Patriots' run struggles helped offense spiral out of control

Patriots' run struggles helped offense spiral out of control

The Patriots found themselves in a vicious cycle on Monday night. Bill Belichick called it "a spiral that you don't want to be in."

What happened against the Dolphins defense was an argument for why the running game in a pass-happy league still matters: The Patriots couldn't run the ball effectively, which impacted their ability to come up with manageable third downs, which destroyed their third-down conversion rate, which limited the number of plays the Patriots had to possess the football, deploy multiple looks, keep Miami off-balance and build momentum. And with the Patriots behind in the second half, they felt they couldn't waste time banging their heads into a wall trying to make the running game work.

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The result was a staggering series of statistics, including 10 total rushes (just two in the second half) for 25 yards and an 0-for-11 showing on third down.

"Well, the biggest problem with the running game is the production," Belichick said on a conference call on Tuesday. "I mean, nobody around here minds calling running plays if we're gaining yardage on them, but when we're not gaining yardage it makes it hard to call...We couldn’t run the ball, couldn’t convert on third down, so don’t have another set of downs to try to get it going again to make enough positive plays in the passing game to avoid third down, or in some cases to get it close enough to have a reasonable chance to convert on third down."

"We haven't had any games this year when we've been that out of balance," Josh McDaniels said. "That's never our intention. We didn't have that intention going into the game. To me, the bottom line is we gotta produce in whatever we're doing, and we didn't do a good enough job in anything that we did on any down. First and 10. Second down. Third down. None of those situations were productive on a consistent basis. When you get into that situation, you find yourself becoming one-dimensional as the game rolls along. It just goes back to execution and being able to produce offensively in whatever you call. You gotta be able to make yards and stay in optimal down-and-distance situations to try to possess the ball much longer than we did yesterday, stay on the field, convert . . . and ultimately strike the right balance as the game goes along."

Rex Burkhead had four rushes of two yards or fewer. His only other run, a touchdown in the second quarter, went for three yards. Dion Lewis fared better in terms of average (five carries, 17 yards), but he had two failed first-down carries - one for two yards and one for a loss of four.

"Some of the negative plays in the running game are like sacks," Belichick explained. "They come up with second-and-14, second-and-13. On several of those plays, we had everybody blocked on paper but didn’t execute the blocks so then we had a negative play. It wasn’t like we had a guy that we didn’t have accounted for. We accounted for him but something happened and we weren’t able to get him, so we ended up with a negative play and now we're in long yardage, so it was a lot of factors that went into it.

"Bottom line was we didn’t have a good night offensively in really any area and we were probably fortunate to have the points that we had with a couple of big plays and gained a lot of yards in a few plays. That was probably the best thing that we did, but our overall consistency in the running game and in the passing game wasn’t at a winning level. That’s obvious."

Lewis, who has been the team's most dynamic runner in recent weeks, didn't see his first carry until the second quarter. Behind good blocks from James Develin and Joe Thuney, he picked up 11 yards and it looked like the Patriots might have something to work off of with their bigger personnel on the field.

That "regular" package, with Lewis and Develin teaming up, went for 21 yards on four carries. Had it not been for that set, their final 2.5 yards-per-carry average would have looked even more flimsy.

McDaniels was asked Tuesday if the score made it so that it wasn't in New England's best interest to continue to trot Develin and Lewis out there to hammer away between the tackles.

"There weren't that many [runs]. Ten runs," McDaniels said. "I don't know if that's a large enough sample size to say we were doing
anything well...We had a couple decent runs in the entire game. The rest of them weren't that good regardless of who was on the field and who wasn't on the field."

Whether with regular personnel (a fullback and a tight end) or sub (three receivers), the Patriots are planning on running it better moving forward. They know they'll have to in order to keep themselves out of situations like the spiral they faced in South Florida.

"We certainly need to run the ball better than what we did in either grouping," McDaniels said. "Not being able to convert on third down limits the total number of snaps you're out there...[Then] OK there's another first- and second-down play that you have coming behind those third-down conversions where you have an opportunity to stick more runs in there or whatever you choose to do.

"You never try to go into a game and be that imbalanced and think you're going to do well against a good team."

Patriots suffer defensive wounds against Dolphins

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Patriots suffer defensive wounds against Dolphins

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The number of points the Patriots allowed in their 27-20 loss to the Dolphins on Monday night was the most they'd given up in more than two months. And they were lucky it wasn't more.

New England's defense had breakdowns across the board against Adam Gase's offense, allowing Jay Cutler to complete 25 of 38 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns. Had it not been for four Dolphins drops -- including one that nearly went for a long touchdown to Jakeem Grant -- Cutler's numbers would've been even better.

Here's a look at some of the issues the Patriots exhibited at Hard Rock Stadium. If they're going to get them cleaned up before next weekend's game in Pittsburgh against one of the NFL's best offenses, Matt Patricia is going to have a busy week on his hands.

CUTLER GOES LONG
The once-retired veteran has been a mostly dink-and-dunk style quarterback this season, but he aired it out with some success on Monday. Credit Gase and his staff for drawing up a plan that forced the Patriots to cover "every blade of grass." Without much pressure from the Patriots defense (more on that later), they stretched Bill Belichick's defense both horizontally and vertically. They found open crossers for much of the evening, utilizing Cutler's mobility to roll out and find receivers running across formations. They also caught the Patriots on some deep attempts. The first that had a shot came early in the second half when Julius Thomas let a big-gainer slip through his hands. Three plays later, Cutler found Grant for a 25-yard touchdown when Grant out-jumped Malcolm Butler for the 50-50 ball.

"Should've been more aggressive," Butler said after the game. "Should've went up, played the ball a little better. Think I competed well, but I think in that case competing wasn't good enough."

Butler gave a step to Grant again in the fourth quarter, but Cutler's pass bounced off of Grant's fingers and fell the would-be touchdown pass fell incomplete.

PASS RUSH LEAVES ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
The entire front seven for the Patriots had their issues on Monday night, which made sense given the personnel. Without Kyle Van Noy, Trey Flowers and Alan Branch (ruled out with a knee injury during the game), the Dolphins hovered around 4.8 yards per carry until late in the contest. In coverage, Patriots linebackers -- in particular Elandon Roberts, who allowed 77 yards on three catches -- had their issues. But the team's pass rush has to be a concern as well. The Patriots managed just three hits on Cutler in the game. Two were sacks. Both Devin McCourty and Adam Butler came up with one. The other hit came in the first quarter when Eric Lee put a lick on Cutler as Cutler let an incompletion fly. Lee was the team's most productive rusher with three additional hurries. Eric Rowe also had a hurry on a corner blitz in the fourth quarter. Jordan Richards came up with a pressure of his own that should've resulted in more. Which leads us to . . . 

MISSED TACKLES AN ISSUE
On Miami's final drive of the first half, the Patriots seemed to have their opponents stuffed in the red zone yet again. Richards shot a gap on the interior and had a clean hit lined up on Cutler, but he missed the takedown, and Cutler found Kenyan Drake for eight yards and a first down. Brutal. One play later, Cutler found Jarvis Landry to make the score 13-7. Richards' miss was, in essence, a four-point play. Roberts missed a first-quarter tackle that led to a Drake 26-yard run, and Landry stiff-armed Jones to the ground soon thereafter to give the Patriots another miss. In the third quarter, Drake spun out of a potential Patrick Chung tackle and scooted for 31 yards to set up Landry's second touchdown of the game.

BUNCH FORMATIONS ARE BACK
The Patriots were expected to see bunch formation after bunch formation when they struggled to defend them against the Panthers in Week 4. Instead, they weren't inundated with bunch looks. They saw them only periodically and handled them well. But the Dolphins were relentless with their bunch sets. The Patriots seemed to have them figured out for the most part, but Landry got loose out of a bunch formation near the goal line, leading to his second score of the game. And in the third quarter, on a third-and-four play, the Patriots appeared to be almost too ready for a pick out of a tight two-man set. Jonathan Jones, seemingly anticipating contact, lost Kenny Stills off the line of scrimmage and gave up an 11-yard completion for a crucial first down. Two plays later, the Dolphins were in the end zone.

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Landry takes Deflategate jab at Patriots during TD celebration

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Landry takes Deflategate jab at Patriots during TD celebration

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Jarvis Landry seemed to be resuscitating the football after he scored the second of his two touchdowns in his team's 27-20 win over the Patriots.

He wasn't. He was paying tribute to a line in the Migos, Nicki Minaj and Cardi B rap "Motorsport," Landry explained after. The line -- "Bill Belichick, take the air out the ball just so I can flex" -- is an obvious reference to Deflategate.

"Take the air out the ball just so I can flex," Landry repeated in the locker room after the game. "This song right here. I’m not going to say the rest because you all are going to take that out of context again."

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Reporters, seemingly confused, asked if he was inflating the ball or deflating it.

"I’m taking the air out the ball," Landry said. "I’m deflating it!"

Landry caught eight passes for 46 yards and scored twice, with the TD in the third quarter making the score 27-10. iT came out of a bunch formation when he seemed to get lost in the shuffle at the second level of the Patriots defense.

For a Dolphins team that was beaten easily at Gillette Stadium two weeks ago, Landry said that taking down the Patriots would do wonders for the team's confidence -- even after drubbing the Broncos last week, 35-9.

"Our spirits needed it. Our spirits needed it honestly, man," he said. "We haven’t really been down you know? But at the same time, man, when you lose five games in a row it’s always tough to start that train back over again and we started it back last weekend. To keep it going against a team like this, it’s so important for us for the rest of the season and try to make a run and see if we can do it."

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