The Tape Don’t Lie: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots, a review


Dolphins coach Adam Gase says, “The tape don’t lie.”

So each week, I’ll give the game tape a closer look.

Here are some things I noticed after watching Miami’s 38-7 loss at the New England Patriots, a setback for the AFC East-leading Dolphins.

1. Miami’s offensive line is an enormous concern, banged up and pushed back by the Patriots on Sunday.

It’s not possible now to downplay the loss of Pro Bowl left guard Josh Sitton after only one game. And it’s not smart now to downplay the loss of starting center Daniel Kilgore after only four games. 

The Dolphins gave Sitton big money and traded for Kilgore because they felt their athleticism and toughness would add a different dimension to their offensive front. Now, both are down for the season. And on Sunday in Foxborough, the offensive line production wasn’t good enough. 

“A lot of pressure,” Gase said after the game. And the tape backs that up. 

Kilgore, who is out for the season with a torn triceps, brought leadership to the Dolphins, though at times he did relent in trench wars. In the first quarter, Kilgore was called for a hold. Later in the quarter, on what would be Kilgore’s last play of the season, he tangled with New England inside rusher Danny Shelton. With a three-man rush, Shelton jumped Kilgore’s snap, moved Kilgore aside, held him off with an arm bar, closed in on Ryan Tannehill and forced him out of the pocket, where Tannehill nearly threw an on-the-move interception.

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There had been so much talk about the chemistry and cohesion of Miami’s offensive line and how it had practiced together all spring and summer and none of that matters now. 

Travis Swanson entered the game at center and in the second quarter, his snap sailed past Tannehill, on a play credited to Tannehill as a fumble. In fact, Tannehill has three fumbles in four games, which must be curtailed, and quickly. 

In the third quarter, Swanson and right guard Jesse Davis were double-teaming Adam Butler, but the Patriot got past Swanson and sacked Tannehill. Miami must decide if they are comfortable with Swanson for the rest of the season. It seems likely they will add a center as early as Tuesday, regardless.

One concerning aspect of Sunday’s game is that New England repeatedly got penetration and pressure with three or four rushers. In the fourth quarter, left guard Ted Larsen picked up a blitzing John Simon, for a moment, until Simon pushed through Larsen with a power move, relocated Larsen away from Tannehill and dragged the quarterback down. 

In the third quarter, offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James was called for holding, when Kyle Van Noy ran around James’ outstretched arms, pressuring Tannehill. Like most quarterbacks, Tannehill is much better when not under pressure and will throw more accurately when he trusts he’ll have the time necessary to complete tough throws. Tannehill’s performance was shaky on Sunday.

John Simon of the New England Patriots sacks Ryan Tannehill  of the Miami Dolphins during the second half at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.
(Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

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2. Kenyan Drake has reasons to be frustrated and the Dolphins have reasons to be frustrated with their run game. 

Drake has only 33 rushes through four games, and 11 of them are for loss or no gain. Sadly, this reminds me of a stretch Jay Ajayi went through around this time last season, before he was traded. 

The first four rushes of Drake’s season went for loss and it hasn’t gotten much better since. Only four of his rushes have gone for 10 yards or more. Only two of his rushes have gone beyond 11 yards, none for more than 20. Why? Well, as with most things in life, it’s complex. 

Mostly, Drake hasn’t had anywhere to go, which directly links to the first item in this week’s Tape Don’t Lie. Other factors: Drake is now a known quantity, and teams have a better idea of what he likes to do and how he tries to do it; Drake must focus on executing plays and not always worry about being thrilling and dynamic and Drake is still growing into the player he will eventually be. Drake is not fully formed. Which is not a bad thing. And there’s a lot of season to play.  

Now, back to the nowhere to go idea, which is real. In the first quarter on Sunday, Drake had a run for no gain. Larsen, playing left guard, was tasked with attacking Pats linebacker Dont’a Hightower and shoving him back into the second level, so that Drake could shuffle past his right shoulder and explode into a hole for a gain of 10 yards or more. Instead, Larsen was slightly impeded as he tried to work past right tackle James. But as Larsen lowered his body, Hightower quickly shed his block, ran past Larsen’s right shoulder and tackled Drake before he had an opportunity to gain any yards at all. 

In the second quarter, there was a shotgun handoff to Drake, running right. But as the ball was snapped, right tackle James moved to his left, bumping into right guard Jesse Davis. James, who had gone the wrong way, then moved to his right, but a defensive end had ran past him. Drake tried to reverse field but to no avail as he again was dropped for a loss. 

And it’s not just Drake who’s having trouble. Late in the first quarter, Tannehill had Drake and Frank Gore in the backfield. But the Patriots had seven defenders in the box. And it was going to be hard to block all those guys. By the time Gore took an inside handoff from Tannehill, he was in trouble. Gore ran into the back of Kilgore, who was tied up. Right guard Davis picked up middle linebacker Elandon Roberts, but as the line was overloaded, he was unable to stop Elandon from working around him and making the tackle for a loss of 1. 

This is a delicate balance. On the one hand Miami truly wants to establish a physical presence and a running game. On the other, they can’t just run into a brick wall.

Kenyan Drake  of the Miami Dolphins is tackled as he carries the ball during the first half against the New England Patriots.
(Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

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3. Not stopping the run can be demoralizing for the Dolphins defense. 

Rookie Sony Michel of Plantation went for 112 yards and James White averaged 5.5 and the Patriots ran for 175 on the day. While the Dolphins had one rushing first down, the Patriots posted 10. 

It was clear in the first quarter that New England intended to be physical on both sides of the ball. And that they felt they could run it on Miami. They were right. The Patriots’ first drive went 74 yards on 13 plays, taking up more than 9 minutes. And the Patriots ran for 0, 9, 13, 14, 5, 5, 4, 2 and -1 yards on the drive. 

Of particular note was three consecutive runs that should have set off alarm bells for Gase and defensive coordinator Matt Burke. Michel ran up the middle for 9, as Kiko Alonso was shoved out of the play. Michel ran left for 13, as Raekwon McMillan was taken out by a lineman who dove at his legs. And Michel ran right for 14, as a wide receiver tangled up Alonso in trash and he was unable to peel away and make the play.

Alonso is generally more effective in space than traffic and the Patriots directed traffic his way. McMillan is still learning how to read and react quicker than the average rookie. At times, he still seems hesitant. At times, he seems to have some trouble shedding blocks. In this game, McMillan’s snap count was surpassed by fellow Buckeye Jerome Baker, who showed off his speed a few times. 

On a 22-yard touchdown by James White in the second quarter for a 17-0 Patriots lead, defensive end Robert Quinn read a play well but failed to hold an edge, and in fact lost his edge, as White sped away. 

Dolphins cornerback Torry McTyer was involved in at least two plays where he’d probably say he should have made the tackle. And that is a concern in general for this team. Too many times, a Dolphin has had a chance to stop a third-down conversion by making a clutch play, and missed. And more than a few times this season a Miami player has had a chance to stop a touchdown but failed as the last line of defense.

Sony Michel of the New England Patriots runs with the ball during the first half against the Miami Dolphins.
(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

4.Communication and execution must improve in Dolphins secondary. 

After the loss, Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard said he needs to communicate better with rookie defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, in order to prevent the type of play that led to a 55-yard touchdown catch by Cordarrelle Patterson

The Patriots ran a criss-cross play in which running back James White “picked” Howard. It appeared Fitzpatrick thought Howard would be able to run through the pick and continue on with his man.  Fitzpatrick stayed with the shallow receiver and when Patterson caught the ball, he had nobody within 7 or 8 yards of him. 

Then T.J. McDonald was beaten by Patterson on a cut back to the middle of the field. In last weeks’ game, there was an evident miscommunication between Howard and Bobby McCain before another long passing play.

Howard was excellent in the first three games of this season. But he struggled on Sunday, allowing one touchdown and committing two penalties, though one seemed like a possible case of mistaken identity and the other was, in our opinion, an absolute joke. Howard deserves more respect from the officials for playing a physical, but clean game. The loss of McCain for several weeks due to a knee injury could prove costly. He made a brilliant play on Sunday, faking out Tom Brady to pick up a deep interception. 

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McCain was running with Chris Hogan when he made a very smart play. When Brady released the ball, he thought McCain was going to keep running. But McCain stopped, turned around, and fell in front of a shallower receiver. It was clearly a move Brady did not expect. 

It would seem Minkah Fitzpatrick can take McCain’s spot at slot corner, if Reshad Jones returns from his shoulder injury next Saturday at Cincinnati. Fitzpatrick is a flat-out keeper. He picked up his first interception on Sunday, and had a pass break up in the end zone, and pulverized Patterson with a shoulder to the gut. Fitzpatrick jumps off the page. He is a shining star. He will be so, so good. But the Dolphins need to figure out who’s playing opposite Howard for the next few weeks, and fast.

Cordarrelle Patterson of the New England Patriots catches a touchdown pass during the second quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium.
(Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

 5. EXTRA POINTS. 

• Jonathan Woodard had a few solid moments in his NFL debut. Though it is still startling that he out-snapped former first-round draft choice Charles Harris.

• It’s going to be a continuous battle for rookie tight end Mike Gesicki to hold up in tough blocking situations. He gives effort and wants to use the best technique. Not easy.

• Hate on DeVante Parker all you want. His size may have come into play in a positive way for the Dolphins on a few passes too tall for the likes of Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson

• Hard to say if Vincent Taylor would play at the same level with increased snaps. But I’d be OK with finding out. 

• I worry about the knees and legs of Dolphins players like Kiko Alonso, who was taken out by Patriots guard Joe Thuney. The lineman dove at Alonso’s lower body for a cut block on a touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter. 

• Miami’s offense and Miami’s defense can look in the mirror. Miami’s offense had drives of 4, 5, 3, 3, 1, 3, 3, 3, 4, 3 plays on Sunday. That’s unacceptable.

Miami’s defense allowed drives of 13, 15, 9 and 12 plays. That’s unacceptable.

The goal is to complement each other in a positive way. 

• Burn the tape. On to Cincinnati.

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