This new and improved Patriots defense had a relatively good start to their season, all things considered. With the absence of Ronnie Perkins, who is due to make a big impact this year, and Gilmore being on the PUP list, they held Miami to two touchdowns (one each half) and only gave up 17 points. That included holding them to less than 200 yards passing and only 74 yards rushing. And while they only had 2 sacks, they were giving Tua fits all day with their pass rush and held them to 4-11 on 3rd down. Normally, that’s a recipe for a W in Foxboro. But the Pats took the L and we’re all left feeling bad, but good…but also bad at the same time about what happened this weekend.
But this article isn’t about expectations, grievances or overreactions. This is about one very specific thing that the Patriots need to do in order to be the defense we all know they can be: cover the slant.
Miami feasted on the Patriots D when it came to the slant pass. Whether it was the RPO fake or the corner playing too far off, Tua had that play whenever he wanted it. And that’s a problem. Now, I’m simply not smart enough to figure out how to calculate just how many yards the Dolphins gained off the slant or how often they had that play available and chose to go elsewhere. I suppose I could watch the game over a couple times, but who has time for that? That’s what the professionals get paid to do while I sit at my day job writing these articles hoping not to get caught by my boss.
Anyway, if you watched the game, you know that Miami slanted their way to the Division lead. And while I may not be able to find every single time it happened, there’s one very, very pivotal point in the game where this issue reared it’s ugly head for the Pats. After Damien Harris fumbled at the 9 yard line, the Dolphins took over and immediately got backed up with a holding call. On 1st and 14, Tua checked out of the RPO that was called and audibled to, you guessed it, a quick slant…
“Where we’ve made way more hay … has been the play-pass with the illusion of RPO.”
“I want the line, the tight end, the running back, the quarterback to make it look, feel, smell, sound like RPO. I want everyone in the stadium to say here comes another.”
-Steve Sarkisian pic.twitter.com/EbHyRFRoFX
— Chris Kouffman (@ckparrot) September 15, 2021
Unacceptable. You have your opponent cornered in their own endzone and you give up a 13 yard gain right off the bat. Like I said, unacceptable. In case you were wondering, Miami picked up an easy first down run on the very next play and the game was essentially over. Again, the defense played pretty well Sunday afternoon, but they had no defense for the quick slant.
If we’re looking for a silver lining, at least it seems like they Patriots knew what happened after the game. So that makes you think they know they have to correct it. Jonathan Jones said this after the game.
Asked Jonathan Jones about all the slants/quick throws. He said the #Dolphins had some options for Tua where if he saw a certain coverage, he could just toss it out on a quick slant even if the call in the huddle was a run. Called it a good plan.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) September 12, 2021
How do the Pats rectify this issue? Once again, that’s for the professionals to figure out. But I’m confident that
one of the greatest defensive minded head coach in the history of the sport will think of something. Disguise the coverage better? Maybe. Anticipate the slant more in certain situations? Perhaps. Play more press coverage against teams who like to do this? Sure. But that may leave you open to a double move and get you beat deep. It’s times like these where I’m thankful I don’t have to gameplan week in and week out in the NFL. Instead, I can just sit on my couch and yell “OH COME ON! HOW CAN YOU LET HIM GET THAT AGAIN!”
So to wrap this all up in a slightly messy bow, the Patriots defense is going to be fine. They laid down a nice foundation to build on coming out of this game and Pats fans should be excited. I mean, did you see that front seven? That has the makings of a top pass rush. And assuming Gilmore comes back, this ‘slant issue’ may not even be a thing anymore by midseason. But for the time being, it’s something they need to work on for sure. Because I can assure you, if I noticed it, so did every other NFL offensive coordinator.
Clean it up for Week 2 and make Zach Wilson see ghosts like another former Jets QB did. Now say it with me: We’re onto New York.
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Mike Sullivan (@msully5433)
(Featured Photo Credit phinphanatic.com)