Sunday’s game against the Dolphins ended in one of the craziest and heartbreaking ways that Patriots fans have ever seen. Clearly, it was a great play by the Dolphins, but it was equally as bad of a play by the Patriots. There were many things that led to Miami being able to pull it off. Some started before the ball was even snapped.
The first problem with the Patriots defense on the play has been pointed out over and over: Rob Gronkowski was on the field, replacing Devin McCourty as the deep safety on the final play. It’s almost as if the Patriots thought Ryan Tannehill was going to attempt an 80-yard Hail Mary instead of them trying to lateral their way down to the goal line. I understand wanting a big guy out there, but how about one with some speed?
Or one that has some experience tackling on Special Teams? Cordarrelle Patterson could’ve been a good option, even Josh Gordon would’ve had the speed to cut off Kenyan Drake. Matthew Slater would’ve gotten the job done, and probably Devin McCourty too. Basically, if anyone other than Gronk is out there in that spot, they probably make the play, and the Patriots win.
The second problem was that they rushed four on the play. Why they would do that, I have no idea. What I do know is that it was a terrible decision. First, you are only left with seven guys in space trying to make a tackle. Second, if a lateral play happens, you have three defensive lineman chasing the ball around. Combine that with Gronk, and you have 4 slow guys on the field when the Dolphins will be throwing the ball around the field looking for a crease.
One very tangible thing to draw from rushing four is that Kyle Van Noy attacked on a delayed blitz. He just missed bringing down Kenyan Drake when he caught the pitch. If Van Noy is lined up 5-10 yards downfield instead of at the line of scrimmage, he more than likely makes the play, and the game is over.
Once the play started, there’s really three guys who had the best chance to make a play. I already mentioned Van Noy, who just missed the tackle. Jonathan Jones was in coverage when Kenny Stills caught it, and had a chance to wrap him up, and at least make the pitch to DeVante Parker difficult. Instead, he seemed to almost pull up, and it was a clean pitch to Parker, who then easily pitched it to Drake.
Then there’s J.C. Jackson. Once the play started, he’s probably the player that’s most responsible for it going for a touchdown. He had the sideline to the defensive right. When the initial pass was caught by Stills, instead of staying in his position and letting the play come to him, he ran towards Stills. Leaving his area gave Parker a wide open lane to run and eventually pitch to Drake.
Then, after Van Noy missed the tackle and Drake cut in, he followed the play like my 5-year old following the ball in soccer: running at the back of the pack, not really doing anything. Instead of doing that, he should have been looking for a possible opening that he could close. If he runs towards the wide open space in front of the goal line, he makes the tackle on Drake and the Patriots win.
Although there were some mental errors on the play, the coaching is really to blame. Four rushers was incredibly stupid, and really prevented the Patriots from making a play. Remember, if the Dolphins did start throwing a bunch of laterals, you would’ve had Adrian Clayborn, Trey Flowers, and Adam Butler chasing their skill players around.
The Patriots also only had two players deeper than the 30-yard line. With Duron Harmon responsible for the pitch on the other side, Gronk was essentially left on an island against a much faster player. He was set up to fail, and had pretty much no chance to make a play. Sometimes, the scheme is correct and the players just don’t execute, but, while the players did miss on a chance to execute, the scheme was the biggest problem.
If I were coaching on the play, I would’ve come out with a maximum of two defensive linemen. Then, I would have put Van Noy and a defensive back 10-15 yards deep. 15-20 yards deeper than them, I would’ve put another three DB’s, and finally, at about the 10-15-yard line, I would’ve put four more. One thing to remember: the only thing that matters is that they don’t score a touchdown.
Literally anything other than a touchdown, and the Patriots win the game, so why not spread out all of your players way downfield to prevent this? The Patriots had only four guys deeper than the 45-yard line. When Drake cut in at the 40, the only player that stood between him and the end zone was Gronk. It’s tough to imagine a play designed worse than that.
Overall, I think the Patriots will be fine, and will bounce back next week in Pittsburgh, where they always seem to win. It’s hard to judge them on a game in Miami. I remember maybe the best Patriots team I’ve ever seen, the 2004 team, leading by 11 points with just over two minutes left, losing to a terrible Dolphins team. The lasting imagine I have of that game is Brady being sacked by Jason Taylor and throwing it backwards while trying to make a play. That 2004 team went 17-2, and completely dominated all three teams it faced in playoffs. This team clearly isn’t at that level, but don’t count them out because of one bad game in Miami.
Also, if you’re like me, and enjoy torturing yourself, enjoy watching this replay on loop for the next 3 hours:
Pat is the host of The Patriot Nation Podcast
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