The Miami Dolphins will travel to New England fresh off a 44-26 demolition of the Houston Texans. At halftime, Miami led 41-0 thanks to great defense and an offense that scored four touchdowns of more than 50 yards. Let's take a look at the film to find out what the Patriots have to do in order to prevent this from happening tomorrow.
1) 1-10-MIA 47 (11:06) (Shotgun) 17-R.Tannehill pass short left to 18-R.Matthews for 53 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
The Dolphins come out in an 11 personnel package, which means they have one running back and one tight end on the field, alongside three wide receivers. The team has modified the formation, though, and lines up running back Lamar Miller (26) and tight end Jordan Cameron (84) in a trips formation on the right side as potential receivers, while wideout Jarvis Landry (14) motions from left to right in the backfield to be an option on the screen pass:
The Texans counter with a cover 3 look, bringing the strong safety down closer to the line of scrimmage. This leaves wide receiver Rishard Matthews (18) on an island with the opposite outside corner. Matthews runs a slant route to beat the defender, and Tannehill hits him in stride:
Instead of an eight- or nine-yard gain, however, the wide receiver takes it to the house because the free safety, who immediately recognizes the play, completely overruns it:
With the free safety beaten, Matthews runs to the endzone without a problem. In the process, he earned 45 yards after the catch.
The Patriots' Devin McCourty is one of the best free safeties in the game and hardly ever overruns a play like that. Still, New England has to be aware of the fact that the Dolphins like to use such quick route combinations to negate the opposing pass rush. With the Patriots relative inexperience at the cornerback position, McCourty and the safety corps have to be patient and quick to recognize how plays develop.
2) 1-10-HOU 50 (7:00) 17-R.Tannehill pass short left to 14-J.Landry for 50 yards, TOUCHDOWN. The Replay Official reviewed the runner was in bounds ruling, and the play was Upheld. The ruling on the field was confirmed.
The Dolphins' third possession lasted only one play – it was a score, though. The team once again operated out of 12 personnel, with one tight end motioning out of the blocking back position to provide an extra blocker next to the right tackle due to the Texans showing blitz. Wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Rishard Matthews are on the left side of the formation, with Landry (14) originally on the outside but moving in just prior to the snap.
Tannehill faked the handoff to running back Lamar Miller and found Landry running an out route. When Landry caught the ball at the Houston 36-yard line it looked like this:
One in-cut later, like this:
Under normal circumstances, the receiver gets stopped at this point. But once again, the Texans defenders either display horrible vision and overrun the play or just didn't properly tackle Landry. With him crossing the entire field, his teammates had time to head upfield to provide additional blocking. The result: a 50-yard touchdown, with 36 yards after the catch.
In order to prevent such a play on Thursday, the Patriots defense once again has to be patient and also fundamentally sound when trying to tackle a runner. Landry makes six different Texans miss on his way to the endzone. New England has to make sure that a receiver doesn't break more than one tackle.
3) 2-8-MIA 46 (14:23) 17-R.Tannehill pass short left to 26-L.Miller for 54 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
The second play of the second quarter was another long touchdown as a result of yards after the catch. Miami once again employs 11 personnel with trips on the right side of the formation and running back Lamar Miller the sole player in the backfield. Receiver Kenny Stills motions across the formation prior to the snap, which reveals that the Texans are in a cover 4 zone defense:
Due to the coverage and the fact that the Texans' defensive backs play between seven and ten yards off, the Dolphins fake an end-around and Miller is completely left uncovered on the screen pass. It is a well designed play, as a) the Dolphins sell it perfectly with the tight end on the "wrong" side of the formation and b) Miami's blockers being able to quickly get in front of the runner to enable him to get additional yards:
Miller runs right through the holes provided and into the endzone for a 54-yard touchdown with 57 yards after the reception.
The Patriots have to be aware that such a play can come up tomorrow. The defense cannot be fooled by play-fakes, which is exactly what happened to the Texans: the defense put its focus on the fake runner – Landry – and forgot to properly hold down the weak side of the formation. Once in the open field, New England has to get off the blocks on screen plays to stop Miller and company from gaining too many yards on such a play.
4) 2-4-MIA 15 (3:02) 26-L.Miller right tackle for 85 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
The last touchdown we look at was the longest of the day. Miami's offense operated out of 12 personnel and positioned both tight ends – Cameron Jordan (84) and Dion Simms (80) – on the left side of the formation. Prior to the snap, Jordan motioned from left to right, but pulled back inside once the ball was snapped and Tannehill handed it off to Lamar Miller:
Texans linebacker Akeem Dent (50) was blocked by Dallas Thomas (63), after the guard disengaged from his double-team block of Vince Wilfork (75). Once again, a safety – this time the strong safety in the cover 3 concept – was caught completely out of position and overran the play:
Rahim Moore (26), the single high safety, also took a bad angle due to his hesitance and thus had no chance to stop Miller, who at that point was running at full speed towards the end zone.
The play was a breakdown across the defensive board. The linebackers were easily blocked out of the way while Andre Hal (29), the strong safety who could have stopped Miller at the second level, made the decision to follow Jordan's initial motion but was too late to change his course once the tight end pulled back inside.
New England is better equipped to stop this kind of play due to the superior talent at both the linebacker and safety positions. It is one thing to block Akeem Dent out of a play, it is another to block Dont'a Hightower or Jamie Collins. Furthermore, it would be a major surprise if both Patriots safeties – in this situation most likely Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty – would take horrible angles.
In order to beat the Dolphins tomorrow, New England's defense – especially the linebackers and safeties – has to play with discipline and sound technique. The Patriots can't allow the Dolphins to just slip past their last line of defense the same way the Texans did. While the team has the personnel and smarts to avoid such mistakes it has to go out there and execute and, should a mistake happen, just move on and learn from it.