Darrelle Revis, Mike Wallace and How 2013 Review Hints at Patriots vs Dolphins 2014 Game One Strategy


Nov 11, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback

Darrelle Revis

(24) tackles Miami Dolphins wide receiver

Mike Wallace

(11) during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots enter the 2014 NFL regular season with a distinct advantage over any other previous season since 2004: a shutdown cornerback. Since recent inductee to the Patriots’ Hall of Fame Ty Law left for the New York Jets after the 2004 season New England has failed to close the big games with the regularity of 2001 through 2004. A key part of that decline has been the lack of a cornerback capable of reshaping an opponent’s offense pre-snap.

In bringing in former Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Darrelle Revis as a free agent, the Patriots are able to game plan around a single player for the first time in a decade. While Asante Samuel, Leigh Bodden, Devin McCourty and Aqib Talib have had some solid stretches in the defensive backfield, none of them had the swagger, coverage skills, and lockdown talent that Law and Revis possess.

With Revis playing just 42 snaps in the preseason, head coach Bill Belichick has kept his and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia’s defense under wraps. In fact, adding to the mystery the Patriots were employing the base 3-4 defense almost exclusively during their preseason games. Whether it was just gamesmanship, due to a lack of health at certain positions, creating a comfort level for the defense being able to flip-flop to different schemes, or if New England is switching away from the 4-3 base defense used almost exclusively since midway through the 2011 season.

One thing is for certain during week one: all eyes will be on Revis as he makes his debut as a New England Patriot. To get ready for the matchup, a trip back to the game tape for the Patriots  and their week eight and week fifteen matchups against Miami was necessary. In addition, a look back at Revis’ Tampa Bay Buccaneers victory over the Dolphins in week ten got queued up for review. All stats below are from NFL.com and ProFootballFocus.com.

Oct 27, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive tackle Chris Jones (94) sacks Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) during the fourth quarter of their 27-17 win at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

In week eight against the Dolphins, the Patriots were without cornerback Aqib Talib and had to get creative in their coverage schemes. In the first half the Patriots had no answers for the Dolphins as they ran up a 17-3 lead. The Patriots had slot cornerback Kyle Arrington kicked outside primarily in coverage on Miami wide receiver Mike Wallace with safety help over-the-top. Alfonzo Dennard had Brian Hartline for the most part with special teams player and backup cornerback Marquice Cole and rookie Logan Ryan playing coverage in the slot–though Cole spelled Arrington in coverage on Wallace on occasion.  Wallace had just 3 receptions on 10 targets for 41 yards. Both Cole and rookie safety Duron Harmon picked up interceptions on passes thrown to Wallace (Harmon’s was on a “Hail Mary”-type toss at the end of the game).

The Patriots came back to win 27-17 that game with a strong defensive effort in the second half. Brady was held to 25 yards passing in the first half as Miami controlled the ball for almost 20 minutes with a strong performance running the ball. Wallace missed a big touchdown opportunity in the third quarter as he was wide open against a zone defense with Arrington slow to get back and safety Steve Gregory too late to get over. Miami had the field goal blocked and New England went on to roll to victory.

Oct 27, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones (95) tackles Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace (11) during the third quarter at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Dolphins 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Tannehill struggled to get the ball to Wallace. All of his receptions came against Cole, who was released by New England during the season, and one six-yard reception in a zone with defensive end Rob Ninkovich in the area. He had the big drop and Arrington played him strong on the sidelines. The interception by Cole came on a fantastic boxing out on the sideline and tip back to the field by New England free safety Devin McCourty. Cole did a tiptoe routine on the sidelines to get his feet down in bounds in one of the prettiest defensive plays of the season for New England.

Miami made it a point to get Wallace involved early in their rematch during week fifteen. This time Wallace pulled in 6 of the 9 targets for 105 yards and a 39 yard touchdown where he burned Cole on a slant over the middle. Most of his work came against zone coverage and with Arrington covering him. Wallace had 3 receptions on 6 targets for 41 yards.

Dec 15, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA: Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace (11) can

Most telling was that when Talib was in coverage of Wallace, Tannehill never looked his way. The Patriots moved Talib all over the field in coverage as he lined up in coverage of Brian Hartline, Rishard Matthews, tight end Charles Clay and floating around in a zone. Hartline did his damage with Alfonzo Dennard in coverage while Matthews had big plays against Ryan in coverage. For Cole, it was the last time he was seen in a Patriots uniform on the field (though he was signed by Denver and played on special teams in the Super Bowl).

The tale of the tape really becomes evident in week ten when the Dolphins played Darrelle Revis and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football.  Miami’s offensive game plan seemed to be to stay as far away from Revis Island as possible. Of course, the Dolphins were in the middle of the Richie IncognitoJonathan Martin madness and the offensive line was terrible as Tampa Bay held them to 2 yards rushing–for the entire game!

Nov 11, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) defends Miami Dolphins tight end Charles Clay (42) during the second half of the game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers seemed content to keep Revis on Wallace most of the game and Matthews, Clay, and Hartline were the key receivers for Miami combining for a combined 30 of Tannehill’s 42 targets. Wallace was targeted 7 times, 6 times with Revis in coverage. Wallace finished with 4 receptions for 15 yards and 3 receptions for 12 yards when targeted with Revis in coverage.

In the coverage review, there was a great assist to BleacherReport.com / FootballOutsiders.com writer Cian Fahey and his breaking down every play in coverage by Darrelle Revis last year.  His analysis is at his site PreSnapReads.com and can be found here. For week ten, Fahey breaks down Revis in coverage of Wallace with this analysis:

"Mike Wallace’s speed provides problems for everyone. For a defender like Revis, who plays in space and doesn’t want to give up space unnecessarily, adjusting his approach for any receiver would be a matter of pride. Revis didn’t really adjust his approach against Wallace, but he did forget his assignment’s strengths at one point of the game…Wallace fakes a comeback route that makes Revis shuffle his feet so he can turn to Wallace in the direction of the line of scrimmage. This makes Revis stop to re-accelerate when Wallace continues down the sideline. As we have previously seen, Revis is exceptionally quick when turning. He might not have had time to turn the other way and make a play on the ball, but at worst he would have been able to tackle Wallace on a comeback route. More importantly, he would have been able to run with Wallace on any potential double moves."

On that play brought up by Fahey, Revis is playing off Wallace like he had much of the game. Revis is able to make up ground and does not need to get up and jam Wallace at the line. The double-move by Wallace got him open, but Tannehill still missed him deep down the right sideline as he caught the pass out of bounds for an incompletion. When Tannehill went deep again, however, it was not until fourth-and-28 with less than two minutes to play and Revis intercepted the pass easily.

For all of Wallace’s straight line speed and deep-pass play ability, his work deep last year was not impressive. Per ProFootballFocus.com, the Dolphins threw 36 passes over 20 yards to Wallace last season. Wallace dropped 2, caught only 6, gained a total of 261 yards on those passes, and had just 1 touchdown and had 6 of the passes intercepted. Compare that to 2011 in Pittsburgh where he was 10 of 27 for 478 yards, 5 touchdowns, 2 dropped passes and just  1 pass intercepted as he was an effective deep target for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

How New England uses Revis remains to be seen. Fahey at BleacherReport.com recommends the best strategy would be to have Revis take away Hartline as he does not have Wallace’s big play ability downfield. In that circumstance, the Patriots can bracket Wallace and mix their coverages and use both safeties to stop the Dolphins passing attack opposite Revis.

Expect head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to give Tannehill and the Dolphins’ offense multiple looks. Revis will likely be moved around as Talib was in week fifteen against the Dolphins last year. Man-to-man, press, and zone schemes will all be shown to Tannehill to keep him from getting too comfortable with his reads. The battle between Revis and Wallace would be great entertainment, but Belichick may be reaching back into his bag of tricks more often than in recent years with a shutdown cornerback like Revis in the defensive backfield.