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Monday, October 28, 2013
Picked-up pieces from 2nd-quarter review

By Mike Reiss

Picked-up pieces from second-quarter review of the Patriots’ 27-17 win over the Dolphins:

1. Left guard Logan Mankins is one of the NFL’s best at his position, but even top players have slip-ups. Such was the case on the opening play of the quarter, a third-and-2, when Mankins had what looked like a technique error and was beaten soundly by defensive lineman Jared Odrick for a sack. That’s the second week in a row that Odrick has won decisively, as the same type of play showed up last week against Bills right guard Kraig Urbik.

2. When putting together the defensive snap counts on Monday morning, we referenced the Patriots’ base defense as a 4-3. But it was really more of a 3-4 in the first half, with rookie Jamie Collins and captain Rob Ninkovich standing up as outside linebackers, and Chandler Jones reducing down to a defensive end role. Seems like a different type of 3-4 than what the Patriots have traditionally run, with more movement up front, which plays to the strengths of the less-stout-but-quicker personnel.

Daniel Thomas
Miami RB Daniel Thomas exposed New England's key defensive line injuries on Sunday.
3. One of the downers for the Patriots’ defense was the inability to create more resistance on fourth-and-inches at the 12-minute mark of the quarter. The Patriots had their short-yardage D on the field and the Dolphins’ big back, Daniel Thomas, rumbled up the middle for 15 yards. The run came between tackles Marcus Forston and Joe Vellano, in the area where linebacker Dont’a Hightower appeared to be assigned to fill. Credit to the Dolphins for blocking it well, as this was a run that reflected how the D misses big bodies up front in Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly.

4. While run defense was a struggle throughout the first half, it wasn’t just up the middle. On back-to-back runs by Lamar Miller late in the quarter, for 11 and 18 yards, the edges of the defense were compromised. First, Chandler Jones got blocked inside by tight end Charles Clay on the 11-yarder. Then steady, reliable Rob Ninkovich had a rare misstep to the inside and was also blocked by Clay as Miller made sharp cut back in his direction after gathering an initial handoff to the left. This was a reminder that the issues in the running game were across the board – not just up the middle. The Patriots ultimately tightened up in the second half, tweaking their personnel usage a bit (more on this in third- and fourth-quarter review).

5. The Dolphins’ 5-yard touchdown catch with 9:55 remaining in the second quarter, in which there was pre-snap motion to the left with receiver Brian Hartline coming across the formation as part of a play-action with the offensive line sliding to the left, was well-designed and executed. Sometimes you just have to give credit to the opposition, because it wasn’t as if the Patriots were particularly fooled. They mostly read it well, but linebacker Dane Fletcher was a step behind in picking up Thomas coming out of the backfield, a result of a minor bite on the play-action. Still, from our view, that’s not as much on Fletcher (maybe we’re too easy) as it is just good offensive execution by Miami. Sometimes the other team makes plays, too, and you just have to tip your helmet.

6. Rookie defensive tackle Joe Vellano showed nice poise not to get caught up with scrappy Dolphins left guard Richie Incognito on the extra point following the touchdown. Incognito, whose reputation as a play-to-the-fringes-of-the-rules-and-sometimes-beyond lineman is well documented, grabbed Vellano’s helmet and/or facemask and ripped him to the ground during the kick and then pushed him while he was down. The worst thing a player can do is retaliate or let that mentally affect him on ensuing plays. Vellano won that mental challenge. That's a rookie playing beyond his years.

7. From this view, Stevan Ridley hits the hole decisively quicker than LeGarrette Blount, and that showed up on a 7-yard run with 9:26 remaining in the quarter. The Patriots had fullback James Develin offset to the left and brought tight end Michael Hoomanawanui in motion from right to left, snapping the ball as he got set next to left tackle Nate Solder. The run came to that strong side of the formation, with Hoomanawanui and Solder executing a nice double-team block on end Dion Jordan and Develin standing up defensive lineman Jared Odrick. It was well blocked and Ridley’s decisiveness stood out. I wondered if Blount would have had the same success because it seems to take him a little longer to get started.

8. From an effort standpoint, Patriots receivers generally give everything they have in the running game, as it’s a must-have if they want to be on the field. This thought came to mind on the second of the Patriots’ two third-down conversions on the day – a 2-yard run by Brandon Bolden with 7:16 remaining in the second quarter – when receiver Austin Collie engaged safety Reshad Jones on the side where the run came and they fought to what we'd call a stalemate. If Collie doesn’t scrap, Bolden might be tackled for a loss (as it was, it might have been a generous spot). Nice effort from Collie, a player we’re still learning more about since he joined the team earlier this month.

9. If the Dolphins had a gripe on officiating, near the top of the list was the third-and-6 pass interference call against safety Jimmy Wilson when Tom Brady was throwing into triple coverage for tight end Rob Gronkowski. That was a big 21-yard penalty going into the wind and we didn’t see anything other than Wilson undercutting Gronkowski and going for the ball, which he has a right to do. Maybe the coaches tape shows something different, but from the angle we saw Monday, it looked like a fortunate call for New Engalnd.