Did you notice New England Patriots running back Ezekiel Elliott Sunday against the Miami Dolphins? You know, the guy the Patriots signed during training camp that was a big deal when he played with the Dallas Cowboys and was celebrated when we learned he was coming to New England? Yeah, that Ezekiel Elliott.
No disrespect to the three-time Pro Bowler, but…
He. Looked. Slow.
Obviously, he’s a pro athlete, so he’s faster than the average person, But any opportunity he had against the Dolphins, he looked like he was moving at a completely different speed. It was like those old NFL Films videos with the dramatic music, and the videos were slowed down. But the Dolphins moved at average speed.
Elliott wasn’t alone, however. Overall, Miami just looked faster. On defense, they swarmed. And on offense, their quickness and acceleration were like trying to catch live salmon bare-handed.
The New England Patriots will stay a step behind until they put their explosive playmakers on the field
There has been talk of New England looking slow going back to the 2021 Wild Card loss to the Buffalo Bills. The Patriots are adjusting, but head coach Bill Belichick hasn’t fully adopted the modern way of roster building. It’s been a gradual change. For that, he deserves some credit.
But he also deserves criticism. Ezekiel Elliott looked more like a fullback than a running back on the field. Jahlani Tavai was on the field a lot. Probably a little too much. So far this season, the offense has just two plays of 20 yards or more zero plays of 40 yards or more.
Yes, the Patriots kept the Dolphins offense contained for most of the night. They didn’t allow Tyreek Hill to beat them over the top, but Jaylen Waddle had two receptions of 28 and 32 yards while RB Raheem Mosert burned them for a 43-yard dash up the gut for a score.
Waddle’s 28-yard catch and scamper led to an eight-yard touchdown run, while the 32-yard reception set up a 49-yard field goal attempt, which was blocked.
Scoring is easier with explosive plays. To generate them, and stop them, you need explosive players. The New England Patriots has a few. Belichick just had to be willing to use them more.
The defense missed a handful of tackles against the Dolphins. The Patriots have a better chance of making some of those misses with faster players on the field.
Tavai played 73 percent of the snaps, while Marte Mapu had 48 percent, and just 21 percent each for Adrian Phillips and Jalen Mills. The safety unit is a strength of New England’s defense. It seems logical to get them on the field as much as possible.
Mapu has experience playing linebacker at Sacramento State, with 12 tackles for a loss in his final two years. He could play on the second level more often, allowing Phillips more time on the field. They complement Kyle Dugger and Jabrill Peppers, physical safeties, whether in coverage or supporting the run.
If the Patriots don’t play nickel most of the time, it’s definitely worth considering.
It’s a similar story on offense. Elliott had 30 percent of the snaps and finished with just 13 total yards. Ty Montgomery had three snaps on offense. Three. An accomplished receiver/third down back only needs the ball in his hands to turn any touch into a big play.
Kayshon Boutte was inactive, and Demario Douglas was relegated to punt returner after he fumbled the ball in the first quarter. That’s Belichick's old-school discipline.
While we understand the decision, the approach seems outdated, especially since it looked like the offense needed the kind of spark Douglas could provide.
Based on the quick slant he turned into a score in the preseason, we know what Boutte can do. And if Tyquan Thornton is ready to play once his stint on injured reserve ends, he would be Mac Jones’ best deep-threat target.
Old habits are hard to break. But stubborn Belichick needs to step out of his comfort zone if he wants to turn the Patriots’ season around. In today's game, 250-pound linebackers everywhere on every down won’t cut it. Loyalty to veterans is respectable but can be detrimental. And his discipline methods shouldn’t come at the expense of the team’s success.
The New England Patriots can play faster. Belichick has the solution – on the sidelines.