- Mike Rodak, ESPN Staff Writer
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Taking a look at the television copy of Monday night's regular season opener against the Dolphins and offering some first quarter observations:
1) The Dolphins' fourth-and-1 conversion on the opening drive came behind a key block by LG Richie Incognito against WLB Gary Guyton. The Patriots stayed in their base defense for the play, protecting against a possible play action pass in the red zone. However, their defensive line alignment was shifted to more of a 3-4 look, with RDT Vince Wilfork playing on the outside shoulder of LT Jake Long, and LDT Albert Haynesworth playing straight-up on C Mike Pouncey. This set-up the matchup where Guyton was unable to drive back Incognito, giving FB Lex Hilliard enough space to make the first down.
2) Dolphins QB Chad Henne's 9-yard touchdown run appeared to be a drawn-up play, catching the Patriots off-guard, with Henne not typically known as a mobile quarterback. With the Patriots' four-man line penetrating the outside gaps of the offensive line, it was predictable that the middle of the field would open up. Between Guyton, and safeties Josh Barrett and Patrick Chung, there was nobody watching Henne off the snap; the concern was with the route combinations at the edges of the field. Not having a 'spy' or even a zoned linebacker to cover the middle of the field is what allowed this play to be successful.
3) The 46-yard reception by WR Matthew Slater was an example of how the lack of a 'deep threat' in the Patriots' offense could be mitigated by handing the opposing defense something unexpected. In this case, the Patriots lined up their two 'best' receiving options on the field -- TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez -- to the right side of the offensive line, which was the main concern of the Dolphins' safeties, who were most likely expecting a run (the play action further enhanced this effect) with the personnel (3 tight ends plus Slater) on the field. Neither Dolphins safety was any deeper than 10-15 yards off the line of scrimmage, allowing Slater use the open middle of the field to get position on CB Vontae Davis.
4) The Dolphins used different looks in their front seven on defense, crowding the line of scrimmage at times and, at others, having defenders wander behind the line to increase confusion. In the former case, on a first-and-10 late in the quarter, the Dolphins showed what looked to be a blitz by three or even four linebackers, against an even tight end set from the Patriots. Only four rushers came, and despite the pressure at the line, and the extra dropback time due to the play action, the Patriots' offensive line handled the situation without any issues. Brady was able to hit Rob Gronkowski on a 41-yard strike behind these linebackers, but the play was negated by a mental mistake from WR Chad Ochocinco, who did not line up correctly (off the line of scrimmage).