Bill Belichick didn’t call many blitzes for his defense through the first seven games. A Globe study through Week 7 revealed that the Patriots blitzed just 22 percent of the time, the seventh-lowest rate in the NFL, as Belichick was content to keep quarterbacks contained in the pocket and force them to beat the Patriots’ pass coverage.
Sunday against the Dolphins, Belichick brought the house. And it was the main reason why the Patriots overcame a 14-point second-half deficit and escaped with a 27-17 win when, frankly, the Dolphins were the better team on both sides of the ball.
The Patriots blitzed a decent amount in the first half — bringing at least one extra pass rusher seven times on 19 dropbacks. The result, though, was a 17-3 deficit and zero sacks as Ryan Tannehill got into a rhythm with short passes and the Dolphins ran the ball 22 times for 103 yards.
So Belichick went blitz crazy in the second half.
He called for extra pressure on 22 of 31 dropbacks, and the result was six sacks, no points, 126 total yards and one frustrated Tannehill in the second half. For the game, the Patriots blitzed on 29 of 50 dropbacks (58 percent).
“It looked like Miami was having more success throwing the ball in the inside part of the field on shorter throws,” Belichick said. “When we were able to pressure . . . then more of those throws went to the perimeter, which were harder.
“A couple of times we got pressure and he had to hold the ball for a second and we were able to hit him, so that helped it out, too.”
A recap of the game after reviewing the coaches’ tape:
When the Patriots had the ball…
■ Rob Gronkowski only caught 2 of 5 passes thrown his way for 27 yards, but he still had a big impact on the game. The Dolphins double- and even triple-covered him all game with a variety of athletic, versatile players — defensive end Olivier Vernon, linebackers Dion Jordan and Dannell Ellerbe, and safeties Reshad Jones, Chris Clemons, and Jimmy Wilson. Tom Brady still tried to force it to Gronkowski in the first half — three defenders were surrounding Gronkowski on the first-quarter interception, while Brady had Aaron Dobson streaking open downfield and LeGarrette Blount open for a safe checkdown.
But Gronkowski taking up two and three defenders meant that other receivers got 1-on-1 matchups and Brady took advantage of that in the second half. Dobson had a 1-on-1 matchup with Nolan Carroll in the red zone, the cornerback bit badly on a double move, and Brady had an easy toss for a 14-yard touchdown. Later in the second half, Danny Amendola streaked wide open and took the ball down to the 1-yard line while Gronkowski took three defenders with him. And the Patriots finally managed to get Gronkowski open by using the play-action in the second half, with Brady hitting Gronkowski for a nice 23-yard pass down the middle.
■ The Patriots used more two-receiver sets than in weeks past, employing two tight ends or one tight end and one fullback on 22 of 58 true offensive plays (minus kneeldowns). Logan Mankins got dominated by Jared Odrick for two sacks and Dan Connolly had trouble with Randy Starks for much of the day, but Nate Solder and Michael Hoomanawanui had some impressive blocks to open holes for Stevan Ridley, who only played 21 snaps but still rushed 14 times for 79 yards and a score. On Ridley’s 23-yard run, Mankins, Solder, Hoomanawanui, Connolly, Matthew Mulligan, and Kenbrell Thompkins had excellent blocks. It certainly helped that Cameron Wake was still not 100 percent healthy and missed most of the fourth quarter.
■ The pass interference call against Wilson that led to the first Patriots’ field goal was absurd, as was the defensive holding call on Dimitri Patterson against Dobson in the third quarter. The Patriots had a couple bad calls go their way, as well — Solder’s phantom holding call that wiped out Gronkowski’s touchdown being the prime example — but the calls against the Dolphins had a far greater impact.
■ Something obviously is wrong with Brady’s hand, but it didn’t seem to affect his velocity. He also had a beautiful throw in an incredibly tight window to Dobson in the fourth quarter. His stats weren’t helped by drops by Gronkowski and Amendola.
When the Dolphins had the ball . . .
■ The Dolphins controlled most of the game, but everything unraveled within a span of four minutes early in the second quarter. Mike Wallace dropped a second-down pass that would have taken the Dolphins down inside the 5. Tannehill was sacked on third down, then Caleb Sturgis missed a 46-yard field goal off the upright. The Patriots scored in five plays, got the ball back two plays later on Logan Ryan’s strip-sack, and tied the game three plays after that. Once the Dolphins were forced to go pass-happy in the fourth quarter, the Patriots pinned their ears back and sacked Tannehill four times.
■ The Patriots didn’t just blitz, they blitzed a lot with their defensive backs, which they hadn’t done much, if at all, this season. Safety Steve Gregory and linebacker Dane Fletcher were the most frequent blitzers, going after Tannehill 11 times each. Ryan only blitzed three times, but produced two sacks and a forced fumble, all in the second half. Brandon Spikes blitzed eight times, Donta Hightower five times, and Rob Ninkovich, playing outside linebacker in the Patriots’ predominantly 3-4 defense, blitzed four times. Ryan did a great job of not giving away his intentions before screaming into the backfield untouched for his strip-sack, which was arguably the biggest play of the game.
■ The Patriots also did a decent amount of zone blitzing, with Ninkovich, Jamie Collins, and even Chandler Jones dropping into coverage while Spikes, Hightower, or a defensive back chased Tannehill. The Dolphins dropped back to pass 15 times after the Patriots took a 27-17 lead and the Patriots blitzed on 10 of them.
■ The Dolphins’ offensive line actually handled the Patriots’ front for the first two-plus quarters as the Dolphins averaged 4.7 yards per carry in the first half. Running back Lamar Miller had impressive burst and easily beat Spikes around the corner on several runs. Rookie defensive tackles Chris Jones and Joe Vellano had a tough time against center Mike Pouncey and right tackle John Jerry, and new Dolphins left tackle Bryant McKinnie actually had a decent day against Chandler Jones. Ninkovich was incredibly active in the fourth quarter, coming up with two batted passes and a sack on one drive alone.
■ One fun matchup to watch was tight end Charles Clay versus safety Devin McCourty. Clay was targeted eight times and had some nice catches in the first half, but finished with just five catches for 37 yards as the Patriots took away the middle of the field in the second half. McCourty’s two-handed setup of Marquice Cole’s interception was an unbelievable athletic display. Tannehill had a few decent throws on the run, but Wallace and Brian Hartline couldn’t get much separation against press coverage.
■ Collins came this close to blocking a punt in the first quarter. And the game wasn’t over until Chandler Jones blocked Sturgis’s 39-yard field goal with 2:51 left. Jones and Ninkovich absolutely pasted Nate Garner, allowing Jones to get close enough for the block.
■ Solder: Opened several big holes for Ridley and kept Brady clean for most of the day.
■ Ryan: Just think of how good his stats would have been if he wasn’t benched in the first half.
■ McCourty: Excelling in his full-time switch to safety and could be headed to Hawaii after the season.Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.