THE MIAMI DOLPHINS
Last week: 35-9 win over Broncos
Previous three: Lost at New England and Carolina, lost to Tampa
2016 record: 10-6
Coach: Adam Gase
Offensive coordinator: Clyde Christensen
Defensive coordinator: Matt Burke
Their season was harpooned by the five-game losing streak they just ended Sunday against the even-more disappointing Broncos. Jay Cutler was back for that one and had two TDs and two picks while the Dolphins got a big game on the ground from Kenyan Drake (120 yards on 23 carries). The Patriots took it to Miami pretty good even though they handed the Dolphins a touchdown on a bad snap in the first half. The Dolphins committed to putting Tom Brady down and putting him down hard. It’s the weekly little brother thing we see in the AFC East and the chippiness was a big factor.
Well, allowing nine points after allowing an average of 34.1 in their previous six games was a stride for Miami. They do have some competent skill-position players in Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and Julius Thomas. Drake is a long-ball hitter (three touchdown runs of 40 or more yards) and while everybody gets that Jay Cutler is a mope’s mope confusing him with the quarterbacking dreck at the bottom of the NFL barrel is lazy. He can get hot and make plays. Landry’s got 80 catches but has a measly 8.7 YPC average.
They are just not a disciplined, focused team and they went in the tank once Ryan Tannehill got hurt, their offensive line coach was taped doing lines off a table and they went to London and got waxed by Baltimore, 40-0. There’s talent there. But the persistent stupidity with penalties that just kneecaps games for them is an indication the culture change is slow in coming. Until Gase can get through to the leaders of that team – and having Ndamukong Suh as a leader makes that hard – the Dolphins will tread water at average to slightly above.
It’s often a pain in the ass for the Pats at SunLife, Hard Rock, Land Shark, Pro Player, Joe Robbie Stadium. The heat, the turf and a Dolphins team with enough pass rush to agitate Brady adds up to making these games competitive. Last season was the first time in four years the Patriots won their at Miami matchup.
FOXBORO -- To get a feel for just exactly how Bill Belichick feels about a player, there are a couple of ways to go about it.
Asking him about said player in a press conference setting will provide a response. But watching how Belichick is willing to deploy that player in a game situation is probably the most accurate window into his brain.
Judging by how the Patriots used Jonathan Jones two weeks ago against the Dolphins, when Jones shadowed Jarvis Landry for the majority of the afternoon, Belichick and the Patriots are very high on their second-year corner.
"He's played quite a bit of football for us," Belichick said on Wednesday. "And I'd say quite a bit of good football for us. We have a lot of confidence in Jon. Jon's made a lot of plays for us. Plays in the kicking game. He's a tough kid. He's out there every day. And he plays in tough spots. Penetrator on the kickoff team. Gunner on the punt team. He's right in the middle of the action.
"I think his toughness, competitiveness and his ability to cover . . . we have a lot of confidence in him. He always supports that confidence with very competitive performance. He plays hard, tough kid."
The evidence of the trust Jones has garnered has been there for much of the season. He saw significant action in Week 2 against the Saints, coming away with two pass breakups on seven targets in coverage. According to Pro Football Focus, he's allowed a passer rating of 69.0 this season, which is the 19th-lowest in the NFL for qualifying corners, just a shade behind Cardinals star Patrick Peterson (68.9).
By following Landry around at Gillette Stadium late last month, the Patriots dubbed Jones one of their most dependable defensive backs. Belichick reveres Landry. Has for a long time, and his respect for Landry's skill set was broadcast on NFL Films' "Turning Point" just last week.
"It's obviously a Landry game," Belichick told CBS sideline reporter Evan Washburn on the sidelines prior to kickoff. "We gotta do a good on on him. Not get it thrown over our head."
In two games against the Pats in 2016, Landry had 19 catches for 211 and a score. The 5-foot-11, 208-pounder's unique skill set was on full display in Miami when he lowered his shoulder into 265-pound linebacker Dont'a Hightower and plowed into the end zone.
"Very dangerous," Belichick said Wednesday when asked about Landry. "Hard guy to tackle. Super competitive player. Strong. Has good balance. Good quickness. Can make people miss but he's a very hard guy to tackle. He breaks a lot of tackles. Probably as many as any receiver in the league. He's targeted probably more than any receiver in the league. He gets the ball a lot, and he's really hard to tackle. Makes a lot of yards after the catch on his own. Both tackling, actually wrapping up and tackling is an issue, but also leverage because he has good vision, he can cut back against the grain, make people miss in the open field."
Because the Dolphins have depth at receiver -- plus a receiving tight end in Julius Thomas who could be considered another wideout in certain situations -- Belichick explained that "this is a big week for [Patriots] corners."
They'll often have three on the field to check Miami's 11-personnel, and even with Eric Rowe back in the mix after a long absence due to a groin injury, Jones will likely be one of them.
Given all he's done this season and how he performed the last time the Patriots and Dolphins met -- holding Landry to 46 yards on five catches and six targets -- it would come as little surprise if he was trusted yet again to square off against Miami's best.