The tour through the AFC East continues for the Miami Dolphins (5-9) as they travel to Foxborough, MA to face the first place New England Patriots (11-3). These two teams last faced each other to open the season with the Patriots winning 38-24, and now New England is looking to extend their six game winning streak. In that week one game, these two teams combined for the most passing yards in NFL history with 906 yards. Miami is looking to close out the season by defeating all three of their AFC East rivals, and the Patriots aim to win the division crown for the third straight year! If they accomplish that feat, it would be eight out of the last nine years. Here are some of the keys to victory for Miami on Saturday.
1) Pressure Tom Brady And Crew– The main reason that the New England Patriots have won 10 plus games for the ninth straight season is the play of their quarterback Tom Brady. Brady’s numbers are sensational again this season (4,593 yards passing, 66.2 completion percentage and 35 touchdowns) and is on pace to break Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino’s single-season passing record of 5,084 established in 1984. The Brady-led offense is efficient on third-down situations at 45.5 percent utilizing weapons like wide receiver Wes Welker (leads the team in receptions with 104 for 1,380 yards and 9 touchdowns) and tight ends Rob Gronkowski (75 catches for 1,141 yards and 15 touchdowns) and Aaron Hernandez (68 receptions for 736 yards and six touchdowns). The only way to disrupt this combination is to affect the timing in the pass offense. The Buffalo Bills defense achieved this early in the season, pressuring Brady into four interceptions and a three-point loss. The Dolphins defense has been able to disrupt the pocket (17 sacks in last seven games), force turnovers (12 of them in last six games), and bring pressure on third down (held the Bills 0 for 11 last week and 0-23 in the two game series this season) as of late. The only problem is that they haven’t faced a quarterback as savvy and talented as Brady. The big question is can the Miami defense stay aggressive and play man coverage against the talented trio, and pressure Brady enough to affect his accuracy? The teams that make Brady set and re-set in the pocket have a chance to extend their chances of winning!
2) Don’t Let Gronkowski Or Hernandez Beat You – This is very easy to say, but as most of the NFL has found out, this plan is difficult to execute. Tight ends aren’t all equal and these two playmakers have been tearing opposing defenses all season long. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has his hands full deciding on who and how to defend this position. Linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett will probably have the toughest assignment, but I wouldn’t be surprised if defensive backs Will Allen and Jimmy Wilson play more on Saturday. Nolan might use multiple players and different combinations to slow down the New England tight ends because the Patriots wide receivers don’t scare you with speed on the outside. It wouldn’t surprise me if a player like Sean Smith was used on either tight end if they are flexed outside on particular formations! At this point of the season, the Dolphins can experiment defensively and try anything that gives them a chance to win.
3) Score Points Against A Poor Unit – We know that the Patriots can score points offensively, but they have too because of the amount of points they surrender on defense! The New England defense has given up an average of 24 points over the last four games (21.2 points for the season) and won each of them! For the season, this group is ranked last in the league in total defense and pass defense (giving up 297 yards per game) and 19th against the run. If I were offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, my focus would be to use the pass to set up the running game. Quarterback Matt Moore has been efficient (60.8 percent throwing 12 touchdowns and only six interceptions) and has the ability to take what’s there, or look down field and take a shot if the situation dictates going vertical with the ball. Last week against the Bills, Moore’s numbers were modest going 10 of 20 for 217 yards, but found wide receiver Brandon Marshall for a 65 yard touchdown to break the game wide open). Also Moore has the ability to spread the football around and keep the Patriots on there heals. Key receptions by wide receiver Brian Hartline and tight ends Anthony Fasano and Charles Clay take pressure off of Marshall and makes the defense cover from sideline to sideline. AFC Offensive Player of the Week running back Reggie Bush (25 carries for 203 yards, including a 76 yard touchdown and a 8.9 yards per carry average) will need to continue to run the football effectively between the tackles, but may be used more in the short passing game, getting more of his yards on “long hand-offs” like screen plays and check downs from Moore.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.