Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Patriots abandon the run, and all hope as well, in loss to Dolphins

"In life, as in a football game, the principle to follow is: Hit the line hard; don't foul and don't shirk, but hit the line hard!" - Theodore Roosevelt in The American Boy (1900)

Running the ball and stopping the run - there are no greater fundamental values in the world of football on any level, and the New England Patriots gave a textbook example of what happens when a team fails to do either on Sunday in Miami.
Abandoning the run made Brady a sitting duck in the pocket

Social media is ablaze with with hateful diatribe aimed at head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels not only for their seeming ignorance of the values, but also of their personnel moves prior to their team's unfortunate performance in the season opener - and in reality, the both should shoulder much of the blame.

And while neither of them were out on the field airmailing footballs, missing blocks, committing egregious penalties or allowing Miami running back Knowshon Moreno to bounce off of them as if they were so many pinball bumpers, their play calling on offense was just as much to blame for the shoddy execution, because they didn't put their players in position to be successful.

There is a direct correlation between running the football effectively and the success of the offense.  When a team commits to running the football - regardless of the level of success - it impacts the success of the play action, slows the pass rush, if only for a split-second, and forces the defense to become dedicated to a more standard formation...

...while if you don't commit to the run, it makes the play action ineffective because it allows the pass rush to pin their ears back and come after your quarterback - and there's not a signal caller on the earth that can say that the pocket collapsing on him doesn't affect his release.

Of course, there is a huge difference between not being able to run the ball effectively and simply not running the ball, and the Patriots were guilty of the latter on Sunday afternoon.

New England running backs combined for 89 yards on 20 carries, for four yards per touch - and the math suggests that the run was working well enough to balance out the attack, far batter than the average gain per pass play, which was an absolutely abysmal 3.8 yards, and the fact that Tom Brady dropped back to pass a whopping 60 times means that the pass to run ratio was an astounding 75% to 25%.

That isn't good enough, and the final score is indicative of that.

How badly does this lack of a ground game affect the team as a whole?  Consider that in seven second-half drives, the Patriots called exactly five running plays and gained 36 yards - or they would have, had Rob Gronkowski not been nailed for holding on Stevan Ridley's impressive 20 yard stretch run down the Patriots' sideline - but even still, the four rushing attempts that counted, the net gain was for four yards per attempt.

Conversely, the Dolphins game plan seemed to be to stick with the run regardless of the level of success, and it worked like the proverbial charm.

In the first half while the Patriots were busy racking up 20 points and the defense was holding Miami to just ten, both teams ran the ball 15 times, with the Patriots actually outgaining the Dolphins by a total of 73 to 59.  In the second half, the Dolphins continued to hammer the ball at New England's increasingly weary front seven, and shoved the ball right down their collective throat to the tune of 5.7 yards per carry...

...while McDaniels seemed to want to take his 10 point halftime lead and put the Dolphins away quickly as he could and turned exclusively to the passing game - the result being a pedestrian 55 total second half yards, 37 of which came in the Patriots final drive with the game out of reach.

It was as ugly as football gets, regardless of the level.  The Dolphins pinned their ears back and abused the Patriots offensive line and started getting to Brady midway through the third quarter, displaying a level of domination that forced New England into three separate three-and-outs, two four-play drives that ended with strip sacks on Brady, and a five-play drive that stalled due to the Gronkowski holding penalty.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins ran a total of 45 plays to the Patriots' 22 when the game was still in doubt, the incompetence of the New England game plan and execution causing a time of possession disparity of the same two-to-one ratio, wearing out the New England run defense to the point where Moreno and Lamar Miller were breaking off seven and eight yards runs with regularity.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out why the Patriots lost to the Dolphins last Sunday - Miami stayed with their game plan and scored 23 unanswered points in the second half against an exhausted New England defense who received no favors from McDaniels' offense.

In the end, people can bitch and moan about the offensive line, Brady overthrowing everything and the defense not being able to stop the running game, but while those are valid complaints, it all comes back to McDaniels going for the throat and trying to put the Dolphins away when he had the halftime lead by throwing down the field, when he should have stuck to what was working for him in the first half...

...and that was hitting the hole hard and often - at least more often than four times.

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