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After Further Review: Patriots-Dolphins

20190916-AfterFurtherReview-PDC

FIRST QUARTER

- The Patriots defense opened with a three-and-out that would set the tone for the entire game. They played two snaps of 3-4, illustrating the strength of their linebacker group. Danny Shelton continued his solid season by dominating from the nose tackle spot. It’s interesting how certain personnel can go a game without much action but be right back in the mix the next. Shelton would play only 21 snaps but he was effective on just about every one, and in a way that we didn’t see last year.

- The offense had a set group of packages on the first drive, featuring Antonio Brown in a four-receiver group as well as subbing him in on some three-receiver packages. Brown’s suddenness jumps off the screen. It’s a bit surreal seeing 17 for the Patriots look that good on the field. We knew Brown was one of the best receivers in the league, but that doesn’t prepare you for the novelty of seeing him on the field in a Patriots uniform.

- The use of 21 and 22 personnel inside the red zone was nice to see after the offense ran a lot of empty sets in the red zone against the Steelers and it was ineffective. It’s notable that in last year’s playoffs the “gotta-have-it” plays went off left tackle and now they appeared to focus on running behind the interior. Sony Michel got on track this drive, capping it off with his first touchdown of the season.

- Matthew Slater’s appearance at wide receiver in the goal line was interesting considering how many actual receivers are on the roster. Let’s say it now, this is just to set up a Slater touchdown that will come off play action later this season. In 11 seasons with the Pats Slater has caught one pass and doesn’t have a touchdown.

- An interesting package the Patriots defense unleashed in this game was a 2-5-4 that featured two hand-down pass rushers like Adam Butler and Michael Bennett and five linebackers behind them. Chase Winovich continues to get opportunities as a designated pass rusher. He picked up 1.5 sacks and two QB hits. This has allowed Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy to mix up coverage and pass rush.

- On the second offensive possession the Pats went to mostly 11 (1 RB/1TE) personnel with Phillip Dorsett as the third receiver with Edelman and Gordon. This will likely be their most effective offensive package this season. They switched to 21 on third-and-five with Brown outside and Michel was stopped short once again running up the middle.

SECOND QUARTER

- The defense shifted to a 2-4-5 front, their most-used package so far this season, early in the second quarter and it was just as effective. Michael Bennett has been a bit under the radar but he continues to be a force inside, blowing plays up even if he doesn’t record a tackle. He’s so fast off the snap.

- Jamie Collins once again showed how versatile he is, starting as an outside linebacker in the first quarter, then sliding inside with Ja’whaun Bentley in the second quarter as the Pats rotated their defense all game. No front seven defenders played more than two-thirds of the snaps.

- The offense sputtered on their next drive, with Marshall Newhouse at left tackle and Korey Cunningham at right tackle. The drop off in athleticism is apparent, especially going from Wynn to Newhouse, but both were effective enough and not the prime reason the drive failed. The Pats seemed to make their playcalls to protect the fill-ins from having to block for too long, but things still looked a bit disjointed, resulting in Brady’s first incompletion, a slant pass to Josh Gordon.

- Despite the concerns about the replacement tackles, it was Shaq Mason getting trucked back into Brady mid-way through the second quarter. Cunningham had no one to block on the play, perhaps he should’ve helped out. Tough to decipher responsibilities, but a nice play by rookie Christian Wilkins.

- On the third-and-17 conversion to Phillip Dorsett the offense had their pony package with Michel and Burkhead on the field, both chipped their respective edge rushers and it helped give Brady enough time to complete the pass. It was just a three-man rush anyway, so main credit to Brady and Dorsett. This was the only snap with Burkhead and White out there together.

- Brady’s touchdown throw to Antonio Brown was a glimpse of things to come. It was a perfectly placed and timed throw to Brown’s back shoulder and an athletic catch by the receiver. To have that kind of trust and timing after just three practices says a lot. And yeah, it was a bit of a push off.

THIRD QUARTER

- The running game looked discombobulated after halftime, then culminating with a hold by Newhouse on third-and-7. With Isaiah Wynn’s health now in question, the offensive unit will need to make the most of practice this week because the holes just weren’t there.

- The defense broke out their quarter personnel (seven DBs) for the first time on third-and-10 and were rewarded with Stephon Gilmore’s tipped interception to Devin McCourty. Just a supremely athletic play by Gilmore and an example of how in sync the defense is right now.

- Brady couldn’t connect with Brown in the second half but he was still looking for him. Three plays mid-way through the third made the lack of practice time was apparent as Brown turned the wrong way once, was not ready for a quick pass up the seam that might’ve been a touchdown and then Brady underthrew Brown on third down. Again, Brown gets open so quickly it might be surprising even for a quarterback like Brady.

- Danny Shelton continues to jump off the screen with how quickly he gets off the ball for a big man. It’s almost unheard of for a nose tackle to win that quickly and get on top of the quarterback before he’s finished his drop. With that kind of domination up the middle, offenses are going to have a real tough time getting anything going.

- Matt LaCosse played 58 percent of the snaps in his debut and chipped in two catches for 33 yards. His blocking was effective enough considering he’s been dealing with an ankle injury. He’s an intriguing player this season. Could he hold on to the job even after Ben Watson comes back from suspension? He should benefit from the attention the receivers are getting.

- Adam Butler might’ve had the best game of his career, recording two sacks, two tackles for loss, a pass defense and two QB hits to go with three tackles. He was extremely active as a base 3-4 defensive end and interior pass rusher. His burst off the snap has always been impressive and now it seems with less two-gapping he’s able to play to his strengths. With him and Bennett, the defense has two effective pass rushers along the line.

FOURTH QUARTER

- The ground game struggled in the fourth quarter primarily out of 11 personnel. Would’ve been nice to run the game out but penalties hurt them as well, especially a pick play by Ryan Izzo that was flagged.

- Stephon Gilmore’s pick six made up the difference as the offense stagnated. Just a perfect read of the play as Gilmore broke on the ball like he was shot out of a gun.

- Jamie Collins' two interceptions were a nice reminder of the kind of splash plays he’s capable of making. For his career Collins how has nine interceptions and 13 forced fumbles. With rare athleticism and the ability to make consistent plays on the ball, Collins is a game changer who is one of the most fun defenders in the league to watch.

- Terrence Brooks got some time on defense as part of a 2-3-6 dime package, playing a linebacker-like role in the middle of the field. Getting so many players action on defense is great for depth and managing injuries early in the season.

- Sony Michel’s fumble near the end of the game was the perfect kind of play for Bill Belichick to hold over the offense’s head all this week. It was poor ball security from Michel, something we haven’t seen from him. Minkah Fitzpatrick knocked the ball out. He had no fumbles as a rookie.

Top defensive personnel packages were:

2-4-5 nickel – 23 snaps

1-4-6 dime – 15 snaps

3-4-4 regular – 10 snaps

2-3-6 dime – 10 snaps

It’s clear how much the Patriots are playing to their strength at linebacker. For just 12 snaps did they not have four linebackers on the field, and for three snaps they had five linebackers on the field. Their depth is really impressive and a throwback to 2003-2004.

Top offensive personnel packages were:

11 personnel – 34 snaps

21 personnel – 21 snaps

They also ran six snaps of 10 personnel and one snap of 20, meaning no tight end on the field. Just one snap that wasn’t on the goal line featured two tight ends.

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