Tale of the Tape
If there were two keys to this game for the Dolphins it was applying pressure to Tom Brady to get him and his still evolving offense out of its rhythm and a strong, non-2013 performance from their offensive line. As far as those two portions of the game, the Phins could not have performed any better. The defensive line got to Brady early, stopping any running game in its tracks and forcing more three and outs than Patriots fans are used to enduring. The pressure didn’t just come from the weaker middle of the Patriots offensive line either, Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon applied relentless pressure off the edges against two players that would be considered to be one of the better tackle tandems in the league.
On the other side of the ball what was considered by many as the worst offensive line in the league in 2013 came ready to play. The vastly remodeled unit protected Ryan Tannehill allowing only 1 sack. While Tannehill’s final results were not great numbers, he did what he needed to when he needed to. The story of the game were the gaping running lanes the OL consistently produced for the Dolphin running backs. The Patriots defense had no answer, they couldn’t tackle, they couldn’t plug holes, they couldn’t contain the outside. The Dolphins didn’t need to throw the ball to win, as most teams have against the Patriots in recent years, they just played stout defense and kept the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands, particularly in the second half of the game.
Rob Gronkowski Despite an inefficient day on the field, catching only 4 of 11 targets, Gronkowski once again showed why he is so valuable to this Patriots offense. The two Patriots touchdowns on Sunday were scored while Gronk was on the field (including his TD reception), in addition he is often commanding a double team which should take pressure off a pass rush or leave someone else with a single coverage opportunity. This is something to potentially take advantage of particularly when Dobson’s vertical field ability and size returns to the lineup. The one major downside of Gronkowski’s return was the fact Brady seemed not ready for it, he forced several ill-advised passes into double coverage and often stayed on his Gronk read to the point of taking a hit or a sack. He needs to get back to the basics and not focus in on Gronk so much.
Shane Vereen The flashes of what Vereen can do for this offense were there on Sunday. When the throws are made and plays are blocked effectively, there isn’t really an answer for Vereen’s abilities, it will be very important to keep him and Gronk healthy if this 2014 offense is going to reach its potential.
Julian Edelman Edelman got off to a fast start to proving that his 2013 wasn’t just a fluke, he was open often and made several important catches for the offense putting up a 6 catches for 95 yards and showing some open field rushing ability.
Tom Brady The start of the game went relatively well for the Patriots passing game, efficient chunks of yardage were picked up and everything looked back to normal with the Patriots offense. Then things hit a wall, Brady looked like the Brady from the first half of the 2013, missing receivers by huge margins, miscommunicating with receivers, zeroing in on Gronkowski, it wasn’t pretty. Was this the sucking he’d require for retirement he was speaking of earlier in the week?
Chandler Jones Jones had a tough day Sunday, Brandon Albert was brought in to protect Tannehill’s blindside and he did just that. Jones got in on Tannehill a couple of times but the plays just ended up resulting in roughing the passer penalties. Jones will have a lot of work to do to regain the form he seemed to be finding toward the end of 2013.
Brandon LaFell Gotta say, I have pretty high hopes for LaFell, I think he has the ability to provide size and a good downfield blocking presence coming from the Carolina Panthers run heavy offense. However, he may have just had his worst game of his career. He had 6 targets, with zero receptions, including a couple drops as well as miscommunications on routes. To top it off he started the second half with an offside on the kickoff, and an offensive PI call that negated a 15 yard pass play that would have had the Patriots 1st & 10 at the Phins 26 vs. 2nd & 16 at their own 49. If he doesn’t start to flash some improvement, he could lose his roster spot to Brian Tyms after his suspension is up.
Sunday at 1pm the Patriots travel to Minnesota to face an equally tough Vikings defense as well as a very strong OL and run game with one of the best to ever do it, Adrian Peterson. If the Patriots don’t make some quick adjustments to some fatal flaws exposed in Sunday’s Dolphins matchup, they could be on the road to a quick 0-2 start. Stay tuned.