Before Tommy Kelly got hurt, he said a defensive line’s goal in any game is to hold the opposing team below 100 yards rushing.
The Patriots allowed more than 100 yards on the ground in the first half on Sunday.
New England’s dominant second half washed away much of the panic that the first half brought on, but it didn’t completely erase the horrific first and second quarters from existence. And in rewatching Sunday night’s game, the Patriots’ porous run defense was on full display.
The Patriots’ comeback can be credited to multiple players, adjustments and plays. But what really allowed New England to win 27-17 and prevented Miami from making a comeback was Joe Philbin and the Dolphins panicking and straying away from the run.
In the first half, the Dolphins ran the ball 22 times for 103 yards. In the second half, they ran just nine times for 53 yards. They were actually more productive per carry, but they freaked out as soon as New England knotted the game at 17.
After Brandon Bolden tied the game on a 2-yard run, Miami had just five more designed runs. Had the Dolphins not strayed from what was working, they easily could have stayed in the game and possibly beat the Patriots. All of Miami’s mistakes were made through the air. The Dolphins’ running backs didn’t fumble the ball, and they had just one negative carry in the second half. When New England plays a team with more patience and a better game plan, they could have some issues.
Of course, it’s no surprise that the Patriots struggled against the run. They lost Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo for the season, and Tommy Kelly has missed the last three games with a knee injury. Chris Jones, Joe Vellano, Dont’a Hightower and Brandon Spikes have done an admirable job in those three players’ place, but when you take away two All Pros and a Pro Bowler, the defense is going to suffer for it.
There’s some hope for the future. Kelly will be back, and Jones and Vellano should improve with more experience and practice. The team also acquired Andre Carter to give more of a balanced presence to the third-down defense. But the run defense will likely be a season-long issue. And once Talib comes back, teams will only want to run against New England more.
The Jets pointed out how to beat the Patriots last week. Obviously Tom Brady‘s struggles against a stout New York defense played a big role, but so did the Jets’ constant attacking running game. The pass defense will need to be nearly perfect, as it was in the second half, and the offense finally has to step up in all facets.
Spirits are high now because the Patriots were able to mount a comeback, but let’s not forget what put them in a 17-3 hole in the first place.