AFC East Game Notes From Week Five

AFC East Game Notes

The Miami Dolphins sat at 1-3 on the season entering their Sunday home game against the Tennessee Titans. The early season schedule dealt Miami three tough road games that included visits to New England, Seattle, and Cincinnati.  However, they were still undefeated at home and were coming off of a long week of rest after playing on Thursday in week four.  The Titans also sat at 1-3, and facing their low-voltage offense offered the Dolphins the perfect opportunity to turn their season around—if they were going to rally, this was the time.

Unfortunately the Dolphins played their worst game of the season on Sunday, and only a few big plays masked what should have been a blowout.  Miami’s opening score came on a 74-yard punt return touchdown from Jakeem Grant in the first quarter.  They also received big passing plays from DeVante Parker, on a deep bomb that went for 50 yards, and on a dump-off to Damien Williams, who eluded two tacklers to rumble for 52 yards and set up Miami’s first offensive touchdown.  These plays supplied the Dolphins with 17 points, but that is all they would score on the day.  Their eight other offensive possessions only went for 11, 6, 9, -4, 11, -5, -10 and 20 yards—40 yards on eight drives.

Miami’s problems started up front where they were missing both their starting left guard and left tackle on their offensive line.  They gave up six sacks on the day, two each to Derrick Morgan, Brian Orakpo and Jurrell Casey.  The Tennessee Titans had only six sacks in four games prior to Sunday.  Their lone bright-spot on offense is Jay Ajayi who looks the part of the starting running back after his week one benching. Despite his strong effort, Ajayi could not get anything going on Sunday and finished with just 42 rushing yards.

The problems for the Dolphins continued on defense.  Tennessee dictated the game from the opening whistle.  The Titans declared what their offense would be on the first play; off-tackle runs right at the defense, and Miami was never able to stop it all game. Nearly every run featured a double-team block on defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who was held to one tackle.  Fellow tackle Jelani Jenkins had a few penetrations but the defensive ends were completely anonymous in both the run and pass game.  Miami finished with one quarterback hit and no sacks, totaled four tackles for a loss, and had no interceptions or fumble recoveries.  The stats match what was seen on the field: uninspired play and a lack of play makers.

This game is a huge let-down for the Fins.  Losing to a 1-3 team at home is bad, but getting blown off the field is troubling.  Particularly concerning is the play of the defensive line.  This unit has been the centerpiece of their team for several years and has allowed the Dolphins to stay around .500 despite shaky quarterback play.  As it stands now the Dolphins have four losses and a single victory—an OT win over the 0-5 Cleveland Browns.

Quick Hits from the rest of the schedule

New York Jets

Their offensive design does not work without Eric Decker. They favor the spread formation with four receivers and a single back, but Brandon Marshall is the only player who can consistently beat man coverage.  If you cover Marshall on third down you stop this offense. Marshall was targeted 15 times but only had eight receptions.

Despite the game being within one score until the fourth quarter, the Jets had only 16 called runs vs. 38 passes.  Matt Forte still looks like a great player but only had 14 total touches.

The Jets defense played well considering the opponent.  They limited the Pittsburgh Steelers to 2.5 ypc on 24 rushes on the day.  However, the Jets’ offense kept them on the field the entire second half which wore them down by the fourth quarter.

The Jets need more from their defense, though, with the way their offense is playing.  The Jets only had a single quarterback sack, which doubled as their lone quarterback hit of the day.  The D-line was not a factor in the passing game at all.  Without a dominating defensive line the Jets are not a good team.

The Jets have now scored seven total points in the second half of their last three games.

Buffalo Bills

The bills opted to rush only three or four players on third downs situations.  However, they crowded the line on early downs trying to stop LA Rams running back Todd Gurley. They were mostly successful allowing only 72 yards on 23 carries.

The Rams were missing three of their four starting defensive linemen.  The Bills took advantage of this by running straight up the gut all day.  The draw, power and isolation runs were all utilized successfully. The Bills finished with 193 rushing yards on 27 carries, including 150 for lead back Lesean McCoy—most of these yards were gained in the first half.

In the second half the Rams stacked against the run and forced the Bills to pass with success.  After the Bills opening two touchdown drives they gained only 166 yards of offense the rest of the game.

The Bills were not able to shut down the Rams’ offense.  Instead they won the game by forcing the Rams to go 1-4 in the redzone, forcing three field goals, including one from the four-yard line with less than six minutes left.

Before Case Keenum threw an interception he had completed eight straight passes.  The Bills defense was responsible for all of their second half points.  The interception was returned for six.  Later they stuffed a fake punt attempt in Rams’ territory which was quickly punched in the endzone.

New England Patriots

The Patriots can’t be evaluated against most other teams.  They have to be evaluated against the Patriots.  The stats may have looked great but this was not yet the well-oiled machine of years past.

The Patriots had to convert 3rd-8, 3rd-7, and 3rd-5 on each of their first three (TD) drives respectively.  On each drive they received big plays as the result of missed assignments by the Cleveland Browns defense. There were multiple missed tackles on both the big catches from Rob Gronkowski and James White.  On the Chris Hogan deep bomb catch the safety got lost in center field and never covered anyone. (Yes, this is what the Patriots do. But this is a brand new Browns secondary that might not even have NFL-caliber talent at all positions, also.)

LeGarrette Blount gained only 37 yards on 18 carries.  The Pats were also stuffed on 3rd and 4th and goal on the half yard-line, resulting in a turnover. A disappointing performance against the 28th ranked run defense by DVOA.

On the bright side Tom Brady was 4/5 when throwing deep for 185 yards.  This has been the only weakness of Brady’s game in recent years. Three of the completions were to new additions Hogan, and Martellus Bennett, if the new additions can stretch the field vertically this well the Pats will be nearly unstoppable.  Overall, throwing to new targets Brady was 12/16 for 188 yards and three TD’s.  New tight end Martellus Bennett caught all three of the TD’s.  Let the Bennett/Gronkowski match-up nightmare begin.

The Pats executed their game plan on defense.  They stopped the run, allowing only 27 total yards on the ground, and made sure there were no deep balls allowed.  However, the pass rush was ineffective for most of the game.  Cody Kessler was 3/3 converting 3rd downs on the Browns TD drive.  Kessler played only three series after being knocked out with injury.

The pass-rush has been ineffective in most games this season.  The Patriots lost their best pass rusher Chandler Jones in the off-season, which could prove to be an issue all season. Rob Ninkovich returned from suspension, and could help out the pass-rush soon, but played limited snaps in this game.

The Patriots’ special teams continue to pin teams inside the 25-yard line on kickoffs—a huge hidden advantage for the defense.  On Sunday, a kick return stop at the 12 resulted in a safety two plays later.

Main image credit: