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After Further Review: Patriots defense can't finish what they started vs. Miami

20191230-AfterFurtherReview-PDC

First Quarter

-The first two defensive plays of the game for the Patriots kind of summed up how things would go in the game, with first Jamie Collins, then Dont'a Hightower being just a split second late and an inch off respectively, allowing passes of 12 and seven yards. Collins couldn't quite finish Fitzpatrick, while Hightower had the right drop and might've had an interception but just missed it.

-Lawrence Guy would get a drive-changing sack, winning cleanly off the line and finishing off Fitzpatrick to stall out the Dolphins drive. On fourth down, they'd attempt a fake punt, which was a curious decision and really, not even a fake punt, just going for it on fourth down with your punter at QB. If you're going to go for it why not use your offense instead of lining up your punt team like they're the offense? Or fake it. Either way, the Patriots defended it pretty well, though there was an underneath receiver open. Credit to Matthew Slater for sifting through the trash and getting downfield to defend the deep pass.

-The Patriots offense responded with a three-and-out, with a third-down draw sweep getting blown up. Specifically, Miami read it perfectly and blasted N'Keal Harry into the backfield, short circuiting the play. After taking over at their own 45 and needing a fast start, the Patriots couldn't take advantage of the opportunity, setting the tone for the day on offense.

-Fitzpatrick would hit DeVante Parker for a 28-yard gain, pump faking the underneath route and then, when Gilmore jumped it, lofting a perfect pass over his head. After an outstanding season, Gilmore was targeted early and often with success as the Dolphins used his aggressiveness against him.

-Another play that summed the game up was when the Dolphins attempted a reverse pass that the Patriots had covered. But Dietrich Wise whiffed on the sack, allowing Ford to run for 11 yards and another first down.

-The Dolphins kept rolling as Fitzpatrick stared down a six-man blitz, calmly unloading the ball to the underneath route. Miami had a plan for New England's pressure all game as Fitzpatrick was made throws both from the pocket and on the run. The Pats brought pressure again on the final third down of the drive, bringing six again and this time it was just enough to force an incompletion but not by much. It was nearly a touchdown.

-Brady would sail a pass over Phillip Dorsett's head with former Pats practice squadder Nate Brooks in coverage. Brady and a receiver who's been here for three years not being able to execute against someone who was just plucked off their practice squad was how things were going in this one.

Second Quarter

-Matthew Slater saving a punt from going into the end zone was another impactful special teams play in a season filled with them. This was as close as the Patriots defense and special teams would get to a turnover in the game. In the past five games the Patriots have three without a takeaway.

-Tough to tell where Brady was throwing on the pick six, as both Edelman and Michel appeared headed to the same spot. Brady floated it and Eric Rowe made the easy interception. Those seven points off the turnover would loom large at the end of the game.

-The Pats offense finally showed signs of life on four-straight runs that picked up a total of 40 yards out of 12 personnel (two tight ends). Nice job by the offensive line and tight ends to get second-level blocks, while the backs did well avoiding early tacklers.

-The defense would force a Dolphins punt on the next possession but they were oh so close to taking the third-down pass for a big gain as Fitzpatrick was just a touch off on the pass and it was dropped. Miami left more plays on the field than New England did.

-A 50-yard pass to Phillip Dorsett was just the kind of explosive play the offense needed and Sony Michel would finish it off from four yards out with a hard run behind a nice block by Elandon Roberts. It was Dorsett's first and only catch in the last four games.

Third Quarter

-A three-and-out on the opening drive of the second half was not what the Patriots needed but that's what they got when Brady hit Sanu for a three-yard pass on third-and-five, which Sanu had to one-hand. Brady targeted Sanu on four third downs, converting the last two.

-Jonathan Jones has played out of a safety spot in some formations this year and the Pats were burned for 24 yards on it this time as Wilson had a big cushion and was able to run a corner route away from Jones' coverage that allowed an easy pitch and catch. The lack of disruption was apparent on this, the first Dolphins drive of the second half. The pass rush has been subsiding in recent weeks.

-Once the Dolphins got the Patriots defense on their heels they continued to attack, breaking out a double pass screen that went for 20 yards. Not sure if the Patriots have had more of these kind of gimmick plays run against them more than other teams but it seems like teams attempt something tricky every game at least once against them.

-Fitzpatrick did an excellent job navigating things from the pocket, stepping up and making an awkward throw to Gesicki to get them to the goal line and then finishing the drive off with a late down scramble up the middle. This scoring drive summed it all up, the Dolphins were dictating the tempo of the game and the Patriots could not get a bead on what they were doing.

-Elandon Roberts had leaked out into the flat and been open on an earlier play and the Patriots came back to it, as Brady found Roberts up the sideline for a nice catch and run, taking it in for the 38-yard touchdown. It was one of the few feel-good moments of the game and it's too bad it was wasted in a disappointing loss. Roberts has been one of the really nice stories from this season as he was named captain and has taken over the fullback spot.

Fourth Quarter

-After the pass protection had been pretty good all day, Marcus Cannon was beaten off the edge by former Patriots practice squadder Trent Harris. Again, losing to a team playing three of your former practice squad players is a special kind of depressing.

-The Dolphins would pull ahead with a nine-play, field-goal-scoring drive that really only got plays of 15 and 23 yards along with a J.C. Jackson pass interference penalty. Again Fitzpatrick stood in the pocket, stared down the pressure and delivered perfect strikes, often to the middle of the field like Parker's 23-yard reception.

-The Patriots would respond with a touchdown-scoring drive to take their first lead of the game, sparked in part by a nice run by Rex Burkhead for 14 yards. Burkhead has strung together a couple good games heading into the playoffs and Sony Michel hasn't been far behind him. They're a small silver lining but the running game (and the run defense) have been better.

-Sanu's 22-yard third-down catch was the biggest play of the drive and it came very late in the down as the Dolphins rushed three and Brady had all day to find Sanu. The Patriots would score three plays later on a perfectly executed screen pass to James White, with Shaq Mason making the key block.

-After a season of making nearly all of the big, game-changing plays, the defense was methodically beaten on the final Dolphins drive of the game that went 75 yards on 13 plays. They would face just two third downs, of one yard and five yards, converting both. Only three plays weren't positive for Miami on the drive as Fitzpatrick found his rhythm in the pocket.

-The big play was a 24-yard pass to Parker, who jumped up over Stephon Gilmore and made the catch. That it came on 2nd-and-12, a winnable down and distance is what's most troubling. It was a missed opportunity.

-The winning touchdown came on a simple angle route to tight end Mike Gesicki with Patrick Chung in coverage. Teams have seemed to target Chung more and more in recent weeks. But this drive was a total team letdown as the pressure and coverage were never in sync, especially in the second half where the Dolphins scored points on three of their four drives and got into Patriots territory in all of them.

Personnel Packages

Offense

  • 11 - 26 snaps
  • 12 - 20 snaps
  • 10 - 6 snaps
  • 21 - 7 snaps
  • 22 - 1 snap

Defense

  • 1-4-6 - 29 snaps
  • 3-3-5 - 21 snaps
  • 3-4 - 7 snaps
  • 2-3-6 - 8 snaps
  • Goal line - 1 snap

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