ReFo: Patriots @ Dolphins, Week 13
With consecutive games at Houston and San Francisco next on the schedule, this trip to Miami had the look of a possible trap game for the New England Patriots. And the Patriots played like it, as they could never put the Miami Dolphins away after opening up a 17-3 lead midway through the second quarter.
The offense in particular was off, a week after the team exploded for 49 points on Thanksgiving, with Tom Brady playing perhaps his worst game of the season. The numbers weren’t horrible, but his accuracy was inconsistent all day. In the end though, he and the Patriots were able to secure the win with a big drive late in the fourth quarter.
On the other side, the Dolphins had their opportunities, but could never get the offense going, and now have seen their already slim playoff hopes take another shot, despite another strong game by their defense.
Let’s take a look at a few key performances that decided this divisional showdown.
New England – Three Performances of Note
Much of the success for that final drive can be attributed to the play of the offensive line, which, with the exception of Sebastian Vollmer, had an outstanding day in the run game. Tackle Nate Solder and guard Donald Thomas were particularly effective on the left side of the line; both graded above +2.0 for their run blocking efforts, though the rushing numbers don’t necessarily capture that — the Patriots averaged just 3.2 YPC to the left side B- and C-gaps. However, the numbers did capture how well the line blocked on the interior where New England averaged 5.1 YPC through the A-gaps.
Despite the play of the rest of the line, we shouldn’t overlook just how bad Vollmer (-6.1) was. He struggled in the run game, but his play was especially abysmal in pass protection. Left to face Cameron Wake one-on-one for most of the game, he allowed seven disruptions and failed to block both inside and outside rushes. Of course, few tackles can single-handedly contain one of the NFL’s best pass rushers, but you expect him to offer some resistance. No play was worse than at 10:56 of the third quarter, when Wake easily disengaged and got around Vollmer for a crucial sack on third down.
Anchors of the Defense
The entire Patriot defense played a role in suppressing the Miami offense and causing Ryan Tannehill to complete fewer than 50% of his passes. Linebackers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes (+3.2) were particularly outstanding. Mayo had a well-rounded performance, grading positively for his efforts in coverage as well as rushing the passer. Playing every defensive snap, he allowed two catches for an average of merely 4 yards in the passing game and picked up three QB disruptions on just eight snaps as a rusher. And his running mate wasn’t too bad either; like Mayo, Spikes was exceptional in coverage, coming away with two pass defenses while not allowing any of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed.
Not Quite Gronk
He’s shown he can be a dangerous threat in the passing game, but Aaron Hernandez (+0.8) has yet to develop into a complete tight end. Against the Dolphins, Hernandez was not especially inspiring in either regard. Though he had 97 receiving yards, catching eight passes on 13 targets, including an impressive 55 YAC, he dropped a pair of passes. He also showed his limitations as a blocker, as he was beaten by Miami defenders on several Stevan Ridley runs, as the Dolphins limited the Patriots to fewer than 3.5 yards per carry. The tight end was also beaten for a hurry, though he stayed in to pass block on only five snaps.
Miami – Three Performances of Note
Though he only played 43% of the team’s offensive snaps, Daniel Thomas (-4.0) had about as bad a game as a player can have. His work in the running game was disappointing; on five carries, he managed to gain only 10 yards, with most of that coming on his long run of nine. His second-quarter fumble deep in Miami territory, though luckily recovered by the Dolphins, was a critical mistake and nearly a devastating turnover in a game in which offense was hard to come by. And as bad as Thomas was in the running game, his efforts in the passing game were even more disappointing. While the second-year RB did catch two passes for 19 yards, he was abysmal in pass protection. On his five snaps in pass protection, Thomas was beaten three times for a hurry, a hit, along with a drive-killing sack on a 3rd-and-4midway through the fourth quarter. Aptly, his Pass Blocking Efficiency rating of 50.0 was the lowest of the week by any back, tight end, or offensive lineman.
What a day for Reshad Jones (+3.6), who is having a breakout season and playing as well as any safety in the league right now. The highlight of the day was the spectacular interception at 3:22 in the first quarter, as he blanketed Hernandez down the sideline and caught the ball one-handed, returning the pick for a touchdown, though it was called back for an illegal block. That was the only time Jones was targeted in coverage all game, and he made the most of it, albeit on a slight underthrow from Brady. On the season, the safety is allowing just 48% of passes thrown his way to be completed, and is giving up fewer than 0.5 yards per snap in coverage. The interception wasn’t his only big play, however, as he picked up a big sack early in the fourth quarter, beating guard Donald Thomas, when the Patriots were inside the Dolphins’ 5-yard-line.
Jones was not perfect though, as he picked up a pass interference penalty in coverage against Daniel Fells and also missed a tackle on a Ridley run as the Patriots were icing the game.
Could Have Done More
Games like these make you come away wanting more from the Dolphins’ receiver group. For most teams, going against the New England secondary would be a favorable matchup, but Miami didn’t have the same success. Ryan Tannehill completed less than 50% of his passes and the wide outs generally struggled to get separation and, at times, failed to catch the ball when they did. Brian Hartline (+1.3 receiving) had the best day of the unit, hauling in five passes for 84 yards. Considering he was targeted 10 times, though, those numbers are less impressive. And add to that a dropped pass and a false start penalty and you can see why they largely struggled to move the ball. Hartline’s teammate, Davone Bess (-2.6), had an even worse game. Despite running the most routes of anyone on the team (36), Bess caught just one pass for 13 yards and dropped two others. It’s safe to say that the Dolphins, and their rookie quarterback, need more help from the receiving group going forward.
– When the Patriots blitzed, Ryan Tannehill completed one of seven passes for 22 yards.
– With another drop against Miami, Wes Welker has tied the league lead for drops among WRs with 11. His Drop Rate is only the 13th highest among qualifying receivers, however.
– Stevan Ridley forced an impressive six missed tackles on 19 carries, good for an Elusive Rating of 74.8.
Nate Solder gets the nod. He wasn’t always great in pass protection, surrendering three pressures, but his work in run blocking was excellent and was key in the Patriots’ final drive to close out the game.