All it took was one sack and one missed field goal for the tides to change in the Patriots’ Week 8 matchup against the Dolphins.
After watching the game live and doing a quick rewatch of the TV tape, I’m still left wondering how the Patriots that shut out the Dolphins while scoring 24 unanswered points in the second half were the same team that looked completely hopeless in the first half.
Tom Brady was churning out another dismal performance, Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas were gashing the middle of New England’s defensive line and the only moment of encouragement came from a 34-yard field goal off the right leg of Stephen Gostkowski after the Patriots couldn’t convert on 3rd-and-2 inside the red zone. New England was finished. They looked content to win five games and stay at that number all season.
But then Dont’a Hightower sacked Ryan Tannehill on third down and Caleb Sturgis boinked a 46-yard field goal attempt. It took less than four minutes for the Patriots to put up 14 points and tie the game.
It’s amazing how much two simple plays can change the course of a game. And some say there’s no such thing as momentum in sports. (OK, I have no idea whether momentum exists or not, but it certainly looked like it did from the Gillette Stadium press box.)
Check out my five takeaways from Sunday’s game below.
1. Kyle Arrington shuts down Mike Wallace.
After Arrington was benched against the Jets for letting Jeremy Kerley run loose, I wasn’t expecting the usual slot cornerback to be lined up across from the five-year, $60-million man. Given Wallace’s speed, though, it actually made sense. Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan are not burners. Arrington and Marquice Cole are the fastest corners on the roster, so it was Arrington’s duty to stop Wallace.
And that Arrington did. Before leaving the game in the third quarter with a groin tweak (he’ll be fine, according to a source), Arrington didn’t allow a reception on three targets. He had pass breakups on two of those incompletions.
Devin McCourty had another flashy game, Steve Gregory didn’t allow a reception and Rob Ninkovich dropped back in coverage more frequently than we’re used to. He did a nice job of limiting yardage against him by immediately being around his target.
No player specifically struggled based on TV tape. Hightower, Brandon Spikes and Jamie Collins each got burned once, but the fact that they were each only targeted once may be a good sign. We’ll have to see on the coaches’ film.
Check out this week’s coverage charting stats below.
Alfonzo Dennard: 4-6, 37 yards
Logan Ryan: 3-7, 30 yards, 2 PBUs
Rob Ninkovich: 3-3, 18 yards
Marquice Cole: 2-6, 14 yards, TD, INT, PBU
Devin McCourty: 2-4, 13 yards, PBU
Dont’a Hightower: 1-1, 11 yards
Jamie Collins: 1-1, 11 yards
Brandon Spikes: 2-2, 10 yards
Dane Fletcher: 1-1, 5 yards, TD
Kyle Arrington: 0-3, 2 PBUs
Steve Gregory: 0-3
Duron Harmon: INT
Check out the season’s charting stats below. Dennard’s 46.9 percent completion percentage against stands out. Gregory, McCourty and Harmon have been very solid at safety.
Dennard: 23-49, 371 yards, TD, INT
Arrington: 22-42, 280 yards, 2 TDs, INT, holding penalty
Ryan: 11-22, 150 yards, TD
Mayo: 14-27, 146 yards
Gregory: 10-22, 139 yards, TD, pass interference penalty
Talib: 9-29, 139 yards, 4 INTs, pass interference penalty
Hightower: 14-22, 124 yards
McCourty: 8-13, 99 yards, TD
Spikes: 5-8, 59 yards, INT
Collins: 5-6, 53 yards
Cole: 4-9, 33 yards, TD, INT
Ninkovich: 4-5, 20 yards
Fletcher: 1-1, 5 yards, TD
Harmon: 1-2, 3 yards, INT
2. Rob Ninkovich finally gets on traditional stat sheet and continues his solid season.
Ninkovich has been great all season. He’s been stout at holding his edge against the run, and he’s been generating pressure all year. He added some solid coverage skills on Sunday as well. But since he only had one sack coming into Sunday, some doubted whether he was living up to his new contract. He is, was and will.
Ninkovich generated six pressures against Tannehill with a sack. Chris Jones continues to generate a lot of sacks per total pressures. Basically, if he gets in the backfield on a passing down, he’s probably going to hit the quarterback.
Chandler Jones struggled a bit to get after the passer when lined up across from Bryant McKinnie. The Patriots tried to flip Jones at one point to see if he could get after Tannehill from the left side. He only registered one hurry.
Andre Carter got one hurry in his first snaps of the season. The Patriots didn’t generate much pressure overall until the fourth quarter. Getting six sacks swept any concern about the pass rush away, however.
Check out this week’s pressure charting stats.
Rob Ninkovich: 1 sack, 4 hurries, 1 QB hit
Joe Vellano: 2 hurries, 1 QB hit
Chris Jones: 1 1/2 sacks, 1 QB hit
Logan Ryan: 1 1/2 sacks
Dont’a Hightower: 1 sack, 1 hurry
Dane Fletcher: 1 sack
Andre Carter: 1 QB hit
Steve Gregory: 1 QB hit
Devin McCourty: 1 hurry
Chandler Jones: 1 hurry
Brandon Spikes: 1 hurry
Check out the season charting stats below. Jones and Ninkovich are now tied for total pressures. Jones’ 4 1/2 sacks certainly stand out for a player who’s only been with the team for five games.
Chandler Jones: 6 1/2 sacks, 25 hurries, 10 QB hits (42 pressures)
Ninkovich: 2 sack, 32 hurries, 8 QB hits (42 pressures)
Kelly: 2 1/2 sacks, 12 hurries, 2 QB hit (17 pressures)
Buchanan: 2 sacks, 9 hurries, 3 QB hits (14 pressures)
Chris Jones: 5 sacks, 5 hurries, 2 QB hit (13 pressures)
Vellano: 1 sack, 8 hurries, 2 QB hit (11 pressures)
Hightower: 1 sack, 7 hurries, 2 QB hits (10 pressures)
Wilfork: 4 hurries, 1 QB hit (5 pressures)
Mayo: 1 1/2 sacks, 1 hurry, 1 QB hit (4 pressures)
Spikes: 3 hurries, 1 QB hit (4 pressures)
Collins: 3 hurries (3 pressures)
Ryan: 2 sacks, (2 pressures)
McCourty: 1 hurry, 1 QB hit (2 pressures)
Fletcher: 1 sack (1 pressure)
Cole: 1 hurry (1 pressure)
Bequette: 1 QB hit (1 pressure)
Carter: 1 QB hit (1 pressure)
Gregory: 1 QB hit (1 pressure)
3. Tom Brady has underrated performance.
Brady’s numbers certainly don’t stand out. He only completed 13 of 22 passes for 116 yards with one touchdown and an interception. But of those nine incompletions, only four can be chalked up to the fault of Brady.
Aaron Dobson dropped one pass, Rob Gronkowski dropped another and Danny Amendola dropped a pass that was thrown slightly behind him. It could be split between Brady’s and Amendola’s fault.
Brady also had one throwaway, and Dimitri Patterson made a nice play on one pass.
Overall, it was an OK performance by Brady and his receivers. The game just didn’t dictate many throws from the signal-caller.
4. Aaron Dobson leapfrogs Kenbrell Thompkins.
With Amendola and Gronkowski back, Dobson got the majority of snaps in the X receiver role. He played well, hauling in four passes on five targets from Brady for 60 yards and a touchdown.
This doesn’t necessarily mean the end of Thompkins’ starting role on this team, but Dobson has played very well lately. He’s gaining separation, even if it means pushing off every once in a while. It was nice to see Brady look Dobson’s way as frequently as Gronkowski’s.
5. Run defense could still be an issue.
The only reason the Dolphins stopped running the ball is that they saw the game slipping away from them. I have no doubt that Miller and Thomas could have kept running the ball down the Patriots’ collective throat.
Chris Jones and Joe Vellano do a nice job of getting into the backfield against the pass and run, but they’re still having a tough time holding their ground. That will improve when Tommy Kelly returns, but we have no idea when that will be yet. Kelly was spotted on New England’s bench before the game in street clothes with his two sons, but that basically means nothing.