The 13-2 New England Patriots travelled to face the 10-5 Miami Dolphins at Miami Gardens, Florida. The following is my reaction to the game after watching the game live Sunday and re-watching it in its Monday evening. A pre-snap breakdown of the play call is followed by analysis and then a gif of the play. Go follow me on twitter @TomLikeFootball. Tweet @ me your thoughts and comments on the game.
N.B. If you have slow internet connect you may want to leave the article load for 3-5 minutes. This should allow the gifs to fully load.
Narrative throughout the week
Listed below are a collection of the narratives and storylines that emerged and developed throughout the week:
- Following last weeks win over the Buffalo Bills, Miami found themselves 10-5 and following Denver's loss late Sunday Evening/ early Monday morning (for us UK fans), the Miami Dolphins made the Play Offs for the first time since 2008. The Dolphins were confirmed a spot in the post-season, however, their current wildcard schedule was a trip to Pittsburgh to face a powerful Steelers Offense. If Miami beat New England + Kansas City lost to San Diego (who just lost to Cleveland) then the Dolphins would travel to Houston rather than Pittsburgh. However, in a risk-reward scenario it was clear that the tiny chance of this happening, did not outweigh the risk Miami losing one of its key playmakers to injury. Miami is already missing a lot of key starters on both sides of the ball and Jay Ajayi appeared banged up late in the game last week vs. Buffalo. However, Adam Gase announced in a press conference that he planned on playing his starters and was not going to rest any players in the game vs. New England.
- Once Gase confirmed that Miami would play its starters vs. New England, I was extremely intrigued as to how certain elements of this roster would perform. The Dolphins would field a banged up secondary and I wanted to see how Michael Thomas and Bacarri Rambo play next to each other (IAQ went to IR late in the week). I also wanted to see if this young group of Corner Backs could go toe-to-toe with New England's various playmakers and most importantly how the 'Fins LBers (who apart from Kiko, have struggled all season in coverage) would hold up against the Patriots TEs and RBs. The performance of Matt Moore was something I was also looking forward to monitoring as he would face-off against a play off calibre Defense and have to disect the complex schemes of Patriots DC Matt Patricia and HC Bill Belichick (something he has not had to do for a while...)
- A lot of the narrative throughout the week was about how Miami would actually stop this Patriots team. Tom Brady is playing as well as any other time in his career and he has a multitude of weapons through which he can carve up opposing Defences. It would be important for Miami to not allow him to complete the quick passes which put the Patriots often in 2nd or 3rd and manageable. Many feared that this could be a day of reckoning for Vance Joseph's Defense.
- Finally, many reflected throughout the week on what a rollercoaster season this truly has been. After starting 1-4, the Dolphins went 9-1 to secure themselves a Play Off spot for the first time in eight years. Adam Gase has impressed many during his rookie campaign as most (myself included) wrote off this season as the first in a long re-build as Gase would need to overhaul much of this roster (mainly on the Defensive side). However, Gase and his Co-ordinators have made it work and managed to get the free agent signings of previous regimes to buy in. No matter what happens against New England or in the Wild Card Round, not many could have imagined what would have happened the rest of the season after Miami's 1-4 start.
- Defensive Co-Ordinator Vance Joseph has reportedly had numerous teams request permission to interview him for vacant Head Coaching jobs. TE MarQueis Gray was handed a 2 year contract extension.
Martellus Bennett 2 yard TD reception
This play results in a TD due to a total breakdown in coverage between FS Michael Thomas and OLB Donald Butler (both circled). Although Thomas motions with TE Matt Lengel implying he is playing man coverage, it looks as though he has passed off the TE to OLB Neville Hewitt. I therefore believe that Thomas is the single high safety (and his initial movements after the snap suggest this), however, he is lined up on the left side of the line in case the Patriots run at that side. Donald Butler totally misses Patriots TE Martellus Bennett who runs untouched off the line and into the back of the end zone for an easy TD. The Dolphins struggled to get lined up correctly the play before and as you can see from the 2nd Gif. Alonso had to push DBs into position and adjust where the LBs were lined up. This play was disastrous for Miami as they bit on the run and sold out in an attempt to stop Blount. This left Brady with time to find a wide open Bennett thanks to the misdirection.
Michael Floyd 14 yard TD reception
This TD was embarrassing for the Miami Dolphins Defense. The initial coverage by Tony Lippett was poor as he is beat on a slant by Michael Floyd for a 1st down. However, what happens next is comical. Below you can just how many defenders Miami had in the area when Floyd caught the slant for Brady. How this ended up being a TD is beyond the control of Defensive Co-Ordinator Vance Joseph as the Patriots appeared to 'want the game more' than the Dolphins early on.
Matt Moore's Interception
The first part of this play is excellent for Matt Moore. His hot route DeVante Parker gets open on the hot route as he cuts back inside. However, just as Moore is about to release the ball for a potentially long gain on a catch and run from Parker, Moore tucks the balls. Sensing the pressure and knowing that DE Jabaal Sheard is about to crash into Moore from behind, he tucks the ball instead of forcing a fumble. This is excellent pocket presence and reading pressure by Moore who then dances out of the pocket and rolling out to the wrong side scans down field. The reason why this was an INT is because Moore throws an ugly lob across his body and severely under throws TE Dion Sims who was open down the sideline.
Ndamukong Suh encroachment
I just had to include this in here. A tone setter on Defense and a player who is feared by nearly every Offensive Linemen he lines up against. Sometimes Ndamukong Suh just has to hit someone. The Center does actually roll back on his heels and this should have been called for false start on the Offense. However, the officials missed this one and Suh got called for encroachment.
Jarvis Landry 8 yard TD reception
Jarvis Landry is initially Moore's hot route. Landry is going to run a 5 and stop and sit down right on the first down marker. However, Rob Ninkovich picks Landry up in his zone coverage forcing Moore to look left to see if Parker or Stills have found a soft spot in the zone coverage. After not finding an open receiver Moore scans back to the middle of the field where he sees an open Landry running free along the first down marker. What happens next is something that Dolphins fans have grown accustomed to as Jarvis Landry refuses to go out of bounds or shirk from a hit. Landry takes on MLB Dont'a Hightower (all 6"3, 265lbs of him) and manages to withstand the hit and more importantly stays balanced and upright. Landry then runs into the End Zone for a big Dolphins TD before the half. The one knock on Landry this season has been his lack of production in terms of Touchdowns, however, this combined with his TD against the Bills 2 weeks ago puts him at 4 on the season. Nothing spectacular but still at least it puts him in the top 3 on the team for receiving TDs.
Kenny Stills 25 yard TD reception
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Kenny Stills has been a Touchdown machine for the Dolphins. Stills hauled in his 9th of the season and surprise surprise, it was another big chunk play from the speedster who should be on double digits (if you can remember that painful drop in week 1 @ Seattle). This plays was perfectly drawn up by Adam Gase to put stress on the Patriots secondary as he has to decide which of the two go routes to pick up leaving the other potentially open. Gase is trying to isolate the safety on the right hand side, forcing him to pick one of the two receivers, hopefully leaving the other one open. The Dolphins also have two receivers running 5 and ins to draw the attention of MLB Kyle Van Noy (light blue). Van Noy bites on the underneath routes and before he can adjust, Stills is running by him into the massive hole in the middle of New Englands cover 2 zone coverage.
Julian Edelman 77 yard TD catch and run
Tom Brady reads that Miami are bringing pressure (7 players) and gets this ball out of his hands in less than 2 seconds. Defensive Co-ordinator Vance Joseph has the Dolphins in his favourite Double A Gap look on 3rd down. Brady must have prepared for this throughout the week as he immediately looks at Edelman who is running a go route. Edelman turns and locates the ball before Kiko Alonso is within two yards of him. This was a great play design as there was no way either of Miami's two Linebackers lined up either side of the Center would have had time to get into position to break up this pass. What happens next is something that Miami cannot afford next week if they want to challenge against the Pittsburgh Steelers and there talented playmakers.
Damien Williams' costly fumble
This game was very similar to Miami's first meeting with New England earlier in the season, as the Dolphins seemed to hang around despite being blown out of the water for the first quarter and a half. Down by only 13 points and with over 8 minutes left in the game, this was a huge red zone turnover. Williams was too busy trying to make a big play after the catch and did not secure the football with two hands as he was about to turn towards goal. Devin McCourty poked the ball free while Shea Mcclellan ran the ball back to Miami's 18 yard line, sealing the game for New England. The Dolphins started the season leaking turnovers and a large part of their success over the past two months has been looking after the football. Williams has been a great big play and red zone threat for the Dolphins this season and I am sure he will learn from this costly fumble.
LeGarrette Blount 1 yard TD run
The Patriots go in their heavy set here. Their Center and RG double team Suh while Kiko Alonso is "held" (how I saw it anyway) by the FB who is lead blocking for Blount. Michael Thomas is too late in run support while the rest of Miami's Line is shifted off their blocks as Blount runs into the End Zone through the B gap virtually untouched. This is January football and the Dolphins need to address this, this week as they travel to Pittsburgh Sunday to face Le'Veon Bell.
The Miami Dolphins may have lost the game but that is not the big take away from this one. The Dolphins coaches will turn on the film Tuesday morning and have a lot to smile about and a lot to frown at. The Patriots TDs largely came off busted plays, whether its coverage or gap assignments (something that can be remedied). While the scoreline got away from Miami, the game was much closer than the score suggests. Miami was hanging around in this one for a long time after getting blown out of the water for the first 23 minutes of the game. If not for a crucial Damien Williams fumble then these pesky Dolphins might just have ruffled Bill Belichick's feathers with a close game going down to the wire.
On Defense I thought Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake had quiet games. However, this was largely due to the way that the Patriots operate on Offense where everything on 1st down is short and quick or a run. This is because the Patriots do no want Brady to be backed up on 2nd or 3rd down and allow Miami's pass rushers to pin back their ears. On Defense I thought Kiko Alonso played well again. His leadership and knowledge of the play book is now shining through and he is the captain of this Defense with Suh and Wake as his leading and star generals going to work in front of him. DT Jordan Phillips was extremely disruptive during his reps and the 2015 2nd round pick is looking more and more like an excellent choice at the DT position next to Suh. Although Tony Lippett is still being consistently beat on slants (due to him lining up 7-8 yards off the receiver), he is improving every game and his coverage ability has improved greatly since the start of the season. Lippett is flashing the potential to be a solid no.2 Corner.
On Offense, Kenny Stills is adding more 0's to his new contract every game. The speedster now has 9 TDs on the season and has become both Matt Moore and Ryan Tannehill's favourite down field target. Jarvis Landry is Jarvis Landry and is able to turn small gains into large ones with his toughness, tenacity and run after the catch ability. DeVante Parker is extremely effective on slants, particularly when he is lined up in a bunch set or behind just another receiver. He had three 1st downs this game and that long TD against Buffalo last week from these formations. Damien Williams despite his fumble is still a big part of this Dolphins Offense, particularly on 3rd down where he is so effective catching the ball out of the backfield. The O-Line was excellent in pass protection but struggled in run blocking as the same holes from last week simply were not there for Ajayi. The Jay Train did run hard as we are used to seeing, even if that is not reflected in the box score. Matt Moore played better than you can expect from most back up QBs. Again he was haunted by a horribly under thrown pass which resulted in another INT but Moore has the pocket presence and ability to quickly dissect Defences which allows him to connect with Miami's playmakers and allow them to do the rest (I hate the word 'Game Manager').
10-6 after a 1-4 start. The Dolphins will travel to Pittsburgh Sunday to face a red hot Steelers Offense in the post season. If the Jay Train is running full steam ahead and the Dolphins playmakers can make tacklers miss and extend drives with run after the catch, there is no reason why this Dolphins team cannot go into Pittsburgh and get a result. Numerous teams around the NFL are interested in Dolphins DC Vance Joseph. This is his chance to show the rest of the NFL what he is all about and figure out a game plan to shut down Big Bell, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. Fins Up!
On to Pittsburgh!