New England's Victory Over Miami on Thursday Night Football Was Incredibly Impressive
Well, I guess Dan Campbell isn’t going to win every game he coaches after all.
Campbell’s Dolphins, the team with the best point-differential over the last two weeks, were beaten handedly by the team with the best point-differential this season, as New England topped Miami, 36-7, Thursday night.
Kidding aside, while Campbell has done a good job since taking over as interim coach after Week 4, two wins over weak opponents (Tennessee and Houston) do not change the fact that Miami is a mediocre team. They came into the game ranked 17th in our power ratings and proved to be little match for our second-ranked squad.
The outcome was never really in doubt, as New England came into the game with about a 69% chance of winning according to our model, and after Tom Brady threw a touchdown to Rob Gronkowski to cap New England’s opening drive, the Patriots’ win expectancy never dipped below 75%.
Speaking of Brady -- he continues to make his case for MVP, and is putting together arguably the best season for a quarterback of his age ever (more on that later). Brady completed 26-of-38 passes for 356 yards, 4 touchdowns and no interceptions.
He had help from both Gronkowski and running back Dion Lewis, who both caught six passes on nine targets and combined for 206 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
As we near the halfway point of the season, Brady is probably the frontrunner for league MVP.
He came into Thursday leading the league in passing Net Expected Points and is third in the league in NEP per drop back (among quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts).
He is also fourth at the position in passing Success Rate (the percentage of plays that yield positive expected points), as 53.18% of his passes have gotten New England closer to scoring.
We saw more of the same on Thursday, as Brady produced 20.17 Passing NEP on 40 drop backs (38 passes and two sacks; an average of .50, while the league average is .11).
Brady posted a passing success rate of 52.5%, with 21 successful completions, five failed completions, 12 incomplete passes and two sacks (the NFL average is 47.4%).
By looking at his Success Rate, we can break Brady’s night into three segments: a hot start, a sluggish middle, and a fantastic finish.
Brady started the game completing 4-of-4 passes for 73 yards on New England’s opening drive, which was capped by a 47-yard catch and run from Gronkowski. He posted a 75% Success Rate on the opening drive (one of his passes was a failed completion, a two-yard pass to Brandon LaFell on second-and-18).
On his next 17 drop backs, though, Brady only had five successful completions (a 29.4% Success Rate). It was a successful stretch for a Dolphins defense that came into the game ranked 21st in opponent-adjusted NEP per pass, but it wouldn’t last.
From the final Patriots drive of the first half to the end of the game, Brady had 13 successful completions on 19 drop backs, good for a staggering 68.4% Success Rate.
Brady had four successes on four drop backs on New England’s last drive of the first half, which put the Patriots up 19-0. In the second half, Brady posted a 60.0% success rate (9 success, 15 dropbacks).
It was the latest chapter in Brady’s effort to have the greatest season for a quarterback 38-years-old or older. Among players 38 or older, Brady currently owns the best single-season ANY/A relative to league average (ANY/A is adjusted net yards per attempt, or NY/A with an adjustment for touchdowns and interceptions).
Brady’s ANY/A of 8.38 through his first six games is two standard deviations above the mean (6.3); among quarterbacks older than 35, only five others have posted an ANY/A at least two standard deviations higher than average (Randall Cunningham , who was 35 in 1998, tops the list, followed by a 37-year-old Peyton Manning in 2013).
Dion Shows Up in Primetime
Brady wasn't the only Patriot who continued his strong start to the season Thursday night. Lewis continues to shine as a receiver out of the backfield, catching 6-of-9 targets for 93 yards and a touchdown against Miami.
He produced 7.33 NEP on his targets and 9.92 NEP on his receptions, second to Julian Edelman on both accounts (Edelman caught 7-of-9 targets for 81 yards and 2 touchdowns).
Not only did all six of Lewis’ catches yield positive expected points, but all six also resulted in a first down or touchdown. His shortest catch was an 11-yard grab, as he also had catches of 17, 19, 18, 12, and 33 yards.
On the ground, Lewis only ran for 19 yards on five carries (-0.32), but his performance through the air was enough to earn our game MVP honors.
Dolphins Offense Returns To Earth
After finishing third among quarterbacks in NEP with 14.76 last week, Tannehill struggled immensely Thursday.
Tannehill completed 28-of-44 passes 300 yards, no touchdowns, and a pair of interceptions, and was also sacked five times for a loss of 45 yards.
He “produced” -2.60 Passing NEP and had a 42.9% Success Rate through the air, against a defense that ranked 12th in opponent-adjusted NEP per pass play.
Miami didn't fare better on the ground, as the Dolphins offense was a far cry from the unit that had scored 82 points over its last two games.
The Dolphins rushed for only 15 yards on 13 carries, averaging 1.15 yards per carry (-3.95 Rushing NEP).
It is the sixth-fewest rushing yards in a single game in Dolphins’ history, and fifth-fewest yards allowed ever by the Patriots.
And it gets sadder. Eight of Miami’s rushing yards came on one Lamar Miller carry, meaning the Dolphins averaged 0.58 yards per rush on their other 12 carries. Between Miller, Jonas Gray, and Tannehill, Miami only posted a rushing Success Rate of 21.4%.
Miami came into the game ranked 13th in Rushing NEP per play, so this level of dominance is impressive for a rush defense that ranked 26th in our metrics through seven weeks.
Add it to the list of what New England did well on Thursday.