Patriots at Dolphins Review: Conservative Pats Lose Out On Top Seed

The Patriots took an interesting approach to Sunday’s final regular season game in Miami.

On one hand, they played every healthy starter on the roster, but they also took an extremely conservative approach, especially offensively.

The Patriots seemed content with protecting certain players (Gronkowski, Amendola) while still trying to win the game.

Essentially, if the Patriots could run the ball effectively and win they’d take it, but they weren’t going to risk the few healthy players they have left just to clinch the #1 seed.

Defensively, they weren’t giving anything away to potential playoff opponents that may be watching. They played basic coverages with very few blitzes or exotic rushes.

Let’s take a look at some of the main concerns from an ugly loss in Miami:

On Offense

Pass Protection: The problems on the offensive line have been well documented in the media over the last month or so. That will happen when your quarterback is Tom Brady, and he is constantly on the ground. Every offensive lineman struggled at one point or another against Miami, but the play at the two tackle positions were the most troubling. Miami has an underrated edge rusher in Olivier Vernon, and he had himself a game at the expense of both Marcus Cannon and Cam Fleming. Ideally, Sebastian Vollmer would be playing over Fleming at LT, but we saw on Sunday how troubling it may be if Vollmer isn’t 100% in two weeks. We have to come to terms in Patriots Nation with the fact that this offensive line is the weak spot of this team, and is going to struggle in the postseason. As the Patriots attempted to make the game interesting in the fourth quarter, they found themselves with a 3rd and 14 at their own 16. The play kind of summed up the performance of the offensive line as both Vernon and Ndamukong Suh caved the pocket in from the edges, splitting the sack on Brady:

bradysack

Run Game: I don’t want to completely rip the offensive line in this section, but the failure to run the ball had a lot to do with poor blocking up front. It’s troubling that the Patriots sought out to try and run the ball (especially in the first half), and just simply couldn’t get things blocked up front to get a productive ground game going. They wanted to by physical, they wanted to establish the run heading into the postseason, and couldn’t do it. You don’t see Bill Belichick and company commit to something that significantly and fail so horrible very often. In the first quarter, the Patriots really tried to run the ball, but Steven Jackson and the other Pats RBs were met by a wall of multiple Dolphins defenders. On this play, there are three Dolphins defenders unblocked waiting for Jackson:

jackson

On Defense

Dolphins 4th Quarter TD Drive: The Patriots really simplified things defensively, and played Miami pretty much straight up in coverage with some zone mixed in. It appeared that the Patriots were pretty content with Jarvis Landry getting where he wanted on Sunday. If this game had higher stakes, you would like to think that more of the game plan would be on stopping Miami’s best receiver. On this play, Landry is lined up in the slot with Malcolm Butler in man coverage. It’s very difficult to cover Landry out of the slot, and asking Butler to do it on an island is asking for trouble. Devin McCourty is playing deep safety on the play, but the Pats essentially surrender the underneath stuff to Miami. With the game tied at this point, the Patriots basically just gave Miami 18 yards with this Landry quick slant. Look at how much space there’s for Landry to run into, that’s going to be tough for any CB:

landry

The play of the game was DeVante Parker’s tip catch off of what should have been a PBU for Logan Ryan. It’s an extremely unlucky bounce for Ryan, who was in good position to make a play, but the angle taken by Devin McCourty could have been better. McCourty appeared to be slowed down by the ankle injury he suffered a few weeks back, but this is usually a play McCourty makes. It’s possible that he was giving Ryan space to make a play on the ball, but by not closing on Parker, McCourty gives him a chance to catch the ball on the ricochet.

mccourty

Nickel Corner: The Patriots third CB this season has been somewhat of a revolving door since the beginning. First, it was Justin Coleman who played very well until his hand injury plagued him for much of the second half of the season. Then, Rashaan Melvin was given a chance, but was quickly replaces by Leonard Johnson. Johnson played well in his first few games as a Patriot, but has rapidly declined in recent weeks. Against the Dolphins, Johnson was a liability when on the field. He gave up six catches on nine targets, mostly to the aging veteran Greg Jennings. Also, Johnson looked lost a number of times in zone coverage, and got caught in no man’s land a few times. The nickel corner position is the biggest question mark on this defense heading into the postseason, as teams will continue to pick on Johnson if he continues to play poorly. Look at Johnson’s grades by game according to Pro Football Focus, it’s easy to see him fall off a cliff in recent weeks:

johnson