The New England Patriots were incredibly imbalanced on offense against the Miami Dolphins and not all of it can be blamed on the game script. The Patriots threw the ball 16 times in the first half, versus just 8 rushes, and that ratio moved to 21:9 before the Dolphins racked up a 27-10 lead.
“The biggest problem with the running game is the production,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said following the game. “I mean, nobody around here minds calling running plays if we're gaining yardage on them, but when we're not gaining yardage it makes it hard to call. Combine that with the score and our inability to convert on third down, it's kind of a spiral that you don’t want to be in and we were in it last night.”
At the end of the game, New England had 45 passing plays (43 attempts + 2 sacks) against just 10 rushes. That 4.5 pass:run ratio is almost unheard of in New England, and it’s certainly not what the Patriots had planned.
“We haven’t had any games this year where we’ve been that out of balance, and that’s never our intention,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “We didn’t have that intention going into the game. To me, the bottom line is we’ve got to produce in whatever we’re doing, and we didn’t do a good enough job at anything that we did.”
It’s never good when the opposing team is able to dictate how the Patriots play and it’s important to look at the past cases where the pass:run ratio has been at the extreme, especially with the Patriots week 15 opponent.
In 2015, the Patriots dialed up 57 passing plays and just 9 rushes in a 30-23 victory over the New York Jets, with Tom Brady himself responsible for 4 of those rushes. In fact, Brady (4 rushes, 15 yards, 1 touchdown) was much more productive than the running backs LeGarrette Blount (3 carries, -3 yards) and James White (2 carries, 4 yards).
The other two times came against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In 2007, the Patriots threw the ball 46 times against just 9 runs en route to a 34-13 New England victory. Tom Brady threw for 399 yards and 4 touchdowns, including a pair of 50+ yard scores, one to each of Randy Moss and Jabar Gaffney.
In 2004, the Patriots lost in the regular season to the Steelers 34-20 as the offense dialed up 47 passes against just six rushes.
Both of the times the Patriots lost with these ratios they were on the road. They won their two games at home. New England is about to go on the road to face the Steelers so they must ensure they keep the game close enough to have a more balanced approach.
Belichick blamed poor execution by the run blocking unit as reasons for negative plays in the running game and the Patriots blocking will receive a boost with Rob Gronkowski back in the lineup.
If New England is going to compete in the postseason, they’ll need to do a better job of establishing the run because of how integral it is to the offense and the play action passing game. The Patriots will get a chance to rebound against the Steelers on Sunday.