New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins: Week 15 Observations

Ryan Tannehill and the Miami Dolphins survived a late push from the Patriots to take care of business at home. (Photo: US Presswire)

NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones

The Miami Dolphins remain in the race for the AFC East, withstanding another last-minute drive from the New England Patriots to earn a 24-20 victory and make up for their earlier loss to the Patriots in week eight. Read on for five observations from this week’s loss.

1. Left tackle Nate Solder re-injured, forcing rookie Josh Kline into the starting lineup

All three of New England’s offensive tackles were listed as questionable heading into this week’s game, with star left tackle Nate Solder having missed some practice time this week with a concussion sustained during last week’s victory. However, Solder was forced from the game early today and ruled out shortly afterwards with what was listed as a head injury. Short on offensive line personnel, the Patriots shifted left guard Logan Mankins to left tackle, with undrafted free agent Josh Kline taking over for Mankins at left guard.

The injury proved costly, as although Brady was sacked just one time this week, he was hit on six other occasions, taking a beating late in the game which disrupted New England’s passing game. There appeared to be some chemistry issues between Kline and center Ryan Wendell, most notably on one play in which a Miami defender had a clear path to Brady. Should Solder miss any extended time, it’s unclear how the Patriots would account for his absence.

When swing reserve Will Svitek is healthier, it’s possible that he could step into the lineup rather than Kline, who appeared overwhelmed. This may be an area which the Patriots will target with a corresponding roster move this week in order to ensure that this situation doesn’t resurface in the future, or to provide sufficient depth should Solder be listed as an inactive again next week.

2. Patriots make some questionable decisions regarding defensive back assignments

As Mike Wallace is undoubtedly Miami’s top receiving option, it came as something of a surprise that the Patriots opted not to cover him with Aqib Talib, instead playing Kyle Arrington at left cornerback for almost the entire first half, with Talib drawing various assignments ranging from covering tight end Charles Clay to lining up in the slot on the opposite side of the field. The results were decidedly mixed, as Talib was able to limit his opponents but Arrington struggled to defend receivers down the sideline, Mike Wallace’s twenty-two-yard sideline grab being the most notable example.

Late in the second quarter, Arrington briefly left the game to receive some stretching on the sidelines for what appeared to be a cramp, and despite his absence, New England’s coaching staff opted to go with special teams ace Marquice Cole in coverage on Wallace, with Wallace immediately separating from Cole and capitalizing on a poor angle by strong safety Steve Gregory to score a thirty-nine-yard touchdown which trimmed the lead to three points with less than one minute remaining in the half.

Right cornerback Alfonzo Dennard struggled to defend receivers as well, giving up some slants and crossing patterns to Brian Hartline and allowing Rishard Matthews to make an impressive sideline grab late in the fourth quarter. Questionable strategic decisions and poor play in the secondary allowed Tannehill to throw for over three hundred yards and complete three touchdown passes.

3. Missed field goal, poor kickoff by Stephen Gostkowski ultimately prove costly

Stephen Gostkowski has enjoyed one of his best seasons as a pro thus far, but today was a game in which his mistakes forced the Patriots into an uncomfortable position late in the game. Gostkowski missed a forty-eight-yard field goal wide left in the third quarter, and after New England took the lead late in the fourth, kicked the ball out of bounds, giving Miami a short field to work with on a drive which resulted in a go-ahead touchdown.

New England took over with just over one minute remaining, but was forced to drive downfield and score a touchdown rather than getting downfield for a game-winning field-goal attempt. Ultimately, the Patriots proved unable to recreate the magic they had in previous games this season, with Tom Brady’s fourth-down attempt being intercepted in the end zone with three seconds remaining, dropping the Patriots to 10-4 on the season and allowing the Denver Broncos, who lost to the San Diego Chargers on Thursday, to move back into first place in the playoff picture.

Should the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Pittsburgh Steelers tonight, they would move into second place in the standings owing to their head-to-head victory over New England earlier in the season. That would force the Patriots to begin the playoffs by participating in the wild-card game rather than enjoying a first-round bye, with New England traveling to face either Denver or, more likely, Cincinnati in the second round. The loss also prevented the Patriots from clinching the AFC East today.

4. Amendola effective as Patriots try to replace Gronkowski’s production

With tight end Rob Gronkowski out, the Patriots relied almost exclusively on their wide receivers in the first half, with Danny Amendola making perhaps the biggest impact for New England. On the team’s initial drive, Amendola caught a screen pass and gained eight yards, then made some more extensive contributions as the quarter began to wind down, exploiting a hole in zone coverage for a thirty-yard catch-and-run to begin the drive, then catching passes on each of the next two plays, gaining eleven and seven yards, respectively. Amendola’s thirty-yard gain was the most significant Patriots gain of the first half, and his fifty-six receiving yards represented almost half of Tom Brady’s first-half total.

Other than Amendola, Julian Edelman received the most attention from Brady, catching four passes in the first half, while Josh Boyce came up with a thirty-yard reception on the first drive of the second half, although his performance was tempered by two drops, including one on an admittedly difficult contested catch in the end zone at the beginning of the game, forcing New England to kick a field goal. On a fifteen-play fourth-quarter drive which culminated in a field goal, Amendola and Edelman combined to make seven catches, helping the Patriots cut the lead to four points. Edelman also caught the go-ahead touchdown with just over four minutes left on a catch-and-run over the middle. During New England’s final drive, Amendola held on through a painful hit over the middle on fourth and eight, then caught another pass and ran the ball into Miami territory.

5. Patriots pass rush effective once again versus porous Dolphins offensive line

Although Ryan Tannehill was accurate in the first half, completing seven of his first ten attempts for seventy-five yards, the effectiveness of Miami’s offense was constrained by their poor pass protection, which effectively crippled some of their early drives. On the first drive of the second quarter, Kyle Arrington successfully executed a delayed blitz, capitalizing on a poor block in blitz pickup to sack Tannehill for a loss of four yards on a drive which ended two plays later following an eleven-yard completion on third and thirteen, a situation in which the Dolphins would have otherwise converted.

Miami’s next drive began with a Joe Vellano sack and, although the Dolphins nonetheless moved the chains on the subsequent play on a sideline throw to wide receiver Mike Wallace, the drive ended prematurely shortly afterwards when Chandler Jones beat Bryant McKinnie with an inside move, causing an eight-yard loss that prevented the following fourteen-yard completion from giving Miami a first down. The play proved significant, as a miscommunication on the following field goal attempt gave the Patriots the ball.

Midway through the fourth quarter, pressure from Chandler Jones caused Tannehill to underthrow Mike Wallace on a deep route, and Alfonzo Dennard was able to bat down a pass on a blitz of his own immediately afterward to force a punt. After a Stephen Gostkowski kickoff went out of bounds late in the game, Sealver Siliga found a clear path to Tannehill and brought him down to force a third-and-seventeen situation.

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18 Responses to “New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins: Week 15 Observations”

  1. Steve says:

    Boy do I miss Rodney Harrison. Picture Rodney playing S on that Wallace TD. He would have blown him up…still not sure what Gregory was doing? He was watching and not reacting. Time to put Gregory on the bench and use Harmon, even T Wilson is a better S option. McCourty (like Arrington) has proven he can’t play CB. Denanrd and Ryan will be OK, just need some time to develop more. Really don’t feel confident this Sunday vs Baltimore. 11-5 and 1 and done. Regroup and try again next year but Brady’s time is runnng out. Then what??

    • steve earle says:

      Yes, I have the same kind of sinking feeling but I’ve learned over the years to never bet against the Pat’s. Somewhere Bill has to get another decent CB and SS in the off season what we have just can’t get the job done.

    • rmc says:

      How many times are we going to have to draft for the secondary, Mccourty has a great first year at corner, then cannot play it again, Ras_i Dowling was injured throuout college, and guess what, he was injured most of the time on the Pats. Talent evaluation is a concern, also look at the secondary coaching, Josh Boyer and Brian Flores are not experienced coaches and should not be coaching at this level yet. Look at other coaching staffs, most if not all have been established at the collegiate level. That is what we need, coaching experience, plain and simple. Boyer has not had a winning record as a coach before he came here, and the secondary has not improved here at all. Although I do like Dennard, Ryan and Talib.

  2. gatorade says:

    Earle you remain a perpetual blabbermouth. You should apply for Jets HC job after Ryan goes. But you must learn how to spell poison before you apply as that is a staple of the criminal NFL that you seem obsessed with. Merry Christmas.

  3. kevan says:

    i cant even be upset pats fans. dont get me wrong it sucks to lose but dang this team has gone through ringer this year. even if the pats had thompkins or dobson they woulda been alright. all the injuries this year amendola and talib are far from 100 percent, this team is still bangin yall. they got alot of fight which is encoraging going foward. after it all pats r 10 and 4 and was in everygame they lossed.i cant say im confident going into the brady said the margin for error is very slim right now. pats have to go 4 wide with vereen in to have any shot. 5 wide sometimes. spread defenses out make them show u where the pressure is coming from. pats did it in early 2000s the dink and dunk. we will see what happens go pats!! oh and mcourtey is good at safety no way i put him back at corner.

  4. Russell Easterbrooks says:

    By moving Mankins to LT the Patriots weakened TWO Oline positions???? The Oline gaps were to large making it hard for Kline, Wendell and Connolly to protect the middle,..GEEEE. The running game was again not great, and the play calling in the red zone was??????
    Look for the Patriots to resign T.J. Mattes OT 6’7″ 300 who played well in the pre-season before getting banged-up. I hoped BB would grab Reid Fragel OT/TE 6’8″ 300 Off Cinny’s P-Squad, BUT Cleveland grabbed him,.. GEEEE The error on the kick-off was sad, the missed FG’s happen. Arrington at the outside CB position was a poor plan, he plays better in the slot coverage, a better plan would have had McCourty at outside CB, and Harmon a S. Gergory out of position again. D-line played fairly well, Hightower can not Pass cover from the LB position, and Teams know it,.. GEEE To much pressure on Tom from a banged-up Oline.

    • steve earle says:

      Well at some point we just run out of compentent O-linemen I guess. I think moving Mankins out to OT was a case of pick your poisen. (why I’m big on drafting Stork or Swanson then later Long) Other then that you hit the nail on the head again Russell although moving McCortney back to CB, well I just don’t know, D-backfield seems to have regressed no matter how they line up. ( why we need another good CB and a SS imo)

      • J H TARBORO says:

        I agree with needing another CB and S, but i think it’s time for McCourty to move back to his natural position, the one he got drafted highly at! They’re 2 Safties that i’m high on right now.
        S Kurtis Drummond Mich.St
        S Ahmad Dixson Baylor

        • steve earle says:

          McCourty was moved back a couple times before and it didn’t work out that well so I question that. I do like Ahmad Dixson SS because he plays the hybred S/LB for Baylor. Has speed to cover TE’s and most RB’s and is a phyisical defender vs the run. Drummond’s stock is on the rise for sure, good prospect but a FS like McCourty who isn’t going back to CB imo so picking Drummond would take a high pick thus unlikely.

  5. menelvagor says:

    I just hate McDaniels’s playcalling in the redzone, it’s really awful

  6. acm says:

    well, thank you, Steelers ’cause this team could sure use a bye week to heal up.

    Both coordinators could be improved upon – someone needs to tattoo the word “balanced” on McDaniels’ forehead, while Patricia was thrown in the meat grinder a bit too early, just not ready yet.
    One thing’s for sure, if the D doesn’t start coming together for the play offs very, very soon (as in yesterday) this team would likely be one and done in the postseason.

    • steve earle says:

      With the injuries I question if we get a bye week, even if we do a one and done isn’t out of the question. Scoring in the red zone without gronk is a lot tougher. Thinking we do need another top TE. Saying that I agree both coords need to be more agressive and less predictable. Your insights too are on the mark acm.

  7. J H TARBORO says:

    Matt Jones nice observations!
    Amendola played well! but i still think we can get a more explosive playmaker at the position.
    Edleman continues impress at slot! Contract year for him. ( pay the man! )
    Great one catch to Hooman for a TD.
    Ran well on the ground and then went away from it.
    Personally love the fullback position, Devlin is under utilised, A fullback in this offense could fill a huge void.
    One thing we must remember it’s Belichick team, but it’s McDaniel’s offense, he is questionable sometimes.
    Last drive i was jumping up and down like i was “Ramsey” from the Bud light commercial.
    Matt Jones said it all, tough loss! Hopeful this week wiil be the Hat and T shirt game.

  8. jim r says:

    Matt Patricia does not have an aggressive gene

  9. Rmc says:

    I’m sorry to bring this up again, but ‘questionable strategic decisions’ on defense have had to been made my the DC with the input of the defensive coaches. I don’t think BB does the whole plan. Matt patricia is responsible for the defense like Josh mcdaniels is for the offense. The learning phase for Patricia is over, time to review defensive coaches at end of season

    Even with the injuries the defense is making every QB look good. I just think Patricia is not the man for the job.v

  10. steve earle says:

    As the injuries continue to mount we are becoming less effective on both sides of the ball. The def-backfield, even with our starters, continue to give up big plays, fail to keep Miami from picking up 1st downs on 3rd and longs and the Def-line is poor against the run. ON offense it’s just not the same without Gronk, we don’t scare anyone. Ravens coming up too and that doesn’t fill me with confidence for a 1st round bye.

    The off season will be a huge challenge. Can Bill fill the holes? Will our IR players come back sooner or later? Will we see up-grades or band-aids?

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