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Week 14 Patriots vs Dolphins advanced stats: New England struggled in the run game on both offense and defense

Let’s dig into the advanced stats from Sunday’s game.

New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Despite playing a mistake-filled game against the Miami Dolphins, the New England Patriots still found themselves in a very good position to win late in the fourth quarter — until they allowed a series of laterals to be taken 69 yards to the end zone as time expired. Let’s dig a little deeper into the game and analyze some advanced statistics from the Patriots’ 34-33 loss.

Pass distribution

NFL Next Gen Stats

Tom Brady had arguably his best game of the season on Sunday and distributed the football well, no matter the areas he was targeting. One trend, however, can be seen when looking at the chart above: the 41-year old favored throwing over the middle on Sunday, with 16 of his 43 pass attempts targeting the area around the hashmarks. Brady fared well in this part of the field, as he did with short and intermediate passes. All in all, he had a very good performance when passing the football.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, did not attempt a lot of pass plays — Ryan Tannehill dropped back just 24 times — but were generally effective moving the football through the air. As opposed to Brady, Miami preferred to target the left side of the field: eight of Tannehill’s 19 passes were thrown to his left. The team also threw one pass towards the intermediate middle of the field, and it was a costly one for the Patriots: the 69-yard touchdown that decided the game.

Offensive rush direction

NFL Next Gen Stats

Despite Miami’s rush defense being one of the worst in the NFL, the Patriots’ ground game had a hard time getting into gear. While the team attempted 30 runs, it gained only 77 yards in the process. Sony Michel was the most productive of the team’s backs and he generated the majority of his yardage running up the middle. However, he actually was the most effective around the left edge — even though his 3.7 yards per carry in this direction is still rather mediocre.

Rex Burkhead and James White did not fare much better. Burkhead gained just two yards on his four carries, while White’s numbers look good because of one 11-yard scamper behind the left side of the line. All in all, the Patriots’ ground game had a rather forgettable day against a usually ineffective opponent.

Receiver separation

NFL Next Gen Stats

The Dolphins usually tried to play tight man-coverage against New England’s pass catchers but were inconsistent with this approach: while the top three — Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski — were guarded comparatively closely, the Patriots’ depth weapons had more space to operate. Chris Hogan could not capitalize and was only targeted once on a ball Tom Brady threw off target. Cordarrelle Patterson, meanwhile, caught two passes for a combined 51 yards.

Despite the tight coverage, New England’s top trio was productive: Gordon caught five of his eight targets for a combined 96 yards, Edelman nine of twelve for 86 and a touchdown. Gronkowski went a perfect eight-for-eight for 107 yards and a score — his first 100-yard performance since opening day. All in all, the Patriots’ pass catchers were effective even when finding themselves in contested situations.

New England’s defense covered even more tightly than the Dolphins. With the exception of ex-Patiot Danny Amendola, who hauled in only one 10-yard pass, the unit made life hard for Miami’s pass catchers. Tight coverage, however, might not always lead to the desired results as Kenny Stills showed: the Dolphins’ best receiver caught eight of nine targets for 135 yards and a touchdown despite his average separation on each catch just 2.54 yards.

Pass protection

Pass protection statistics

Player Snaps Sacks QB Hits Hurries
Player Snaps Sacks QB Hits Hurries
Shaq Mason 81 1.0 0 0
Trent Brown 81 1.0 1 0
Joe Thuney 81 0.0 1 0
David Andrews 81 0.0 0 0
Marcus Cannon 81 0.0 1 3
Rex Burkhead 17 0.0 0 1

Miami’s defense averaged 1.7 sacks per game entering the contest, and the Patriots offensive line — a unit that is having a strong overall season — were unable to hold them below that number: the Dolphins sacked Tom Brady twice while also hitting him three more times. Left tackle Trent Brown and right guard Shaq Mason were responsible for the quarterback takedowns, as the group as a whole had a rather disappointing day.

Pass rush/run defense

Pass rush/run defenses statistics

Player Snaps Sacks QB Hits Hurries Run stops
Player Snaps Sacks QB Hits Hurries Run stops
Kyle Van Noy 48 0.5 2 0 0
Devin McCourty 47 0.0 0 1 0
Dont'a Hightower 43 1.0 0 1 0
Trey Flowers 41 2.0 2 0 0
Lawrence Guy 31 0.0 1 0 0
Deatrich Wise Jr. 18 0.0 0 0 1
John Simon 16 1.0 0 0 0
Adrian Clayborn 15 0.0 0 0 1
Adam Butler 12 0.0 0 1 1
Jonathan Jones 11 0.5 0 0 0

While New England’s defensive front seven struggled against the run the unit was solid when it comes to putting pressure on the quarterback. The Dolphins’ offensive line surrendered 2.6 sacks per game entering Sunday’s contest but had to watch Ryan Tannehill be taken down five times. Trey Flowers, the Patriots’ best defensive lineman, led the way with 2.0 sacks and two quarterback hits.

Defensive rush direction

NFL Next Gen Stats

New England’s run defense had an atrocious outing against the Dolphins: led by a rejuvenated Frank Gore, Miami gained 189 yards and a pair of touchdowns on just 21 run plays. While Gore was most effective attacking the interior of the Patriots’ defensive line, ex-Patriot Brandon Bolden gained his yards on off-tackle plays to the offensive right. The only running back the team was able to keep in check was Kenyan Drake, who gained “just” 4.0 yards per carry. However, he also scored the game-winning touchdown on a lateral-and-run.

Pass rush separation

NFL Next Gen Stats

The Patriots’ pass rushers usually did a solid job putting pressure on quarterback Ryan Tannehill, with Trey Flowers once again leading the way. Defensive tackles Lawrence Guy and Malcom Brown — both of which having uncharacteristically bad performances against the run — also moved the pocket well against the pass. New England’s offensive linemen, meanwhile, kept the Dolphins’ top-four defensive linemen at check. Robert Quinn, who had one of two sacks on the day, came closest to Brady on average but was still further off than the Patriots’ top three linemen, for comparison.

Pass coverage

Pass coverage statistics

Player Snaps Targets Completions Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Rating Pass Breakup
Player Snaps Targets Completions Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Rating Pass Breakup
Stephon Gilmore 48 4 2 38 1 0 122.9 1
Devin McCourty 47 4 2 25 0 0 69.8 0
J.C. Jackson 38 2 1 15 0 0 75.0 0
Patrick Chung 37 2 2 3 0 0 79.2 0
Jason McCourty 31 3 3 71 1 0 158.3 0
Elandon Roberts 26 1 1 24 0 0 118.8 0

The Dolphins did not attempt a lot of passes, but they were effective nevertheless. Cornerback Jason McCourty, who is in the middle of a solid season as the Patriots’ number two at the position, had a particularly rough day and allowed three completions on three targets for 71 yards and a score. The usually stout Stephon Gilmore also gave up a touchdown even though he was in near-perfect position against wide receiver Brice Butler on the play. All in all, the unit covered well at times but still failed to challenge a previously inconsistent passing attack for 60 minutes.