Have a question for A.C.? Submit your questions to Andy Cohen on Twitter at @ACohenFins. Andy will answer questions every other Wednesday throughout the season.
It really isn’t complicated how to beat the New England Patriots; it’s just difficult to pull off. You attack Tom Brady. You get in his face. You take him out of his comfort zone. You blitz him. You come from different directions. You keep coming and you don’t stop.
That in a nutshell is the challenge facing the Dolphins defense on Sunday afternoon in New England. I have been watching Tom Brady since he first came into the league 14 years ago. I’ve seen him do some remarkable things. I’ve seen comebacks. I’ve seen routs. I’ve seen him stand in the pocket and dissect even the imposing of defenses.
And that’s the catch. You can’t let him stand in the pocket. You can’t give him time to survey the field. He’s too good, too proficient, too accurate. I’m amused when I see teams drop eight players in pass defense against Brady. I’m amused because that’s putty in his hands. I don’t care how many players you have in the secondary. I don’t care if you double-team every receiver. Give Brady time and he’ll beat you. Hurry him and you at least have a chance.
A week ago, I told you in this space that containing Buffalo’s Mario Williams was the key to beating the Bills. And that’s exactly how it played out; the Dolphins couldn’t slow down Williams at the most important moment and the result was a heart-breaking defeat.
Now I’m pointing to the Dolphins pass rush as the key to this week’s game. You can break down this matchup all sorts of ways. You can talk about the importance of keeping Ryan Tannehill upright. You can single out the offensive line. You can emphasize establishing some balance on offense. You can focus on covering tight end Rob Gronkowski. All are important. All will be key factors in Sunday’s game.
But none of that will matter if the Dolphins don’t get to Brady because if Brady has the time he needs he’s going to outscore you or, if the game stays close, he’s going to take the Patriots on one of his patented game-deciding fourth quarter drives.
Force him out of the pocket, though, and things change. Sack him a few times. Make him rush some of his throws. Let him know what the turf tastes like and you’ve got a chance. Probably your only realistic chance.
“We all know what we have to do,” said linebacker Philip Wheeler. “We all know we have to get after Brady. We need to disguise our coverages because he’s so smart, but more than anything else we need knock him down a few times.”
The Dolphins pass rush has been hot and cold so far this season, producing 17 sacks in six games. Part of that is because Cameron Wake missed some time with a sprained knee and has been slow to return to 100 percent. But signs indicate that Wake is close to being back to his old self. Just in time.
We heard so much in the preseason about the speed package on defense, about Wake and Olivier Vernon and No. 1 pick Dion Jordan giving the Dolphins a formidable pass rush. We’ve seen signs of it coming together. But it is imperative that on Sunday in New England, if the Dolphins hope to pull off the upset, that the speed package is at full go.
Combine that with Jared Odrick and Randy Starks putting pressure up the middle, throw in Dannell Ellerbe or Wheeler coming hard from the linebacker spots and add a large dose of safety or cornerback blitzes and you’ve got the ingredients to make Brady uncomfortable.
“We’ve got to disrupt him,” said Jordan.
The Patriots have a pretty good running game, but that’s not how they win. They have an opportunistic defense, even with its two best players – nose tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerrod Mayo – lost for the season with injuries. But that’s not how they win either.
It’s all about Brady. Has been since he came into the league. Back then, when his feet were young, he still wasn’t much of a threat outside the pocket. Now at 36 years old, and with a lot of tread on those tires, he has fewer options and even a greater dependency on the pocket.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has never shied away from a blitz heavy game plan. I’m hoping this Sunday he takes it to another level.
“It’s a big challenge for our defense,” said Coyle. “You have to be smart and you have to be aggressive.”
Yes, you have to get in Brady’s face. The Dolphins know it. The question that must be answered Sunday afternoon, though, is whether they can do it enough to make a difference.
On Monday, AC in the AM breaks down the New England game.
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.