Five New England Patriots Poised for Improvement on Sunday


Sep 7, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) reacts on the bench during the second half against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. The Dolphins won 33-20. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots travel to Minnesota this coming weekend to face the Vikings and old friend Matt Cassell and the high-flying offense that dropped 34 points on a very good St. Louis Rams defense. Before digging into the match-ups on Sunday, a last look at the film from the “Meltdown in Miami” last Sunday is warranted. As the Cordarrelle Patterson 2013 NFL Draft trade with the Patriots and Vikings gets thrown around this week, feel free to review my second-look at the trade here.


One player I was initially critical of in the instant analysis was defensive end Rob Ninkovich as he allowed the rusher though on the blocked punt on the first series of the game and later was in coverage of Miami running back Lamar Miller as he scored the first touchdown of the game. Upon further review, Ninkovich gets a pass. He only played 37 snaps on defense after playing 99% of the snaps last season. As the best run-defender, he was inexplicably not on the field for half the snaps as the Dolphins punished New England. Per some excellent charting work at NEPD by Oliver Thomas:


“Head coach Bill Belichick, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and the Patriots…utilized 17 different groupings to fill out the 3-4, 3-3, 3-2, 4-3, 4-2 and 5-3 fronts. And, excluding penalties, Ninkovich had been within them as a 3-4 outside linebacker for 29 plays, a 3-3 defensive end for three plays, a 3-2 end for one play, a 4-3 end for one play, and a 5-4 linebacker for one more.”


Ninkovich rushed the quarterback only 13 snaps and had two hurries. He was in pass coverage as the 3-4 outside linebacker 7 snaps. Finally, with Miami running the ball 41 times during the course of the game, the 4-3 defensive end who was rated the best performer at his position in the entire league last season was on the field for just 17 of those attempts. This is a coaching breakdown by Patricia and head coach Bill Belichick. All the exotic fronts on defense mean nothing if the best players are not on the field and put in position to make plays.


With Ninkovich somewhat off-the-hook, here are five Patriots players who need to step up in week two after disappointing performances in week one:


Tom Brady:

Sep 7, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake (91) hits New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) in the second half at Sun Life Stadium. Miami won 33-20. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

The statistics on Tom Brady’s day shed a light on where the passing game derailed on Sunday:

  • Ten pass attempts over 20 yards downfield. One completion for 44 yards
  • Fourteen pass attempts 10-19 yards downfield. Three completions for 45 yards.
  • Passes over ten yards: 4-24 for 89 yards
  • Passes under ten yards: 25-29 for 160 yards

(Statistics per – Subscription Required)


The Miami pass rush disrupted the intermediate/long passing game and the lack of timing and cohesion with the receivers. In the second half as the Patriots wore down the Dolphins dropped their inexperienced linebackers into coverage, flooded the zones, took away wide receiver Julian Edelman, and got pressure with four and five man rushes. Expect Brady to get some extra time in the pocket this weekend against Minnesota and connect on a few of his deep passes, especially if deep threat wide receiver Aaron Dobson plays.


Brandon LaFell:

Sep 7, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell (19) is unable to make a catch against the Miami Dolphins during the second half at Sun Life Stadium. The Dolphins won 33-20. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of Dobson, his presence was missing as New England took a shot downfield. New wide receiver Brandon LaFell was 0 for 6 on his targets. Four of his targets were 20+ yards downfield and the other two incompletions were between 10-19 yards. While Dobson hardly excelled deep down field in 2013, he was a weapon in the intermediate routes (9 of 21 for 3 touchdowns and 217 yards).


While LaFell clearly struggled to get on the same page with Brady, he still should bounce back as he hardly is an unproven incompetent receiver. In the preseason he excelled downfield in his opportunities. While hardly a deep threat in Carolina, LaFell still was able to make plays downfield and should still be able to contribute in New England. Hopefully, a strong game in Minnesota can crush the “release LaFell when Tyms returns from suspension” chatter on talk radio and social media.


Joe Vellano:

Oct 27, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) is pressured by New England Patriots defensive tackle Joe Vellano (72) during the fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Dolpins 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

As with the earlier Ninkovich rant, the bulk of his playing time was given to defensive tackle Joe Vellano. Vellano was–in a word–horrible in 2013. He was not ready to play and was often overpowered and was pushed around in the running game. Last weekend was no exception. Vellano is an overachiever who does not have the size or power to stand up against larger interior linemen.


The Dolphins seemed to have a target on Vellano when he was on the field and went after him time and again in the running game. Vellano is likely to lose snaps as the season goes on and the Patriots get back to the 4-3 defense that worked so well the past two seasons. Rookie Dominique Easley and second-year tackles Sealver Siliga and Chris Jones are returning to health and working off the rust. They should steal snaps from Vellano and get the Patriots defense back to normal very soon.


Chandler Jones:

Sep 7, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones (95) hits Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) in the second half at Sun Life Stadium. Miami won 33-20. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

Jones was not just bad on Sunday–he was terrible. As in “as bad as he played against Miami LAST YEAR when Bryant McKinnie stoned him in week eight” bad. The good news is that most people do not remember that putrid performance because Jones had 15 better performances in the regular season that blocked that game out.


Jones is still an excellent young defensive end. The Patriots inexplicably put him in a position where a Ty Warren/Richard Seymour 3-4 defensive end succeeded. Jones is long and leaner than the duo from a decade ago and a reason why the Patriots moved from the 3-4 to the 4-3 base scheme. To stop the Vikings on Sunday the Patriots should move Jones back to the outside of the tackle where he can utilize his speed. Expect Jones to bounce back to his normal penetrating rushing style on Sunday.


Jordan Devey:

Aug 7, 2014; Landover, MD, USA; New England Patriots tackle Nate Solder (77) and Patriots offensive tackle Jordan Devey (65) line up against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Devey had a rough game first game in the NFL. After being the surprise star of the preseason, the former tackle opened at right guard. Unfortunately, on 6 of the 48 passing snaps he allowed a quarterback hurry. Replaced at times with Ryan Wendell stepping in at center and Dan Connolly kicking to right guard, the offensive line was not much better.


The good news was that while blocking for the running game he was adequate. He is still a strong, tall, offensive lineman who can generate power and pull when called upon. Either he is benched and turns the rest of the season into a developmental season, or he will be forced to grow as a lineman in a hurry and keep the heat off his quarterback. One way or another, the Patriots will get better production from the interior offensive line on Sunday.