Picked-up pieces from first-quarter review of the New England Patriots' season-opening loss to the Dolphins:
1. The blocked punt that put the Patriots in an early hole was a case in which the Dolphins didn’t even have a full-fledged pressure call on, which leads us to believe a communication error was at the root of the issue. The Dolphins rushed six. The Patriots had eight in to protect. A blocked punt should not happen in that situation, but based on an initial pressure look up the middle, it seems logical to assume there was a call made to alter protection by personal protector Nate Ebner. Not every blocker on the line seemed to get the message however, with linebacker Chris McCain's inside rush beating Rob Ninkovich to his inside shoulder and giving McCain a direct line to punter Ryan Allen.
2. Personnel note: Ninkovich was on the punt team because of the injury to second-year defensive end Michael Buchanan. Ninkovich has played the role in the past and is more than capable. At the same time, with limited practice reps compared to Buchanan, it seems to fair to say this was a case where an injury to a player (Buchanan) that might be easy for many to overlook had a direct impact on what unfolded early in the season opener.
3. One thing that stood out in the opening 15 minutes was how play-action effectively slowed down the Patriots’ defense. The 22-yard completion to Mike Wallace on the final play of the quarter was one example (no pressure out of the four-man rush as they were playing run-first), as was the Dolphins' first touchdown. On that play, Ninkovich, lined up at left outside linebacker, appeared to take one false step on play-action to the left side and couldn’t recover in time to cover running back Lamar Miller on a 4-yard catch-and-run for the game’s first points.
4. The Dolphins "spun the dial" on defense, at times rushing three (a 9-yard catch by Shane Vereen on second-and-6), and other times bringing blitz pressure up the middle (drawing a face-mask penalty on center Ryan Wendell). But mostly, it was a four-man rush. Because the ball was often quickly out of quarterback Tom Brady's hands, the Dolphins didn’t have much immediate reward for their work, but it was clear early that they were winning more battles up front. That would pay off later in the game. No newsflash here, but Cameron Wake has great anticipation and get-off. At times, it felt like he was in the backfield before the ball was snapped.
5. The offensive line had a tough night, but it wasn’t all bad. Vereen’s 2-yard touchdown run wouldn’t have been possible with a strong block by right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who showed athleticism to get down the line and cut down defensive tackle Jared Odrick to create the opening for Vereen. Couple nice hard runs by Vereen in short-yardage on that first touchdown drive.
6. Part of what makes Marcus Cannon a starting-caliber player is his athleticism, but one block he’d like to have back came with 3:39 remaining on first-and-10. The line slid right to sell play-action and Cannon then peeled back to attempt to block end Olivier Vernon, who was bearing down on Brady. That is a tough assignment in space, but one Cannon is capable of executing. He didn’t win it, however, with Vernon eluding his block and ripping Brady to the ground on a play that highlighted the Dolphins’ overall ability to generate pressure. Better footwork and technique will almost certainly be the focus in the offensive-line meeting room when that play comes up.
7. The jet sweep we saw from Seahawks receiver Percy Harvin showed up with Patriots receiver Julian Edelman, and it was one of the Patriots' best plays of the opening quarter (17-yard run) as Edelman came from right to left. Edelman is terrific with the ball in his hands, and we would expect to see more of that in the weeks to come.
8. We saw the Patriots turn to the quick snap in the red zone, with the hope of the Dolphins not aligning fast enough, but credit to Miami for mostly handling that well. The only time it seemed to hit them was on the Vereen touchdown, when Wake appeared to be slow to react at left end.
10. If you had safety Patrick Chung in the "who will be the kickoff returner" pool, cash in your chips. Few saw that coming, as he wasn’t a regular returner in the preseason or training camp. He finished with two returns for 50 yards, with a long of 30 yards. Devin McCourty had one kickoff return later in the game (27 yards).