The Miami Dolphins don’t exactly have the most ferocious offense in the world. After 13 weeks of play, the Dolphins currently rank 25th in points per game, 29th in yards per game, and 22nd in Football Outsiders offensive DVOA. By all accounts, this offense doesn’t have many game-changing playmakers. However, they do have one electrifying player in running back Kenyan Drake.
Drake is easily the most dangerous and explosive player on the Dolphins offense. So far in the season, the third-year running back has recorded 439 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground to go along with 311 yards and four touchdowns in the air. He’s the most dynamic weapon in Miami, and the Patriots’ primary focus should be stopping Drake. So, what’s the best way to defend the dual-threat running back?
New England Patriots Gameplan: Stopping Kenyan Drake Stops Miami’s Offense
Drake on the Ground
Despite his impressive 4.6 yards per attempt, Drake’s success rate is pretty pedestrian relative to the rest of the league. Per SharpFootballStats.com, Drake is successful on 44.9% of his rushing attempts. The league average is 47.5%, so Drake is actually less efficient than a league average running back.
However, Drake can still be effective on certain runs. Drake is an absolute efficiency machine on runs behind and off left tackle. So far on the season, Drake has a 73% success rate on runs off left tackle and a 50% success rate on runs directly behind left tackle. This success rate is far above league average, especially his off-left tackle runs. The good news is that his success rate is below average on all other directional runs.
This is likely a reflection of Miami’s 14th-ranked run blocking offensive line. As a unit, the line doesn’t do enough to consistently give Drake room to run. Nobody is afraid of a Ryan Tannehill or Brock Osweiler led passing attack, so opposing defenses cheat against the run. Most of the players on the Dolphins offensive line aren’t good enough to overcome a defense that cheats against the run.
The lone exception to this rule is left tackle Laremy Tunsil. The former first-round pick is currently the 24th-ranked offensive tackle in the league, per Pro Football Focus. While he’s not a truly dominant force in the running game, he’s good enough to consistently win his matchup and give Drake room to run.
How To Stop Left Tackle Runs
If the Patriots can win the matchup against Tunsil, they can completely eliminate any threat of Kenyan Drake running the ball. The best way to do this is by having their best defensive end line up against Tunsil all night long. New England loves to align Trey Flowers all over the defensive line, but it might serve them best to leave Flowers with Tunsil, at least in clear running situations. Flowers is far and away the Patriots best run defender and is more than capable of winning one-on-one matchups with Tunsil.
If New England really wants to make sure they win this matchup, they could try lining Kyle Van Noy on the offenses’ left side. Van Noy is the Patriots best linebacker, leading in the team in tackles while providing good all-around play. With Flowers and Van Noy playing on one side of the field, it’s hard to imagine Miami having any success running the ball off left tackle. The rest of the Patriots defense should be good enough to stop Drake on all of his other runs if they can shut down runs off left tackle.
Kenyan Drake In the Air
Just like on the ground, Drake isn’t as efficient as one would think on passing plays. Thus far on the season, Drake has a 43.2% success rate on passing plays, 8.5% lower than the league average. All but three of his targets have come within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage, which isn’t that surprising for a running back.
After years of struggling to cover running backs in the passing game, the Patriots are finally capable of doing that in 2018. Through 13 games, the Patriots are allowing a 90.5 passer rating on short passes to running backs, good for eighth-best in the league. While their success rate allowed is closer to the middle of the pack, it’s still a steadied improvement from where they were a year ago.
The best way to stop Drake in the passing game is to get physical with him before he crosses the line of scrimmage. There are countless examples of how well this works in a game, but the best one came in Week 12 against the Minnesota Vikings. On the very first play of the game, quarterback Kirk Cousins targeted running back Dalvin Cook on a quick pass behind the line of scrimmage. Linebacker Elandon Roberts immediately broke it up, landing a hard hit on Cook and sending a physical message to the Vikings.
If Drake can’t get into his routes, then he’ll have no way to make plays in the passing game. The Patriots need to carry this physicality over from the Vikings game and into Miami. Taking Drake out of the passing game will force Tannehill to try to force the ball to a banged-up receiving corps who aren’t good enough to consistently get open against the Patriots elite cornerback duo.
Last Word on Stopping Kenyan Drake
Kenyan Drake may not be the most efficient player in the world, but he’s easily Miami’s most dangerous weapon. The explosive dual-threat is capable of taking it to the house every single time he touches the ball. However, there are clear ways to limit Drake’s production and shut down a big part of Miami’s offense.
New England needs to put their focus on stopping Drake on runs off left tackle. He’s not successful on any other runs, so the rest of the Patriots defense should be able to stop him when he’s not running off left tackle. Placing Trey Flowers on Laremy Tunsil is the best way to ensure Drake won’t have anywhere to run on the left side. Adding Kyle Van Noy into the mix would help to ensure Miami won’t have success on runs to the left.
In the passing game, New England needs to carry over their physicality from Week 13’s win over the Minnesota Vikings. By hitting Drake at or near the line of scrimmage, the Patriots can take Drake off his route and force quarterback Ryan Tannehill to look elsewhere. If Miami’s going to move the ball, make them do it with their secondary options.
At 9-3, the New England Patriots are in the thick of the fight for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. However, if they’re to get it, they can’t afford to drop this game. Stopping Kenyan Drake is step one in avoiding the dreaded trap game in Miami.
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