September 21, 2008
Brown More A Problem Than Porter
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- Okay, Joey Porter gets his sacks and his stops. Patriots win, 13-3. No problem.
In their game preparation for the 0-2 Miami Dolphins, Bill Belichick and his coaching staff took great care in trying to make the game winnable for Matt Cassel. From that standpoint, it pretty much succeeded. Cassel only made one or two bad throws, took some haymakers from the Dolphin defense, and if things had gone according to script, the Patriots should have ground out a tough win.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, Porter, who did have a good game and did apply a lot of pressure on Cassel all game long, was not the main problem. The Patriots instead were caught totally off guard by an offensive game plan from offensive coordinator Dan Henning. Ronnie Brown, an average to good running back with whom the Patriots can usually deal with, scored four rushing touchdowns and threw for another. Chad Pennington, who often times was made to look like a deer in the headlights as Jet quarterback, looked better than his 2002 halcyon days and was never pressured by the Patriot defense.
Result: The Patriots put on one of the worst stinkers of the Belichick Era, if not the worst, and lost 38-13 Sunday at Gillette Stadium to a Miami team who found a way to win the game without befuddling Cassel as the main modus operandi. Catching the Patriot defense on one of their worst days, the Dolphins ambushed the Patriots with a unique and totally baffling offensive play set, and broke all sorts of win/loss strings in the process.
The Patriots lost their first regular season game since a 21-0 loss at Miami two seasons ago. The Dolphins broke an 11-game road losing streak, and the Dolphins win only their second game since that 2006 win over the Patriots. The Patriots now no longer need to worry about going 16-0 this season, but they have lots of problems to go over in this bye week.
But what to do about Cassel is not the major issue. Defensively, the Patriots have to be sick to their stomachs. What Henning did to the Patriots was unfathomable. Henning did something very few coaches can do in this league, that being outcoaching Belichick, and doing it very soundly and completely.
The Patriot players bear some of the blame. This column practically guaranteed a Patriot win unless the home team came out flat and uninspired. That is precisely what happened in this game; even if Brown didn't have his great day, the Patriots probably still lose this game as Pennington had one of his best days against the Patriots. On most days 13 points can get the job done against Miami, but this wasn't most days.
Henning unveiled a strange offensive formation which the Patriots found impossible to deal with. Henning put Brown in at the quarterback position, split Pennington to the outside as a wideout, and set Ricky Williams (remember him?) next to Brown in shotgun formation. Out of this formation, the Dolphins had several options, and the Patriots seemed more intent on biting on these options.
In the first quarter, perched at the Patriot 2, the Dolphins first used this set. Pennington flanked out to the left, Williams lined up in the left slot, then at the snap came towards Brown in a reverse pattern. Brown faked the reverse handoff to Williams, then ran up the middle behind pulling guard Justin Smiley for an easy two-yard touchdown run. The defense bit completely on the reverse, and Brown could have walked in.
You might think that if the Dolphins ever tried this again, the Patriots would find an answer for it, but that would not be the case. On their final drive of the first half, the Dolphins ran this play twice. The first time, they did run the reverse to Williams, and he ran around right end for 28 yards. With first and goal at the Patriot six, Brown again lined up in quarterback shotgun and faked a reverse to Williams. Again, he kept the ball and walked into the end zone with no resistance. The Patriots went into intermission down 21-6 (Brown had also scored on a 15-yard run up the gut on the previous drive out of a traditional formation), all the while wondering what had hit them.
Brown added a new twist on the second offensive drive of the second half. Facing third and four at the Patriot 20, Brown lined up in the shotgun, took the snap and rolled out to his left. The Patriots sold out on the run and left tight end Anthony Fasano completely uncovered in the end zone. The left-handed Brown tossed a perfect touch pass to Fasano and it was 28-6 Miami.
The coup de grace was applied on the first play of the fourth quarter. At their own 38 after just causing the Patriots to punt, Brown lined up in the gun, faked a handoff to Williams, and ran up the middle. He cut right and found an open lane thanks to a missed tackle by Brandon Meriweather. He sprinted 62 yards to the end zone and the Patriot fans soon made their way to the exits and hoped for better results from the Red Sox (they won). By this time the Patriots were simply too exhausted to try and stop this, but getting burned five times by this same play will eat at the Patriot defense all during these two weeks.
The numbers alone are mind-numbing. Brown had 113 rushing yards on 17 carries, Williams had 98 yards on 16 carries. Both men averaged over six yards a carry. Pennington was 17 of 20 for 226 yards and a 113.8 passer rating. Fasano had three catches for 66 yards and one touchdown, Greg Camarillo had four catches for 60 yards. One again has to wonder how the Patriots allowed all this offense when a week ago the Dolphins looked totally inept at Arizona. Instead of coaching up Cassel, the Patriots instead must go back and rework how to defense the run, as this sort of rushing yardage allowed against the Patriot defense is literally an insult to their manhood as well as their pride as a top unit.
Cassel didn't have a great day, but he didn't totally stink out the joint like the defense did. He completed 19 of 31 passes for 131 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The game turned in the first quarter when Cassel drove the Patriots from their own 39 to the Dolphin 7, but two sacks and the aforementioned interception (by Randy Starks) on consecutive plays energized the Dolphins and took the wind out of the Patriots' sails. The Dolphins took over at the Patriot 26, Pennington hit Fasano on a 24-yard slant pattern, and school was pretty much out after that.
The Patriots can lick their wounds, but they need to come up with a way to get over this Miami offensive onslaught. This is far more important than anything related to Cassel right now.
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