Sunday, September 13, 2020

Patriots Old-School Their Way To Opening Victory; Newton Keys Powerful Rushing Attack

 Giddy. Absolutely, unabashedly giddy.

And I would have been regardless of the outcome of the game between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins, so long as the Patriots ran the ball the way I thought they could – and it wasn’t so much that they did run the ball the way I thought they could, it was more the way they did it.

And the way they did it was to simply line up and run the ball straight down the Dolphins’ throats.

Led by quarterback Cam Newton’s 75 yards, the Patriots racked up 217 yards on 42 carries, including all three touchdowns, in a New England victory that was much more one-sided than the 21-11 final score would indicate.

Newton’s mere presence turned the Dolphins’ defensive ends into statues and opened up natural running lanes that were embellished by the Patriots’ physical offensive line and consistently exploited by their stable of excellent running backs – the result being everything that an NFL team needs to win on Sundays.

The Patriots enjoyed a nearly two-to-one advantage in time of possession, ran for over five-yards per carry and were surgically efficient in the passing game. In fact, so efficient was the offense as a whole on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium that they gained 29 first downs on just 63 snaps – an average of nearly one first down every other snap.

All four of New England’s running backs contributed with surprisingly powerful running from both third-year runner Sony Michel and undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor, while Rex Burkhead and James White contributed their usual steady play.

In contrast, only three Patriots’ receivers combined with White and Taylor to catch 15 of Newton’s 18 offerings.

Shades of Chuck Fairbanks’ Patriots squads in the mid-to-late seventies and his Steve Grogan-led offenses that commonly featured a two-to-one balance between the run and the pass, as on Sunday, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called a running play – including thirteen designed runs for Newton – on seventy-percent of the offensive snaps.

It was straight inside-zone power directly into the teeth of the Dolphins’ defense – and when Miami’s coaches tried to compensate by loading the line of scrimmage with ten defenders, McDaniels countered with short, quick-hitting pass plays that eventually forced the Dolphins to back off.

Running the football on offense and stopping the run on defense are the most fundamental concepts in the sport, and teams who do both successfully more often than not earn victory – and not only did the Patriots plow the row through the Miami defense, the folks in charge of stopping the opposition’s offense threw up a brick wall against the Dolphins’ running game, holding their runners to a paltry 3.2 yards per carry…

…forcing Miami quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to the air thirty times, completing twenty for 187 yards but also tossing three interceptions

The Patriots were particularly stout against the run, with the three-headed monster of Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and Byron Cowart generally clogging the middle, forcing the play to the edges where Linebackers John Simon, Chase Winovich and Ja’Whaun Bentley mopped up the mess.

Most impressive, however, was the play of safeties Adrian Phillips and Terrence Brooks, who platooned in the Big Nickel role – typically manned by the opted-out Patrick Chung – laying some huge hits in run support and blanketing tight ends in the pass pattern, Phillips coming down with one of New England’s thefts.

All was not perfect for the Patriots – some early missed tackles and late pass interference penalties made things seem a little dicey at times, and the offense missed the opportunity to nail the Dolphins coffin shut with a costly fumble inside the one-yard line – but those are things that can be fixed.

Offensive Players of the Game: Patriots’ Offensive Guards

The Patriots’ guards dominated in the running game, pulling both inside and out, combining with Newton’s play fakes to open huge holes for the backs and in anchoring against the pass rush.

Defensive Players of the Game: Patriots’ Strong Safety rotation

The strong safety tandem of Adrian Phillips and Terrence Brooks delivered nothing but wood in run support all day long, and Phillips recorded one of the Patriots interceptions playing the “Robber” role.

It appears that the Patriots are going to be content to fill Patrick Chung’s shoes by committee, and it appears that they have two physical options to rotate in and out – with a special shout-out to hybrid JoeJuan Williams, who had sticky coverage from a safety position as well.

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