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Thread: Beating the Patriots (notes and observations)

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    TheWalrus's Avatar
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    Beating the Patriots (notes and observations)


    When the Dolphins are on offense:


    As I'm sure most of you are aware, the Patriots are without two of their stalwart front seven players -- Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo -- for the year. The chief defensive lineman the Patriots have turned to in Wilfork's absence has been #94 Chris Jones, a 2013 sixth round pick by the Texans who was cut and then picked up by the Buccaneers and also cut. The Patriots are in other words his third team since April, and his PFF grades have -- as you might expect -- been terrible all year until the last two weeks, when he's performed adequately. I thought he actually looked pretty good against Cleveland. Not a tremendously talented player but active.

    With Mayo out the Patriots have turned to a rotation of Dont'a Hightower and Brandon Spikes on running downs, with Dane Fletcher coming in on obvious passing downs. Hightower and Spikes are interior enforcers who've helped make up the slack against the run, and indeed Browns running backs only managed 47 yards on 22 carries on Sunday. By comparison, Texans running backs managed 115 yards on 25 carries two weeks ago against New England. Back on October 27th, Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas managed 136 yards on 27 carries against the Patriots in the game where Wilfork was injured.

    Hightower and Spikes are excellent run defenders, however to call them plodders would be kind. Hightower ran decently out of Bama but he changes direction like a tugboat. Brandon Spikes is even slower, if that can believed, running the 40 in 5.05 out of Florida, making him slower than the guy who wrote this post you're reading.

    How should we attack Hightower and Spikes? I'd advise two methods:

    1. Attack the edges in the run game. Sweeps, running back flares, wide receiver screens. Pull Brenner and Pouncey -- out two most athletic linemen -- out on the edge, like on the long run that Daniel Thomas broke. Running up the middle will accomplish nothing, especially out of a heavy look with Egnew as a lead blocker. Egnew is hardly a prototype fullback but he's filled in decently. Hightower and Spikes will destroy him. If we're going to run out of a heavy set, the lead blocker should be Clay (who the Patriots are more likely to match up with Fletcher by personnel grouping). But I'd be more interested in running out of nickle looks. Dane Fletcher is overly aggressive and without instincts in the running game. He flies up to the line of scrimmage and plows into the back of his own linemen.

    2. Throw when Hightower/Spikes are on the field, especially when the Patriots show a man coverage look. This would be a nice game for Egnew to get a couple of catches, imo. We run most of the time he's on the field, which will key Belichick to put his heavy run defenders in the game. I say let's split him into the slot and try to get Spikes matched up on him. A simple out route could turn into a gimme 12 yards. Also, I think this would be a great game overall for drags and crossers. These routes take time to develop, but the Patriots do not have a great pass rush. Against man coverage, Charles Clay could have several nice YAC plays against the Patriots' inside linebackers on drags. And against zone -- if Tannehill gets the time for Mike Wallace or Rishard Matthews to clear into Hightower or Spikes' zone -- either one should have no trouble getting the edge and turning upfield.


    When the Dolphins are on defense:

    Everyone by now is aware of Gronkowski's injury, and the Patriots' relative success with him on or off the field is going to be discussed ad nauseum this week, so I thought I'd focus on a different place to attack the Patriots, their offensive line. In particular, right guard Dan Connolly and center Ryan Wendell.

    Both players have struggled all year. Connolly has received negative grades from PFF in nine out of the 13 games he's played this year, while Wendell has received hugely negative grades for his performances against Houston (J.J. Watt), New York (Muhammed Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson) and Tampa (Gerald McCoy). In other words, Connolly has been consistently poor, which Wendell has been adequate against mediocre defensive lines and gotten obliterated by good ones. FWIW, however, he received one of his best grades of the season against us in week 8. I deleted the game in disgust and have never rewatched it, but it might pay to go back and see what happened.

    Anyway, the Patriots have responded by giving Connolly and Wendell double teams on most passing downs, allowing them to pool their ****tiness, as it were, and try to form one good blocker. However, by sliding their protections so predictably to the right, the Pats have left themselves not only with one on one matchups on the rest of the line, but they're opened themselves up to blitzes to either side of left guard Logan Mankins.

    Like most Dolphins fans, I've been enormously frustrated with the play of Philip Wheeler this year, but there is one thing he does very well, and that's blitz. We should blitz him more this week than in any week since the Indy game, imo. And from the offense's left. I understand the danger in blitzing Brady -- and the Patriots are a very good screen team -- but if you hit on blitzes once or twice you might force Brady to rethink his protection, which could leave Jared Odrick a one on one against Dan Connolly, a matchup we should win.

    Blitzing will be important against the Patriots for another reason: Brady loves Shane Vereen in the passing game.

    When Gronkowski went out of the game, no one saw a bigger increase in their workload than Shane Vereen, who's an excellent receiver out of the backfield. What people forget about Gronkowski being out is that Vereen was also out with a broken hand. Now that Gronkowski is gone but Vereen is back, expect the Patriots to turn to him the rest of the way. My counter to that would be to install a defensive check this week that every time Vereen in the backfield, we blitz. Any play where he's blocking rather than running routes against the likes of Ellerbe and Koa Misi is a win for us. I'm sure the Patriots will put Vereen and Ridley in the game at the same time often on Sunday, which will force us into nickle defense, likely with Jimmy Wilson matched up against Vereen.

    So that's all I've got. Hope you guys got something out of it. Go Dolphins!

    Last edited by TheWalrus; 12-10-2013 at 12:37 PM.
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    I like the idea of blitzing when Vareen is on the field - you are quite correct that it is much better to force him in to block. Failing which, I would simply assign a CB to him as none of our LBs or safeties will be able to stay with him. With Gronk out and Vareen contained, we should be able to slow down the pass. BUT we have a terrible record against the run versus the Patriots. One of the reasons that our run defence has been so erratic is all the blitzing and stunting get people out of position and BB loves to run cutback plays against us. I would kill the stunting and only use it on obvious passing downs.
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    moonman's Avatar
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    I like that you're thinking outside the box with the Vereen thing, but the last thing I want the Dolphins doing to blitzing Brady a lot. Jesus, he'd eat us alive. I'd rather rely on our front 4 to get as much pressure as possible while leaving the coverage in the defensive backfield. Be judicious with the blitzes.
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    TheWalrus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by moonman View Post
    I like that you're thinking outside the box with the Vereen thing, but the last thing I want the Dolphins doing to blitzing Brady a lot. Jesus, he'd eat us alive. I'd rather rely on our front 4 to get as much pressure as possible while leaving the coverage in the defensive backfield. Be judicious with the blitzes.
    Agreed. But I'm not worried about Josh Boyce or Danny Amendola or Aaron Dobson beating me. I am worried about Shane Vereen beating me. And if the Patriots are going to offer up a way to take him out of the game because of where they're lining him up, I'll take it.

    Even if what you force them to do is to line him up outside the formation or motion him out there, you're making it easier for your defense. Any motion by Vereen would create a check that would cancel the blitz, and now you know where he is and -- based on route pattern matching -- the kinds of routes he's likely to run.
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    Pro Bowler

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    fins need to be creative and do what they did against steelers, except the defense definitely has to play much better than they did against steelers. And running to do well again is huge, not just for offensive balance, but time of possession. We know how dangerous brady and pats are when they get in a zone and can comeback at any moment. so when having a lead especially late in the game, this teams needs to run well to keep the chain moving and eat up as much clock so brady has less chances and time to create a comeback. Need to seal the deal and run out the clock when having a lead.
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    roy_miami's Avatar
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    Belichick is really good at anticipating how defenses will react to what they see on film, its third level thinking and we need to be careful not to get caught on the second level.

    A good example of this was the first TD the Saints scored on us:

    Level one: Pass to Sproles in the flat is a nice play from x formation
    Level two: The Saints love the pass to Sproles in the flat from x formation, lets jump it
    Level three: Clearly they'll see we like to pass to Sproles in the flat from x formation so we'll change it to an out and up.

    The result was Jones went to jump a play he probably saw over and over on film and got burnt to a crisp.
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    TheWalrus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by roy_miami View Post
    Belichick is really good at anticipating how defenses will react to what they see on film, its third level thinking and we need to be careful not to get caught on the second level.

    A good example of this was the first TD the Saints scored on us:

    Level one: Pass to Sproles in the flat is a nice play from x formation
    Level two: The Saints love the pass to Sproles in the flat from x formation, lets jump it
    Level three: Clearly they'll see we like to pass to Sproles in the flat from x formation so we'll change it to an out and up.

    The result was Jones went to jump a play he probably saw over and over on film and got burnt to a crisp.
    I agree. And the blueprint for how the Patriots are going to try and use Vereen is definitely going to be the way the Saints used Sproles. The difference being that against New Orleans we made the conscious decision to not let Jimmy Graham beat us, which meant we were sort of daring them to beat us with Sproles.

    Against New England, however, any sensible defensive game plan will focus on Vereen. The open question is who exactly it is that Belichick and Josh McDaniels turn to. I wonder whether it won't be Stevan Ridley and LeGarette Blount in the running game. Our run defense has been soft all year and is ripe for a game where it gets totally gashed. Back in October the Patriots ran the ball for 147 yards on 33 carries (a 4.45 ypc), despite being behind most of the game.
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    TruePoizon's Avatar
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    We were winning by 17 at halftime last time we played the Pats, right? Next time, if the same happens...just keep running the ball. Wind down time.
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    I think we have a really good shot at winning this game and if we're getting +3 or more come game time I'll be making a little wager. Brady was something like 0-4 playing at Sun Life in December until last year and this cold snap the country is experiencing is going to make the heat advantage in Miami even greater. Sucks we may not have Miller though, Thomas had a good game last week but I don't trust him to perform like that every week (if he even stays healthy).
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    finfan54's Avatar
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    Alfonso Dennard left the game last week. look for him on the injury list. starter. RT will attack the weakness for sure.
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