Guest Editor: Eric Galko (MiamiDolphinsDraft.com)
The Patriots played the Dolphins in Week One last season, and boy did it get ugly to watch for the Dolphins. It was a banner day for Tom Brady and the Patriots offense, and a tough to watch start to the Miami Dolphins.
But by around mid-season, the Dolphins team seemed to turn it up a notch with Matt Moore at the helm. The team played with more consistency, balance, and aggression. If the Dolphins can match that defensive ability with an improved offense, the Patriots could be in store for another hard fought game as it was back in Week 16.
Spread the Field Offensively
New head coach Joe Philbin and new offensive coordinator Mike Sherman are looking to not only spread the field more effectively this season, but also utilize their offensive weapons within the offense to add a much needed level of versatility. With Reggie Bush and Lamar Miller having receiving and open field ability at running back, and Charles Clay and Michael Egnew having some split tight end ability, the Dolphins could actually have more variation offensively than the well-respected versatility of the Patriots offensive approach.
The Patriots secondary is far from proven, and despite adding much talent in recent years through the draft, they are still susceptible to deeper breaking routes, something the Dolphins attacked last season well with Brandon Marshall and Brian Hartline.
While the passing offense centered around Brandon Marshall last year (who is gone) and in their Week 16 battle, Moore went 16-32 (not a good percentage), two reasons for optimism that the passing offense may improve against the Patriots: More creativity to take advantage of a less-than-stellar secondary , and utilizing Davone Bess, Reggie Bush, and Lamar Miller against linebackers and safeties that likely can’t consistently hang with the playmaking ability all game long.
Getting Cameron Wake in More Pass Rush Opportunities
Going to a more 4-3 front this year, the Dolphins lack an impact pass rusher outside of Cameron Wake (no question their biggest need to fill in next year’s off-season). Therefore, the Dolphins need to utilize his ability as much as possible, especially against a quarterback as outstanding as Tom Brady.
While it’s unclear exactly how Wake will be utilized in the 4-3 defense, the best way against the Patriots offensive line is likely through stunts in which Wake attacks the B gap and a defensive tackle (either Randy Starks or Jared Odrick sliding over), gets inside of Sebastian Vollmer and/or Nate Solder. Wake’s quickness, ability to get low and drive won’t be much use on the outside except to contain the run, but that ability could be highlighted if he can get an extra step and get an offensive guard off balance.
While it’s no lock the Dolphins will use this approach to get Wake free, they’ll need to find someway to generate pressure (especially on the inside) to slow down Brady, and Wake could be the key to that attack.
Contain the Vertical Passing Game
In that battle of a Week 16 game, the Dolphins held Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, and Deion Branch at least 2 yards per catch each under their season averages last year, and only gave up 3 passes over 20 yards. All three of the Patriots touchdowns were from the 1 yard line. The Dolphins contained the deep pass through much of the game last year in that game.
The addition of Richard Marshall for the Dolphins and further development of their young secondary means this team could improve even further from last year’s great run at the end of last season (they were a Top 8 NFL defense the last 9 games of 2011 in most categories).
Rob Gronkowski won’t be easy to stop. Wes Welker is going to get his 8+ catches against his former team. That’s “allowable” for the Dolphins. But it’s about keeping the game close, not getting beat vertically, and force the Patriots into field goals.
Get a Little Lucky in the Turnover Game
Tom Brady is not one to turn the ball over often. That’s a fact. The Dolphins’s Matt Moore had his problems with turnovers (both fumbles and interceptions) last season. The Patriots top two returning running backs had just one combined fumble last season in 164 carries. The tilt in the turnover battle starts with New England, but the Dolphins need a little luck to win this game, no doubt about that.
The Dolphins aren’t going to be favored in the matchups of the 2012 season. But Week 13 at Miami could be much more interesting than currently thought of, especially if the defense can click the way it did to end last season and the offense can get some consistency. And Week 17 could be a possible “resting the starters” win for the Dolphins as they play a likely playoff and potential first round bye team in the Patriots.
Spreading the field, attack with Cameron Wake, hold the Patriots to field goals and on 3rd down, and the end all, be all in many games, win the turnover battle. It’s not an easy task for the Dolphins to beat the Patriots this year, but I hope the Patriots fans are ready for two tougher-than-expected battles this season.
Check out more of Eric’s work at MiamiDolphinsDraft.com, where he specializes in scouting players from the FBS all the way down to the NAIA.