The Good and the Bad from Patriots' Week 1 Win Over Dolphins
The New England Patriots defeated the Miami Dolphins by a score of 21-11 Sunday afternoon. Cam Newton led the charge for the Patriots, as the offense combined for 357 total yards, 217 of which came on the ground for New England, with Newton, Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, J.J. Taylor, James White and even Julian Edelman getting involved on the ground.
An interesting game for sure, everyone saw much reason to believe that this New England team could once again make the playoffs. All they need is some more time to fire on all cylinders and this team can potentially become one of the AFC's most dangerous once again.
Let's take a look at what the Patriots did right today, why there is new found optimism in the squad, and where they need to improve and patch up holes in order to become a contender.
Newton's Legs Impact All Facets of Run Game
Newton brings a whole new dimension to this offense, with his legs being a threat on both read options and passing downs. The combination of Newton's fresh legs and a healthy, elite offensive line in front of him was too much for the Dolphins at times.
Miami always had to compensate for Newton's ability to run. That was something they never had to do last year against Tom Brady. By respecting Newton's legs, other doors and avenues opened for other skill position players. The efficiency among the runningbacks, like Michel, was through the roof.
After watching Sunday's game, it's very evident that the New England running backs are going to benefit greatly from the combo of a fantastic offensive line and the threat of Newton taking the ball and running it himself.
Getting Newton's legs involved early and often to keep the Miami defense on their toes was mentioned as the third key in "3 Keys to Victory for Patriots in Season Opener vs. Dolphins". While his legs could have been used even more effectively to open up passing lanes, the Patriots got the win and Newton played great. Look for Josh McDaniels, Jedd Fisch, and others to take a look at the film this week to figure out how they can find ways to use the threat of Newton running even more effectively than they did this Sunday.
Start of 3rd Quarter Showed Promise
It was the beginning of the third quarter where the Patriots really looked their strongest. When they got the ball to start the half, after not really relying too much on the passing attack, Newton and Edelman immediately connected on two big passes. New England sprinkled in some runs, play-action passes and read-options. None of it would really be answered by the Miami. On the eighth play of the drive, Newton rushed 11 yards to then knock over the pylon and score to conclude the eight-play, 75-yard, 4:46 minute drive. All eight plays gained 5+ yards. .
I mention that drive because that drive is the epitome of what McDaniels and this offense is going to try and do this season. McDaniels hit the Dolphins defense with pretty much everything in the toolbox. Everything looked smooth, efficient, crisp, and well executed. The drive was perfect.
That drive would be followed by one of the stronger series by the defense. A three-and-out by Miami, which involved a pass-breakup by Joejuan Williams in coverage against tight end Mike Gesicki. WIlliams looked like velcro on the hip of Gesicki on that one. An extremely encouraging play from the youngster.
After that, New England would follow up with what looked to be an almost equally impressive drive. J.J. Taylor and N'Keal Harry started to get in a rhythm. The drive would come to an end on the 12th play of a 78-yard, 7:48 minute drive, after Harry fumbled into the back of the end zone, causing a whole chain of events and a large point swing in the other direction.
Point being here, until that Harry fumble, the Patriots were on top of their game at the start of the second half. A lot of positives to take away from that hot second half start. I think that start is indicative of the play style in which New England is going to aim to maintain throughout the season.
Patriots Defense Picked Up Where They Left Off in Turnover Department
While the New England defense may have endured some turnover this offseason, one thing that could be here to stay is their knack for taking the ball away. After landing second in the league last year in takeaways with 36, they now lead the league in interceptions after one Sunday of football.
Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson picked up where they left off last year by both snagging interceptions, wutg Jackson's coming in the end zone to close out the game. Along with them, new-comer Adrian Phillips joined in on the fun by picking off Ryan Fitzpatrick right before the end of the first half to set up a missed field goal by Nick Folk.
While the defense had their highs and lows, plenty of players had great games on the defensive side of the ball, with the takeaways standing out the most on that side of the football.
Little Sloppiness Kept Miami in Game
You have to expect some sloppiness given these unprecedented circumstances. However, there are certainly some coaching points from the season opener that Bill Belichick will probably make a focal point at some point during film review this week.
The Harry fumble will probably be a big talking point. Protecting the football is always something that Belichick has been keen on. Fumbling the football in that situation turned the game from potentially 21-3 to 14-11. Just an example of why Belichick holds so much importance in protecting the football.
Along those lines, some defensive pass interference calls by New England extended drives for the Dolphins. Gilmore was the main culprit of that Sunday. Along with that, one can make the argument that New England got away with some calls. The most notable being a potential hold in the end zone by Williams on Gesicki on the Jackson interception to close the game out. The secondary got a little grabby during this game. That will also have to be cleaned up and looked at.
Special teams can be bunched into this category as well. A muffed punt in the first quarter and a missed field goal by Nick Folk shows that there is much to be desired in the third phase of the game for New England.
More to Be Desired in Patriots Passing Attack
On the final note, there is still much more to be desired through the air for the Patriots. While the offense still had its strong points, one could tell that they still are not as confident with their receiving corps and Newton getting them the ball. One thing that told me this were runs up the middle on 3rd and 6. The other thing was a real reluctance to spread out their receivers and go empty backfield.
New England went with a lot of heavy personnel groupings, even on passing plays. While they found other ways to find success, it will be interesting to see the Patriots go empty backfield with five receivers for the first time this season, whenever that time comes. This might be their biggest weakness down the stretch. Can they go empty backfield in a situation in which they need to go to the air? It doesn't appear so yet. It doesn't appear like the confidence is there in those receivers to do so. However, in the meantime, they will find other ways to move the chains, just like they did today, and probably find success.
When it comes to being in a tight ball game and New England needs to put together a two-minute drill through the air to win, there's no saying that the Patriots think they can pull that off yet. Time will tell how they perform in that department.
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