After easy wins against the Jets and Colts, this week the Pats kept the level of drama up by consistently forgetting what had worked best for them. Their strategy for near-failure: the old disappearing act.
For three quarters, they were great at making the ground game disappear. The rules for accomplishing this were simple.
Rule One: You cannot get many yards on the ground if you don’t attempt to run the ball. The team that had finally found a running attack, that had finally found balance, decided to throw almost exclusively.
If you want the running game to disappear, this is a guaranteed strategy. The math is simple—empty backfield equals zero years rushing.
For example, if you’ve got the ball at first-and-goal at the two-yard line and you want to keep the ground game hidden, keep Stevan Ridley invisible by having Brady drop back and pass.
This same strategy had been tried earlier in the game when the Patriots were within sniffing distance of the goal line, unsuccessfully of course, but why not try something unsuccessful again?
What’s the worst that could happen? A six yard loss and settling for a field goal. What the heck, Gostkowski was missing them from anything further. A chip-shot from close would surely give him confidence.
Rule Two: When you do run on occasion and find that the pitch is not working, persist at running wide.
Only by violating the go-wide rule in the fourth quarter, when the Dolphins must have known the Patriots were going to run, did the ground game reappear. By running between the tackles, the rabbit finally appeared from the hat.
Hello, running it right at them. Goodbye, disappearing running game
The disappearing act also worked perfectly almost all day for Brandon Lloyd. By using a variant on Rule One, the Patriots successfully kept Mr. Lloyd invisible: Receivers who do not get the ball thrown to them will rarely catch any passes.
If my high level calculations are correct, Mr. Lloyd caught as many onside kicks as he did passes, one each in the fourth quarter.
Tom Terrific is a guy known to spread the wealth, to throw to anyone who is open. It’s interesting that of the 24 passes he completed, 20 went to Wes Welker or Aaron Hernandez. The rest of the receivers, Brandon Lloyd included, seem to have…disappeared.
One other brief observation. Just to let the Patriots know that they were not the only ones who could make things disappear, Ryan Tannehill’s accuracy was nowhere in sight.
If he had hit half the open receivers running between and beyond the Pats’ defensive backs, the Pats' lead would have disappeared and this would have been a much happier evening in South Beach.
Next week, against a very tough Houston team, let’s hope sane play-calling—and easy wins—will re-appear.