ReFo: Dolphins @ Patriots, Week 8
The hurt goes on for the Miami Dolphins, a fourth straight defeat and all the optimism of a 3-0 start has given way to the frustration and desperation of a team that seems unable to make any step forward, let alone the big step forward that they had for the taking all that way back in Week 4. Heading into that Monday night game in New Orleans there was hopeful optimism that the Dolphins could hang tough with the Saints and set out their stall as a team that would make the stride towards competing for a playoff spot in 2013.
Two agonizing defeats since that three score defeat were followed up with a loss to the Patriots that the Dolphins will wonder how it got away from them. In control at the half they let the game get away from them and then lost out on a crucial call midway through the fourth quarter which the Patriots ruthlessly capitalized on while the Dolphins were still reeling. This was another harsh lesson for the Dolphins that they still have some growth to do if they are to take that step towards competing for a playoff spot. Right now they need to arrest the slide that they are on before it gets out of control and really starts putting people’s jobs at risk.
For the Patriots this was another example of winning ugly and for a team that has rarely hit its stride this season they now sit two games clear in the AFC East and firmly in control of the division as we head towards the second half of the season. This was a team with enough of a veteran presence around the younger players to be able to come up with and capitalize on timely plays to win a game that should have been closer than two scores.
Miami – Three Performances of Note
Runners Build on Momentum Gained
After strong games at home to Buffalo last week neither Lamar Miller (+1.1 rushing) nor Daniel Thomas (+1.3 rushing) took a step back this week. With superior run blocking up front, and some shoddy gap discipline and angles from the Patriots’ defense, they didn’t and weren’t asked to force as many missed tackles as they did last week, instead able to focus on finding the creases afforded to them by their offensive line and get upfield to maximize those gains. Both backs gains in the region of five yards per carry with each doing the majority of their work off the left side with the Dolphins not shy of getting in behind new left tackle Bryant McKinnie from the outset in the running game. Though he tailed away late in the game McKinnie laid some good blocks early in the game which allowed the Dolphins to get their two best run blockers (Richie Incognito and Mike Pouncey) into the game early and keep them in the game with their runners reaping the dividends. Only seven carries combined in the second half for Miller and Thomas, however, tells part of the story in the turnaround that we saw in the second half of this game.
Rare Struggles up Front
Stopping the run has been a forté of this Miami defense this season but not so in their first encounter of the season with the Patriots. On the defensive line only Cameron Wake, Randy Starks and Olivier Vernon graded positively for the game with New England blockers consistently able to get the better of Miami’s linemen in the trenches. The rest of the defensive line all earned a run defense grade of -1.2 or worse with Jared Odrick’s particularly poor game against the run shrouded on the stat sheet by his pair of sacks that earned him a +2.2 pass rush grade. As ever, lining up across the defensive line Odrick faced off with a number of different linemen and was bested by all but Marcus Cannon who he got the better of driving underneath a block to disrupt a pull block by Logan Mankins in a rare success against the run. The Dolphins’ struggles up front helped allow the Patriots runners to gain 95 yards before contact in the game, an average of nearly three yards per carry for the Patriots’ running backs before a Miami defender made contact. With a heavy dose of the run in the second half (19 backfield carries) this inability to disrupt the Patriots’ running game played a key role in their eventual defeat.
Back to the Right, but the Struggles Continue
The arrival of McKinnie in Miami has shifted Jonathan Martin back to right tackle for the Dolphins and though we saw worse from him in 2012 this wasn’t an encouraging start. You do have to give the caveat that switching sides for an offensive linemen is not easy at any stage let alone doing it in a week when he will have been working so hard to make the switch to left tackle throughout the offseason and preseason. His pass protection was a step forwards from last week (-4.2 to -1.6) but he did still allow half a dozen pressures (a sack, two hits, and three hurries) with pass rushers beating him inside and outside. After such a strong display run blocking last week he didn’t have that to fall back on this week either. After a couple of poor plays early in the first quarter, the running game was kept almost completely away from him with the Miller and Thomas only attempting five carries off right guard or wide compared to 14 carries off left guard or wider.
New England – Three Performances of Note
Ticking all the Boxes
The New England Patriots have made great efforts to revamp their defense in recent seasons but one player who has stuck around quietly doing his job is Rob Ninkovich and he popped up against the Dolphins with a big game as a pass rusher, profiting from favorable matchups and unblocked opportunities to make a mark in this game. Ninkovich registered a season-high nine total pressures (one sack, two hits, six hurries) to take his season total through eight games to 36, only six short of his total for the entirety of last year’s regular season. He added to his fine display with a pair of batted passes (one of which was nullified by a delay of game penalty) and a trio of tackles (one of them a stop). He even notched up a missed tackle to register a stat in every column of our defensive stats page for this game. We have seen much better from Ninkovich as a run defender this season but this was the most productive we have seen Ninkovich as a pass rusher this season and comfortably the most effective more importantly.
Jekyll and Hyde Performance
When you come to review Logan Mankins’ performance in this game and to an extent in this season so far you will be torn on how to view him. On the one hand, Mankins struggled in pass protection surrendering five pressures for the second time in three weeks but his run blocking was at its physical, dominant best. You have to laud the tremendous work he did for the run game that took the pressure off of a passing game that still isn’t firing on all cylinders but his subpar pass protection also played its part in derailing that aerial attack surrendering sacks to Odrick (twice) and Olivier Vernon. On the ground he (and the Patriots) took a little while to get into the game but in the second half he was pivotal in the control the Patriots had in the trenches working well on double teams and single teams at the line of scrimmage as well as working up to neutralize linebackers. In a game of true opposites, Mankins is likely to have one of our highest run block grades for the week (+3.2) and yet one of our lowest pass protection grades (-3.8).
Varied Contributions in the Secondary
Aside from Ninkovich up front, the stars of the Patriots’ defense this week were to be found in the secondary where they really put the clamps on the Miami passing game in the second half. Their leader in the secondary (Devin McCourty) was found wanting early as he surrendered a pair of third down conversion to Charles Clay on the Dolphins’ opening touchdown drive but Miami didn’t exploit that matchup again and McCourty was back to his solid best at safety, crucially providing the assist for Marquice Cole’s interception which setup the drive which put New England 10 points to the good. Elsewhere in the secondary Logan Ryan was solid in coverage (3-of-7, 30 yards and a pass defense) but had his biggest impact as a pass rusher notching two sacks and forcing a fumble from Ryan Tannehill on the first of those which swung the momentum fully in New England’s direction as they wiped out Miami’s two touchdown lead in less than two third quarter minutes. To complete the unit all Kyle Arrington and Steve Gregory did was combine to surrender a solitary 5-yard completion on seven targets with Arrington notching a pair of pass defenses while Gregory delivered a hit on Rishard Matthews to help force an incompletion late in the first quarter.
– In contrast to Ninkovich’s success on the opposite side Chandler Jones was held without a pressure on 48 pass rushes, blanked for the first time this season.
– On his return to the field for the first time since prior to the bye week, Dannell Ellerbe led the Dolphins with four defensive stops (matching his season high) and earned a +1.6 run defense grade.
– Veteran pick up Austin Collie played 33 snaps this week but was not targeted on any of his 19 pass routes.
PFF Game Ball
When you are presented with favorable matchups you need to take advantage of them and this week Rob Ninkovich built on solidity with a real impact performance when the opportunity arose.
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