Surprise, Surprise, The Pats Aren’t Dead Yet

It’s been an extremely long and arduous two weeks in New England as Patriots fans have been on the brink of panic thanks to the team’s miserable performances in weeks two and three. Sunday’s game allowed Pats Nation to take a collective sigh of relief as the Patriots returned to true form in an absolute route of the Miami Dolphins, 38-7. New England played their most complete and efficient game of the season and showed that the dynasty is not crumbling just yet. Here are the highlights from the Patriots win over the Dolphins:

– Looks like everyone in the Boston sports media, myself included, were wrong about Sony Michel. The rookie running back had his first 100 yard rushing day, and his first career rushing touchdown on Sunday. He finished with 112 yards on 25 carries, good for nearly 4.5 yards per rush. Michel impressed with his explosiveness and his elusiveness, easily breaking arm tackles and using powerful cuts to burst through openings. This gave us our first real glimpse at why the Patriots drafted him in the first round, and he did not disappoint. The Patriots may not have whiffed after all.

– While Michel’s performance was outstanding, a lot of credit is owed to the Patriots offensive line which played unbelievably better than it did against Detroit last week. Throughout the course of the game, the Patriots linemen were able to dominate the line of scrimmage, creating some gaping holes for both Michel and James White. The Miami defensive line was certainly struggling with some depth issues, but they still had Akeem Spence, Robert Quinn, and Cameron Wake. New England was able to get good blocking all throughout the game, even on third down which had been a struggle during the past few games.

– The Patriots offensive line also deserves credit for their pass protection, which was very successful overall. They did not give up a single sack and provided Tom Brady with a clean pocket for most of the game. The quarterback did not seem rushed and was not forced out of the pocket more than a handful of times.

– James White was once again James White. He finished with eight rushes for 44 yards and a rushing touchdown, as well as eight receptions for 66 yards and a receiving touchdown. He is currently leading the team in receptions and touchdown catches and has accounted for nearly 300 yards of total offense for the Patriots so far this season. His value to the clubs offense has been unbelievable.

– The Patriots receivers were not perfect, but they were better on Sunday than they had been through the first three weeks. Phillip Dorsett had four catches for 55 yards and a touchdown. Cordarelle Patterson caught three passes for 54 yards and a touchdown. Chris Hogan added one reception for 25 yards. They still struggled to create separation at times, but overall showed more fight and ability than they had previously. Dorsett, in particular, had a crucial third-down conversion with some hard yards after contact and a diving touchdown grab. Josh McDaniels is also finding inventive ways to get Hogan open more, such as having him sneak through the line and fake block before burning across the field on a crossing route. Patterson simply needs to develop better body control, as this was the second time this season where he tripped over his own feet while attempting to pull in a screen/lateral-type pass that could have led to a huge gain.

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– Patriots fans were also introduced to Josh Gordon, who had a solid debut in New England. He had two receptions for 32 yards; the first was a tough 13-yard reception on a third and six situation in the red zone; the second was a 19-yard catch on a third and three situation. He also had a pivotal block on James White’s rushing touchdown in the first half. Gordon did not have a high snap count, but seemed to know exactly what he was doing when he was in the game, and earned praise from his teammates, including Brady, on his receptions. What is most impressive is his dedication to learning the Patriots offense. Nearly every time he is caught on the cameras on the sideline he is with Patriots receivers coach Chad O’Shea, talking about plays and learning what is happening on the field. His role will likely continue to grow as he becomes more acclimated to the Patriots offense.

– Rob Gronkowski had a solid day, fighting off Miami double teams to make four receptions and 44 yards. He left in the third quarter with an ankle injury, likely the same one that had popped up on the injury report earlier this week. It does not appear to be anything serious at the moment.

– Dwayne Allen got his first targets of the season, and it’s safe to say that they were not pretty. While Allen has been a force in the running game, he provides almost nothing for the Patriots passing attack. They will be much improved when Jacob Hollister is able to return to the field.

– Tom Brady was not perfect by any means, but he was much better than he has been, finishing the day 23/35 for 274 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions. His throws were overall much better than they had been in previous weeks, including an absolutely brilliant toss to James White for his receiving TD. Brady stayed in the pocket and took a hard hit but still managed to get off a perfectly thrown ball. He was not perfect, which was clear from his two interceptions that were a product of seriously poor decision making. However, he and the offense as a whole looked much more comfortable and were running with much better efficiency.

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– The most important stat of the day for the Patriots offense was their third-down efficiency, where they were able to convert 10 out of 15 third downs. This is rather better than their 2/9 showing against the Lions. Converting on third down is a critical part of the game for any team, and being able to do so 67% of the time is a very good thing. Improving in that area was the biggest step forward for the Patriots offense.

– The Patriots defense had it’s best game of the season, playing with an intensity, unlike anything we have seen so far. They played impressive man coverage and controlled the line of scrimmage. They were stout against the run and had solid quarterback pressure for most of the afternoon. It was an absolutely wild turn around from where they were just a week ago and was a very good sign moving forward.

– The Patriots defensive backs played extremely well, holding Ryan Tannehill to just 11 completions on 20 attempts for 100 yards. They played tight man coverage for most of the afternoon and did not get beat by any of the Dolphins trademark deep balls. Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty stole the show with noticeably tight coverage. Undrafted rookie JC Jackson also made his mark by getting his first career interception on a play in which he had immaculate coverage. It was a much better showing by a unit that had been torched by Blake Bortles and Matthew Stafford in consecutive weeks.

– The Patriots linebackers played well, although much of that credit goes straight to Kyle Van Noy. He was a man on a mission, finishing with four tackles and a fumble recovery. He was also one of the main contributors to the Patriots pass rush. Van Noy brought an intensity that the Patriots defense had been seriously lacking, and looked like a true leader. Dont’a Hightower also played his part. While he still does not quite look like he has in the past, he was faster and more aggressive on Sunday than he has been so far this season.

– The Patriots defensive line showed up on Sunday as well, forcing Tannehill into uncomfortable situations all afternoon. He was rushed on a number of his throws, especially on some key third downs early in the game. Trey Flowers and Adam Butler, in particular, were standouts, getting through the Dolphins offensive line with consistency. They finished with two sacks on the day, one from Butler and one from newly acquired John Simon. The former Colt had a solid debut, earning a sack and playing well as a defensive end, sealing the edge much better than Cassius Marsh was ever able to do (sorry, I just hated watching that guy play so much that I still suffer a little PTSD). The Patriots could still do well to get more sacks, but to their credit, Tannehill did get the ball out of his hands quickly.

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– The Patriots defense’s performance on third down was arguably the best thing of the entire game. They held the Dolphins to just 3/11 on third down, all of which came on the Dolphins garbage time drive at the end of the game. New England held the Dolphins to long third downs that forced Tannehill to try and beat tight man coverage. The Patriots utilized six or seven defensive back formations that put pressure on the Dolphins quarterback. Thanks to solid containment from the Patriots defensive line, they were able to force Tannehill to make poor throws and decisions. Stopping a team on third down is crucial in the NFL, and the Patriots defense finally proved that they can do that.

This is certainly a good win for the Patriots, but should not be blown out of proportion. The Dolphins were not a very good football team. They were 3-0, but their first three opponents were the Titans, the Jets, and the Raiders, two of whom currently have a record of 1-3. Miami was not exactly facing stiff competition. The Patriots should have got this win no matter what. However, it was good for the team to get back on track and execute the way that they should have been the previous few weeks. The Patriots aren’t dead yet folks.

Until next time – B$

Brian Cole

Brian Cole

Author ProfootballTalkLine.com at SportsTalkLine.com
Expert on all things Deflategate, and New England Patriots Writer for SportsTalkLine.com
Brian Cole

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