Josh Boyce’s Drops, Defense’s Lack of Turnovers Among Five Takeaways From Patriots-Dolphins

Joe Vellano, Ryan TannehillAfter the Patriots, Broncos and Bengals lost, it’s as if this week never happened.

Denver still holds the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff race, New England has the second bye and Cincinnati is the No. 3 seed following a loss to the Steelers. After seeing the Bengals get embarrassed by Pittsburgh, the Patriots have to be feeling a little better about themselves. At least they lost to a team with a winning record — by single digits.

Still, the loss to the Dolphins is concerning for New England. With an opportunity to better their chances of playing at Gillette Stadium throughout the playoffs, the Patriots choked. The defense collapsed, and the offense couldn’t push the ball that final 14 yards into the end zone with seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

If this week did anything, though, it showed how weak the AFC is this season. The parity is running rampant. The Patriots, Broncos, Chiefs, Bengals and Colts are the “best” teams in the conference, but can any of those teams truly be categorized as “good”? The Seahawks are definitely the best team in the NFL, and they might be the only good team, too.

Otherwise, how would a team like the Patriots, who started losing All-Pro players to season-ending injuries at an alarming rate starting in Week 4, be 10-4? How could the team whose depth was the biggest concern heading into the season be the No. 2 seed in the playoffs?

It’s been a wild and crazy year, no doubt. And while hope is lost by some after New England lost to the Dolphins, no team can truly be counted out.

Let’s get deeper into that game against Miami with this week’s five takeaways.

1. Aqib Talib returns to dominance.

The Patriots cornerback had a much better game in Week 15 than he did against the Browns in the previous week. Talib had his worst game of the season against Cleveland, allowing five catches on seven targets for 141 yards and a touchdown. He was also called for holding.

Against the Dolphins, Talib allowed just two catches on four targets for 22 yards. Talib was all over the field, lining up across from wide receivers Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline and tight ends Charles Clay and Michael Egnew at times. Talib has been dealing with an injured hip since getting hurt in Week 6, when he held Jimmy Graham catchless.

The rest of the Patriots’ cornerbacks were not as successful. Alfonzo Dennard still appears to be bothered by his injured knee. He missed two tackles and allowed 70 yards. Kyle Arrington allowed a long reception to Wallace but also made one nice pass breakup and forced Wallace to the sideline on a deep target from quarterback Ryan Tannehill. When Arrington aggravated his groin injury, Tannehill targeted Marquice Cole on a touchdown pass to Wallace.

The safeties and linebackers fared only slightly better. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower allowed a 14-yard touchdown to running back Marcus Thigpen. Hightower got turned around on the play. The linebacker has had trouble with tight ends this season, but he’s typically been strong in coverage against running backs.

Safety Steve Gregory took some bad angles in coverage. Safety Devin McCourty was targeted, but Tannehill’s throw was off to Clay.

Check out this week’s coverage charting stats below.

Alfonzo Dennard: 5-7, 70 yards, pass broken up
Kyle Arrington: 4-8, 52 yards, pass broken up
Logan Ryan: 3-5, 41 yards
Marquice Cole: 1-1, 39 yards, TD
Aqib Talib: 2-4, 22 yards
Dont’a Hightower: 2-2, 20 yards, TD
Dane Fletcher: 2-3, 16 yards
Jamie Collins: 1-2, 9 yards, pass broken up
Devin McCourty: 0-1

Check out the coverage charting stats for the entire season below.

Arrington: 37-71, 535 yards, 4 TDs, INT, holding penalty
Dennard: 34-67, 509 yards, 2 TDs, INT
Talib: 27-57, 444 yards, 4 INTs, 2 TDs, pass interference penalty, 3 holding penalties
Ryan: 22-45, 278 yards, 3 TDs, 3 INTs
Hightower: 25-45, 225 yards, 2 TDs
Gregory: 14-27, 180 yards, TD, pass interference penalty
Jerod Mayo: 14-27, 146 yards
Cole: 9-15, 133 yards, 2 TDs, INT
McCourty: 9-17, 114 yards, 2 TDs, INT, holding penalty
Brandon Spikes: 12-18, 102 yards, TD, INT
Collins: 8-12, 89 yards
Duron Harmon: 6-9, 73 yards, 2 INTs
Rob Ninkovich: 6-11, 31 yards, pass interference penalty
Fletcher: 3-9, 21 yards, TD
Chandler Jones: 1-1, 7 yards

2. The Patriots cannot generate much pressure.

New England sacked Tannehill four times and hit him three more, but for the most part, Tannehill had a lot of time to throw, which is how he completed 25 of 37 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns. Defensive end Chandler Jones had the most production, with six pressures, but he hardly dominated the game. Jones now has 11 1/2 sacks on the season.

Defensive tackle Chris Jones played more sparingly than he has in recent weeks. He got just one hurry against Miami’s offensive line. Defensive end Rob Ninkovich was not his typically dominant self. He averages more than five pressures per game, but he had just three against the Dolphins.

Check out this week’s pressure charting stats below.

Chandler Jones: 1 sack, 4 hurries, 1 QB hit
Rob Ninkovich: 2 hurries, 1 QB hit
Sealver Siliga: 1 sack, 1 QB hit
Joe Vellano: 1 sack
Kyle Arrington: 1 sack
Dane Fletcher: 1 hurry
Andre Carter: 1 hurry
Chris Jones: 1 hurry
Jamie Collins: 1 hurry

Check out the pressure charting stats for the season below.

Ninkovich: 6 sacks, 53 hurries, 16 QB hits (75 pressures)
Chandler Jones: 11 1/2 sacks, 47 hurries, 14 QB hits (73 pressures)
Chris Jones: 5 sacks, 17 hurries, 4 QB hits (27 pressures)
Tommy Kelly: 2 1/2 sacks, 12 hurries, 2 QB hit (17 pressures)
Vellano: 2 sacks, 12 hurries, 3 QB hits (17 pressures)
Hightower: 1 sack, 12 hurries, 4 QB hits (17 pressures)
Michael Buchanan: 2 sacks, 10 hurries, 3 QB hits (15 pressures)
Carter: 1 sack, 7 hurries, 6 QB hits (14 pressures)
Spikes: 8 hurries, 1 QB hit (9 pressures)
Fletcher: 2 sacks, 5 hurries, 1 QB hit (8 pressures)
Collins: 4 hurries, 2 QB hits (6 pressures)
Siliga: 1 sack, 2 hurries, 2 QB hits (5 pressures)
Vince Wilfork: 4 hurries, 1 QB hit (5 pressures)
Mayo: 1 1/2 sacks, 1 hurry, 1 QB hit (4 pressures)
Ryan: 2 sacks, 1 hurry (3 pressures)
Sopoaga: 1 sack, 2 hurries (3 pressures)
Arrington: 1 sack, 1 hurry (2 pressures)
McCourty: 1 hurry, 1 QB hit (2 pressures)
Jake Bequette: 1 QB hit (1 pressure)
Gregory: 1 QB hit (1 pressure)
Cole: 1 hurry (1 pressure)

3. Josh Boyce has a case of the drops.

Remember when rookie wide receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins earned the nicknames “Dropson” and “Dropkins” because of their butterfingers in the early portion of the season? Fellow rookie receiver Boyce is lucky his name isn’t suited to cleverly include the word drop.

Boyce dropped three passes from quarterback Tom Brady against the Dolphins. The TCU product dropped a screen in Week 14.

On Brady’s 21 incompletions, nine were inaccurate passes, six were drops, three were strong plays by Miami’s defense, one was a throwaway, one was a spike and one can be categorized as error by official. Julian Edelman was heated when a ref got in his way, forcing an incompletion.

Wide receiver Danny Amendola had two drops, and running back Shane Vereen had one.

4. The Patriots’ defense fails to force a turnover.

Miami turned the ball over once, but it was on special teams when punter/holder Brandon Fields took a long snap off the face on a fourth-down field goal attempt. Nate Ebner recovered the flubbed play. It was New England’s first turnover since the second quarter in Week 13 against the Texans.

The Patriots got the ball at their own 31-yard line, and it was an unforced error by Miami. New England scored on the ensuing drive, but it’s just as likely that could have happened if the Dolphins hit the field goal and kicked off.

The Patriots have to do a better job of forcing turnovers on defense in the upcoming weeks. They can’t bend but not break if they’re not forcing mistakes.

5. The Patriots’ defense limits the Dolphins’ run game.

Overall, New England allowed 89 yards on the ground on 23 carries. If that’s limited to just running backs, the Patriots allowed 77 yards on 20 carries for 3.85 yards per carry. They allowed a long run of just seven yards out of the backfield.

Last week, against the Browns, New England allowed 47 yards on 22 carries to running backs. In the past two weeks the Patriots are allowing just 2.95 yard per carry out of the backfield.

The current narrative is that the Patriots’ run defense is terrible. That should change. Since going back to a four-man front and inserting Siliga into the nose, they’ve been much more stout.

One area of slight concern is that they have allowed 47 yards on two carries by wide receivers in the past two weeks. Josh Gordon had a successful reverse last week, while Wallace had a 13-yard end-around on Sunday. Quite frankly, though, if there’s one area a team can struggle without much cause for concern, it’s on carries by wide receivers.

Have a question for Doug Kyed? Send it to him via Twitter at @DougKyedNESN or send it here.

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