The Dolphins couldn't stop the run -- specifically, the threat of a quarterback running.
Newton and the Patriots' running backs feasted, totaling 217 rushing yards with 75 coming from the quarterback. The Dolphins were pushed around and caught off guard by the frequency and success of the Patriots' read-option plays, and perhaps stayed in nickel and dime defenses too long in favor of traditional base defenses that might have been more effective defending the run.
And guess what? Miami's next opponent, the visiting Buffalo Bills (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS), features another powerful running quarterback in Josh Allen. The Dolphins have five days to fix the problem or be exposed once again.
So, is this a fixable problem for the Dolphins with better player discipline and more strategic coaching, or is it more of a talent issue?
"There were a lot of issues. Setting the edge, the quarterback read plays. Who's got the quarterback? There was some miscommunication on that," Dolphins coach Brian Flores said. "We had a couple calls where there were just some miscommunication. We tried to get it fixed on the sidelines. Got it fixed, one guy's got it, somebody else doesn't have it. Change the grouping. There were a plethora of things we've got to get fixed. We'll work on it all week. Again, that falls on me. We'll get that corrected."
Flores takes some responsibility for the errors, but it was alarming to see on tape how often Miami's edge defenders were caught with their feet stuck in the grass or making wrong choices when it came to defending the Patriots' read-option plays. The Patriots had 12 carries for 55 yards (including six first downs) on zone read plays. Newton had 13 carries (the second-most in his career) for 64 yards and two touchdowns on designed runs. Both touchdowns were in four-wide formation with QB power being run to the right side.
Shaq Lawson, the Dolphins' prized free agent and a linebacker typically known as a strong run defender, was one of the most common victims; it looked like the Patriots were targeting his indecisiveness whenever they could. Emmanuel Ogbah, Elandon Roberts and Andrew Van Ginkel were among those who struggled defending the Patriots' multifaceted run game.
Guess what the Bills will sink their teeth into when they watch game tape this week? Yup, you got it. It just so happens Lawson spent the past four seasons with the Bills, so there's some two-way insight there. Either way, get ready for a lot of Allen toting the ball.
"The biggest thing is just doing our job, try not to press and try not to go make a play instead of just doing our job and taking care of what we can control. That will help us," Van Ginkel said. "It definitely showed up more than we anticipated. They got us on a couple early and from there it just took over. If we would have shut it down early, we wouldn't have seen it as much."
Allen had a career-high 14 carries in a 27-17 win against the New York Jets on Sunday and totaled 57 rushing yards, his most since 2018. Buffalo appears poised to run Allen, along with young running backs Devin Singletary and Zack Moss. That threat combined with Allen throwing for 300-plus yards for the first time in his career on Sunday will leave Dolphins' defenders trying to decide which part of Allen's game they should prioritize.
"[Newton] made a lot of plays with his legs. When we see him again later in the year, we'll be ready for him," Dolphins safety Bobby McCain said. "We know Josh Allen is a good QB in this league. He's got a strong arm, he's a good runner, so we have to be prepared. We have to do a better job keeping him in the pocket, keep the QB runs to a minimum and try to make him one-dimensional."
Defensive lineman Christian Wilkins, who had a strong game against the Patriots' run and pass, added: "Really I think we hurt ourselves and we've got to better.”
Allen completed 62.7% of his passes for 458 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions along with 11 rushes for 88 yards and a touchdown in two games against Miami last season. Though defending Allen has been a tall task in the past, the Dolphins' defense did go through a significant roster overhaul this season.
Flores noted there are some similarities between defending Newton and Allen, and either way, he believes the Dolphins' issues defending mobile quarterbacks are fixable.
They'll have to be if the Dolphins want to avoid starting the season 0-2.