Scouting the Patriots Defense
The patriots are listed as a 4-3 package as far as their depth chart goes. They are a Hybrid 4-3/3-4, but in preseason, they really used a ton of 3-4 looks. This article will try to adress both looks, but the patriots did not use the 3-4 nearly as much in 2013.
Against the Passing Game
For the first time, the Patriots will see the new Dolphins offense with an actual game plan. On the other side of the ball, the Patriots also have some new elements to their defense. For starters, Darrelle Revis has been acquired. Revis, needing no introduction, could be a key unknown for the Dolphins coaches to try and deal with. Tannehill and company faced off against Revis each of the last two years, while he was in NY with the Jets and in Tampa last season. How will Belicheck use Revis? Will he shadow Mike Wallace as Tampa did in 2013? Will he have him cover Charles Clay? It is impossible to know, but either way, Tannehill will have to know exactly where he is on every down. Some people say Revis took a step back last year, and statistically they are not wrong, He technically allowed a 81.4 passer rating (only his rookie season was higher at 87.5) into his coverage last year. Keep in mind though, that Revis was playing a decent amount of Zone coverage with Tampa. While Revis has the talent to play both styles of coverage, he clearly is a CB that excels in press-man. In the preseason, Revis has only played 25 coverage snaps, and was targeted once every 12.5 of those snaps (two targets), allowing 1 reception. It is a very small sample size, but his passer rating of 66.7 allowed, should definitely validate that Revis is a guy Qb’s want to be aware of still.
Opposite Revis will be Alfonso Dennard, due to Brandon Browner’s suspension. Dennard is a very solid CB, allowing an 82 passer rating in 2013. Like Revis, he played too few snaps in preseason to really get an idea of what he could be in 2014. He allowed a team low 39.6 passer rating from 2 targets on 17 coverage snaps. It is possible that Logan Ryan, who had a standout year last season, could start opposite Revis, though he is listed as Revis’s backup.
Kyle Arrington will continue being the slot CB. This is good news for Tannehill and the Dolphins. If the Patriots have a hole in their CB corp., SCB would definitely be it. In 2013, Arrington allowed a passer rating of 95.6 last season and was targeted heavily, at a rate of every 5 coverage snaps. He allowed a completion percentage of 57% and had 4 TDs thrown on him, and had 1 interception. This is something to game plan against, as the Dolphins have a bunch of guys who can be productive out of the slot, and a QB who is pretty good at intermediate depth slot reads.
New England’s last defense in the secondary, is formidable as well. Devin McCourty continues to be a gut who teams do not like to target being the 6th least targeted S in the league in 2013. While McCourty was not targeted often, when he was the QB was effective. McCourty allowed a passer rating of 103.9 with 2 TDs and only 1 interception (but 7 other passes defensed) paired with a 66.7% completion rate. Duron Harmon will take over for Steve Gregory, and played about 256 coverage snaps last year. In that time he allowed a 75% completion percentage but got 2 interceptions to allowing 1 TD. QB’s had an 80.2 passer rating when targeting him.
The Dolphins should be able to get chunk yardage against the Patriots LB’s. While Jerrod Mayo is a solid coverage LB, Jamie Collins, and Dontae Hightower both have work to do, as both allowed a passer rating greater than 90 in 2013. When Belicheck dials up a 3-4 package, Mayo has been coming off the field, while Collins, and Hightower both get moved to ILB. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich become the Sam LB and Will LB respectively.
Against the Run
The Patriots defense certainly has a stout defensive line consisting of (from right to left) Rob Ninkovich, Joe Vellano, and Chandler Jones. Former Dolphin, Rob Ninkovich was a stud against the run last season, and I think it is safe to say he will be again. In 2013 he ranked as the 9th best run stopping 4-3 DE with 36 of 46 tackles being run stops. He will be facing Brandon Albert, who is not an upper echelon run blocker. Going against Daryn Colledge will be Joe Vellano. Vellano, didn’t have quite the year stopping the run that Randy Starks had, he was still very good, having 27 run stuffs in 35 tackles, rated 9th among all DT (nose or otherwise). It is hard to know what to expect from Wilfork, on one hand he is a multi pro bowl DT, but on the other hand he is older and coming off a serious injury. Additionally, his play against the run was just OK in the preseason. Wilfork should be facing off mostly against Shelley Smith. Wilfork should prove a nice barometer for Phins fans to gauge Smith. Chandler Jones will be going against rookie Ju’Waun James. In the preseason, James left a lot to be desired in the run blocking department. It wasn’t usually that he wasn’t strong enough, or anything like that. He typically did a decent job staying in front of his man, but he did allow his defender to disengage and roll to the B gap on enough occasions for me to worry about it. Pair that with the performance Chandler Jones put in last year against the run and I’m not terribly excited about running to the right. Jones was only slightly less effective as Ninkovich last year, earning the 11th best run stop percentage.
The one element that could help the Phins run the ball is Brandon Spikes going to Buffalo. Although Jamie Collins and Jerrod Mayo were both pretty solid against the run in 2013. Hightower flashed against the run in 2013, but ultimately he didn’t show the instincts to consistently get run stuffs.
Rushing the Passer
Let’s start with the Defensive Ends:
Rob Ninkovich may not be known for his pass rush skills, but a team certainly shouldn’t overlook them. Last year on 527 pass rush snaps, he was able to amass 68 QB pressures. That’s 12.9% of his snaps. Statistically if the Dolphins throw 35 times on Sunday he should have 4 QB pressures. That’s impressive. Those 68 QB pressures consist of 8 sacks, 14 hits, and 46 hurries. All together that gave him a Pass Rush Productivity (PRP) score of 10.1 and lands him 15th best in rankings. Brandon Albert was in pass protection on 475 snaps, and allowed only 23 pressures. Of those 4 were sacks, 6 were hits, and 13 were hurries. He did his job on 95.2% of those snaps. The Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE) rating takes into account the worth of a sack compared to a hurry, and Albert got a 96.2, earning him the 4th best PBE among OT in 2013. This will be a fun matchup to watch.
Joe Vellano does not pose a huge threat in pass rush. In 2013 he had only 18 QB pressures on 330 pass rush snaps. That’s 5.4%. Of those 18 pressures 2 were sacks, 4 were hits, and 12 were hurries. Vellano had a PRP of 4.2, netting him 44th best pass rushing DT. Can Colladge contain him? In 575 pass blocking snaps Colladge allowed 29 pressures (2 sacks, 9 hits, 18 hurries). This got him a PBE of 96.1 which was 28th best. It seems that Colladge should be able to keep Tannehill’s jersey clean.
Vince Wilfork, in his last full season (2011) was able to put pressure on the QB 27 times in 520 pass rush snaps. 3 sacks, 3 hits, 21 hurries earned him a PRP of 4.0. That’s less than Vellano and Soliai last year. Shelley Smith is not known for his pass blocking. Last year with the Rams he played 189 pass block snaps. In those he allowed 18 QB pressures (2 sacks, 4 hits, 12 hurries). This earned him a PRP of 92.6, which would have put him in the bottom 5 of starting OG. However, In preseason with the Dolphins he has not allowed a single pressure on 51 pass block snaps. If his 2013 play had continued into the preseason, he could have given up 5 QB pressures. Its only preseason, but there seems to be some evidence of improvement. Will that show up against Wilfork?
Chandler Jones will be trying to get around the edge of Ju’Waun James. James has certainly looked good in pass protection in preseason, not allowing a single pressure, but can he go up against Jones and his 2013 PRP of 8.7? Jones pressured the QB 66 times on 609 pass rushes. He got 13 sacks, 14 hits, and 39 hurries. An 8.7 PRP is a pretty decent score, ranking at 27 of 52 eligible players. I feel like this could go either way honestly. It will be a good test to judge James, not elite but solid pressure production.
My Offensive Game Plan
If I were the HC, I would plan my offense around short screens to HB’s and WR. Particularly the Jailbreak to the WR. I’d keep a balanced run game but I’m not positive I want to run the outside zone. Let the RB’s run the inside and cut back to the A gap more than bounce to the C or D gaps. I want the receiving options running a decent amount of slants, slot stabs, and I would pressure the seam with Clay. I would absolutely use at least one banana route in the game. Play action, and Read option should keep the pass rush and blitz honest.
Dolphins Defense Vs Pats Offense
Rushing The Passer
It’s no secret the Dolphins defensive line is one of the most talented units in the NFL. They seem especially talented at rushing the passer however.
Olivier Vernon will be going against Nate Solder. Last year Nate Solder did not look like himself, allowing 10 sacks, 2 hits, and 23 hurries. He had a PBE of 95.3. Even with all of those sacks he didn’t give up a ton of pressure though. That PBE is 15th best of 58 OT’s that had at least 400 blocks. Vernon himself thrives on sacks, specifically of the second effort variety. What I mean is that While Vernon had 11 sacks on 505 pass rush snaps, he only had 48 total pressures. That’s not a whole lot and it shows in his PRP of 7.7, which is 38th of 52 players. The last time Solder faced Vernon, Vernon did happen to get 2 QB hurries, but no sacks or hits on 48 pass rush snaps. He was given a -2.5 grade for that performance by PFF. Let’s hope he plays better this time.
The Patriots interior OL lineup is up for question. It could be a number of different combinations. The depth chart has it listed from Left to right: RG Kline, C Wendell, LG Conolly. I have also seen rumors that Vollmer may move to LG Kline to C and Wendell to RG. It could make sense that Kline gets moved to C. He is young, had snaps there in preseason and would be sandwiched between 2 quality players. That could make a difference when going against interior pass rushers like Starks and Odrick. Last year Odrick was the 14th best pass rushing DT and Starks was the 10th with respective PRPs of 7.3 and 7.9. Conolly is not a very good pass protector. He ranked 45th in PRP of 59. His PRP was 94.8, allowing 42 pressures on 625 pass rushes. Wendell usually plays center so his PBR is naturally going to be higher than if he were to play OG, which can be scary for Pats fans because of 30 centers with at least 385 pass block snaps… he rated 30th in PRP. He allowed 17 pressures (2 sacks, 1 hit, 14 hurries) for a PRP of 95.6. Josh Kline is a 2nd year undrafted interior OL player, and as so there is not a wealth of information on him. In this year’s preseason, he had a PRP of 95.2, allowing 5 pressures (2 sacks, 2 hits, 1 hurry) on only 89 snaps. Not good. Our interior line should definitely put some pressure on Tom Brady.
Stopping The Run
This is a sore spot from last year for the Dolphins defense, and Collectively the Patriots RB’s graded as the 5th best unit running. Now granted, they lost LaGarette Blount to the Steelers, and PFF had him graded pretty well. I’m just not sure it’s a huge loss for them. Mankins being traded however, is. Mankins was rated as the 4th best run blocking OG in 2013. Conolly was rated the 33rd best (still a positive grade). Wendell 18th of 35 players. Josh Kline is again the unknown. PFF rated his run blocking at a -2.6 for his 88 run blocking snaps.
I am not worried about our DL, as most rate pretty good at stopping the run. Oliver Vernon had a Run stop percentage of 6% getting 21 run stops on 348 snaps, this was the 29th highest % of 48 players. Cameron Wake did have a down year, only getting a run stop on 5.6% of his 233 run snaps. Randy Starks had the 6th highest run stop % of DT (10.2) with 31 stuffs on 304 snaps. Jared Odrick was the 30th best with a 6.7% run stuff rate. Paul Soliai was uncharacteristic of himself last season and was ranked 33rd best with a 6.4%, while Dolphins new addition Earl Mitchell was 22nd with a 7.1%. With our linebacker corps, The Patriots very well could run on us.
Defending the Pass
Tom Brady needs no introduction. If he has time, he will shred your defense. To our advantage, he wont get the time without interior pressure as noted above, and his receiving options are limited. Gronkowski’s presence changes that offense completely, and while he will play I hear it will be in limited fashion. Also, I’m sure the Patriots remember that last time Gronk came back from injury against us and got injured again. Danny Amendola is OK, and very similar to Hartline. Julian Edleman did a fine job replaceing Wes Welker last season, but I don’t believe it is something to be overly scared about like Gronk being fully healthy. Ultimately though, a Patriots team with Brady going against a LB core that has trouble in coverage is going to get production.
27-24 Dolphins Win. I expect the Dolphins to be dynamic and productive. In Tannehill’s years he hasn’t had issues in the redzone, it has always been getting there, which I do not feel will be a problem. I expect a mediocre-modest running attack and the pocket to be relatively well formed. Let’s GO!