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Time: 1:00 p.m. EST
Place: Foxboro, Massachusetts
Radio: 98.5 FM – The Sports Hub
Did everyone enjoy their last Sunday? Going outside for the first time in weeks to enjoy the beautiful fall days must have been nice. Well, now it’s time to get ready to stay inside as the Patriots are meeting up with a familiar foe, the Miami Dolphins. Last year’s AFC East Champions, Miami got off to a slow start before winning three of their last four, including two over the Jets and a near toppling of the Saints. New England will have their hands full and will try to not let this game go “wild.”
This season, things went from bad to worse, when the winless Dolphins lost their Comeback of the Year winner in Chad Pennington. In his absence, Chad Henne has done his best to keep the offense afloat. He has been 3-2 as a starter and is looking to keep the Dolphins chugging along. However, he is complimented with a receiving core that has a case of the drops. Ted Ginn, Jr. has been a liability as the teams No. 1 receiver and tight end Anthony Fasano is tied for the league in fumbles for a receiver.
However, this team is without doubt a running team. Ronnie Brown and the “fountain of youth” Ricky Williams have become one of the top running back duos in the league. They have combined for over 900 yards and 12 touchdowns, with only one fumble. They are also the catalyst for their Wild Cat offense. With Ronnie Brown, or backup quarterback Pat White, going under center, the Dolphins are able to confuse opposing defenses and go for long yards, on the ground or in the air. The Wild Cat has been Miami’s little secret and when they stay away from it, they tend to struggle (see the New Orleans game).
Miami’s defense might not be as highly ranked as previous seasons, but it has been getting better each week. Joey Porter slowed down form his stats last season, but is still the de-facto leader. They are sixth best sack team in the league, totaling 19 on the season, with the returning Jason Taylor leading the team. A tough line, helmed by Porter and Taylor, have Miami controlling a top rush defense. So, if you want to get past a Miami defense, you have to go through the air.
Speaking of that…
Miami’s top cornerback Will Allen is out and he has one third of the team’s interceptions. Miami’s secondary has been banged up, which has given Mark Sanchez and Drew Brees great back-to-back games. Tom Brady is coming off the bye week after spending two weeks shredding the Titans and Buccaneers. Look for him to continue on his torrid pace and look deep in the process.
After not completing as pass over 40 yards in the first five weeks, Brady has done it in consecutive weeks. Reaping the benefits is the trinity of Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Benjamin Watson. All have four touchdowns and have been having strong years. Both Moss and Welker are top 20 receivers and will be looking to continue to establish themselves as the top receiving duo in the league and with a strong rush defense, the Patriots will look to air it out this Sunday.
Laurence Maroney has been getting his legs back. After his breakout game against the Titans (123 yards on 16 carries), he went to London and couldn’t get it going. New England was able to rush for 107 yards against a decent Buccaneers rush defense. Miami will be a similar foe, but keeping a running back in the game is crucial.
Running the ball will allow for the passing game to open up. Strong games from Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell allowed Brees to go long, the same with Thomas Jones and Sanchez. Miami will be playing to the pass against New England, so letting Maroney, Kevin Faulk, and the Law-Firm (BenJarvus Green-Ellis) run the ball around will be key. Also, when Miami does rush the passer, which happens a lot, having backs to make crucial blocks will be clutch for New England.
Last week when the Pats weren’t on, I’m sure many watched the Jets-Dolphins game to see how the division is panning out…or to check out your fantasy team. After a grueling first half where both defenses didn’t want to budge, it all fell apart with one guy: Ted Ginn, Jr. The same guy who drops passes like he’s afraid of them returned two kickoff returns for touchdowns, one for 100 yards and the next for 101. That sparked a five-touchdown quarter and seven overall in the half. The moral of the story, special teams can make or break a team.
In that case, it gave Miami the spark it needed and for the Jets, it demoralized them, especially the second return. Ginn is a dangerous man during the return. He is able to contort his body and fit through holes seemingly too small. Then, his speed can burn the best down the field. The goal for the Patriots special teams is to knock Ginn down and do not miss a tackle.
New England is no stranger to the Wild Cat. Last season, New England was crippled by Ronnie Brown who had ridiculous fantasy numbers while rushing for four touchdowns and passing for another, with many of those plays coming from the Wild Cat. The loss ended the Patriots 21-game winning streak and humiliated them in the process. Now, with Jarvis Green out and Ty Warren questionable, this puts more pressure on the Patriots defense.
With the Miami receivers still struggling with fumble-itis, single coverage can contain them. That means, linebackers might have to stop the run. Former Dolphin Junior Seau might need to come in and show his familiarity with the Wild Cat and try to chase down Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams in the process. Pushing through the Dolphins offensive line can be done and getting a wrap on the Fin’s backs in needed. Rush specialists Tully Banta-Cain and Mike Wright should be let loose to both push the running backs to the outside, where the secondary can do its thing, and add to Henne’s 14 sacks on the season.
Joey Porter has never had a problem sharing his thoughts. So, when he said that Brady has his own rule and that he has a natural hate for the Patriots, the best thing to do is ignore it. Last season, Porter went crazy with 17.5 sacks, but this season he has dropped statistically and had no answer for his play. He is the leader on this team, but might want to be careful and not awake a sleeping giant.
Porter’s trash talking is reminiscent of Kerry Rhodes’ guarantee to embarrass the Patriots in Week 2. Although, it wasn’t embarrassing, the Jets victory was impressive and Rhodes was saved by his teammate Darrelle Revis covering Moss perfectly and Wes Welker missing the game. Porter might think his comments might provide the necessary boost his team needs to get a win. However, Bill Belichick was a tam spokesperson for the Patriots in regards to Porter’s jawing. “That is not our fight”, said Belichick. “Our fight is on the field.”
Miami is tough; really tough. If they stick with the Wild Card, they can be a Top 10 team. However, they have stayed away from it late in games, losing once to New Orleans and almost dropping one to the Jets. New England has been getting better and better each week, but two straight games against winless opponents, it might be more harmful then good. New England will start slow, but improve as the game continues. This game could come down to the kickers: Stephen Gostkowski is at 81% on the season, while Dan Carpernter is 91%. Prediction: New England 33, Miami 30.
Tags: Benjamin Watson, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bill Bellichick, Chad Henne, Dan Carpenter, Jason Taylor, Joey Porter, Junior Seau, Kevin Faulk, Laurence Maroney, Patriots, Randy Moss, Ricky Williams, Ronnie Brown, Stephen Gostkowski, Ted Ginn Jr., Tom Brady, Ty Warren, Wes Welker