I was really looking forward to this game, and whilst it did not turn into the contest that I hoped it would, there was still plenty of interesting things to see in this game.
The Dolphins may have lost a one sided game, but I thought their defence did a credible job, although you wouldn’t know it from the numbers. The Dolphins made the Patriots punt the ball six times, including a couple of short drives, and stood tough. They were able to get pressure on Brady with a pair of sacks, six quarter back hits, and they were able to affect Tom Brady more often than these numbers suggest. However, in the end they Patriots were able to work out what matchups favoured them, and the Dolphins defence got very little help from their offence.
The Patriots offence focused more on running the ball more than they did last week, but that was not exactly a difficult task. However, they still relied on Brady leading their pass attack to move the ball. He threw for three hundred and fifty-six yards and four touchdowns completing twenty-six of thirty-eight attempts. His usual targets led the team with Rob Gronkowski catching six balls for one hundred and thirteen yards and a touchdown whilst Julian Edelman caught seven for eighty-one yards and two touchdowns. However, the player that really caught the eye was Dion Lewis who the Dolphins struggled to cover out of the backfield all game and who gave them fits whenever he had the ball in space. It’s is hard to look so much quicker than other players in the NFL, but Lewis managed it and the Patriots certainly were able to use this at key spots to keep the ball moving. For his touchdown Lewis caught a short little dump off pass, but was able to run it in before the Dolphins who had all covered deeper receivers were able to react.
This was the real difference between the two offences in this game as whilst the Patriots offensive weapons were utilised in key spots, the Dolphins were unable to get their own into the game at the right moments. There we some good individual plays, but no one was able to stand out when required and once again the Dolphins got away from the run earlier than they would have wanted. Part of this is likely that they only managed fifteen yards from thirteen attempts, but a major part of their problems late in the game was having got behind in the first half, they spent too much time in defined passing formations, allowing the Patriots to rush the passer without fearing the run. This only served to highlight that the Dolphins’ offensive line is simply not that good in pass protection and they got caught out by simple blitzes and rushes when they were in multi receiver sets. As a consequence Tannehill was sacked five times, and whilst he threw some nice passes, he also threw a pair of interceptions. The commentators were talking about how the Dolphins needed to leverage Tannehill’s talent better in the passing game, but I think some of that is having balance in the offence. Gone are the days of running the ball to setup the pass as the base of your offence, if this even existed, you are more likely to setup the run with the pass by forcing the defence to respect your deep ball. In reality for most teams what you need is the balance to make the defence have to respect both eventualities, and be able to offer some level of deception. The Dolphins were not able to do that in this game and it cost them as too often it was all to obvious that is was another pass attempt that was coming.
The Patriots defensive strength is in their front seven these days, and this was easy to see with the way they shut down the Dolphins run game and got after Ryan Tannehill. They managed five sacks and ten quarterbacks in this game, with sacks being spread between ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, with linebacker Dont’a Hightower and DB Devin McCourty also getting in on the act. The Dolphins were not able to move the ball consistently in this game and were frequently in poor field position, and the Patriots defence kept making plays when their offence did stumble. It is not often that you see a defence give up less than twenty yards in the run game, and yet the Patriots have been on both sides of it in their last two. However, they chose not to run the ball last week, where as it looked like they forced the Dolphins not to in this one.
The Dolphins came into this game with momentum after appointing their new coach, but this game was a dose of realism. The improved intensity may have helped against the two poor AFC South teams that they faced in the last two weeks, but they needed more in this game. They were unable to lean on their running game as they have since Dan Campbell took charge, and in the end were simply not able to get enough going on offence to keep up with the Patriots in this one. The worry would be that the problems on offence looked familiar in terms of play calling, I plan to ask Dan about that on the podcast this week.
The Patriots just keep rolling this season. On paper the defence looks thin in the secondary, but clearly this hasn’t hurt them so far and looking at the schedule they don’t appear to be facing any offences that would make them worry unduly. In this game Bill Belichick was able to take away the part of the Dolphins offence that had got them going again, whilst the offence continues to play well. This may not be the most terrifying of Tom Brady’s offences, but he has more than enough weapons to keep the ball moving through the air and looks as good as ever.
I was hoping to go through the coaching tape of the Eagles visiting the Panthers, but the travel to go see the final London NFL game is going to get in the way. Time to go see some live football in person.