The Patriots may have beaten the Dolphins soundly, 28-0, on Sunday to finish the regular season, but there is still plenty to clean up during the bye week they earned.
Surprisingly, the work is needed on the offensive side. The Patriots’ record-breaking offense is far from a well-oiled machine, as it heads into the postseason coming off three underwhelming performances.
Against the Dolphins, the Patriots had two terrific drives of 13 and 14 plays that ended with touchdowns in the second quarter. Outside of that, it was fairly blah, with the other two scores coming after getting the ball at the Miami 28- and 47-yard line.
The play of the offense was odd against the Dolphins because, in many ways, it was improved and more crisp than the dreadful performance against the Jaguars.
Tom Brady continued to play very well, all four running backs ran decisively, the offensive line gave up a three-year low for hits on Brady one week after giving up a three-year high, and in the passing game, Wes Welker was awesome, Rob Gronkowski added something, and Deion Branch was quietly very good.
But the rest of the receivers and tight ends left a lot to be desired, and that has to be an area of concern as the Patriots get ample practice time to get everyone on the same page. They must get Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd going, or they could have a problem in the postseason.
Whatever progress Lloyd and Brady made in the second half against the Jaguars seemed to be erased against the Dolphins. They just aren’t on the same page when it comes to route running. Three times against the Dolphins, Brady made seemingly perfect passes but a lack of precision by Lloyd appeared to cause an incompletion.
With 9:26 left in the first quarter, Lloyd had tight man coverage against cornerback Dimitri Patterson. Lloyd made his cut to the sideline at the Miami 27-yard line. Instead of cutting parallel to the line of scrimmage, Lloyd faded to the 22. Brady’s pass was well thrown to the 25. It should have been a toe-tap-and-out-of-bounds completion.
With 6:24 left in the first half, Brady threw a terrific pass to Lloyd on a go route down the left sideline but the receiver kept fading toward the sideline. Even if he caught it, he would have been out of bounds. Lloyd shouldn’t let the cornerback dictate his route.
Again, with 8:16 left in the third quarter, Lloyd started his cut to the sideline at the 43-yard line. He bowed his route to the 46.5-yard line. If he cuts on a dime, which is what a good, veteran route runner like Welker or Branch does, that’s another completion.
This can all be cleaned up in practice, but if it hasn’t to this point, you have to wonder whether it will ever happen. Lloyd has been dealing with a knee injury and perhaps that’s to blame for his inability to cut better. Regardless of the reason, the Patriots have to be giving serious thought, depending on the matchup, to limiting Lloyd to just shot plays, because at this point, it’s questionable that Brady will trust him in a playoff game.
And the Patriots need a fully functioning Gronkowski and a much-improved Hernandez at tight end in the playoffs.
While Michael Hoomanawanui has made a few big catches, he and Daniel Fells just aren’t good enough to play more than a handful of plays. Of the nine stuffed runs allowed (1 yard or less outside short yardage), five were allowed by Fells and Hoomanawanui, who also was responsible for the only sack.
Hernandez looked healthier against the Dolphins, but he had another penalty and two drops to give him six in the past three games. He appears far removed from the cocky, confident weapon he was before his injuries. At this point, he’s a little above average. He’s not scaring anyone.
The Patriots’ passing offense is not as good as it was last year. The vision most of us had was of a dynamic outside threat in Lloyd, two unstoppable tight ends in Gronkowski and Hernandez, and the ever-reliable Welker to go along with an improved running game (that’s still intact). That is not reality.
The good news is, the Patriots don’t play for another 11 days. Time is on their side for improvement.
Here are the positional ratings against the Dolphins:
Quarterback (rating: 4.5 out of 5)
As we said after the last matchup with the Dolphins, defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is going to be a grind for Brady. Coyle does a great job with his pre- and post-snap looks. Brady did well to quickly see any mismatches. There weren’t many, and the Patriots had to rely on a lot of screens and Welker to move the ball. Brady had three times as many standout plays than he did questionable ones. If the Patriots didn’t drop three passes and Lloyd were more precise, Brady’s day would have looked even better. Big-time throw and catch by Brady and Branch on third and 13 early in the second quarter. On the second play of the second drive (an 8-yard pass to Hernandez), Brady missed a wide-open Gronkowski down the middle of the field. Maybe he forgot for a second that Gronk was back.Continued...