Miami Dolphins (0-1) @ New England Patriots (1-0)
Sunday September 18 2016 – Gillette Stadium Foxboro, MA
Betting Line: Dolphins +6.5
After letting one get away in Seattle, the Dolphins play the second leg of the impossible early season tour. Despite missing Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Dion Lewis, Nate Solder and Sebastian Volmer, the Patriots where victorious in Arizona following a 47 yard shanked field goal in the waning seconds.
The Dolphins, Jets and Bills all dropped their openers leaving the Patriots in familiar territory alone, atop the AFC East. The four teams in the division clash on the second week of the new NFL season with the Jets traveling to Buffalo on Thursday and the Dolphins visiting the Patriots.
If the Dolphins can secure the upset this time around, it will propel the team to the top of the division by way of tie-breakers before the home opener against the lowly Browns. To call this a big game would be an understatement.
The Patriots plan hasn’t deviated much from when Tom Brady was in the line-up. The offense is predicated on a power running back in LeGarrette Blount and the ability of shifty wide receivers to win off the ball early in the route.
It sounds like Rob Gronkowski will be a game time decision but even if he goes, it’s not realistic to expect a hampered player to play at his normal superstar level. If you recall, he played briefly in the 2014 opener and despite catching a touchdown, his impact was very limited.
Bill Belichick is known for taking away what a team does best and forcing role players to step up to beat the Patriots. The linebackers and the depth of the Miami secondary will be tested while our premiere pass rushers will receive double teams, chips and anyway to keep the New England quarterback upright.
The problem here, for New England, is that they’re going to have an inferior pass blocker matched up one-on-one with disruptive force on nearly every play. Assuming Mario Williams is ready to go, the match-up of him and Cam Wake vs. Marcus Cannon and Cameron Fleming does not bode well for the Patriots.
On the inside, much-maligned Joe Thuney gets the pleasure of dealing with Ndamukong Suh and Jordan Phillips. I see no reason the Dolphins don’t handle the Patriots front much like they did with the Seahawks. The talent discrepancy is vast and Vance Joseph vs. Josh McDaniels is an exceptional coaching match-up.
The Pats will use various looks and formations. One play against the Cardinals, they line up in 22 personnel (two backs, two tight ends, one receiver) with special teams ace, Matthew Slater as the lone wide out. The next snap, they usher out four wide receivers, spread it out and pick up the tempo.
This scheme of variety will not change against Miami. They are going to test our substitution procedure, spread out our thin corner group and attempt to beat us with the controlled passing game. It’s absolutely imperative to fly to the ball the way Kiko Alonso and company did in Seattle because Blount does not go down on first contact – it takes a village.
I am a firm believer that that this rebuilt secondary was tailored to handle the Patriots. Byron Maxwell and Xavien Howard are big, lengthy corners that can match the physicality of most wide receivers. The Patriots group of over-achieving jitterbugs will have to win the route early and try to slip some tackles to be effective against the Dolphins.
Controlling Martellus Bennett is another key to stopping the offense, but Reshad Jones is up for any task. With Isa Abdul-Quddus patrolling the center of the field, I highly doubt the Pats will have any success getting deep. Making Jimmy Garappolo nickel and dime the defense is the smart play as he will eventually make some mistakes.
Offensively, I’m not overly concerned about the Patriots pass rush. The Seahawks threw all kinds of stunts and over-loaded blitzes to disrupt the Miami front. Another week of practice and the experience of playing in the raucous confines of Century Link Field will have them better prepared. Jabaal Sheard is a good player but Branden Albert should be able to handle him.
Chris Long had a good game in Arizona but I don’t like his chances against Ja’Wuan James either. Malcolm Brown and Alan Branch will be the key guys to get blocked on the inside so Ryan Tannehill has room to step up in the pocket.
It’s tough to forecast what the Patriots will do defensively. It will probably be a combination of heavy blitzes and dropping seven or eight into coverage. They love to load up one side and blitz heavy and challenge underneath routes by playing physical and aggressive. If Miami can pick up those blitzes, there are going to be one-on-one opportunities down the field – Kenny Stills should have a shot to redeem himself.
Speaking of receivers, Devante Parker needs to play in this game. His big body will make the Patriots plan difficult, especially in the red-zone where Parker really shines. I like Leonte Carroo in this game for that reason as well. The more big bodies we can put out there, the better the chance we get some underneath openings or defensive fouls on New England.
The more underneath routes run will likely lure the Patriots defensive backs up towards the line of scrimmage and force them to be more aggressive. With how handsy they can be, it makes a lot of sense to take some of those deep shots to Stills to see if you can get some free yardage via pass interference.
I don’t expect the Miami ground game to get going as the Patriots feature some of the game’s best linebackers. Jaime Collins played all 61 defensive snaps on Sunday and Dont’a Hightower played 58. They are instinctive, great in coverage and can play downhill. Jordan Cameron and Arian Foster might well be simply decoys in this game.
Special teams could be the difference in this game and the Patriots are exceptional in that area. Basically anything from under 60 yards and Stephen Gostkowski is going to make it. On kickoffs, he will absolutely pooch kick it so Jakeem Grant will get his chances.
Five crucial match-ups:
1.) Jordan Phillips vs. Shaq Mason/Joe Thuney –
The Patriots aren’t going to let Ndamukong Suh beat them. The Seahawks tried to handle the massive Phillips with man up blocking and it didn’t work. The backs will be focused on picking up edge rushers so Phillips has a chance to collapse the pocket and ruin things for the Patriots. If last week was any indication, I like Miami’s odds in this match-up.
2.) Xavien Howard, Byron Maxwell, Bobby McCain vs. Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola –
Dolphins’ corners vs Patriots receivers might be a better headline but if the Patriots struggle to get off the line of scrimmage and cannot get the short passing game going, they have no chance to win this game. The long arms and physical play of Howard and Maxwell and McCain’s quickness inside gives this advantage to the Dolphins as well. Most would think this is a match-up heavily in favor of the Patriots, but the styles of these two units play into the hands of the Dolphins.
3.) Laremy Tunsil and Anthony Steen vs. Alan Branch, Malcolm Brown and the Patriots blitz –
I’m quite certain the edge will be on lockdown for Miami, but the more I talk about this game, the more I’m convinced the Patriots will send over-loaded blitzes, delayed blitzes and stunts on the inside. It worked for Seattle, why wouldn’t it work for the Patriots? Tunsil needs to be more aware when in zone combo blocking looks. He let some free blitzers run untouched into Tannehill in week one. The screen game should be heavily in the game plan, especially if Miami can’t win this battle.
Advantage: New England
4.) Arian Foster vs. Dont’a Hightower and Jaime Collins –
The early dump off pass in Seattle was a great start for Miami, but I don’t expect similar success in this one. Foster is going to need to be at his best in pass protection picking up these blitzers and finding room to make plays as a receiver.
Advantage: New England
5.) Ryan Tannehill’s performance against Jimmy Garappolo’s performance –
I love that the first test for this new offense was in the toughest venue in professional football. 10 points isn’t going to cut it, but there were mistakes made that one could argue it should’ve at least been 20, probably 23. The touchdown drive was engineered solely by Tannehill as Adam Gase admitted in his post-game presser and I expect even more freedom for the fifth year veteran. He’s going to have more time to throw and less ball hawks to deal with. Garappolo now has a full game tape on him and Vance Joseph looks like a homerun hire. This is the big Dolphins edge and the reason I think they have a great chance on Sunday.
The old adage of, “it’s not who you play, it’s when you play them,” gives me even more confidence in this game. Losing a tough game like that typically sees the team that just fell short bounce back the following week while lucking into a win the way the Patriots did can make them complacent.
The Dolphins season isn’t on the line, but this is a massively important game. Cleveland is up next with no need to look ahead while the Patriots have a short week with the Houston Texans. Belichick is a master of the one game at a time mantra but I doubt he hasn’t put at least a little thought into his week three preparations.
The Dolphins offense ran just 53 plays on Sunday compared to the 82 of the Seahawks. It does worry me a bit that the defense could be worn down after the long travel and the high snap count. Kiko Alonso didn’t miss a snap and played lights out – the Dolphins will need that kind of effort again.
Up front, the snaps were divided pretty evenly between Williams, Wake, Andre Branch and Jason Jones. Wake’s 29 snaps were the fewest of the bunch and I expect that number to increase as he continues to get healthier. Earl Mitchell heading to the IR means more snaps for Julius Warmsley and, if you’ve been reading my pieces all along, you know that excites me.
I will feel great about this game if Devante Parker and Mario Williams play and Rob Gronkowski does not. I think that will be the case, but even without them, I’m big on the upset train this weekend.
Ryan Tannehill leads another late drive to make it an eight point game and the defense turns over Garappolo for the dagger.
I’ll be back in the comfort of my own home for this one so I will be live tweeting. Follow me on Twitter @Travis_Writes
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Let’s get back to .500 and get this season rolling.