Despite assembling their base of operations on the road days earlier than normal, Miami continued to be a house of horrors for the Patriots. The Dolphins bested New England 20-7, Miami’s seventh win in their last 10 meetings and QB Tua Tagovailoa became the first QB to start his career 4-0 against Belichick.
The Patriots had sustained periods of offensive success and despite three turnovers that cut drives short, only garnered 40 yards less of total offense than Miami. The Dolphins took advantage of a handful of Patriot miscues and lapses to catapult themselves to victory.
Turnovers and miscues the difference
The Patriots’ season-opening drive started with promise. New England picked up positive yardage on each of the first seven plays of the year along with five first downs. Quarterback Mac Jones barked orders and maneuvered receivers into pre-snap motion, showing a command over the pre-snap offense the young QB didn’t have during his rookie year. But with a full set of downs and 22 yards away from paydirt, Jones lofted a deep ball for wide receiver Davante Parker that was batted into the hands of a Miami DB. A “50/50″ ball and a gamble even in the best of situations, it was made an even riskier bet considering the Patriots were in such an advantageous position. It was an unnecessary, forced play that took the winds out of their sails.
Minutes later, the defensive unit committed their own version of a turnover. With the Dolphins offense staring at a 4th down attempt to continue their opening drive, Carl Davis fell for Tagovailoa’s hard count and leapt into the neutral zone, a gift that allowed Miami to eventually put their first points of the day on the board.
The defense had an even larger catastrophic miscue on fourth down just seconds before halftime. Facing a 4th and 7, WR Jaylen Waddle beat CB Jalen Mills to get to the middle of the field. After hauling in the pass, somehow neither safety Kyle Dugger nor linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley were able to make a tackle and the second-year wideout scampered into the endzone to put the Dolphins up 3 scores entering the break.
Offensive Line Lapses
A summer of concern about the state of the offensive line seemed to be held at bay, if not put to rest, early. The Patriots had offensive success early, even after the game-opening interception, running the ball. A Rhamondre Stevenson outside run for 12 yards with just over 3 minutes left in the first quarter seemed like the exact run that would’ve ended in disaster in the preseason.
But the offensive line miscommunications that fans have undoubtedly grown tired of hearing about reared their ugly head once again. Five plays after Stevenson’s outside run, Miami’s Emmanuel Ogbah split left tackle Trent Brown and left guard Cole Strange for one of the easiest sacks that a NFL player can register.
Removed from the trenches, Strange again helplessly watched his QB take a sack as Brandon Jones wrestled the ball free unimpeded and Melvin Ingram high-stepped into the endzone for a defensive TD to make it 10-0 halfway through the second quarter. Although Jones was seen creeping toward the line just before the snap, neither QB or o-lineman identified that Jones was going to be rushing in late and the pass protection was never adjusted. A simple mistake that gifted Miami an easy TD.
Questionable play calls
Although officially the offensive line coach and a Senior Football Advisor, Matt Patricia will be the Patriots’ offensive play caller this season.
His debut did not inspire much confidence. When the Patriots were desperately searching for points late in the game, Patricia dialed up two head-scratching runs on 2nd-and-17 and 3rd-and-3 that did little to help the cause. The 3rd-and-3 attempt gained zero yards and set New England up for what would ultimately be an unsuccessful 4th down pass the next play.
The Patriots also only called two play action plays. On the occasions they did so, they were able to pick up 22 total yards.
If the Patriots want to unlock their offense, they’ll need to diversify their gameplan.
While the Patriots are returning to Foxboro in a 0-1 hole to start the year, mostly of their own doing, the Patriots defense held an explosive Dolphins offense to only 14 points. A performance that would likely have been a cause for celebration on a different, less-turnover prone day.
Kyle Dugger was the Patriots’ leading solo-tackler last season and the skills that project the third-year safety to be a major contributor in 2022 were on full display on Sunday.
At the 10-minute mark in the second quarter, Dugger executed a picture-perfect tackle on speedster Tyreke Hill that would’ve picked up huge yardage. The very next play, now playing in a linebacker spot in the box, Dugger erupted through the trenches to tackle Chase Edmonds seven yards behind the line of scrimmage and force a Miami third-and-long. A short pass later and Miami was forced to punt a possession wrecked almost single handedly by #23.
Dugger stuck a stake in Miami’s 2nd half-opening drive as well when he executed a perfect wrap up of Hill in the flat on third-and-one.
Cornerback Jonathan Jones drew most of the Tyreke Hill assignment, as he often did during the speedster’s time in Kansas City.
The Patriots trusted Jones to run with Hill in man-coverage and were mostly rewarded for it. While it’s too much to hope to fully stop Hill, the defense did a sufficient job of bottling him up. Hill was held scoreless and was limited to gains of 26 and 23 yards as his biggest pick-ups of the day.
If you’re looking for a standout moment, it came during the closing moments of the third quarter when Jones fell into Hill’s pocket as the receiver came across the formation toward the sideline on a 3rd-and-short attempt. The tight coverage forced Tagovailoa to throw the ball down and away. Miami was forced to settle for a field goal.
Jones’ heavy workload is a testament to how they’ve grown to trust the seventh-year corner. In the 2018 AFC Championship Game against the Chiefs, the Patriots doubled Hill with a safety for half the game. Although he no longer has Patrick Mahomes throwing to him, Hill is still a threat. Just a threat the Patriots feel adequately equipped to handle going forward.
A week after being named a team captain for the first time, edge rusher Deatrich Wise had one of the best games of his six-year career.
Wise was effective generating pressure, flying around the ball for the duration of the afternoon. He finished the day with a sack, a QB hit, two hurries, a run stop and a forced fumble.
His 90.2 PFF grade was the highest graded performance of his career.
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