The Miami Dolphins defense dominated Tom Brady and the Patriots’ passing attack in the intermediate and deep portions of the field on Monday night. In all, Tom Brady was just 3-12 for 87 yards, two interceptions, and a passer rating of 17.7 on passes of 10-plus yards in Week 14.
Those are some staggering numbers for one of the game’s best deep passers. So how did the Dolphins do it?
Well, for starters, the coverages on the back end for the Dolphins were significantly better than in Week 12, and the strategy was slightly different as well. The Dolphins played a variety of cover-1 robber/blitz coverages, as well as some cover-4 quarters coverages.
The strategy took away the middle of the field for Tom Brady and forced the Patriots’ smaller outside receivers to win physical battles on the outside.
Also, for the second straight game, the Dolphins pass rush was a factor winning the matchup against the Patriots’ offensive line. The Dolphins pass rush pressured Brady on 35.6% of his drop-backs which was less than in Week 12 (44.8%), but 5% more than Brady’s season average of 31.5%.
You could also tell the impact of the Dolphins’ pass rush in Brady’s time spent in the pocket.
Brady’s time to throw of 2.6 seconds against the Dolphins was faster than it has been in recent weeks, but that wasn’t because he was carving up the Dolphins secondary with the short passes, but rather because the pass rush and coverage was forcing Brady to check the ball down early in the down.
Not every team will be able to scheme and execute at the same level as the Dolphins defense on Monday night, but the blueprint that started with the Houston Texans and Atlanta Falcons in last years playoffs stymied the Patriots’ passing attack in Week 14.
For the second-straight game against the Dolphins, the Patriots’ offensive line struggled to block Miami’s talented defensive front.
The Dolphins have managed to pressure Brady at a higher rate than any team they’ve played this season. In fact, the Dolphins’ pressure percentage of 44.8 in Week 12 was the highest mark of the season for a Patriots opponent, and Monday night’s pressure rate of 35.6% was the fifth-highest against the Pats this season
The pressure on Tom Brady against the Dolphins on Monday all started with pressure up the middle from Ndamukong Suh and company. Most notably, the play of left guard Joe Thuney in pass protection has been alarming over the last two weeks.
In Week’s 13 and 14, Thuney has allowed a total of six pressures, three of which have resulted in a sack. Thuney’s issues are not on a snap-to-snap basis necessarily, but rather when he does get beat, the Patriots’ second-year guard gets beat badly, and the play often results in a sack or quarterback hit on Tom Brady.
The Dolphins mentioned before the game to the Monday Night Football broadcast that they would target Thuney in passing situations, and they backed that up in the game as Thuney allowed a team-high four pressures in Week 14.
Although it didn’t help on third down, Danny Amendola continues to be one of the NFL’s best threats lining up in the slot. Amendola now has 46 receptions out of the slot on the season, which is fourth-most in the NFL behind Miami’s Jarvis Landry, Larry Fitzgerald, and Golden Tate.
Amendola also came to the Patriots’ rescue in the second half after the game started to get out of hand with all six of his receptions coming in the final 30 minutes of the game.
Also of note, in his return from a shoulder injury, wide receiver Chris Hogan spent significantly less time lined up in the slot than he did before the injury in Week 8. Hogan ran just 29.3% of his routes out of the slot on Monday night, that number was nearly double at 47.5% before injuring his shoulder.
Without tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots had limited options in the middle of the field and out of the slot in Week 14.
Pass Rush/Run Stops
Newcomer Eric Lee continues to provide a much-needed spark for the Patriots’ pass rush. Lee was on the field for 100% of the defensive snaps and led the team with four total pressures on Monday night. Lee wasn’t able to hit Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler but registered four hurries that helped disrupt the Dolphins’ passing attack.
It was also a big day for defensive tackle Lawrence Guy who has seen more playing time in the absence of Trey Flowers. Guy led the Patriots with four run stops and also added two pressures in the passing game.
It appeared that Guy might have hit a wall in terms of getting off his blocks in the run game in recent weeks, but he broke out of that slump with a monster game against the Dolphins.
In all, Lee and Guy were the only two players that had a significant impact on the Patriots’ defensive front, and Jay Cutler was only under pressure on 21.9% of his drop-backs.
It took some timely blitzes from the Patriots’ secondary to muster up some pressure on Cutler, and the group continues to take hits in terms of injuries as well. Stating the obvious here, but the Patriots defense desperately needs Kyle Van Noy and Trey Flowers back in the lineup.
As you might expect the stats aren’t friendly to Patriots linebacker Elandon Roberts in coverage from Monday night's game against the Dolphins.
Roberts was hung out to dry by the Patriots’ coaching staff as they tasked him with covering Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake a number of times with him flexed out as a wide receiver.
Credit to the Dolphins staff for attacking a weakness in the Patriots’ roster, and Roberts should shoulder some of the blame as well, but he’s not on Drake’s level in terms of athleticism and shouldn’t be asked to defend him in man coverage.
That’s certainly an indictment on the Patriots’ coaching staff, but it’s also a knock on the roster as a whole as they’ve been forced to rely on Roberts in coverage far too often this season.
If you’re looking for a silver lining, the play of safety Patrick Chung may be it. Chung was the Patriots’ best defensive back in coverage on Monday night and came up with two stops in the running game as well.
The Patriots secondary held its own for the most part against the Dolphins’ talented group of receivers, but the fact that they only got their hands on two passes shows just how easy it was for the Dolphins to move the football through the air for most of the night.
(h/t Pro Football Focus: https://www.profootballfocus.com/products/elite#edge)