The Patriots were a no-show in Miami and dropped their finale in a lackluster effort 20-10. The loss coupled with the Denver win over San Diego later in the day dropped the Patriots to the #2 seed in the AFC playoffs. The only guaranteed home game will be in the divisional round in two weeks.
The Patriots dropped their second in a row and the 4th in the last six. While the team is still 12-4, they started out 10-0 and the hallmark of Bill Belichick’s teams is that they always seem to play their best football after Thanksgiving. That isn’t the case in 2015 as the injury epidemic has reached the tipping point.
The effort was ugly on both sides of the ball and the worst news is quarterback Tom Brady, the one man that is indispensable to a repeat Super Bowl appearance was hobbling off the stage at his post-game presser.
Offense Non-existent: The Patriots offense laid a stinker on the table for the second week in a row. They have two wide receivers in Keshawn Martin and “who are you and what did you do with the 1000-yard WR” in Brandon LaFell, who can’t beat anyone in man coverage. Danny Amendola is battling thru a knee injury and is clearly laboring. Julian Edelman remains out with a broken bone in his foot. That leaves Rob Gronkowski who drew as many as three Dolphins when he tried to venture inside. Martin and LaFell contributed three catches for 11 yards against one of the poorer pass defenses in the league…that isn’t getting it done and is unacceptable.
Worst of all is Brady’s protection which closely resembles a sieve right now. The coaching staff had so little confidence in their ability to protect #12 on Sunday that in the first half they ran 21 times and passed just five. Five passes in the first half of a game. Brady’s thrown for much more than that in blizzard conditions.
Now on their fifth left tackle, Cameron Fleming was abused time and again. On the other side Marcus Cannon was turnstiled by Ndamukong Suh who launched himself at and landed awkwardly on Brady’s legs in the second quarter that caused the exact thing the coaches were afraid of in the first place.
Lack of Run Game Despite Focus: The run blocking against a Dolphins team that has been gashed all season was atrocious. They managed 70 yards on the ground against a team that has allowed nearly double that per game. The Patriots averaged 2.6 yards per carry against one of the worst run defenses in the league….let that sink in a second. The offensive line isn’t opening any running room for the backs to run at all. And unlike other games this season, their focus was to clearly establish the run, especially in the first half.
Steven Jackson shook off some rust and ran hard, but had nowhere to go. Brandon Bolden had a few nice efforts inside but there wasn’t enough. The “next man up” mantra is great when a guy goes down. When you’re on left tackle number five, you have some serious issues and they need fixing asap. Tom Brady is great but he’s not a miracle worker. And they need to find him someone who can block for more than two seconds.
James White had a big 68-yard catch and run that set-up the only touchdown of the day in the third quarter but it begs the question, why did the coaching staff wait so long to get him involved in the passing game? Jackson caught a 20-yard screen in the first half but they went with mainly Brandon Bolden until the first half.
Patriots fans are clamoring for Julian Edelman to return and he will help matters as both he and Amendola, if healthy and that is a big IF at this point are able to get open quickly and reduce Brady’s time in the crosshairs. Martin is best suited to a STs/Return role and the occasional #4 WR. LaFell is best as a #3 man.
But the man they need even more to be healthy in two weeks is Sebastian Vollmer. He’s a proven starter and a big tough dude. He’d help immeasurably in protection of the franchise. He won’t fix everything that ails them but he’ll go a long way in stabilizing things. Early reports have him on track for the divisional playoffs.
Defense Laboring: The defense is suffering right now as well with no Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones. The Patriots pass rush was woefully inadequate on Sunday. Ryan Tannehill who was sacked six times by the Colts the week before and was also playing behind a patchwork offensive line but was barely touched. The only sack the Patriots managed was by rookie Geneo Grissom, his first in the NFL.
Tannehill picked them apart for 350 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday and most importantly no turnovers as the defense, worn out but the constant three-and-outs by the offense couldn’t get off the field. They allowed far too many third and long situations against the Fins.
The #3 cornerback has been a question all season and Tannehill with time to throw, picked on Leonard Johnson. Greg Jennings who’s been on a milk carton for much of 2015 had a big day catching the ball. Big plays continue to plague the defense. They allowed far too many 20+ yard pass plays or 10 yard runs.
Again with no Hightower, Jones and with McCourty and Chung playing at far less than 100 percent, things were far from ideal but a much better effort was expected against a very poor Dolphins team that was playing out the string.
Looking Forward: Does this mean all hope is lost? Of course not, but the time may be here to temper expectations for this team. They need a big boost in play from the offensive line. The wide receivers need Edelman and Amendola to get back and play in form as their current top two can’t get open and are best suited to playing as 3rd and 4th options.
The additions of Edelman and Amendola will also allow them to start using Gronkowski more where he’s at his best, attacking the middle of the field. Instead of drawing a ton of coverage, he’ll be in a better position to provide mismatches. They’ve been forced to single him out wide and try for deep shots which isn’t the best way to utilize his talents. Ditto for Scott Chandler who’s also been playing hurt with a knee issue for some time.
The Patriots will have 12 days to get ready to play either the Bengals, Texans or the Chiefs on January 16 at 4:35 p.m. in Gillette Stadium. As Bill Belichick said in his press conference ….they have a lot of work to do.
The season and the defense of their Super Bowl begins now.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2015 NFL Season 2015 Patriots 2015 Patriots Season Bill Belichick Brandon LaFell Chandler Jones Danny Amendola Foxboro Stadium Greg Jennings Jabaal Sheard Jarvis Landry Julian Edelman Malcolm Butler Miami Dolphins Ndamukong Suh New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Pittsburgh Steelers predictions Rob Gronkowski Rob Ninkovich Ryan Tannehill Tom Brady