The Miami Dolphins at the New England Patriots
Serious playoff implications are on the line this weekend as the division leading New England Patriots host the Miami Dolphins. For the Patriots, a win would clinch a playoff spot and secure the AFC East Division Title for the 12th time in 15 years. For the Dolphins, a loss would all but eliminate them from playoff contention.
The Dolphins lead the all-time series 52-46, including winning the last two meetings (which were in Miami), but you have to go all the way back to the 2008 season for the last time Miami won a game in Foxboro. Under the watchful guidance of Coach Joe Philbin, the Dolphins are 0-2 in Foxboro and have been outscored 55-17 in those two meetings.
With the Patriots on the cusp of another playoff appearance and the Dolphins on the edge of their usual late season dive, let’s make another futile attempt to be non-bias and break both teams in key areas to see how they will match up and which one may have the key to victory.
Quarterback – Patriots: Ryan Tannehill may become a serviceable quarterback someday…but for now he’s just another Dolphins QB going against Tom Brady.
Running Backs – Push: While Lamar Miller has put together a nice season in Miami, averaging 4.8 yards per carry as the featured back; there is a significant drop off behind him on the roster. The Patriots depth and versatility at this position makes this a fairly even matchup.
Wide Receivers – Push: Though the Dolphins have the big money names like “Wallace” and “Hartline”, the Patriots have a group of receivers that have been equally as productive.
Tight Ends – Patriots: All the Dolphins’ TEs: 63 Catches, 642 Yards, 3 TD…Rob Gronkowski: 73 Catches, 997 Yards, 10 TD….add in Tim Wright and Michael Hoomanawanui and the Patriots should get more than the standard amount of points allowed in this category.
Offensive Line – Patriots: Though the Dolphins have done a better job with run blocking (4.6 YPC vs. the Patriots’ 3.9 YPC), this difference is made up, significantly, by the fact that the Patriots have allowed less than half of the sacks given up by Miami’s offensive line.
Defensive Front Seven – Patriots: Both teams are almost identical with their ability to rush the passer and get sacks. However, Denver exposed the soft underbelly of the Dolphins defensive line and Miami has surrendered, on average, 220 yards per game on the ground in their last three games.
Secondary – Patriots: If both teams were healthy, this would be a pretty even matchup between the two teams. With the amount of injuries that the Dolphins have in the secondary and the statistical edge not in Miami’s favor, the Patriots get the edge in this matchup.
Special Teams – Patriots: Outside of the statistical domination the Patriots have in the return game stats, Caleb Sturgis isn’t good enough to carry Stephen Gostkowski’s jock strap.
Coaching – Patriots: Trying to compare Joe Philbin to Bill Belichick is trying to compare a Yugo to a Bentley. It’s just not even a fair comparison.
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:
Key’s to Victory: Patriots
1) Protecting Tom Brady: The Patriots live and die based on how well the offensive line play has been. In the earlier matchup between these two teams, the Dolphins were able to pressure Brady in the second half and brought the New England offense to a standstill. A lot has changed for the Patriots since then but the burden is on New England’s line to prove it on the field.
2) Commitment to the Running Game: The Dolphins are giving up a staggering 5.75 Yards per Carry over the last three games. The Patriots need to stay patient with the running game knowing that the Dolphins defensive line does wilt under the pressure of being run blocked.
3) Containing Ryan Tannehill in the pocket: One of the few things Ryan Tannehill does well is run for his life. The Patriots struggled against Aaron Rodgers a few weeks ago as he would move in the pocket and bought time for his receivers to become uncovered. Certainly the Dolphins do not have the receiving corps that Green Bay does, not to mention Tannehill is no Aaron Rodgers, but the Patriots defensive line must stay disciplined in their gap control assignments.
On paper, there are really no areas where the Dolphins match up to the talent level of the Patriots. However, since this is a division game, there is a natural leveling of the playing field. This game could come down to who can take advantage of red zone opportunities and score touchdowns versus field goals.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 26 – Dolphins 19