Picked-up pieces from second-quarter review of the New England Patriots’ season-opening loss to the Dolphins:
1. The way the Patriots employed Chandler Jones as a 3-4 defensive end makes one wonder if it best maximizes his assets. Jones’ length and pass-rushing skills generally fit best as an end-of-the-line player -- 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker -- yet he was mostly playing 3-4 defensive end in the team’s base package. Knowshon Moreno’s 15-yard run (8:37 remaining) was a good example of how Jones isn’t best suited for the responsibility. On the play, outside linebacker Dont’a Hightower set a nice edge to force the run back inside, but Jones was turned and couldn’t control his gap responsibilities to create the opening for Moreno to surge through. Jones later made a nice play against the run (5:10 remaining), but the feeling from here is that it’s sort of a waste to play him there, almost like moving Darrelle Revis to safety or Jerod Mayo to 3-4 outside linebacker. For a coaching staff that generally gets the most out of its players, and maximizes their skills, this was one thing that was a bit puzzling in the opener (especially given the extensive time to prepare for the game).
2. Those who wanted to see more of Hightower rushing the passer this year, the opener delivered. On one rush with 7:23 remaining, Hightower just flicked tight end Charles Clay to the ground in an impressive display of strength. And, of course, there was his crushing blow on quarterback Ryan Tannehill that was penalized.
3. Defensive back Logan Ryan’s forced fumble on a nicely executed hit on running back Lamar Miller was a case where one excellent play erased some major issues before it. The Patriots were in their sub defense, with a six-man box, and linebacker Jamie Collins overpursued to leave the entire backside open for Miller. In many ways, the play illustrated how the Patriots struggled mightily with their run fits, as Miami offensive linemen either just overpowered them/turned them to create running lanes, or the Patriots themselves just ran themselves out of position.
4. First impressions of Dominique Easley? On the first running play up the middle when he was in the game, he was easily turned by center Samson Satele, with right guard Shelley Smith initially doubling on him before continuing to the second level to pick off a linebacker. That’s probably what one should expect from a rookie playing in his first game. A pretty non-descript debut for Easley, although he drew two blockers on the play Dont’a Hightower pressured Ryan Tannehill on Alfonzo Dennard’s interception.
5. In his conference call on Monday, Bill Belichick said he didn’t think the Patriots had a lot of communication issues along the offensive line; the breakdowns were more fundamental-based. One noticeable communication/identification breakdown came with 12:52 remaining in the second quarter, on a second-and-10 incompletion, when center Ryan Wendell, right guard Dan Connolly and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer didn’t appear to see the same thing. You can see Vollmer pointing to an inside rusher as the play unfolds, almost as if to alert his fellow linemen. But Connolly and Wendell both blocked the same player inside, so Vollmer took the next inside rusher, leaving end Cameron Wake as a runaway rusher off the edge to force a quick incomplete pass. The confusion appeared to stem from a double-A gap blitz look with two Dolphins lined up over the center, but only one of them coming on the rush. If the Vikings are studying tape, they figure to show the same look against the Patriots next Sunday.
6. The offensive line is taking some lumps today, but again, it wasn’t all bad. On Shane Vereen’s 11-yard run on third-and-10, for example, Vollmer has a solid kickout block on Wake, while Nate Solder pulled from his left tackle spot to keep the backside clean (while possibly getting away with a penalty). Right guard Dan Connolly also had a nice inside seal, while receiver Kenbrell Thompkins was working hard down the field as a blocker.
7. If a team rushes six players, you have to make them pay. That’s what the Patriots did on Tom Brady’s 44-yard completion to Julian Edelman over the middle. It came off play-action to Stevan Ridley and wouldn’t have been possible without a strong blitz pickup from fullback James Develin. That might have been the best overall passing play for the offense all day. Devlin’s blitz pickup made up for a missed wham block he had later in the quarter on Brandon Bolden’s 1-yard run (7:12 remaining).
8. Speaking of excellent blitz pickups, Shane Vereen gets a gold star for his work on Rob Gronkowski’s 6-yard touchdown. Those are the types of plays that often go unnoticed.