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The Patriots’ 31-24 win over the Dolphins on Sunday was cause for concern, and we’re not talking about Jimmy Garoppolo’s shoulder injury.

The Patriots’ defense was supposed to be the strength of the team while Tom Brady served his four-game suspension, but it sprung several leaks Sunday.

Holding a 31-3 lead in the third quarter, the Patriots allowed 310 yards in the second half and got chewed up by Ryan Tannehill, who completed 22 of 27 passes for 273 yards after halftime.

The front seven played without Rob Ninkovich and Dont’a Hightower, so there is certainly room for improvement. Hightower is one of their better pass rushers, and his presence was sorely missed. Jonathan Freeny and Elandon Roberts are not Dont’a Hightower.


But other than Chris Long, the guys up front couldn’t win their 1-on-1 battles. They no longer have Chandler Jones, and Jabaal Sheard, Trey Flowers, and Jamie Collins were awfully quiet in the pass rush. Tannehill went from five sacks in Week 1 to zero sacks in Week 2, and was kept clean all day.

And it’s not like Matt Patricia didn’t try to mix up the rush and confuse the Dolphins up front. Tannehill and the Dolphins handled whatever the Patriots threw at them. He dropped back to pass 50 times, and was 7 of 11 for 75 yards, a touchdown, and an interception against a three-man rush, 3 of 3 for 34 yards and a touchdown against a four-man zone blitz, and 5 of 7 for 94 yards against a five-man blitz.

And in the back end, the Patriots had tight coverage but still couldn’t stop Jarvis Landry (10 catches, 137 yards) or DeVante Parker (eight catches, 106 yards). They liberally switched between man to man, Cover 1, Cover 3, and even Cover 2 (which they rarely use), but none of it worked. Malcolm Butler was clearly hobbled by an ankle injury that limited him all week, Logan Ryan allowed several big catches to Parker, and Justin Coleman bit badly on a double move by Kenny Stills for a 24-yard touchdown.


The Patriots will eventually get Ninkovich and Hightower back, but the lack of a pass rush is disconcerting. The decision to trade Jones to the Cardinals won’t look as good if Sheard, Flowers, and Collins don’t step it up.

Other observations after rewatching the game tape:

When the Patriots had the ball

■  How much did we love Garoppolo’s performance? Let us count the ways.

Garoppolo was nearly flawless against the blitz. Against a four-man zone blitz, he was 1 of 1 for 13 yards and a first down. Against a five-man blitz, he was 3 of 4 for 58 yards and three first downs, plus a personal foul for another first down. And against a six-man blitz, Garoppolo was 4 of 4 for 58 yards, two first downs, and a touchdown.

That’s 8 of 9 for 129 yards, six first downs, and a touchdown against the blitz. That’s Brady-esque.

Garoppolo was nearly flawless on third down — 6 of 7 for 90 yards, six conversions, and two touchdowns.

His first three drives of the day went for 75, 75, and 76 yards, all ending in touchdowns.

Garoppolo sniffed out the Dolphins’ coverage before the snap, yelling “Alert! Alert!” and hitting Julian Edelman over the middle for 13 yards, or checking into a draw play and leading James White to run 16 yards on second and 13.


He stepped up in the pocket like a total pro, avoided unblocked rushers, and hit Amendola for an easy 10-yard touchdown.

Garoppolo wasn’t perfect — he missed a wide-open Matthew Slater for a deep touchdown, and needs to learn to throw the ball away more to avoid trouble. But Garoppolo was a total stud on Sunday.

■  And Josh McDaniels deserves an equal amount of love for putting together another excellent game plan, and for the way he used one play to set up another. On the Patriots’ first series, the entire offensive line down-blocked to the left, Garoppolo faked the handoff to LeGarrette Blount, Michael Bennett came up against the flow of the play, Garoppolo rolled to his right, and dumped the ball off to a wide-open Bennett, who scampered 26 yards (thanks to great blocks from Edelman and Chris Hogan).

On the next series, again the Patriots down-blocked to the left and Bennett came back to the right. This time, the Dolphins had three defenders keyed in on Bennett, but that left Hogan wide open streaking across the field for 19 yards.

■  The Patriots threw deep when they had their jumbo package in the game, and should have hit a long touchdown to Slater. And then McDaniels smartly called a series of play-action passes and screens for Jacoby Brissett when the rookie came into the game, helping Brissett manage the offense and grinding valuable time off the clock in the fourth quarter.


McDaniels called 29 passes and 13 runs for Garoppolo, and 14 passes and 23 runs for Brissett, but the balance was surprisingly close to 50-50 with Brissett until the final drive of the fourth quarter.

■  The clock management by Brissett in the fourth quarter needs to be addressed. He kept snapping the ball with 8-10 seconds on the play clock, and once with as much as 17 seconds left on the clock, instead of bleeding it down. It was especially egregious with 4:45 left in the game when he snapped the ball with eight seconds left, then threw out of bounds to stop the clock. That’s just giving free plays to the Dolphins.

■  Edelman deserves an extra shout-out for blocking his tail off, both in the run and pass game. Bennett was also excellent in run blocking for the second straight game, and played a key role on Blount’s 9-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Bennett cleared out the defensive end, David Andrews and Marcus Cannon cleared out the tackle, and Joe Thuney pulled around to clear out the safety to give Blount an easy path to the end zone.

Bennett had five catches for 114 yards, and other than his 20-yard touchdown catch, his other receptions were short catches and long runs. He is proving to be quite an all-around athlete for the Patriots.

■  Nate Solder played 65 of 80 snaps in his 2016 debut and was excellent in run blocking. In the fourth quarter, when everyone in the building knew the Patriots were going to run the ball, they kept running sweeps to the left side behind Solder, and he did an excellent job in getting out in front and paving the way for Blount. Thuney and Andrews had some excellent blocks on the second level, but Thuney’s holding penalties in the second half hurt.


■  The Patriots had an interesting formation with both White and D.J. Foster in the backfield at the same time, though Foster played only four snaps in his debut. The Patriots keep rotating their guards, with Ted Karras playing 41 snaps and Shaq Mason (who didn’t have a great game) playing 39. Malcolm Mitchell had only two targets (one catch for 15 yards) in 31 snaps. Amendola had two touchdowns in only 19 snaps.

Related: Patriots Replay: Key plays from win over Dolphins

When the Dolphins had the ball

■  Real up-and-down day for Freeny, who got the start for Hightower and played 36 snaps. He committed a holding penalty on Miami’s first snap, and had an inexcusable mental lapse after a change of possession, getting busted for 12 men on the field and drawing the ire of the coaching staff. But Freeny also had a really nice strip of Jay Ajayi to force a fumble in the third quarter.

■  Chris Long has a lot of Ninkovich in him, in that he always seems to be around the ball. He pursued Landry from the backside after a catch and was in the right spot for the fumble recovery 10 yards downfield. His hit on Tannehill resulted in a Collins interception.

■  Great job by the Patriots’ interior defensive line when Tannehill tried to quick-snap the ball and sneak it up the middle on third and 1. The Patriots got set right away, packed the middle of the defense, and Tannehill was stuffed by Sheard and Patrick Chung for no gain. Chung had a rough day, getting tossed around like a rag doll and limping off several times.

■  Football is a game of inches, and Collins learned that again Sunday. In the red zone, Tannehill looked left at Jordan Cameron the entire way, but Collins had his body turned to the right. The half-second it took for Collins to change direction was enough for Tannehill to squeeze a slant pass into Cameron for the touchdown. Collins also got faked out of his shoes on a pump fake by Tannehill in the first half.

■  Tannehill was similar to Garoppolo, doing a nice job of sniffing out the Patriots’ coverage and then either finding the soft spot in the zone or identifying the 1-on-1 matchup he wanted to exploit. The Dolphins even ran the same play-action rollout pass that the Patriots used with Bennett, Tannehill hitting Parker for 18 yards.

Tannehill also had some big-time runs, particularly his 17-yarder in the fourth quarter in which he trucked through Chung. The Patriots used Shea McClellin and Collins to spy on Tannehill, but it didn’t work that well.

Special teams

■  Is it time to start worrying about Stephen Gostkowski in the wake of his missed extra point in the AFC Championship game? He missed 30- and 52-yard field goal attempts in the preseason, and a 39-yarder in the fourth quarter on Sunday that should have sealed the victory. Gostkowski was automatic last year, but he can’t afford to keep having these hiccups.

■  The Patriots kicked short to the Cardinals to try to pin them deep, but had no interest in allowing any returns for Miami’s little rookie dynamo, Jakeem Grant. Five of Gostkowski’s six kickoffs went for touchbacks, and the other one should have been a touchback as well, but Kenyan Drake made a horrible decision to take it out of the end zone and was tackled on the 10.

Patriots Replay: Key plays from New England’s win over Miami

Offensive snap counts
Cardinals (71) Dolphins (80) Total (151) Percentage
G Joe Thuney 71 80 151 100%
C David Andrews 71 80 151 100%
T Marcus Cannon 71 80 151 100%
TE Martellus Bennett 69 80 149 99%
OT Nate Solder 0 65 65 43%
WR Julian Edelman 61 63 124 82%
WR Chris Hogan 55 63 118 78%
RB LeGarrette Blount 42 51 93 62%
QB Jimmy Garoppolo 71 42 113 75%
G Ted Karras 58 41 99 66%
G Shaq Mason 14 39 53 35%
QB Jacoby Brissett 0 38 38 25%
WR Malcolm Mitchell 39 31 70 46%
RB James White 26 28 54 36%
FB James Develin 17 24 41 27%
TE Clay Harbor 0 22 22 15%
WR Danny Amendola 19 19 38 25%
T Cameron Fleming 71 16 87 58%
WR Matt Slater 4 14 18 12%
RB DJ Foster 0 4 4 3%
TE AJ Derby 20 0 20 13%
RB Brandon Bolden 3 0 3 2%
Defensive snap counts
Cardinals (61) Dolphins (65) Total (126) Percentage
S Devin McCourty 61 65 126 100%
LB Jamie Collins 61 65 126 100%
CB Malcolm Butler 61 64 125 99%
CB Justin Coleman 40 59 99 79%
CB Logan Ryan 61 57 118 94%
S Patrick Chung 60 57 117 93%
DE Chris Long 39 46 85 67%
DE Jabaal Sheard 44 45 89 71%
DT Malcom Brown 30 39 69 55%
LB Shea McClellin 24 39 63 50%
DT Alan Branch 31 37 68 54%
DE Trey Flowers 21 37 58 46%
LB Jon Freeny 6 36 42 33%
S Duron Harmon 29 31 60 48%
DT Vincent Valentine 20 17 37 29%
CB Cyrus Jones 5 8 13 10%
LB Elandon Roberts 0 6 6 5%
LB Barkevious Mingo 0 5 5 4%
S Jordan Richards 1 2 3 2%
LB Donta Hightower 58 0 58 46%
DT Anthony Johnson 20 0 20 16%

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.