Patriots’ Defense No Longer Will Be Overlooked After Dominating Dolphins

FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots’ defense had its coming-out party in front of a national television audience Thursday night.

The Miami Dolphins looked more like flatfish after the Patriots’ defense steamrolled them in the 36-7 win. And for the first time this season, the Patriots’ defense deserves just as much credit as their offense for a win.

The Patriots allowed just 270 total yards to the Dolphins; forced two interceptions, by Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon; and had five sacks, two from Chandler Jones and one each from Rob Ninkovich, Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty. The Dolphins averaged 1.2 yards per carry and had 15 rushing yards on 13 attempts. The Dolphins had averaged 6.4 yards per carry and gained 428 yards on the ground in their previous two matchups against the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans. Lamar Miller and Co. are no pushovers.

That’s what this Patriots’ defense does to teams, however. After allowing 134 yards, 5.4 yards per carry and a touchdown to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1, New England has allowed just 77.6 yards per game, 4.1 yards per carry and three touchdowns on the ground, and that includes Week 6 against the Indianapolis Colts when star linebacker Dont’a Hightower was out, and they allowed 122 yards on 22 carries.

Those impressive stats can be partially credited to the fact that teams have to pass when they’re trailing the Patriots’ offense. The Patriots’ pass defense has been just as solid, however, allowing an 82.4 passer rating this season — good for sixth best in the NFL and comparable to Colin Kaepernick — with 11 touchdowns allowed and eight interceptions.

Wasn’t this defense supposed to struggle without Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Vince Wilfork and Kyle Arrington?

“Matty P (defensive coordinator Matt Patricia) was going to have those guys right, no matter what,” Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell said Thursday night. “No matter who were were going to have our there, Matty P was going to have them right as long as we have Jamie (Collins) and Big Boom (Hightower) out there. As long as we have those guys out there to lead the way, we were going to be OK.”

Collins, 26, and Hightower, 25, are the biggest difference-makers on the Patriots’ defense, causing havoc in pass rush, pass coverage and run defense. Hightower had a fourth-quarter sack and allowed just three catches on three targets for 12 yards with a pass breakup. Collins allowed just one catch on two targets for 3 yards in the passing game. Both players deserve to be named to the Pro Bowl this season.

The Patriots’ defense is young all over with Ryan (24), Harmon (24), McCourty (28), Malcolm Butler (25), Justin Coleman (22), Jordan Richards (22) and Patrick Chung (28) manning the secondary, which is coming together more and more in recent weeks.

They have a deep defensive line, which includes Jones (25), Dominique Easley (23), Malcom Brown (21), Sealver Siliga (25), Jabaal Sheard (26) and Akiem Hicks (25). It makes sense that the defense is getting better as the season progresses, since there are so many new faces with limited experience.

It was difficult to pick standouts among the Patriots’ defense Thursday. Head coach Bill Belichick said everyone played well.

“It was good team defense, which it always is when you play good,” Belichick said. “We had a couple good negative plays, put them in some long-yardage situations. That was helpful. And I thought Matt did a good job mixing up calls — pressures, man, zone.

“But we had a lot of good plays by our front, linebackers were active, secondary was active. I thought we tackled well for the most part, and that was a really important part of this game because these guys make a lot of yards with the ball in their hands. They’re really good runners — (Jarvis) Landry, (Lamar) Miller, guys like that. Again, good team defense. No one guy can stop that kind of offense. You’ve got to have all 11 guys doing their job, and we had that.”

Here are the Patriots’ pass coverage stats from Thursday’s win:
Malcolm Butler: 5-7, 57 yards
Justin Coleman: 3-6, 54 yards, PBU
Patrick Chung: 3-4, 42 yards, PBU
Logan Ryan: 4-9, 31 yards, INT
Dont’a Hightower: 3-3, 12 yards, PBU
Rashaan Melvin: 1-1, 10 yards
Rob Ninkovich: 1-1, 8 yards
Devin McCourty: 2-4, 8 yards, PBU
Jamie Collins: 1-2, 3 yards
Duron Harmon: INT, three PBUs

Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images

Thumbnail photo via Oct 29, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots celebrate a sack on Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) by safety Devin McCourty during the fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

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