Defense Once Again Bails Out Team With a Score
Well, we’re done with 2022, and the Patriots have a good start in 2023. They had a must-win scenario against the Dolphins, and they came through with just enough to win the game 23-21 against their long-time rivals.
They finished their home season record at 4-4, coupled with their road record currently at 4-4. Also, they are what they are. A flawed middle-of-the-road team. But with one game remaining on their schedule, they only have to win next week in Buffalo, and they are in. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Buffalo is competing for the #1 seed in the playoffs. They could lose to the Bengals on MNF but still have a shot at a bye week. Don’t expect the Bills to be resting anyone next week.
But even if they lose, they could back into the postseason if the Jets beat Miami, Jacksonville beats Tennessee, and the Steelers drop one of their two last games.
But I digress…Let’s go back to the game that the Patriots won, and we can worry about the different scenarios on another day.
So, here are my observations from the game yesterday afternoon.
The Secondary Played A Heckuva Game: The Patriots cornerbacks entered this game really banged up. Jalen Mills has been out for the past month. Jack Jones was placed on IR, Marcus Jones was out with a concussion, and Jonathan Jones was playing with an injury.
So, with a very deep safety group, the Patriots played a lot of very light packages with four safeties on the field with just Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant at cornerback. The Patriots played a ton of zone, which generally is the Kryptonite for this defense, but not on Sunday.
It was apparent immediately, with Miami putting Tyreek Hill in motion to get him a free release against man coverage. But no one followed, but the Patriots weren’t giving those easy throws underneath. And with so many safeties on the field, they had enough players with speed to make it tough for Miami to put together long drives, which was the intent.
Neither Hill nor Waddle was the usual automatic big-play factor that they usually are. Hill was held to just 55 yards and Waddle to just 52. Miami didn’t have a pass play of longer than 25 yards.
With this banged-up safety group, that was a huge win for the defense and not what was expected. Big kudos to Steve Belichick and Jerod Mayo for a great game plan that was executed exceptionally well.
Kyle Dugger’s Pick-Six Turns The Tide: Once again, with the team behind, the defense turned a pick-six, and this one turned the entire complexion of the game, and it gave the Patriots a lead that they would not relinquish. Kyle Dugger scored his third defensive TD of the season, and the Patriots’ seventh defensive score of the year.
Miami was facing a 3rd and 15 at their own 24. Dugger showed blitz at the snap but then dropped back deep at the sticks. Teddy Bridgewater tried to zip it to Tyreek Hill at the 40-yard line but didn’t see Dugger, who was in a perfect position to intercept the pass.
He jumped the route, made a great play to pick it off, then showed tremendous moves with the ball in his hands to score the go-ahead TD. The Patriots lead the league in INTs, and with an offense that has never figured it out in 2022, adding in seven extra TDs has helped.
Kendrick Bourne, “Break Glass When Needed”: Bourne, who had his first career 100-yard game last week, was placed right back on the invisibility list in this one. With the offense struggling after their first drive, It would seem like they would turn to the player who gives them yards-after-catch (YAC) ability. But no, he stayed inexplicably on the bench.
But when the Patriots were pinned back on their own 11-yard line with 9:32 to go. Bourne was put in, and he took a short pass from Jones and turned it into a 16-yard gain. That jump-started the drive that would take 11 plays, go 89 yards and take 5:06 off the clock, where the TD pass to Jakobi Meyers iced the game away.
Bourne’s non-use has been a head-scratcher all season.
Mac Jones Starts and Finishes Well, But in the Middle of the Game? The Patriots’ first drive of the game was a 10-play, 81-yard drive for a TD, where he hit rookie Tyquan Thornton for a 24-yard chunk play down the right sideline. On the next play, he hit Jakobi Meyers for 17 more.
The team moved to the Miami 7-yard line where …(gasp), Matt Patricia sent in a creative play where Thornton and Hunter Henry were stacked; at the snap, Henry turned inside, taking two defenders with him. Thornton slid to the end zone, where he hauled in a TD pass from Jones.
But after that, the Patriots couldn’t generate anything offensively until a late 3rd quarter FG by Nick Folk. But then the aforementioned 89-yard drive for a score put the game away. The inconsistency has been a head-scratcher. His second TD pass was a nice improvisation by Jones and Meyers, where they recognized a weakness in coverage. They made eye contact, and Jones hit Meyers for a TD at the snap.
Jones finished the game 20-33 for 203 yards with two TDs and 0 INTs for a passer rating of 98.4, which is respectable.
Christian Barmore Has a Big Day: The Patriots’ big man in the interior was part of an excellent defensive effort in taking away Miami’s running game. The Dolphins ran the ball 27 times for 86 yards, for an average of 3.2 yards per carry.
In the passing game, Barmore was just what the defense ordered. He registered a sack, a tackle for loss (TFL), and four QB hits. I wrote some pregame keys where it was necessary for the interior, and edge rushers needed to step up. Barmore did and helped provide the pocket-collapsing presence that squeezed the QBs ability to move around the pocket.
Barmore was definitely missed when he was injured with a knee issue. But he’s back, and whether it is for one game or more, he boosts the defensive line.
Special Teams Woes Continue: The game was another bad one for the New England STs units. On the Dolphins’ second drive, they were going to go for a 4th and 1. But a false start brought out the punt team. Brendan Schooler was flagged for a running into the kicker penalty. The Dolphins then did attempt the 4th and 1, converted it, and went down for a TD.
Michael Palardy continues to struggle and constantly gave Miami good to great field position with short punts, three of which were under 40 yards, and two touchbacks. It would really be nice if Jake Bailey was available with the Bills on deck next week.
Nick Folk missed another extra point. The return game didn’t generate much of anything. The kick coverage units allowed an average of 26.3 yards per return, although the punt coverage units were sharp. And Hunter Henry smothered the Dolphins’ onside kick attempt.
Other observations include:
- The Dolphins run defense was also stout, allowing the Patriots only 77 yards on 21 rushing attempts (3.7-yard average).
- Josh Uche and Matthew Judon were expected to dominate against a suspect and beat up Miami OL, but it didn’t happen. Uche had only one QB hit.
- Tyquan Thornton flashed some big play ability with catches for 60 yards and a TD. He nearly had another but stepped out of bounds in the back of the end zone.
- Hunter Henry had a nice day, playing on a knee that he injured last week. He caught 5 passes for 52 yards. Jakobi Meyers added 6 catches for 48 yards and a one-yard TD.
- Speaking of playing injured, Jonathan Jones played with a chest injury and did a good job of limiting Hill and Waddle on the day. He made a really nice play along the left sideline to intercept Skylar Thompson.
The Patriots close out the season next Sunday in Buffalo. And they control their own destiny. If they win, they’re in the postseason. It has been a crazy season in 2022; we’ll see how it turns out.
Look for my Positional Report Card ASAP.
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Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Bill Belichick Buffalo Bills Damien Harris Jakobi Meyers Mac Jones Matthew Judon Miami Dolphins