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When the Patriots signed receiver Brandon Lloyd, the perception was that he would provide the outside-the-numbers threat the team had been lacking since the trade of Randy Moss.
While he hasn’t been Moss — no one should have expected him to be — Lloyd has been a viable boundary threat. Lloyd has caught 50 passes, which is as many as Vincent Jackson of the Buccaneers, who signed a five-year, $55.6 million contract in the offseason.
The Bills’ Stevie Johnson (55), and Davone Bess (56), and Brian Hartline (60) of the Dolphins are the only other AFC East receivers to have as many receptions as Lloyd. None of them play in an offense with Wes Welker (92 catches), Rob Gronkowski (53 in 10 games), and Aaron Hernandez (27 in six games).
Still, the fact that Lloyd Sunday tied a season low with one reception for 10 yards (on the only ball thrown to him, late in the fourth quarter) seemed a bit odd and caused some consternation among fans.
After viewing the coaches film, it appears that Lloyd’s lack of action likely didn’t have anything to do about him being frozen out; it was simply part of the game plan tailored to the Dolphins.
It’s no coincidence that Lloyd’s previous low output was one catch for 6 yards against the Jets in Week 7 (though he was much more involved with eight targeted passes).
The Dolphins, under new coordinator Kevin Coyle, have become very similar to the Jets by mixing up pressures and coverages against Tom Brady. Both teams also feature one dominant cornerback (Antonio Cromartie for the Jets, Sean Smith for the Dolphins) and linebackers that are slow and don’t cover very well.
Most NFL teams have a saying when it comes to passing offense: “Take the easy money.” That means, take the higher-percentage play even if it might not be a big play. Keep the clock and the chains moving. The Patriots and Brady seem to live by this credo, outside of a few designed shots down the field. Welker and Hernandez, who combined for 20 of Brady’s 24 completions, were the easy money when matched up against the Dolphins linebackers.
Lloyd, who often runs slow-developing downfield routes, is almost never the easy money. That’s just the way it goes.
Against the Dolphins, the Patriots showed no interest in throwing at Smith, Miami’s excellent fourth-year cornerback. We counted just three times that Brady threw in Smith’s direction: two were throwaways because of double coverage, and the third was an incomplete pass to Julian Edelman.
Lloyd was in on 34 pass plays, and Smith lined up on him 12 times. So on 35 percent of Lloyd’s snaps, he wasn’t going to get the ball anyway unless there was a breakdown in coverage.
Of the other 22, Brady completed half of those passes to other receivers.
In all, there were nine times Lloyd could be considered open. Almost every time, Brady’s decision not to throw to him had to do with circumstances that led him to throw elsewhere.
■ Dolphins blitzed and Brady quickly completed a pass to Welker on a designed hot route to avoid the rush.
■ Welker was open against a linebacker and Brady hit the mismatch.
■ Brady was pressured and threw the ball away.
■ Brady was pressured and threw quickly to Hernandez, who was more open against a linebacker.
■ Brady threw deep at the mismatch of Shane Vereen against linebacker Karlos Dansby, and the result was a 31-yard pass interference penalty. Not a great decision, but result was good.
■ Brady threw incomplete to Welker when Lloyd was the better option. However, Lloyd rounded his route and didn’t show as open as he could have to Brady. Still, Brady probably would like this play back.
■ Lloyd and Welker ran a smash concept with Lloyd coming open on an in-breaking route, and Welker going to the sideline from the slot. It’s a play Brady completes to Welker all the time at the sideline — and he was open again — but Brady threw late and high.
■ On the one completion to Lloyd, he was the hot route against a zone blitz and even then, the ball was almost not completed because Lloyd faded after his cut to the sideline, instead of running straight across.
■ Lloyd was the only viable target in the corner of the end zone on third and goal before the field goal that made it 20-10, but Brady didn’t find him quick enough and was sacked.
So it wasn’t as though Lloyd was open all day and Brady ignored him. When Edelman is in the lineup, he’s going to get the shorter passes because he’s much better than Lloyd after the catch. Now that Edelman is on injured reserve, expect Lloyd to be in the mix a little more.Continued...