The New England Patriots defense played arguably their best game all season by shutting out the Miami Dolphins in a 28-0 victory in Foxboro. The Patriots finish the season 12-4 with a playoff bye locked up, and here is a look at five players who were instrumental in the Patriots beatdown of their AFC East rival.
1. DE Chandler Jones
I’ll be talking about the other Patriots rookie DE who showed up big on Sunday a little bit later, because I want to touch on Chandler Jones’s big day first. He was dominant in run defense, recording seven tackles to place second on the team in that statistic. Jones also tipped two passes in a great all-around performance, and he looks fully healthy after last week’s return to form against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Last week was Jones’s day to reign supreme as a pass rusher, and so it was his run defense that would take the driver’s seat in Sunday’s matchup against Miami. Jones is going to be one of the best run-stopping DEs in the league for a long time, because he already is up there with the best of them in that category. And to think Jones was thought of as not being strong enough to make an impact early on in that regard.
2. DE Justin Francis
I actually think Jones played better than Justin Francis did against the Dolphins, especially since Jones went up against a better tackle. But you can’t discount what Francis did, especially when that includes three sacks. He bounced back after a rather lousy performance against Jacksonville with the best game of his young career. Rob Ninkovich went down in the second quarter, but the Patriots pass rush was even stronger with Francis and Trevor Scott (one sack) picking up the slack.
Ninkovich has a good shot at returning for the Patriots first playoff game, but Francis has definitely played himself into more playing time regardless. Give credit to the other guys on the line for making Francis’s job in getting to the quarterback easier. The man who specifically deserves credit for swallowing up blockers and playing top run defense himself is Vince Wilfork.
3. WR Wes Welker
Welker continues to play some of his best football against the Miami Dolphins, and there’s nothing better than watching the star slot receiver go to work against his former employer. With 94 receiving yards on eight receptions, Welker put in another big game and averaged nearly eight yards per target. He continues to be clutch down the stretch, and the connection between Tom Brady and Wes Welker is firing on all cylinders. Now that’s a scary thought for the Patriots future opponents, especially since Rob Gronkowski is back in the fold.
4. CB Kyle Arrington
The Miami Dolphins running game was completely shut down, and they pretty much gave up on it by only carrying it 15 times. The great work in run defense wasn’t just restricted to the front seven, because cornerback Kyle Arrington and safety Patrick Chung were excellent in imposing their will on the Dolphins running game.
Arrington led the team with eight tackles and also defended a pass, and the big thing here is that he bounced back quickly after a poor game against the Jaguars. We’ve seen Arrington slip into cold streaks and then move into hot streaks (especially this season), but consistency is key for a corner in this league. The first step to consistency is quickly bouncing back from an off game, and Arrington did just that. I thought he was also steady in coverage, which is definitely the most important thing for the Patriots and Arrington heading into the playoffs.
5. RB Danny Woodhead
With every game that goes by, my love for Danny Woodhead continues to grow. This guy is our secret weapon (Gronk isn’t much of a secret) heading into the playoffs, because he can do it all. Woodhead is as clutch as they come, and he makes the most out of every carry he gets. He only got three of them on Sunday, but he turned them into 18 yards on an efficient evening on the ground.
Woodhead’s biggest impact, however, was in the passing game and that’s where the true “weapon” part of him comes from. He caught all five passes thrown at him for 79 yards, which is just mind-bogglingly ridiculous. It’s so insane that I have to go insane and start making up words to try and adequately describe his play. Tom Brady averaged 16 yards per attempt when throwing it at Woodhead, which is a number that a mere
mortal moron like me can’t seem to fathom.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.