Picked-up pieces from 2nd quarter review

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
9:20
PM ET
Picked-up pieces from second-quarter review of the Patriots' 24-20 loss to the Dolphins:

1. The Patriots weren't often in their base defense, but when they were, Kyle Arrington was the cornerback opposite of Aqib Talib instead of Alfonzo Dennard. While Talib usually plays the left side, that wasn't the case against the Dolphins, which was seen on the first play of the second quarter (Mike Wallace 16-yard catch against zone coverage after lining up across from Arrington). The Dolphins didn't have tight end Charles Clay on the field on the play, which is why the Patriots were in their base D.

2. The Patriots' plans to attempt to force Ryan Tannehill to throw to the outer parts of the field continued to show up as Talib aligned over slot receiver Rishard Matthews consistently in the quarter. One of the questions entering the game was if Talib would shadow Wallace on the outside, but the Patriots used him more on the inside part of the field in the game. This was a wrinkle few saw coming and Tannehill mostly answered the challenge. Safety Devin McCourty often was responsible for Clay.

3. Arrington's sack (12:33 remaining) came on a blitz as he was initially lined up wide to the left side over Wallace. Tannehill seemed to see it coming, and had time to unload the ball, but credit to Arrington for powering through running back Lamar Miller and wrapping up Tannehill. Solid play.

4. On the Patriots' third offensive series, veteran Will Svitek entered for Marcus Cannon at right tackle. This was by design to give Cannon a breather as he was playing for the first time since injuring his ankle Nov. 24. Cannon seemed to hold up well overall.

5. Defensive tackle Joe Vellano's sack (8:12 remaining) came on a five-man blitz, with the Patriots mixing things up by sending Talib off the left side and linebacker Brandon Spikes up the middle, with right end Chandler Jones dropping in coverage. Vellano, who aligned over right guard John Jerry, rushed off Jerry's inside shoulder, ripped with his left arm, and got low to power through what might have also been a hold. Center Mike Pouncey was a little late to help, but Vellano's decisive early victory might have contributed to that. That was Vellano's first snap of the game and he made it count. Also, credit to left end Rob Ninkovich for a strong rush that forced Tannehill to step up into the pocket, into Vellano's grasp.

6. As pointed out by colleague Field Yates during the game, it looked like the Dolphins' botched field goal was a fake, as left wing Derrick Shelby flared out immediately at the snap. That might have led to the snap clanging off the facemask of holder Brandon Fields, with the Dolphins a bit anxious and unable to pull off the timing needed to execute the play. If that was indeed the call, McCourty and Nate Ebner played it well as they accounted for Shelby's unusual movement at the snap.

7. An underrated coaching point from this perspective was Joe Philbin using his timeouts after the two-minute warning as the Patriots, leading 3-0, were driving for more points. Knowing the Patriots were getting the ball to open the second half, Philbin likely wanted to avoid the possibility of a Patriots “double score” -- one at the end of the second quarter, one at the start of the third quarter -- and the strategy paid off. Bill Belichick is often a master at such “situational football” and Philbin showed he's also sharp in that area. The Dolphins' staff spends time on Thursdays watching situations from games around the NFL with how coaches use their timeouts, and perhaps that led to Philbin's usage of the timeouts, which saved clock for the team's end-of-second-quarter touchdown drive.

8. One thing about tight end Michael Hoomanawanui's one-handed 13-yard touchdown catch: Those who attended training camp practices this year might not be surprised. Hoomanawanui made a few of those in camp as well. Also, those who attended a 2010 Rams-Patriots preseason game when Hoomanawanui was with the Rams might remember he had a dazzling grab in that contest as well. Hoomanawanui has some stick 'em on those hands.

9. With the Dolphins spreading things out on their final drive of the second quarter, an 82-yard touchdown march that started with 1:31 remaining, the Patriots countered in their 4-1-6 dime defense with Dane Fletcher the lone 'backer. Again, Talib played mostly on the inside and that's why Marquice Cole -- who had to come on for an injured Arrington -- ended up on the outside against Wallace on the 39-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Cole is more of a slot corner, but the outside-the-box game-plan against the Dolphins had him aligning wide. In retrospect, rookie Logan Ryan might have been a better choice personnel-wise.

10. No expert commentary needed, but an unfortunate angle taken by safety Steve Gregory on the Wallace touchdown catch-and-run. Safeties are the last line of defense and that's a miscue Gregory certainly would like to have back. Part of the reason Gregory was the lone safety deep was because fellow safety McCourty dropped down to account for Clay, who was a focal point of the Patriots' plan.

11. Credit to Tannehill and Matthews. The third-and-10 hookup on that final drive was well earned. Tight window to throw, tough catch to make. Sometimes the other guys make plays too. Matthews, a second-year player out of Nevada, impressed us as a player you don't hear much about but who appears to be a younger talent with the arrow pointing up.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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