New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins: Top 5 Takeaways From Week 17
By Hal Bent
5 – Slight Hiccup but Opportunistic Defense Wins Turnover Battle Again
Most of the focus has been on the New England offense, but it would be a shame not to take a look at the other side of the ball. Once again, the Patriots’ defense came out smothering their opponent. Miami could not get their first first down until the second quarter and did not sustain a drive until their final drive of the first half.
At the half, Miami had 30 yards rushing and just 75 yards passing and trailed 20-7. They had six first downs, just one third down conversion and held the ball for just 8:44. New England had an interception in the first half from cornerback Logan Ryan thanks to strong pressure from defensive end Chris Long.
In the second half, the Dolphins opened with a strong drive and cut the lead to 20 to 14 as Miami quarterback Matt Moore got the ball to his trio of wide receivers with Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, and DeVante Parker all getting involved in the offense. A blown coverage with eight defenders back in coverage left a wide open Stills alone in the end zone.
New England did not sack Miami quarterback Matt Moore; however, they did get a lot of pressure on him. Chris Long provided pressure on the interception and Trey Flowers had another strong game generating pressure from the outside on early downs and from rushing inside on third down.
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As they have done the entire second half of the 2016 season, the Patriots’ defense alternated between shutdown play forcing three three-and-outs and ending two drives with turnovers. The Dolphins had two scoring drives (10 plays/75 yards and 12 plays/80 yards) and two one-first-down-and punts. The final drive was Miami down by 21 with 2:32 to play.
The Patriots allowed 13 first downs on three drives by Miami (two touchdowns and a fumble inside the New England ten-yard line) and just three first downs on their other seven drives.
The secondary for New England was strong again with the Ryan interception, McCourty causing the fumble, and other than the miscommunication on the Stills touchdown there were not many big plays. Safeties Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon (who did not play much with three cornerbacks the primary alignment on defense) were strong in pass coverage.
Cornerbacks Logan Ryan, Eric Rowe, and Malcolm Butler were all strong in coverage. The Dolphins adjusted running short crossing routes when the Patriots defense backed-off and went more conservative on the two scoring drives. It was a nice adjustment in the second half to get back up on the receivers and play more press coverage.
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Finally, credit to the linebacker group. Shea McClellin had a huge fumble recovery and 69-yard return to set-up LeGarrette Blount’s touchdown. Elandon Roberts led the team in tackles and had some strong plays against the run stuffing Jay Ajayi. Dont’a Hightower returned to the lineup and looked strong as he knocked the rust off.