For the third-straight game, the Patriots offense eclipsed the 30-point mark despite injuries to three key starters, two of which are on the offensive line.
After a stellar performance in Week 11, backup center Ted Karras struggled mightily in his second career start filling in for David Andrews who’s still dealing with an illness.
Karras only allowed one pressure in pass protection on the stat sheet, but cost the team a touchdown on an errant snap, and didn’t play with the same power and savviness that we saw last week.
As for the right tackle position, LaAdrian Waddle filled in for starter Marcus Cannon once again and allowed three pressures and two quarterback hits in what was a messy day for the Patriots’ offensive line.
Waddle was seen wearing a walking boot in the locker room after the game, and fourth tackle Cameron Fleming played a season-high 12 snaps replacing Waddle seemingly after the injury.
In the backfield, Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead continue to carry the load at the running back position.
Lewis, in particular, was spectacular in this one.
The shifty Pats running back went off for a career-high 112 rushing yards against the Dolphins, the most by a Patriots ball carrier since LeGarrette Blount’s 124 rushing yards in Week 11 of last season.
Finally, both tight end Dwayne Allen and wide receiver Phillip Dorsett saw more playing time than usual, both in large part due to other injuries at the position.
Allen played 38 snaps against the Dolphins, his most in a game since Week 5, as fellow tight end Martellus Bennett was inactive for this one.
As for Dorsett, he continues to see an uptick in playing time in Chris Hogan’s absence.
Dorsett was on the field for 61.4% of the Patriots’ snaps on offense in Week 12 (second-highest in 2017) and has played in 59.4% of the snaps over the last three weeks.
However, it is worth noting that, despite the increased playing time, Dorsett has just three catches on three targets for 55 yards in his last three games.
For the seventh straight game, the Patriots’ defense held its opponent to under 17 points.
That’s the team’s longest streak since the 2006 season and is creeping up on the franchise record of nine straight games back in 1993.
Let’s start on the defensive line where there were some notable developments from a playing time perspective.
First, in his return to the action after missing the team’s last three games due to an ankle injury, DT Malcom Brown logged a modest 25 snaps.
The Patriots will likely ease Brown back into the mix after the injury, but despite the light workload, his presence was felt like the Patriots’ run defense had a bounce-back performance, allowing just 3.5 yards/attempt to the Dolphins on Sunday.
Another pattern that is emerging that’s worth monitoring is the usage of DT Lawrence Guy.
Guy has been one of the Patriots’ most productive defensive lineman this season after signing a lucrative deal as a free agent this offseason.
However, the 20 snaps that Guy played on Sunday were a season-low, and we’ve seen his playing time decrease over the last two weeks (31 snaps vs. Raiders Week 11).
As for newcomer Eric Lee, who replaced Cassius Marsh on the roster, he made a statement in just 25 snaps on Sunday tallying a sack and two run stops.
Finally, for the guys up front, the Patriots’ win on Sunday came at a cost all over the field, as many notable Patriots left Sunday’s game with injuries.
The most important player to leave the game due to injury, however, was edge defender Trey Flowers.
Flowers played just 35 snaps on Sunday due to the injury and if he were to miss any time that would be a significant blow to the Patriots’ defense.
After losing captain Dont’a Hightower earlier this season, a strong argument can be made for Flowers as the most valuable player on this side of the ball, and a player that this team can’t afford to lose long-term.
In the secondary, another trend has emerged as second-year cornerback Jonathan Jones continues to be a significant part of the Patriots’ plans on defense.
Known for his special team's contributions for most of his career, Jones has begun to see more and more playing time as the Patriots’ third corner.
After logging a career-high 70 snaps on defense a week ago, Jones followed that up with his second-most snaps in a game in his career in Week 12 (52).
Jones’ emergence has also meant less playing time for third safety Duron Harmon.
In the past, the Patriots have used Harmon as a fifth or sixth defensive back in a big nickel or dime look, but with Jones’ increased playing time that personnel package has seen fewer snaps as the Pats have gone to a more traditional nickel package with three corners and two safeties.
It will be interesting to see how Jones’ playing time is affected if an when cornerback Eric Rowe returns to the lineup.