Unpacking the Upset: Lessons from New England Patriots loss in trip to Hard Rock (Miami Dolphins) Stadium

Posted: December 14, 2017 in Football, New entries, NFL

“We’ve had a lot of good nights this year and this was a bad night.” Brady looked somber as he fielded questions from reporters after their Monday night loss to Miami. All of the analysts on ESPN’s pregame show picked New England to win. New England was also heavily favored in the season opener against Kansas City, their other widely televised game of the season when they were upset.

Upsets bring life to football because they knock me off my pedestal and remind me I actually know very little about how and why teams play well and win or lose. I’m going to pretend that I can look at what happened in the game to cause a ten win AFC heavyweight lose to a struggling, undermanned five win Dolphins team.

  1. Xavien Howard intercepts Tom Brady. Twice.
    1. If you have a paid subscription to profootballfocus.com (which I do) and look at the position rankings, you’ll find at the number one (out of thirty-eight) position for QBs is not Russell Wilson, not Carson Wentz, but forty year old man Tom Brady. If you check the cornerback rankings, you’ll find Xavien Howard is ranked at number eighty-eight (out of a possible 118). So Howard’s performance was puzzling for me, a big stats guy. The twenty-four year old second year defensive back has four interceptions on the season, two from last week’s contest against the Broncos (Trevor Siemian at QB), and two more from Tom Brady. What does this mean? It probably means that A. Miami’s pass rush was too much for New England’s Tackles to handle and Brady threw some poor passes to avoid getting sacked by T-Rex/Human hybrid Ndamukong Suh. It could also mean that B. Xavien Howard is an ascending player who is getting a hang of this cornerback thing and playing better as the season progresses. Or it could mean C. something is going on that PFF isn’t able to tell me right now. Or probably D. All of the Above. (Hover over the photos or they wont make sense)
  2. Miami pass rush overwhelms Patriots blocking scheme/offensive line – It turns out Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake are still effective pass rushers and  with all of the fervor that a great player on a bad team plays pressured Brady enough to force several incompletions, short/ineffective passes and two turnovers. The Patriots offensive tackles on the other hand haven’t played GREAT this season.
  3. Jarvis Landry scores twice – Jarvis Landry had eight catches for forty-six yards and two touchdowns. New England seemed like they didn’t know who to cover in the end zone this game.
  4. Kenyon Drake has his best game of the season – Drake totaled 193 yards of total offense, 114 rushing and seventy-nine receiving. One could point to injuries to Kyle Van Noy and Trey Flowers, two starters out for this contest as a possible reason for Drake’s success. Like Howard, Drake may be a budding star who finally has had a chance to prove himself this season.
  5. Rob Gronkowski suspension suddenly matters – The Patriots only scored twenty points when they’ve been averaging about thirty points a game. The Rob Gronkowski suspension from the Bills game suddenly seems much more impactful when the Patriots struggled with Miami’s coverage all game long.

In conclusion: Examining this upset has forced me to look at the past performance of some impact players (Howard, Drake) as improving players and not just average/low impact players. Or maybe the Dolphins were just more motivated than the Patriots. As usual, I find more questions and guesses than concrete answers when examining unexpected outcomes. But that’s what makes Football fun, right?

Attribution for photos: (Ndamukong Suh Picture) By Keith Allison – Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43211057

Tyrannosaurus Rex picture: By Marcin Polak from Warszawa / Warsaw, Polska / Poland (Tyranozaur Rex  Uploaded by FunkMonk) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Vitruvian man: Leonardo da Vinci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

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