Last week was a disaster on defense. While the team accomplished its goal of limiting tight end Charles Clay, literally every other Dolphin had a field day on offense.
We've offered advice on how to fix the Patriots defensive front to provide both additional pressure on the quarterback, as well as some semblance of a run defense. What's left is how to cover the back-end of the defense.
With running back Adrian Peterson out of the game, the next most potent player in line for the Vikings is sophomore receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. You can be certain that the Patriots will be giving him additional focus as he has the ability to tilt the game on any given play.
Last week, I said that the Patriots should be matching up Kyle Arrington on Dolphins speedster Mike Wallace. Arrington had success in that role in 2013, but was rarely featured in the opening week. Instead, the Patriots opted to play zone defense with an undersized defensive front.
The issue with that decision is that a) the defensive front was never going to generate any pressure on the quarterback; b) receivers will then have all the time in the world to find holes in the zone to stop and be an easy target; c) crossing patterns are the bane of all zone defenses because it matched up Wallace on linebackers, which is an obvious mismatch.
Still, a zone defense would be beneficial against the Vikings receivers. Their three main receivers, Patterson, Greg Jennings, and Jarius Wright, are all "Z" receivers, which means that they'll be crossing on all levels of the field, not just with the linebackers. A zone defense would allow a greater chance of forcing a bad throw and a turnover. This game won't be as simple as playing "all man" or "all zone."
Patterson needs to be covered by multiple players, no questions asked; consider him the Wallace of their offense. Putting a combination of Arrington and a safety (Devin McCourty?) over the top would help limit his impact. Patterson thrives against mismatches and was often flexed around the offensive formation, especially when the Rams had their base defense on the field. If the Patriots can create any pairing of defenders that can stop Patterson, that would be a game-deciding coaching move.
Greg Jennings is still a viable threat at receiver and this is where Darrelle Revis should be paired. Revis was burned multiple times by Wallace and, should Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill have better accuracy, would have given up three touchdowns on the day. Jennings has the ability to shake free in the open field, but Revis should be up for this task.
Kyle Rudolph is a strong tight end who is a tremendous red zone threat. For whatever reason, the Vikings did not feature him in their week 1 game. The absence of Peterson elevates Rudolph into a leading role on the offense and should see more time. The Patriots should use a linebacker underneath, likely Jerod Mayo, and a safety over the top. Duron Harmon or Tavon Wilson would likely make more sense than Pat Chung, due to their greater coverage abilities, with the coaching staff giving Wilson the inside edge. Perhaps Logan Ryan will see time at safety, too.
Jarius Wright's skill set makes the defensive alignment more complicated. He's the main reason the Patriots can't just align in "man" coverage the entire game. Alfonzo Dennard will likely be asked to cover Wright, which should be an interesting battle as Dennard is best when playing next to the sideline.
Luckily for the Patriots, the loss of Peterson will reduce the burden on the defensive front and allow the Patriots to play with more members in the secondary. While the team should be operating out of man coverage, they should try to add additional bodies on the field just to clog the passing lanes.
When watching the Vikings take on the Rams in week 1, it became clear that the biggest issue for the Rams defense was making sound tackles. There were plays were Patterson and Peterson were stopped at the line of scrimmage, but the Rams were unable to bring them to the group. If the Patriots coaches were serious about how "technique" was their biggest issue against the Dolphins, then week 2 will provide an immediate test of progress.