Curran's Patriots-Dolphins preview
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
Uh-oh. The Dolphins – like the Jets and Bengals – can bring that pressure without committing extra rushers because they have very good defensive tackles – Randy Starks and Paul Soliai with Jared Odrick in the mix as well and the redoubtable Cameron Wake at one defensive end, Olivier Vernon at the other. The work last week of center Ryan Wendell, left tackle Nate Solder and the backs in blitz-pickup was worrisome. Miami knows it has to get heat on Tom Brady to have a fighting chance. Miami has had problems with tight ends and Rob Gronkowski figures to be better this week than he was in New York where he showed some rust. Hard to expect much from Danny Amendola after missing only a game with what looked like a brutal concussion, but Julian Edelman should have a good day and against a Dolphins secondary that is average, the outside receiver contingent should be better off than it was last week. It all starts with the protection though. If it’s there, Miami gets carved up.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL
Everybody’s been screaming all week down there that the Dolphins have to run the ball. Actually, not everybody. The people who watch the Dolphins with regularity. Which is a lot less than everybody. Anyway, Miami is a throw-first team. Ryan Tannehill’s low this season for attempts was 34. His high is 40. Meanwhile, the Dolphins lead back Lamar Miller hasn’t had more than 70 yards all season nor more than 15 carries, despite the fact he’s going at 4.3 per attempt. Given the Patriots depleted defense, Miami is in a good spot to quiet the critics by going after the interior on the ground. The Jets ran it 52 times last week (albeit, several of those in OT while positioning for field goals). The Dolphins may do the same. If they choose not to, they have a nice complement of outside receivers with which to test the Patriots secondary that had a rough game last week against Geno Smith. Brian Hartline, Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson and H-back Charles Clay are Tannehill’s main weapons. Wallace is a burner but the other three are more consistent threats. The Dolphins can’t protect Tannehill worth a damn and imported Bryant McKinnie this week to help shore up the offensive line. If the Patriots bring blitz pressure, they’ll need to be on the lookout for Tannehill running the ball. This is a tough test for the evolving Patriots defense as it finds itself without Wilfork, Mayo and Tommy Kelly.
THE KICKING GAME
Both young punters – Brandon Fields of the Dolphins and Ryan Allen of the Patriots – are having nice seasons. Julian Edelman’s been excellent in the punt return game. The wind – up to 20 MPH – could play some havoc with the long-range field goal kicking of Stephen Gostkowski and Caleb Sturgis, both of whom have been having very accurate seasons.
GAME WITHIN THE GAME
Keeping Tannehill bottled up on the ground and defending Charles Clay. Both factors will be big on third down because the Dolphins are going to have players to stretch the secondary and Clay can be a dangerous intermediate receiver on check downs and flat passes. We’ve seen the Patriots struggle with that and last week they were poor at containing Geno Smith on some key scrambles.
PATRIOTS GOTTA STOP …
Lamar Miller. New England’s going to get a steady diet of rushing attempts until it shows it’s dealing with them properly and Miller has been very productive even with him limited touches.
DOLPHINS GOTTA STOP …
Rob Gronkowski. Targeted 17 times last week by Tom Brady with mixed results, Gronk figures to be a notch better this week and will be a key to helping Brady on third down where New England has had some absolutely miserable days.
DON'T BE SURPRISED IF …
This turns into a high-scoring battle. The Patriots tend to play very well after losses and the problems the Jets caused them in the second half last week figure to be corrected. That means a better offensive showing from Brady who listened this week to questions about his accuracy and decision-making.
THAT SUMS IT UP PATRIOTS STYLE
“Combination of line, quarterback, running back, tight end and receiver. Some of that is also the combination of the previous plays. There are a lot more sacks on third-and-long than there are on third-and-short. I’d say it’s a combination of all of it. There’s certainly room for improvement everywhere, including on the coaching end. There are some things, a couple times the play we had on wasn’t a good play against what we happened to face. We have to stay out of that situation or find a different way to handle it. Things have come up a couple times on our end too. We all just have to do a better job all the way across the board. That includes everybody.” – Bill Belichick on the increase of sacks and pressure this season on Tom Brady.
THAT SUMS IT UP DOLPHINS STYLE
“I’m not buying any of that.. This guy is one of the best ever. They are playing well and we have to expect them to play extremely well at home, they do. They are 3-0 at home, he’s pretty good.” – Joe Philbin, Dolphins coach, on Tom Brady’s struggles.
THE WINNER IS...
Patriots 31, Dolphins 24