ReFo: Dolphins @ Patriots, Week 17
At one point earlier in the season the AFC East looked like it might be there to be won, with all four teams sitting with equal records and a shot at the top. By the time December had played out we were reminded just how far the other three teams in the division still have to go to top the Patriots for the crown.
New England put an exclamation point on that statement with a 28-0 shutout of Miami in their final regular-season encounter, gearing up for the playoffs as Miami geared up for an offseason.
Was the game as lop-sided as it looked from the score? For Miami, sadly yes, but this is the kind of form the Patriots want to be in come January.
Miami – Three Performances of Note
Trouble at Tackle
Replacing a top offensive tackle midseason is always a problem, and even if Jake Long was having a down year, the drop-off was still always likely to be significant. Jonathan Martin on the left side and Nate Garner on the right for Miami were major issues in this game, with each player beaten for six hurries, as well as the sack given up by Garner. The man on the right side also coughed up a penalty to separate himself as the poorer showing.
Ryan Tannehill was under pressure on more than a third of his drop-backs, and when he was his numbers were disastrous, so the inability of the Miami tackles to keep him clean in the pocket went a long way toward the goose egg laid by the Dolphins’ offense. Nothing destroys a young quarterback faster than sustained pressure, and a total of 13 pressures coming from his tackles is just too much to overcome.
Odrick Steps Up
At times Jared Odrick looks like a player without a position, capable of impressive play at times, but never seeming a perfect fit for any spot in Miami’s 4-3 defense. In this game he played 54 snaps, and was by far the biggest force on the defense, accounting for three pressures (exactly half of Miami’s total for the game), batting down a pass at the line of scrimmage, and also showing well in the run game where he was able to get into the backfield or re-route runs by penetrating inside his blocker. He also had a sack taken off the board when the play was nullified by a penalty.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing was the players that he was beating, because he was working through whoever and whatever type of player was put up against him. He made significant plays in the run game against a tight end, tackle, guard and center — perhaps his best play came against Dan Connolly with 10:38 remaining in the third quarter, as Odrick was able to beat his man to the inside and stuff the run at the line of scrimmage for no gain.
Where Was the Pass Rush?
When Odrick is accounting for exactly half of the total pressure your defense accounted for, something is not as it should be. There is no doubting he had a fine game, but others on that defense were conspicuously absent, and the rest of the defensive line combined for one solitary additional hurry from 107 pass-rushing snaps between them. That level of futility will never equal success, because a quarterback the caliber of Tom Brady can simply sit at home all day and pick the coverage apart with nothing to hurry him. In total, the Patriots passer was pressured on just six drop-backs, and even on those he completed three of his passes for 47 yards.
Despite having a fantastic season in 2012, Cameron Wake was a no-show in this game, making some plays in the run game, but accounting for just one hurry when the Miami defense usually leans on him to terrorize the opposing quarterback. This game ties Wake for his lowest output of the year, and represents just 1.1% of the pressure he has applied this season.
New England – Three Performances of Note
The Green Line
All five starters for the Patriots graded firmly in the green for this game, and almost managed a clean sweep of positive performances in both the run and the pass. However, the key to the game was that none of them was an issue and all played their part in keeping Tom Brady clean, as well as opening up holes for the run game to knock off chunks of yardage and effectively ice the victory in the second half. Sebastian Vollmer was taken to task the first time he faced Wake this season, but he was struggling with an injury that day and was touch-and-go to even suit up. This time he set about making sure that Wake wouldn’t be a factor in the game, and limited him to just one hurry from his day rushing the passer.
In total, the line surrendered only four hurries from 42 snaps each protecting the passer. That is the kind of day that allows Brady to do what he does best.
Another Good Wilfork Day
Since we wrote questioning the play of Vince Wilfork earlier this year he has had just a single bad game in the final half of the season, and, in fact, had two of the better days any defensive tackle has had — including this outing against Miami. He was a real handful in the run game, as you would expect, looking visibly overwhelming at times for Mike Pouncey to deal with in the middle, and making the young center look positively lightweight as they struggled one-on-one at times. The key though, was that he was able to influence the quarterback in his pass-rush too, something he is often unable to master.
Wilfork’s game in that area is all about power, and pushing the pocket to move the quarterback into other defenders, either by driving his blocker into the backfield or by clubbing his way to an edge of a gap and driving through it. It earned him a sack and three hurries in this game — his best output of the year — and simply goes to show that when he is on his game, that strategy is effective and can be truly destructive to an offense.
When Miami was able to get the ball in the air the Patriots were more than a match for their receivers and had the better of the aerial battle. Kyle Arrington, in particular, and Steve Gregory, for notching his interception, were the standout performers for the Patriots, but they got solid contributions from multiple players. Devin McCourty was matched up largely with Brian Hartline, holding him to just 54 yards on four catches, and that left Arrington taking whoever else Miami sent out into patterns — usually Armon Binns, who struggled with drops in his new home and could end the day with only 40 yards from seven targets. In addition to the interception, the group was able to bat away three passes.
— If the Patriots needed to move the chains, they threw to Wes Welker, who caught 8 of 11 targets for 94 yards and a touchdown. It is amazing how unstoppable that remains for defenses.
— Danny Woodhead – or ‘Wes Welker in the backfield’ – added 97 yards himself both running and catching as the Dolphins struggled to match up with the New England weapons.
— Any time your RBs combine for 47 yards rushing, you are unlikely to have had a great day, and so it held for Miami, with Reggie Bush’s 26 leading the way, 18 of which came on one scamper on the final play of the game.
PFF Game Ball
For producing the performance some would have you believe happens every week, Vince Wilfork dominated his way to the PFF Game Ball.
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