Nick Donatelli. September 14th, 2020. Twitter: @Donny_Diablo7
Head Coach Brian Flores looks on during the first quarter against New England, September 13th, 2020.
After an an offseason giving fans little-to-no glimpse of each team, and the expected rust from lack of preseason action, it was a mystery as to how well both clubs would perform to open up the 2020 NFL season.
The (New) Patriots Way:
On this day, it was Cam Newton (15/19-155-0-0 passing/15-75-2 TDs rushing) and the Patriots who answered the call, playing with better all-around technique, and minimizing mistakes on both sides of the ball to best the Fins 21-11.
The game started out in pedestrian fashion, with neither team scoring a point in the first quarter, and Miami punting on their first two possessions. The teams took a combined score of 10 points in to the locker room before second half, the decisive score being a 4-yard Cam Newton rushing touchdown at the beginning of the second quarter.
As the third quarter commenced an all-too-familiar scene was being played out before the eyes of Dolphins fans. The Patriots were starting to roll while Miami’s efforts fell flat on both sides of the ball.
Not to mention, the loss of top WR Devante Parker (4-47-0) in the third quarter with a hamstring injury; Parker never returned.
With 10:21 left in the third quarter, Newton extended the Patriots lead to 14-3 with his second rushing touchdown of the day. Fitzpatrick and the Fins responded with a three-and-out on the following series, losing grip on the game rapidly.
On the ensuing Patriots series, hope was dwindling in the hearts of Dolphins fans around the country as Newton led a commanding drive down inside the 20-yard-line, to take what would’ve been a seemingly insurmountable 21-3 lead, given the lackluster performance of the Miami offense to that point.
That is, until rookie safety Jerome Baker made the play of the game, chasing down Patriots WR N’Keal Harry from behind and knocking the ball out of the end zone, forcing a touchback. Baker’s effort not only kept points off the board, but provided the Fins their first turnover of the season, and a huge momentum swing.
Miami parlayed Baker’s turnover into points with an 11-play, 80-yard drive capped by a one-yard rushing touchdown (Jordan Howard) and a successful two-point conversion from Fitzpatrick to trim New England’s lead to 3 points.
When it mattered most for the Miami defense, they just couldn’t stop Cam Newton and the Patriots rushing attack. Miami watched as Newton guided the Patriots offense on a 10-play, 75 -yard drive capped by a fitting 4th-and-1 goal line conversion from Newton inside the Fins five yard line. On the next play, Sony Michel plunged into the end zone from one yard out, to extend the Patriot lead to ten points.
Ryan Fitzpatrick led a last ditch effort to try and get Miami back in the game, driving the Dolphins inside the Patriots 20 with just under two minutes to go in the contest. On the final offensive play for the Dolphins, J.C. Jackson sealed the win for New England, intercepting a Fitzpatrick pass intended for tight end Mike Gesicki.
Although Miami displayed some encouraging improvements to their performance as a whole in regards to last year against New England (43-0 loss in week 2 in 2019), it is apparent the Dolphins need to improve on both sides of the ball in order to be seriously considered a contender in the AFC East.
|Stats||Miami Dolphins||New England Patriots|
|3rd/4th Down Conv.||2/10||6/11|
|Time of Possession||25:07||34:53|
After being gashed for 217 yards (5.2 YPC) and three touchdowns on the ground, with many of that production coming from quarterback Cam Newton (15-75-2 TDs), Coach Flores must emphasize improvement of the run defense, especially with this weeks match-up looming against the run-heavy Buffalo Bills – featuring quarterback Josh Allen, who was second among quarterbacks in rushing attempts last season.
“We’ve got to do a better job on run defense,” Brian Flores said. “Obviously the quarterback was an issue – we’ve got to do a better job.”Brian Flores, Coach, Miami Dolphins
While the Miami secondary held up nicely yesterday, surrendering just 140 passing yards and no points through the air, keeping the New England wideouts generally under wraps, it was the run defense that was most detrimental to their performance.
Although it is worth noting that 2019 first-round pick Christian Wilkins (six total tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss, two pass deflections and a QB hit) stood out to me at various points throughout the game, that’s where the good news stops.
The run defense displayed sloppy tackling, and lacked aggression at the point of attack. Miami defenders had trouble making contact with ball carriers behind or at line of scrimmage. Patriots runners, whether it was Newton, Sony Michel, or Rex Burkhead, were not even touched until they were at the second level of the Miami defense.
While Miami attempted to make adjustments by adding more beef to their defensive line in order to aid in stopping the bleeding, they simply had no answers for the Patriots downhill rushing attack.
Tight end Mike Gesicki corrals a jump ball, Sept. 13th, 2020.
One thing is for certain following this Week One loss: the Fins lacked enough firepower on the offensive to really threaten New England’s defense.
In a game that could have been taken over by either side at varying points of the contest, Fitzpatrick (20/30-191-0-3) and the offense failed to generate any chunk plays to generate any momentum and put pressure on the Patriot defense.
Miami’s receivers had trouble gaining separation against the Patriots elite secondary, forcing Fitz to resort to 50-50 balls most of the afternoon. The absence of top wideout Devante Parker was prevalent, and Miami simply did not have the options outside of Preston Williams (7 targets, 2 receptions, 41 yards) and Mike Gesicki (5 targets, 3 receptions, 30 yards) to even attempt to match New England.
None of Miami’s offensive players finished with more than Parker’s 47 receiving yards. That is simply not enough against any defense, let alone the Patriots.
While Miami saw improvement up front with the promising performance of first-round pick OT Austin Jackson and the rest of the revamped offensive line (giving up just one sack all afternoon) in the passing game, it was disappointing to see the lack of success overall running the ball. Fitzpatrick (5 attempts, 18 yards) and running backs Myles Gaskin (9 attempts, 40 yards), Matt Breida (5 attempts, 22 yards), and a nicked-up Jordan Howard (8 attempts, 7 yards, 1 TD) combined for a paltry 87 rushing yards (3.2 YPC).
New England’s front seven routinely stuffed the Dolphins rushing attack, allowing only one attempt to travel longer than 10 yards all afternoon; a 12-yard rush from Ryan Fitzpatrick on a scramble. The Dolphins could not establish any traction on the ground, making them one dimensional and simpler to defend.
Typically the team who wins the turnover battle more often than not wins the game. Today was no different, as New England forced three interceptions, making life difficult for Ryan Fitzpatrick in the passing game. Going into the contest, Fitz had 18 career games with at least three interceptions, second most in the NFL since he entered in 2005. Unsurprisingly, Fitzpatrick is 0-18 in such games.
Moving forward Coach Flores has already announced Fitzpatrick will be the starter for Week 2 in the home opener against Buffalo, silencing the already loud calls for first-round pick Tua Tagovaila.
While Fits won’t be facing the Patriots top flight secondary again, things aren’t much forgiving this week with the likes of Tre’Davious White, Jordan Poyer, and Micah Hyde roaming the back end of the Bills’ impressive defense. Fitzpatrick must make better decisions with the football this week. He can’t continue to force throws that aren’t there, and hurt the team. If Fitz does not cut down on the turnovers this week, and the Fins fall to 0-2 it will be harder for Coach Flores and the the rest of the coaching staff to not look and see what they have in Tua.