You could understand the start of the game.
The Patriots entered Sunday's contest most likely prepared to face a Dolphins offense with all of their important personnel in place — WR DeVante Parker, TE Mike Gesicki, WR Jakeem Grant and OG Ereck Flowers — considering Miami was battling for a playoff spot and really needed every game in order to hold off the likes of Baltimore and Las Vegas. Some of the players were even reported the night before to be ready to play against the Patriots. Tip of the cap to Brian Flores for the Belichickian mind games.
So when suddenly all of them were declared inactive 90 minutes before kickoff (did Flores have confidence in a victory against this fading group of Patriots and want his players healthy for the Raiders?), it was probably a bit late to change up the gameplan that would largely be similar to what the Patriots did against the Ravens — shut down the width of the field, make Miami fight you in a phone booth. And that plan worked on the first drive, a three-and-out.
But on the second drive, the Dolphins changed. Sensing New England's plan, the Dolphins decided to do what Baltimore never did — they doubled up the inside run game with a lot of inside zones with two double-teams to the linebackers on the second level.
And, boy, did it work. The Dolphins went 95 yards on 15 plays — with six of the final eight plays being runs — before rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa threw an ill-advised interception under pressure from Chase Winovich to finally get New England off the field. The Dolphins did most of their damage against a Patriots box that featured just two defensive linemen and four linebackers — even against 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends).
You figured after that, the Patriots would adjust and put an extra defensive lineman (Akeem Spence was active and played six goal-line snaps) on the field. I mean, it was basically an open invite for the Dolphins to be physical against you.
And you'd be wrong. It was more of the same.
Surely following halftime, after the Patriots coaches had a chance to assess the damage (15 carries for 75 yards) and realizing without his weapons that Tagovailoa and the Miami passing game was limited and resembled the Patriots with Cam Newton, they would adjust like in the Super Bowl against the Rams with a glorified goal-line package, or a 5-2 front. Stop the run, force Tagovailoa to beat you with his arm and limited weapons.
Wrong. Again, more of the same.
First play of the second half:
But wait, it gets worse.
Here's a 2nd and 1 play for Miami that featured a who's who of Patriots defenders the coaching staff doesn't trust against the run: Josh Uche, Chase Winovich, Adam Butler, Deatrich Wise and Anfernee Jennings.
Needless to say, the Patriots were not successful in preventing the first down conversion.
In the second half, the Dolphins redoubled their running efforts sensing no opposition and basically ran the Patriots off the field.
Third-quarter rushing stats
Fourth-quarter rushing stats:
Included was this beauty on 3rd and 8, when the rookie QB knew the Patriots had no threatening personnel on the field and checked to a run. The Dolphins easily picked it up by completely displacing the Patriots' defense and making Wise look like he's in coverage based on how far down the field he is (second photo):
Just for kicks, let's see what Flores, the Patriots' former defensive coordinator, decided to do against a challenged quarterback who can run with limited weapons:
Three defensive linemen capable of defending the run. Four linebackers, including two inside backers within 3 yards of the line of scrimmage (not 5 to 7) and a safety in the grill of the tight end.
Eight players in the box and ready to be aggressive. Not six or seven playing loose with wide gaps or sets. Eight.
Sure, they were gashed a few times in the running game, but they were daring Newton to throw. And he did, ineffectively, 30 times compared to 22 rushes.
My question is, why did the Patriots never adjust? Why were they content — even inviting — Miami to run over them despite there being a rookie QB with no weapons on the field? Why were they content for the second-straight week (Rams rushed 36 times for 186 yards against 26 pass attempts in their 24-3 victory) to let the opponent manhandle them on the ground despite having personnel options to adjust?