The New England Patriots’ defense was completely unrecognizable Sunday.
After struggling mightily in consecutive weeks against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions, the Patriots wiped the floor with the Miami Dolphins in a 38-7 victory. The Dolphins couldn’t do anything against the Patriots, gaining fewer than 100 net yards before garbage time.
So, what changed? The Patriots even had a hard time explaining it Sunday afternoon.
Our take? There was no one key fix.
— Defensive end Trey Flowers and safety Patrick Chung returned from concussions.
— The Patriots benched players who were struggling.
— They inserted new players into the unit.
— The offense’s improvement played a role.
— The offense and defense got out to hot starts, making the Dolphins one-dimensional.
— Every player on the defense performed better.
And that’s really all it took. There was no one single star defender who took over the game, the Patriots weren’t consistently making huge plays. They were simply preventing yards and getting the Dolphins’ offense off the field quickly.
So, can they continue this momentum moving forward? We’ll see, but they proved Sunday they can be a good defense this season.
Here are this week’s takeaways and advanced metrics. All stats via Pro Football Focus.
CB Jonathan Jones: seven catches on nine targets for 55 yards
CB Jason McCourty: 2-4, 20 yards
LB Elandon Roberts: 1-2, 18 yards
CB Stephon Gilmore: 2-4, 13 yards
LB Kyle Van Noy: 1-1, 13 yards
LB Nicholas Grigsby: 1-1, 10 yards
FS Devin McCourty: 1-1, 6 yards, TD
LB Dont’a Hightower: 0-1
CB JC Jackson: 0-1, INT
— Devin McCourty let up his touchdown in garbage time. He went for a strip rather than a tackle (possibly to preserve the shutout) and gave up the score.
— Jason McCourty is probably the Patriots’ most underrated defender. He’s let up just nine catches on 16 targets for 72 yards with a pass breakup in four games. He hasn’t let up more than 31 yards in a game or 14 yards on a catch and is allowing just 4.5 yards per target. Quarterbacks have a 67.7 passer rating when targeting him.
— Jackson has a ton of potential as an undrafted free agent. He intercepted his only target so far this season.
DT Adam Butler: sack, three hurries
LB John Simon: sack, two hurries
DT Lawrence Guy: QB hit, two hurries
LB Kyle Van Noy: three hurries
DE Adrian Clayborn: two hurries
DE Trey Flowers: hurry
— The Patriots’ pass rush wasn’t exactly prolific Sunday, but it got the job done. They generated a pressure on 51.6 percent of passing snaps. That was up from a dismal 20 percent in Week 3.
— Simon looked like a great pickup in his Patriots debut. He was highly productive with a sack and two hurries on just 11 pass-rush snaps.
— Flowers made a bigger impact on run defense than as a pass rusher in his return to the field from a concussion.
DE John Simon: three stops
LB Kyle Van Noy: two stops
DT Lawrence Guy: two stops
LB Elandon Roberts: two stops
DT Adam Butler: one stop
LB Dont’a Hightower: one stop
FS Devin McCourty: one stop
SS Patrick Chung: one stop
Stops constitute a “loss” for the offense so this table shows the percentage of stops per snap played only in run defense.
LB Kyle Van Noy: missed tackle
FS Devin McCourty: missed tackle
LB Nicholas Grigsby: missed tackle
— Simon also made three run “stops” on just nine snaps. If Roberts misses time with the injury he suffered Sunday, then Simon could emerge as a starter. The Patriots could elect to move Van Noy off the line and have Simon take over on the edge.
— The Patriots missed nine tackles in Week 3 against the Lions. Three missed tackles is a lot more manageable, especially when Grigsby’s came in garbage time.
— Guy continued to be disruptive in the middle of the field. He’s been one of the Patriots’ best defenders.
— Among Brady’s 12 incomplete passes, two were thrown away and one was dropped by wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
— Brady was under pressure on both of his interceptions.
— Brady was 2-of-6 for 69 yards with an interception on deep passes.
— Brady still didn’t quite look like himself, going 23-of-35 for 274 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Expect him to look back to normal Thursday, when Julian Edelman is back in the offense. It’s also possible Josh Gordon takes on a greater role this week after getting his feet wet Sunday. We really like his potential in the offense.
LT Trent Brown: three QB hits, two hurries
RT Marcus Cannon: five hurries
LG Joe Thuney: three hurries
C David Andrews: two hurries
RG Shaq Mason: hurry
RB Sony Michel: hurry
— Tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen and running backs James White and Kenjon Barner didn’t allow any pressure on pass-block snaps.
— The Patriots’ offensive line was much better in the run game than it was in pass protection.
— It’s worth praising the O-line for not allowing a sack.
RB Sony Michel: one missed tackle forced, 2.36 yards after contact
RB James White: one missed tackle forced, 1.88 yards after contact
RB Kenjon Barner: no missed tackles forced, 1.67 yards after contact
— Michel definitely appears to have knocked off most of the rust in an impressive performance, but the Patriots’ run blocking was phenomenal Sunday. That Michel picked up 112 yards on 25 carries and only had to force one missed tackle and averaged 2.36 yards after contact means the O-line was creating a lot of space for him.
— White showed impressive vision and change of direction on his 22-yard touchdown run. He’s still improving as a ball-carrier. He also added eight catches for 68 yards through the air.
— We’d still like the Patriots’ offense to add some unpredictability. The Patriots passed on 77.5 percent of White’s offensive snaps and ran on 81.8 percent of Michel’s offensive snaps.
For more grades, advanced statistics and more at Pro Football Focus, go to ProFootballFocus.com.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images