It seemed slightly absurd when Tom Brady targeted Rob Gronkowski 17 times in his first game back from injury, but wide receiver Julian Edelman had the tight end beat on Sunday.
Edelman was targeted a career-high 19 times in the Patriots’ loss to the Dolphins. Of course, Brady did not have much choice. Not only has Edelman become Brady’s most trusted target this season, but he was also one of very few receivers left by game’s end.
Rookie wideouts Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins missed the game with foot and hip injuries, respectively, while fellow rookie receiver Josh Boyce missed the second half with a foot ailment of his own. Wide receiver Danny Amendola trailed Edelman with 14 targets, while Boyce and third-down back Shane Vereen each had seven.
Vereen was expected to take the bulk of the targets that would usually go to Gronkowski, but instead, Edelman and Amendola had the tight end’s targets piled on top of their typical reps. Brady threw Dobson, Thompkins and Boyce’s targets on, as well.
There were times when Edelman appeared to be Brady’s first read and the signal caller was going to throw to his “Z” receiver come hell or high water. Edelman was surprisingly efficient given the high number of Brady’s attempts thrown his way. He caught 13 passes for 139 yards and pulled in a touchdown.
Edelman was not the only player with a lot on his plate in Miami. Let’s see how the rest of the Patriots fared in this week’s film review.
Brady was remarkable given his lack of top-tier targets. With just Edelman, Amendola, Boyce, Vereen, wide receiver Austin Collie and a gaggle of tight ends and running backs not known for their receiving skills, Brady still managed to complete 61.8 percent of his passes for 364 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Brady struggled in the red zone, but that’s a given with the lack of tall targets he had left. Edelman and Amendola had impressive games, but they’re still lacking in the height department.
Of Brady’s 21 incompletions, one was a spike, one was a throwaway, one the ref got in Edelman’s way, six were drops, three were good plays by the defense and nine were inaccurate passes. That’s pretty good for a quarterback who was throwing to a bunch of slot receivers.
Vereen had a surprisingly quiet game at SunLife Stadium in Miami. Brady relies on Vereen most in crunch time, and for the most part, the third-down back was covered late in the game. Brady will usually target Vereen deep at least once, but Miami wasn’t allowing a mismatch.
Brady did try to force a pass to Vereen late in the game, and the Patriots quarterback is lucky it was not picked off. Vereen was effective in his limited carries. He had two rushes for 13 yards.
LeGarrette Blount had another strong game. It appears he’s continuing to lower his pad level. That has been allowing him to truck through defenders. He’s been relying on running over opponents rather than around them recently. He’s also been far more decisive since taking over the “starting” job.
Stevan Ridley was solid in his eight carries. He used a very effective stutter step in the first half.
The Patriots continue to do some weird and wacky stuff with fullback James Develin. He was split out wide, used as a tight end and called on as a lead blocker. He got a 2-yard carry to pick up a first down, too. Develin’s lone standout game was against the Texans, when he picked up a rushing touchdown. Develin is just not fast enough to be an overly effective receiver.
Not enough can be said about Edelman and Amendola. They were getting obliterated on nearly every catch they had on New England’s three long drives. They were both able to get open using their quicks, smarts and strong route-running skills.
I’ve seen Amendola get killed by some for not catching one of Brady’s heaves into the end zone from the 14-yard line. Let’s give the guy a break. He and Edelman both had fantastic drives and aren’t built for jump balls in the end zone. Both players showed impressive blocking skills.
Edelman had more catches and yards in this game alone than he had in 2010 and 2011 combined. He got heated when one of the officials got in his way on New England’s fourth-quarter scoring drive. Fortunately, Edelman caught his touchdown pass just a play later.
Boyce played OK for the second week in a row, but his day was spoiled by three costly drops. Boyce has certainly shown enough promise to keep getting looks. He caught a long 30-yard pass from Brady.
Collie came on in the fourth quarter after Boyce went down. He’s been a dependable target for Brady. He’s effective at catching the ball in space.
Michael Hoomanawanui had the beautiful one-handed touchdown catch in the second quarter but struggled to get open otherwise. That’s not to say he was even open on his end zone catch. He just made an insane grab. Hooman gave up a sack while staying in to block.
Matthew Mulligan was mostly used as a blocker. He allowed one hurry in the pass game and had a couple of iffy moments while run blocking.
Here’s how the line stacked up in pressures allowed:
Nate Solder: one quarterback hit
Logan Mankins: no pressures
Ryan Wendell: one hurry, one quarterback hit
Dan Connolly: four hurries, two quarterback hits
Marcus Cannon: two hurries, four quarterback hits
Josh Kline: one quarterback hit
Solder went down with another head injury when he got kneed by Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake. Solder crumpled to the ground on the play. Kline came in to play left guard, while Mankins moved from left guard to left tackle. Mankins played well as a fill-in at Solder’s usual position.
Kline had his up and down moments. He complete forgot to block Koa Misi on his lone pressure allowed. He also faked out a few Miami defenders on his first snap of the game when he simulated a pull on play action to Blount.
Connolly and Cannon were better against the run than the pass, though Cannon did look completely lost on a third-quarter run by Ridley. He missed his block, and Ridley went down for a 3-yard loss.
Defensive end Rob Ninkovich was surprisingly quiet. He had just three pressures all game, though he was effective in the run game.
Fellow defensive end Chandler Jones gave defensive tackle Sealver Siliga an assist on a sack. Jones came over and blew up Siliga’s blocker, letting the big nose tackle bring down quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Jones picked up his 11 1/2th sack of the season. He had five pressures in the game.
Siliga had another strong game. The Patriots finally have a nose tackle who can effectively take on two blockers. It’s making the linebackers’ jobs a lot easier. Siliga had the sack and a quarterback hit. He was able to push back his blocker often in the pass game, though it didn’t always result in a quarterback hit.
I thought defensive tackle Chris Jones looked a lot more comfortable in the run game this week. Jones saw his snaps decrease a bit. It appeared to help him when he was in the game. He did get pushed around a couple of times, but he’s always a high-effort guy and makes his fair share of plays thanks to his motor.
Defensive tackle Joe Vellano had a sack in his limited snaps. Defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga got pushed around a little bit in the run game. He finds himself on the turf a few times too many. Defensive end Andre Carter had one quarterback hurry. He even dropped back into coverage once.
Here’s how all the defensive linemen fared in pressuring Tannehill:
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
Andre Carter: 1 hurry
Chris Jones: 1 hurry
Here’s how the linebackers fared in pressure:
Dane Fletcher: 1 hurry
Jamie Collins: 1 hurry
Check out the coverage charting stats for the linebackers below.
Dont’a Hightower: 2-2, 20 yards, TD
Dane Fletcher: 2-3, 16 yards
Jamie Collins: 1-2, 9 yards, pass broken up
Hightower played a very good game for three and a half quarters. He got turned around on the game-winning touchdown by Dolphins running back Marcus Thigpen, but he was also responsible for jamming Miami tight end Charles Clay at the line. It was a tough play for Hightower to make, and quite frankly, we’ve seen Jerod Mayo get beat on similar routes before.
Hightower was extremely active in the run game. He was able to clean up at the second level and was rarely blocked out. Hightower has benefited from playing behind Siliga in a four-man front.
Brandon Spikes was nearly invisible. He didn’t come away with any tackles. I had him overpursuing on one run play and missing a tackle on another.
Fletcher was only used in the pass game. He received zero snaps against the run.
Collins got beat badly by Thigpen on a pass. He also made a nice pass breakup in the first quarter. Collins tends to get pushed around a little bit in the run game, but he’s also improving. Instincts will help the rookie linebacker as he begins to rely on them more. He’s being a little hesitant, and it’s hurting him in the second level.
Here’s how the defensive backs fared in coverage:
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
Devin McCourty: 0-1
Dennard and Talib still appear to be hindered by knee and hip injuries, respectively. Dennard’s speed and change of direction both appear to be suffering. He certainly had some solid snaps, as well. He spent a lot of time on Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline. Dennard missed two key tackles on one drive.
Kyle Arrington and Talib had the best games of the cornerbacks. Arrington got beat by Miami wideout Mike Wallace a couple of times but had a nice pass breakup and forced Wallace to the sideline on one throw. Arrington picked up a sack and made some nice open-field tackles.
Talib spent a lot of his time inside, covering Clay. He allowed just 22 yards on four targets. His change of direction still seems affected by the hip.
Safety Devin McCourty did a nice job protecting the back half of the field, as usual. He moved over to cover Wallace a couple of times when Arrington would drop into a zone. McCourty missed one tackle but also made a beautiful open-field tackle on Dolphins running back Daniel Thomas.
Safety Steve Gregory had a couple of missed tackles. He also did not get over to Thomas quickly enough on the running back’s touchdown reception.