- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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1. The quickness of rookie defensive tackle Chris Jones showed up on the Dolphins’ first offensive play. The Patriots opened in more of a 3-4 look, with Jones lined up at nose tackle across from center Mike Pouncey. On the handoff to running back Lamar Miller, Pouncey had a combination block, first accounting for Jones before moving to the linebacker level. Right guard John Jerry then blocked down on Jones, but he was too late. Perhaps Pouncey could have done more on the initial block to impede Jones' progress, but Jerry basically couldn’t do anything, because Jones was so quick to shoot the gap to bring Miller down for a loss of 2 yards.
2. Fellow rookie defensive tackle Joe Vellano showed similar quickness in stopping Miller for no gain on a second-and-2 play on the Dolphins’ second drive. Dolphins right tackle Jonathan Martin blocked down on tackle Chris Jones, giving Vellano almost a free path to the ballcarrier. Vellano got a good jump at the snap, made a nice move to the outside, had good awareness to locate the ball, and then closed quickly. Real nice play, and also hard to figure that’s the way the Dolphins drew it up. Both rookie tackles, Vellano and Jones, are showing up. They aren't as stout as the defensive tackles we have traditionally seen in New England, but they are winning with their technique and quickness at times.
3. On Tom Brady's interception, it appeared to be a result of an inaccurate throw more than a poor decision. The ball was on the left hash mark and the Patriots heavily tilted the field to the right side with receivers Aaron Dobson (outside) and Julian Edelman (slot), and tight end Rob Gronkowski coming in motion from the left to the right. So the top three options were all to the wide right side, with No. 2 tight end Michael Hoomanawanui releasing to the flat off the left side of the line. Dobson and Edelman essentially cleared out the right side with vertical routes, with Gronkowski running an out-route underneath. If the throw led Gronkowski, instead of coming behind him, the feeling here is that it was going to be tough for cornerback Dimitri Patterson to go through Gronkowski and make the pick.
4. Overall, this was as heavy of a blitz game for the Patriots’ defense as we can remember. On almost every play, it seemed, the ‘D’ was bringing extra rushers. The plan was generally a success, although on Brandon Gibson’s 4-yard touchdown catch, the Dolphins picked up a six/seven-man blitz well, with the line sliding to the right as quarterback Ryan Tannehill rolled out in that direction. The Patriots were in man coverage and Marquice Cole just overran Gibson in the end zone. Tough assignment for Cole, and one he could have played better, but you also hope the pressure gets there in time. Some credit to the Dolphins for their execution on the play as well.
5. In his Monday morning conference call, Bill Belichick explained there were multiple reasons why the blitz was utilized more: 1) Conditions/wind; 2) The Dolphins were having more success throwing on the inside part of the field, on shorter throws. By pressuring with a middle-of-the-field safety, it forced the Dolphins to make tougher throws to the perimeter. Belichick pointed out that Patriots defensive backs Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan, Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington all made good plays in coverage on the sideline in those blitz situations.
6. Top draft choice Jamie Collins saw his most extended playing time of the season on defense in the first half, with 22 snaps. Similar to last week, he was utilized several times as a rusher, and a general observation is that he had some trouble with the size of left tackle Bryant McKinnie (6-8, 352). The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Collins was pushed around a bit when playing on the line, which might explain why he only played four second-half snaps.
7. The Patriots had textbook kickoff coverage to open the game, starting with a kickoff with solid hang time from Stephen Gostkowski (AFC Pro Bowl candidate) and then with coverage players Brandon Bolden, Nate Ebner and Dane Fletcher all swarming returner Marcus Thigpen. Forcing the visitors to start the first drive on their own 9-yard line is the way it’s drawn up. Bolden, in particular, illustrated his value on special teams on the play. Another special teams observation: Nice wedge work by Matthew Mulligan and Matthew Slater -- accounting for Nolan Carroll -- on LeGarrette Blount's season-high 30-yard return.