, Harrington has a DVOA of 10.5%, roughly Eli Manning quality. Add in a workmanlike performance by Sammy Morris against the tough New England run defense, and the Dolphins offense actually looked capable.

Despite the recent improved performance, Harrington remains a questionable solution at the quarterback position. For the first half of the game, he was extremely protected, throwing mostly underneath. When he did go down the field, he was inaccurate and missed a number of open receivers. In the second half, he gained confidence and threw the ball with more authority. But even his touchdown pass to Marty Booker was a questionable throw. Artrell Hawkins had as good a chance at making the catch as Booker.

The rest of the Dolphins are too good to have to protect their quarterback the way Harrington is protected. His play is reminiscent of Brad Johnson's a year ago in Minnesota. When the defense is playing well, Harrington takes the check down, avoids sacks, and "manages" the game. Neither player threatens the opposition down the field. Harrington is averaging an appallingly low 10.3 yards per completion. Johnson, by the way, averages 10.2 yards per completion.

Harrington, unlike Johnson, is not in his late thirties. Additionally, Harrington, unlike Johnson, has never been an effective quarterback before. Four solid games do not a Pro Bowler quarterback make. He is a legitimate back-up quarterback, a great player to come in for a game or two. Depending on Harrington as a long-term solution at quarterback is a mistake.

The Dolphins have the same question marks they had a year ago when they finished 9-7 with a late season run. Their defense is getting older. Zach Thomas was very effective on Sunday, but at times he appears to have lost a step. Jason Taylor should be defensive player of the year, but he is 32.

Offensively, they have a very difficult decision to make at quarterback. Will Daunte Culpepper ever be effective again? Is Harrington capable of consistently playing good football? Should they scrap both and go after Jake Plummer, Byron Leftwich, or another veteran?

One clear area for improvement is wide receiver. Anyone harboring thoughts of Chris Chambers being an elite receiver needs to stop watching SportsCenter so much. Chambers was eliminated from the game by Asante Samuel, and his presence as the primary receiver is becoming a problem. Marty Booker is a solid second receiver, but he is 30 and not capable of carrying an offense. His impressive game against the Patriots should be tempered by the fact that they always struggle against second receivers. Mike Furrey hit them for over 100 yards the week before.

The team tried to make the big splash at quarterback a year ago, and it has backfired. Now, they have a crowded quarterback situation and few other areas that need major upgrades. After another strong finish to a season, the temptation will be to think the team is ready to compete. That thought should be resisted. Young blood should be brought in to support the defense. The offensive skill positions, outside of Ronnie Brown, should all be subject to change if the proper replacements become available.

The Patriots hope their off-season does not start for a while, but this team looks to be in for a short playoff run. They will not get a first-round bye, something they had in all three of their recent Super Bowl seasons. A first round date with either a dominant pass defense in Jacksonville or a Cincinnati team with diverse receiver weapons could spell trouble. If they survive that, they would likely have to travel to San Diego to play a team that is simply more talented than they are.

Further complicating issues are mounting injury concerns. Their two starting safeties and a starting linebacker are already out, and now Vince Wilfork is injured. The Dolphins had big gains on the ground after Wilfork's departure on Sunday.

The good news is that they have Tom Brady. While the Dolphins proved authoritatively that he is not all you need, it doesn't hurt. Brady is pressing right now and clearly not at ease in the pocket. The number one goal over the last three weeks is to get the offensive line in order. If they cannot do their job, hold receivers and tight ends in to block. Brady can be lethal even with this wide receiver corps. A confident Brady will always give them a fighting chance, but this Patriots team will need a great deal of good fortune to get back to the Super Bowl.

Each Tuesday in Any Given Sunday, Ned Macey looks at the most surprising result of the previous weekend. The NFL sells itself on the idea that any team can win any given game, but we use these surprises as a tool to explore what trends and subtle aspects of each team are revealed in a single game.

Posted by: Ned Macey on 12 Dec 2006

58 comments, Last at 26 Dec 2006, 6:37pm by fluoxetine

Comments

1
by ABW (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 6:39pm

I think Ken Walter should also be mentioned as a contributing factor to the Pats' loss. Josh Miller, a competent if not spectacular punter, was lost to IR with a shoulder injury and they brought in Walter, who has been terrible. In the first half when field position was critical Walter was consistently putting the Patriots in bad shape. I think his net average for the day was something like 30 yards per punt.

2
by Grouchy Bills Fan (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 6:40pm

Dude. "Yeremiah" pun was really really lame, dude.

3
by Andy (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 6:44pm

Anyone care to agrue that Jason Taylor is NOT the Defensive MVP?

4
by JJcruiser (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 6:51pm

Brady fumbled twice on his four sacks.

One of those was Cassel's, who, if I'm not mistaken, has been strip-sacked every single game he's played in. He looks fine, except he has absolutely no danger sense for the backside rush.

Not that Brady did either.

What a frustrating year.

5
by Andy (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 6:54pm

It must be so frustrating for Pats fans when they don't win every game. Cry me a river.

Jason Taylor and the Miami D-Line have been dominant for the past 10 weeks. Its okay, you still have the genius coach and the boy with the golden arm.

6
by Rick (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 6:58pm

Hmm...Walter is averaging more than 7 yards less per punt than Miller. Ouch! He was particularly weak against Miami.

After watching the Pats on Sunday, I can no longer convince myself they are capable of a long run in the playoffs if they get a few injured players back (most importantly, Rodney Harrison). Anybody got news about Wilfork?

The real hard thing Sunday was watching the start of the second half. In previous seasons, if the Pats' pass blocking was weak in the first half, you could expect some kind of adjustment and a strong first series in the second half. But Sunday, there was still nothing. Matt Light was atroicious against Jason Taylor. Sure it's the last time he'll have to face Taylor this season, and Taylor is fairly unique in the NFL, but in previous seasons though Taylor had always caused problems for the Pats, he had never completely dominated a game the way he did Sunday.

(sigh)

7
by Sergio (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 7:15pm

Re: Walter

To be fair, he did nail a punt in the 2Q, IIRC - which got called back due to an illegal formation.

I'm glad the Dolphins are (again) finishing up strong, but I do agree that this team has many holes. I've liked the play of Harrington, but I just don't see him as a long-term solution. Maybe good enough for a year or two, but definitely upgradeable. Same goes for about the entire OL and WR personnel, save perhaps Wes Welker (which has become my absolute favorite offensive player), and the defense does need some new blood (though the Dolphins have been attempting to take care of that through the draft).

I do have to say, it's a team on the upswing. Maybe not a definitive playoff team for 2007 (welcome to last year), but at least it's not on the downward spiral that defined the Wannstedt years.

An 8-8 or 9-7 finish would be peaches in my book.

8
by W. Shedd (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 7:29pm

Actually, Taylor has ALWAYS given the Patriots fits and HAS completely dominated games in the past. 2002 in Miami was a similar game for the Patriots.

9
by Kal (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 7:32pm

What's odd to me isn't how well Miami does against NE on defense - it's how well they do on offense. How does a Miami team that struggles against Houston and a Collins-led Tennessee put up 21 points on NE? That's the scarier part to me.

I do think Harrington isn't a horrible QB, though he makes too many mistakes and checkdowns, and he'll never be a star. But he's definitely better now that he has a vaguely serviceable line and a defense that can do something. God damn Detroit.

10
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 7:33pm

Query: how did they get pressure? Was it just Jason Taylor, blitzing, could they get overall pressure with just the front four? From what I've seen MIA this season, the key to passing effectively on them is blocking Jason Taylor. The GB game provided a very good example of this: in the first half, Jason Taylor was very productive and Favre struggled. In the second half, the Packers were able to protect Favre more effectively (hint: not Daryn College solo at LT v. Taylor), and Favre was able to find people open downfield. Is the secondary really playing that much better?

11
by johnt (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 7:42pm

This seems unduly harsh on Harrington. To the extent that his problems are not largely in decisionmaking, that would be a good sign that with continued good coaching (i.e. the idea that being on the Lions is actually worse than being a rookie) he may continue to develop. Certainly moreso than Culpepper, who has managed to combine Grossman-style decisionmaking with ... well, I can't really think of a good analogy for his throwing, except to say it sucks. If I were the Dolphins I would certainly be looking to draft a QB for the future, but I am not convinced that with continued coaching Harrington can't be made as good or better than any of the FA pickups they could get, for significantly cheaper, for the next 1-2 years. Also, are the Fins on the hook for a big contract due to Culpepper? Can they ditch him or is he going to limit their big-pay options at the QB position?

12
by Trev (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 7:58pm

It has been mentioned that FO has an disproportionately large amount of Patriots coverage before. I understand the reasons why (couple Pats fan authors, and the Boston sports fanbase connection), but this article lacks the same more neutral tone that FO takes when dealing with the other 31 teams.

In many ways, this article comes out sounding like a sore loser.

13
by Aaron Boden (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 8:18pm

#3

One of the things mentioned in this weeks TMQ is that Taylor would be considered for Defensive MVP, except the Dolphins are mediocre.

Taylor deserves the MVP unless someone else really studs it up in the next few games and Taylor loses it. He has been crazy this season.

14
by Andy (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 8:25pm

#11:

1. Harrington is not a good QB. The criticisms are fair. After watching him for about 10 games in a Miami uniform, it is apparent that he cannot hit a moving target. He's very accurate on comebacks and quich hitters, but if the receiver is moving, he kinda sucks. And he's good for about 2 INTs/game.

2. Daunte played 4 games for Miami this year. Saban is not willing to pull the plug on Culpepper because he played poorly for 4 games. He will continue to rehab over the offseason and will get every chance to start in 2007.

3. Miami is very much on-the-hook when it comes to Daunte in a financial sense. Don't know the numbers, but we've invested a lot of cap money in him. I believe we can cut Joey with no negative cap reprocussions.

15
by Sergio (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 8:31pm

re: 12

I'm a Dolphins fan, and I didn't got that out of the article. Particularly after reading this paragraph:

"The Dolphins were not passive observers in a Patriots’ meltdown. They applied the pressure that overwhelmed the offense. As importantly, their own offense was just effective enough to control the clock, win the field position battle, and convert several scoring opportunities. They only scored six first-half points, but they had no three-and-out drives and consistently reversed field position."

Listing the Patriots woes is not a "sore-loser" position, IMO. It's simply writing what's going on. I don't know... I think I felt that attitude so much more in the Audibles, Quick Reads (and in the Open Gameday) posts, that this comes out as pretty fair to me.

16
by Sergio (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 8:35pm

re: 14

But do you disagree with the notion (putting aside, for just a second, how would Harrington feel about it) that Miami could head into next season with Harrington at #2 and Culpepper at #1, still with an eye to upgrade long-term if available?

I think Harrington would make a fantastic backup, the Damon Huard kind (yes, I appreciate the irony). And I think Culpepper deserves the chance to start, too. Acnowledgeing the limitations of both, I believe Miami would do good in prioritizing other areas of concern in the most immediate future.

17
by Sergio (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 8:36pm

And of course, by "didn't got" I meant "didn't get".

So I slipped a finger. Sue me. :P

18
by throughthelookingglass (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 8:56pm

12
Ned's a colts fan, so I doubt he'd be upset about the patriots' woes.

19
by ABW (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 9:13pm

Re: 4

Brady fumbled twice, in addition to Cassell's fumble.

Re: 10

It was everything. In the first half, they were definitely blitzing a lot, but even when they didn't, they were getting pressure. Mostly from Taylor, but I think pretty much every Miami defensive player got a shot in on Brady(well, maybe not, but that's how it felt). Honestly, the Patriots' offensive line just looked completely confused, like no one knew their assignments...it kills me to say this, but it looked like the Colts' line has against the Steelers and Patriots the past couple of years. Just completely overmatched and unable to figure out where the pressure was coming from. Miami
was one step ahead of the Patriots all day long.

20
by kleph (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 9:52pm

of course knowing all of brady's signals might have had something to do with the dolphins dominance as well. according to the palm beach post the fins had listened to enhanced game film and figured out brady's calls beforehand.

21
by Sergio (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 10:12pm

re: 20

Yep, because Jason Taylor needed those signals to push Matt Light around all morning long.

Also, according to that article, the Dolphins are convinced the Patriots stole their signals as well last year.

Sigh... I don't mean to come on as confrontational - I really don't - but I've heard enough Patriot fans trying to make excuses for the loss, that it's getting tiresome.

I concede that I don't know whether you're a Pats fan or not.

22
by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 10:19pm

This might sound a little radical, but I wonder if the Patriots have considered switching Matt Light and Nick Kaczur. Kaczur was drafted as a backup tackle that could play either end, but when Light went down last year he spent the better part of the season starting at left tackle, and while he wasn't Jonathan Ogden, he wasn't horrible--and he certainly seemed better than Matt Light does this year. He has said in interviews that making the switch to right tackle was hard for him--maybe he's just better on the left. Meanwhile, if Light has lost a step but is still a serviceable player, he could probably handle right tackle, and I would imagine that a vereran like him could make the switch better than a young player.

It might be a small upgrade, but anything would help.

To answer a question someone asked--it was about 65% Taylor, and 35% the other three rushers. Taylor kept moving around, and the Pats kept trying to double team him, but his moving around (maybe because of the signal deciphering, as kleph mentioned, or maybe because of his instincts, as TMQ talked about) confused the Patriots, and frequently their confused attempts to double team Taylor opened the door for someone else. The tackles were especially the problem--Light and Kaczur were revolving doors on some plays.

The Dolphins rarely blitzed, but when they did they blitzed BIG. Same as the Colts and the Broncos did against the Pats. it bothers me that it works so consistently against them. I guess that's a sign of not having a reciever that is good as a "hot read" other than Watson (who now draws consistent double teams).

23
by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 10:22pm

What I couldn't figure out is why the Pats never spread the field against the Dolphins. They ran all kinds of 2 and 3 TE sets, and even when they had 3+ WR's, the put them flanking the formation, not split wide. I know protection was a problem, but the reason why Brady couldn't slow the rush down with quick passes was that the recievers were getting chucked on the line, and the reason why they were getting chucked is that the CB's and LB's on them had safety help behind them. Play a wider formation, and the CB's don't dare press so close because the safeties can't cover everywhere, and then maybe Brady gets some fast passes off that slows down that rush.

24
by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 10:25pm

Patriots just released Doug Gabriel. I guess there was more to his lack of playing time than being in the doghouse over a fumble. Either that, or Belichick was REALLY mad about that fumble.

25
by kleph (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 10:33pm

Re: #21 i'm neither. in fact, i'm not a "fan" of any specific team. why is that relevant? i simply posted a link to an article i thought would add to the discussion.

In this article Macey posits that, "the Patriots offense stalled repeatedly. Poor pass protection was the leading culprit. The Patriots offensive line has completely broken down. . . As the game progressed, the Dolphins started blitzing more and more players, and the offensive line was completely overwhelmed. They sacked Brady four times and pressured him on numerous other occasions."

That the Dolphins tried to get the information about the cadence to give them an edge to achieve this would seem to fit with that assessment.

26
by justanothersteve (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 10:53pm

#14-3 Culpepper could be released with little difference in the cap for 2007. They'd still be out the #2 pick. See link

#10 - You are correct in that the Packers double-teamed Taylor after the first few series. The Pats also don't have a WR as good as Driver. (The Pats do have better TEs and #3/4 WRs.)

27
by Sergio (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 10:56pm

It's only relevant to the strenght of my response. And the fact that some (most?) Patriot fans are looking for excuses about this game.

In either event, I should just let it go.

28
by sippican (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 11:08pm

That game was dreadful. It must have been excruciating to watch if you weren't interested in either team particularly.

The analysis during the game and after was useless. They never seem to replay the plays to see where a scheme failed, or conversely, where one worked. They just chalked it up to so and so sucks or so and so is great. You're left scratching your head.

Miami had a real good idea about what the Pats were going to do before they did it. In the NFL, if the defense predicts correctly what you're going to do before you do it, you're cooked. It's hard enough if the defense is unsure. But it seemed like more that just figuring out the cadence by watching film.

Too much attention is paid to players leaving on the Pats, and not enough to the institutional memory loss suffered by the constant attrition in the coaching staff. The Pats looked more outcoached than outplayed, and that's saying something, because they were outplayed, too.

TMQ pointed out that Jason Taylor was roaming around and lining up wherever he felt like it. I noticed several plays where Matt Light stood up to block Taylor and literally bumped into a TE or Mankins and one or both of them were literally out of the play. They weren't outplayed,exactly, they weren't even in the play to get outplayed.

Every team must deal with injuries. The Pats have been able to field decent teams even with lots of starters out because they have fairly talented second string players. That's their scheme. But the injuries are getting kind of goofy at this point. There's a limit to how much turnover, on and off the field, any team can take. They never really got over Weis and Crennell, and Mangini drilled a hole in the boat while they were still bailing it out.

Miami was never as good as preseason predictions, and conversely never as bad as everybody said they were midseason. They deserve a lot of credit for not packing it in.

29
by Rob (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 1:36am

I think you are mistaken about Maroney. Maroney is quick to the outside, and with no outside threat AND no downfield threat, it was easy for Miami to blitz and stuff the center of the field.

30
by ElTiante (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 2:46am

"Outcoached" seems apt, especially regarding MIA defense vs. NE offense. I predict NE has a new off. coord. next year.
Ned mentions MIA safeties playing deep the entire game. Saban bet that Dillon couldn't carry 25 times and dared NE to run. NE should have taken up the challenge whole-heartedly. Instead, they responded like Martz (STL) and Moore (IND) when NE adopted that strategy vs. those guys: they ignored the easy rushing yards.
On one 2nd-quarter drive, NE ran for 7 yards, 7 yards, 6 yards, and 17 yards, followed by an incompletion and a sack. The next drive: 4 pass plays, 2 runs. The next drive: 2 pass plays, 1 run. Down by 13 with 11 minutes remaining, NE abandoned the run completely, despite averaging almost 5 yards per carry (with no long run distorting the average).
At worst, committing to the run would have forced MIA to bring the safeties up and chill out on the pass rush, allowing Brady to throw downfield. Someone on the NE sideline wasn't smart enough to do this.
Also, if Harrington could throw an accurate longball, the score would have been more like 35-0. MIA would be better of drafting a late-round MAC or Big Sky QB next year.

31
by sippican (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 3:17am

El Tiante- That makes as much sense as anything I've read.

It was the gadget play that got me. The one for a touchdown that was called back.

Good teams, teams that are clicking, keep their opponents off-balance by calling such plays. Bad teams try them instead of of trying to play football.

The Patriots are not a bad team. They were playing like one, though.

32
by EnglishBob (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 4:54am

Any chance of a review in addition to this one on the Saints win over the Cowboys? Come on, is anyone going to claim the score in that game wasn't a bigger surprise than the Pats losing in Miami (Pats have had problems here for some time and it was a divisional game afterall)? I for one would be fascinated by an FO analysis of why the Saints are doing so well despite a poorly ranked defence on DVOA, especially after the preview that was written on them!

33
by James, London (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 8:09am

His Position aside should Jason Taylor be an MVP candidate, and are we watching a Hall-of Famer?

34
by Tom (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 8:59am

I think Harrington could have got his head screwed up in Detroit (you know dealing with Matt Millen, being picked as a "dark horse" to make the playoffs every year, Roy Williams alligator arms, which seem to have grown this year, having all your teammates hate you, etc), and he is slowly getting over that, and performing well in Miami.

I could be wrong, but it seems possible.

35
by Rick (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 10:41am

Should Jason Taylor be "an MVP candidate"? I have always wondered what the line is between MVP candidates and non-candidates. I guess what you're asking is "would it be reasonable to list him on your ballot?", in which case I'd say "Yes". Problem is that the Dolphins sucked for the first half of the season, and that has to be weighed in any considerations. Why does the fact that San Diego has a good D in addition to a good offense make LT a better candidate than Taylor? I don't know, but that's how these things work.

Are we watching a Hall-of-Famer? The NFL Hall is the hardest for players to get into, especially linemen, especially if their team never accomplishes anything in the postseason. I'd say give it a few more years. If we assume Saban continues to improve the Dolphins (which I think is a reasonable assumption) and that they start to make headway in the playoffs, and that Taylor keeps playing at this level another 4-5 years, then yes, that would be a possibility. But there's a long list of defensive linemen who've looked great for 4-5 years or even longer who are still on the outside of the Hall looking in. Think on Mark Gastineau and Derrick Thomas for example (sure, Thomas was a LB but he was known mostly for his pass rushing).

36
by Andy (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 11:40am

#35:
Your long list of DL that are waiting to get into the Hall is quite short. Derrick Thomas will probably get in. Gastineau was a crazy sack-machine, but he never had a season like Taylor is having.

37
by 10K (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 12:37pm

"OK, Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas are still around. But, the only other starter even on the team before 2005 is Yeremiah Bell. "

Huh? Bell just became a starter a few weeks ago whereas I can name a bunch of players with the team since before 2005:

Travis Minor, Chris Chambers, Wes Welker, Randy McMichael, Rex Hadnot, Vernon Carey, Jeno James (4 are FAs or draftees from '04)

Were you specifically talking about defense? Again:

Jeff Zgonina ('03), David Bowens ('01), Derrick Pope ('04)

If anything, what we can see is that the 5-6 guys who've been around for 4-5 years are still playing at peak form, the young FAs and draftees from the last 2-3 years are developing into solid players, and the old guard FAs still know how to play and can play at a high level.

I have to agree with #12: this seems like sour grapes. Since when does "Any Given Sunday", a piece about how a team can upset another one, become an opportunity to point on the flaws of the winner and claim they have question marks and concerns for next year?

If Pep gets healthy, fine. If Harrington gets the start, he can manage the team as Miami has done for almost a decade now... Lemon has a serious chance of competing as well. Not to mention Brock Berlin who Miami has on the Practice Squad, I believe.

Chambers is not and will never be the super star. But he, Booker, Welker, and Randy all have about the same number of receptions; they contribute differently from game to game -- the same way that Brown or Givens or Branch or Patton would deliver for the Pats but then disappear for a few games or catch only one or two. A year or two ago, the Pats WRs were the shit, weren't they? Not to mention that Miami is developing Hagan and other WRs.

Then we get the typical Aging Defense argument. Zach and Jason are still outperforming many younger players, and Miami has groomed Matt Roth and Channing Crowder to take over. I would say Traylor, Wilkenson, Holliday, Carter, Zgonina, etc... are also in that category: having that much talent performing so well is probably keeping them young for an extra year or two. Miami also has young guys developing like Kevin Vickerson, Frederick Evans, Jason Allen, Tavares Tillman, Yeremiah Bell, and Travis Daniels.

Miami will ultimately lose a few of the older, higher cost guys to FA, but they also have room to deal a few guys (it had been rumored that this was going to happen anyway in the weeks before the season opened), and once again they will pick up more solid FAs.

That aside: wasn't this supposed to be about the game? Instead, it ends with a: "we still got Brady, that's summin" (for the Pats fans).

Lame. The same hatchet job would have been interesting for the Pats:

Brown and Graham are too old, Gabriel was a bust, Chad Jackson appears to be a bust, Dillon is old, Faulk is old, Light and Kaczurt can't get it done, the secondary has no one but Samuels and even he, despite playing lights out this season, can get blown up, Special Teams suck all the way around (particularly without Maroney available to return), etc...

38
by noah of the ark (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 12:40pm

1) It's lovely to see so much optimism about Harrington -even a little is a lot-, but the guy is clearly not good enough. I'd prefer to have Gus Frerrote back, honestly.

2) On the pass rush, it was everything. Matt Roth did very well too. An they were putting pressure blitzing or not, what with Taylor beating double teams and all.

3) Yes, I think the secondary is truly much better. The pass rush is always a big help, but Y. Bell is making a difference. The biggest problem early in the year was all the blown coverages. TD costly blown coverages. That's now in the past, thanks in part to Bell. And the other guys are doing their share.
By the way, Goodman is a young guy who didn't get much of a chance with the Lions due to injuries. I think he was a first day draft pick. And he didn't take Travis Daniel's job just because he used to play in Detroit, if you know what I mean.

39
by 10K (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 12:57pm

"The coaching staff was completely turned over last year by new head coach Nick Saban."

Umm, no... The D is Saban's and Linehan left with a Head Coach offer, Saban kept the system and terminology of Saban. Capers has maybe brought some blitzes and Mularkey threw in some gadget plays, but that's about the only change to the system. The two are more funnels/mouthpieces for Saban's and Linehan's system. Keith Armstrong has been ST Coach for 6 years, Saban brought in Jason Garret as QB Coach last year, as was Charlie Baggett, Tim Davis, Hudson Houck, Dan Quinn, Bobby Williams, etc... I think the only turnover on the staff was the Satefies Coach who is a long time Saban disciple.

40
by 10K (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 1:00pm

"They even got flagged on their well-conceived trick play."

"Well-conceived" would imply that the back would know not to throw the pass 4.5 yard forward. Aborted before conception.

41
by 10K (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 1:30pm

re: 39 "Umm, no… " Sorry, I frist read that statement as meaning "after last season". I guess now you were referring to Saban coming to Miami in '05.

I don't know why it's such a mystery that two teams can continue a strong rivalry in a consistently tough division even with player and coaching turnover. It's called traditional and divisional rivalry. There's always enough carry over to get into the skins of newblood.

42
by JJcruiser (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 2:28pm

This might sound a little radical, but I wonder if the Patriots have considered switching Matt Light and Nick Kaczur.

Excellent point. I wondered the same thing.

If Belichick is crazy enough to release a player at the absolute weakest position at the absolute worst time of year, it can't be too far to jump to switching positions for Light and Kazcur.

43
by JJcruiser (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 2:31pm

Couple quick comments, which were longer but I kept having the posts disappear:

I agree switching Light and Kazcur is worth a try, but preferably in practice for a week or two first.

I don't think Belichick will fire McDaniels. But I wish he would. I don't think I've thought the playcalling was ever this bad in the Belichick years. Nothing is every any one individual's fault, but clearly McDaniels seems unable to adjust in-game and unwilling to stick with what works.

44
by Matthew (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 2:55pm

re: 12

I am a Patriots fan and I didn't feel a slant here at all.

Nevertheless, for some reason I've yet to fathom, the Patriots simply do not play well against the Dolphins and the Broncos. The offense plays stupid. You would think they don't bother to gameplan for those defenses. They make the same mistakes over and over.

45
by Kev (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 3:04pm

Gastineau was a sack machine, but at the expense of every other part of his game. The rest of the "New York Sack Exchange" did not appreciate his free-lancing, but as they were having overall success he got a pass.

46
by 10K (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 4:07pm

"The offense plays stupid. You would think they don’t bother to gameplan for those defenses."

This is what I hear over and over from Pats fans. I don't get it: everyone of the Patriots that has talked about the game has said they were prepared and played the toughest game they could, and that Miami just beat them, played tougher.

In what way do you think they were unprepared for this game?

(The only thing I see is the inconsistency in committing to the run which was successful. But with the near lack of even establishing any passing game, it's not like they could have rushed every down either and expected that success to last...)

When one criticizes the Miami WRs (and I do too), compare: Chambers, Booker, Welker, McMichael, Hagan to Caldwell, Brown, JABAR GAFFNEY, Watson, Graham. Brown is NE's best but is most comprable to Welker and Welker has more value now with his ST abilities. Chambers and Booker are both better than Caldwell even if they are inconsistent, making up for it in other attributes. Gaffney was a JOKE in Houston and you cannot depend on 2 TE sets for a passing game with Miami's Ends coming at you. (I think that's one way to try to be more objective in comparing the two: yes, Chambers is the goat of many a sports internet site, but what the hell are the Pats doing in the passing game personnel department, and what will they come up with next year or any time soon (if we are going to talk about the future instead of the game)?

47
by 10K (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 4:19pm

Oh, a forgot Jackson. Jackson seems to be always injured and appears in the doghouse too ...for whatever reason (neither the Pats fans or Miami fans can get a real story out of Belichek's or Saban's locker rooms). Hagan has a hands issue but has largely been mentoring under a functioning receiver corps (despite non-functional "QB" Pep and passable Huard-Fieldler-Griese-Fiedler-Feeley-Frerotte-esque Harrington at the helm) all year getting his occassional reps. So the verdict's still out on him. Less so with Jackson.

(The notion that Miami dumps Chambers is absurd. Who is a worthwhile free agent WR next year? If Miami dumped him, NE would be the first to offer him more money than they let Branch walk away for! Chambers (because of his drops) almost functions better as a decoy!Samuels is NEs BEST player in the secondary! The only one: maybe that's why second WRs are so successful against NE. So most development next year for BOTH teams will have to come from former rookies/the draft and/or trade. Neither Miami or the Patriots are likely to get a significant WR in a trade.)

48
by joel in providence (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 5:36pm

Gastineau should be in the hall of fame just for having such a hot daughter.

49
by John P (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 5:55pm

Headline from next year: Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper Reunited!

50
by Xao (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 7:15pm

re: 37

Once more, for the cheap seats: Mr. Macey is a [b]Colts[/b] fan. It's fine to disagree with the the tone, topic, or content of the article, but if you're going to level accusations of bias, you might at least make sure you've got the author and his team straight.

51
by Dan (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 9:59pm

Re: 11 and 14.
Actually Miami would not suffer a caphit by releasing Culpepper - he got his bonus money in Minny and Miami owes him little upfront. They do have an investment of a 2nd round pick which makes me doubt they'll be eager to get rid of him.

Incidentally, -besides the knee vs shoulder issue - it was the minimal cap hit compared to the huge money Brees wanted upfront that led to Miami's ill fated choice of C-pep.
I can't really blame Saban for that because I supported the decision at the time and sometimes luck's just not with you.

52
by dave whorton (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 10:58pm

from what i've seen from joey he isn't going to be the dolphins future. he is an aweful deep ball passer. anything over 25 yds forget it, he has no touch. when you watch him you just know he is going to make one or two stupid throws. listening to rich gannon do game analysis of the jags -fins s game he was pretty hard on joey and deservedly so.

53
by Gus (not verified) :: Thu, 12/14/2006 - 3:32am

Re: 10k's post

When one criticizes the Miami WRs (and I do too), compare: Chambers, Booker, Welker, McMichael, Hagan to Caldwell, Brown, JABAR GAFFNEY, Watson, Graham. Brown is NE’s best but is most comprable to Welker and Welker has more value now with his ST abilities.

Reche Caldwell is the best receiver on the Patriots, not Brown. Welker and Brown are comparable in stats, but Welker's going up againt nickel and dime backs.

Chambers and Booker are both better than Caldwell even if they are inconsistent, making up for it in other attributes.

Really? What "other attributes"? Chambers is the worst wide receiver in the league, so those "other attributes" (clearly not seen on the football field) must be awesome. Booker is decent, to be sure, but he's lining up against number two cornerbacks.

Gaffney was a JOKE in Houston and you cannot depend on 2 TE sets for a passing game with Miami’s Ends coming at you.

I could make a pretty good argument that Gaffney would've had better numbers if David Carr wasn't the guy throwing to him. I do think you have a valid point with the 2-TE sets, though.

54
by Kev (not verified) :: Thu, 12/14/2006 - 7:02am

Re:#53 - Gus' post.
Chambers and Booker are both better than Caldwell even if they are inconsistent, making up for it in other attributes.

Really? What “other attributes�? Chambers is the worst wide receiver in the league, so those “other attributes� (clearly not seen on the football field) must be awesome.

That's obviously a bit harsh. Did you mean worst #1 WR? He's good for a couple of circus catches per season, but that's not enough. As far as I know, teams are still putting their best CBs on him, so there must be something there - and at the very least that situation alone provides value to the team.

55
by 10K (not verified) :: Thu, 12/14/2006 - 3:28pm

Gus, I understand that Caldwell is NE's #1, but I still value Brown higher for overall impact. As you note in my next sentence, I still value both Booker and Chambers higher than Caldwell or Brown.

Who cares who Welker goes against? I'm comparing his role and his contribution to the team to Brown, not who they face.

Other attributes for Chambers would be drawing coveraging from #1 CBs (and double coverages) and taking them out of the game, catching difficult key throws (3rd and long, etc...)

As for Gaffney, how do you account for him being out of the league and not picked up by ANYONE after Carr wasn't throwing to him? Gaffney has on and off the field issues and no one cared to pick him up. NE was desperate and was shopping through all the has-been, currently not playing WRs and settled on him when there were actually 1-2 other has-been joke-of-a-receiver receivers available.

56
by Gus (not verified) :: Thu, 12/14/2006 - 7:25pm

That’s obviously a bit harsh. Did you mean worst #1 WR? He’s good for a couple of circus catches per season, but that’s not enough. As far as I know, teams are still putting their best CBs on him, so there must be something there - and at the very least that situation alone provides value to the team.

Yes, you're right. I meant to cite his DPAR as the lowest in the league, clearly he's better than some guys who get matched up against less-skilled CBs. Still, he's not even close to a good No. 1 wideout, and that's what the Dolphins use him as.

I understand that Caldwell is NE’s #1, but I still value Brown higher for overall impact. As you note in my next sentence, I still value both Booker and Chambers higher than Caldwell or Brown.

I'm not sure why you value Brown higher, as Caldwell's been clearly better. Caldwell has better numbers than Brown, and has been matched up against more skilled corners more often.

Who cares who Welker goes against? I’m comparing his role and his contribution to the team to Brown, not who they face.

Wes Welker could not be as good as he is if he was starting; he'd get shut down by better corners. Thus, it doesn't make sense to compare him to Brown, who is now starting again. You defend Chambers by saying he goes up against number one cornerbacks, and I'm defending Brown by saying he goes up against starter cornerbacks while Welker does not.

Yes, Gaffney is not very good, but he can contribute as a no. 3-4 possession guy. The key would be for the Pats to stop sending him deep, which is not his strength.

Also, Gaffney went to camp with the Eagles and was cut, I believe, so it's not as if nobody picked him up after Houston. I agree he was not good as a starter in Houston, but it's the Texans; I don't want him to start, but I think he's NFL-caliber.

57
by 10K (not verified) :: Fri, 12/15/2006 - 1:13pm

"I’m not sure why you value Brown higher, as Caldwell’s been clearly better. Caldwell has better numbers than Brown, and has been matched up against more skilled corners more often."

As I said, it doesn't matter: I think both Chambers and Booker are better than both of them.

"Wes Welker could not be as good as he is if he was starting"

So what? I'm not making up some fantasy world where he is a #1. I'm saying the Dolphins entire receiving corps from top to bottom, in every role, is better than NEs. NE runs more 3 and 4 receiver sets than Miami, and Welker is still more valuable than Brown.

"You defend Chambers by saying he goes up against number one cornerbacks, and I’m defending Brown by saying he goes up against starter cornerbacks while Welker does not."

No, I wasn't defending him. I was saying one of his value's is to take the best CB and maybe double coverage out of the game. Brown is not doing this.

"Also, Gaffney went to camp with the Eagles and was cut, I believe, so it’s not as if nobody picked him up after Houston."

Getting picked up and cut before training camp means no one wanted him and he was at home sitting on the couch smoking grass when NE called him because they are desperate.

58
by fluoxetine (not verified) :: Tue, 12/26/2006 - 6:37pm

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