It is impossible to predict which Patriots team will show up on a given week.
The team will either drops a lot of balls, not convert on third downs and have problems getting the opposing team off the field; or they will forces a ton of turnovers, pressures the quarterback, and dominantly marches down the field by diversifying their offense. Today, fans saw both extremes of this team.
During the first half, the Patriots could not get the Dolphins off the field. They could not stop the run or the pass, and the Dolphins went 5-8 on third downs. The offense could not score either (without the help of a blown passing interference penalty). They continued their passing struggles (Brady only had 25 yards passing in the first half) and could not convert on third downs. They were continuing the habits that were making them lose games.
Going into the second half, the Patriots were down 17-3. Their percent chance of winning was 4.4 percent. I was surprised that after a loss, the Patriots would come out so poorly against a division rival. I was beginning to think they were actually not as talented as their record suggested and teams have figured out the Patriots. Suddenly things changed. It all started when Sturgis missed the field goal. From that point on, the Patriots scored 24 unanswered points to foster a comeback against the Miami Dolphins.
There were two major reasons why the comeback happened: because the Patriots began to balance the offense and pressure the quarterback.
The Patriots ran the ball far better today. They even started the game off running the ball about 50 percent of the time. But, top running back Steven Ridley only got five carries in the first half, all of them coming on the Patriots most effective drive of that half. When Ridley was in the game, you could see the talent difference between him and the other backs. He gets up the line and through the hole so fast and it seems like every time he runs, he goes for positive yards. Ridley prove extremely effective for the rest of the game, running the ball with an average of 5.6 yards on early downs, which allowed Brady to speed up and spread out the offense.
The team ran very well in general during the second half. Both Bolden and Ridley had touchdowns, while Blount averaged over four yards per carry. Fans could tell this took a lot of pressure off the struggling Tom Brady, who no longer had to force throws to Gronkowski out of the shotgun. Because they ran so well, the Patriots were able to hurry up to the line, get the defense off guard and tired and run a lot of play actions. This generated a lot of first downs. As the running game was used more and improved, Tom Brady and this offensive unit improved, a key reason why the Patriots won today’s game.
The defense also got significantly better in the second half because of their defensive pressure. The Patriots were getting to quarterback and the running backs in the backfield, after allowing the Dolphins to run and throw all over them in the first half.
One of the reasons for this pressure was because they began to blitz more often, sending a defensive back after the quarterback. They did this fourteen times, seven more times then they have all season to this point—because it was successful. On the blitz, Tannehill only completed 6 of 11 passes, was sacked three times and turned the ball over.
Even when the Patriots did not blitz in the second half, Tannehill still felt pressure. Not only were they doing a good job getting to the quarterback, but Tannehill was definitely rushing through his progressions in the second half because of the thought of a sack. Overall, he had two interceptions and one forced fumble due to the Patriots defensive pressure.
Using the run and the blitz were the major reasons why the Patriots were able to prevail today against the Miami Dolphins. Both things are not usually pivotal in Bill Belichick coached teams, but today they worked. Running the ball allowed the Patriots to get good yardage on first and second down, which set up single coverage on receivers and good offensive rhythm.
The defense also blitzed a lot more. This is very atypical of Belichick, who prefers the ‘bend and not break’ defense, but after it failed in the first half, they sent blitz packages after the young Tannehill. This really messed up his rhythm and forced him to make mistakes.
Because of those two adjustments, the Patriots outscored the Dolphins 24-0 in the second half. Overall, I would like to see the Patriots continue to use the run and the blitz. Bill Belichick has been uncomfortable with these methods in the past, but today it proved vital. This 2013 team is like no other team Belichick has coached before. It is the first time in the Tom Brady era where the run game is more effective than the passing game. Also, the defensive strength of the team is rushing the quarterback. The Patriots finally used their strengths to their advantage, and should continue their aggressive play to win games.