Turnovers and stopping the run have been the New England Patriots’ Defense’s calling card all season. Unfortunately for the Miami Dolphins, their defense seems to have forgotten how important those things are.
While it is true that the Dolphins sport the 6th best rush defense in the NFL, it is also true that their 96 yards surrendered on the ground per game is not indicative of their struggles of late.
In the Dolphins first 5 games, they were a miserly 61.4 yards per game with 9 turnovers…but over the last 6 games, they have been a sieve, yielding 126 yards per game while causing only 2 turnovers -including no turnovers forced in the last 4 games.
Add to that the offense’s struggle to get their own running game untracked and it’s not difficult to fathom why they are fading into the AFC East sunset along with the Jets and Bills.
A season saving (for now) last second win over Seattle last Sunday stopped the bleeding of a Miami three game skid, leaving them at 5-6, just one game behind the Steelers and Bengals for the last wild card playoff spot. But that tourniquet won’t hold if the Dolphins can’t figure out a way to stop New England’s running game and create some opportunities for turnovers.
Anyone besides me think that Bill Belichick is going to try and run the ball down Miami’s collective throat when the teams meet on Sunday in a 1:00pm scrap?
The Patriots have the 6th ranked running game in the league with a solid 144 yards per game and, even more impressive, have shown the ability to close down games with tough running and moving the chains…and heading into December that’s pretty darned important, but don’t expect Belichick nor his players to beat their own drum loudly about it, if at all.
“I think we’ve done some things well in the last couple of games,” coach Bill Belichick said. “I don’t think that really has any bearing on this game; different team, different matchups, different schemes. It’s all different.”
When it comes to his team, Belichick is nothing if not understated. He will heap praise on the upcoming opponent at every opportunity but remains understandably vanilla in his language regarding his own squad’s success.
The truth is that New England has been practically unstoppable during the five game winning streak that they carry into south Florida, averaging nearly 44 points with six of its staggering 28 touchdowns coming via the defense and special teams.
Tom Brady has been peerless in that stretch, climbing into the conversation of league MVP with numbers to back it up.
He has completed nearly 65 percent of his passes for 1,454 yards with 14 touchdowns and no interceptions while compiling a 116.3 passer rating – and is playing better overall than he has in his 13 year career – and that has to be a frightening prospect for a young Dolphins squad fighting for their playoff lives.
What is even more amazing about those numbers is that his receiving corps has been crippled by injury, playing without Versatile Aaron Hernandez nearly all season and now without all world Tight End Rob Gronkowski for at least the next few games. Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and Julian Edelman have all been nursing injuries as well.
Hernandez is back and looks to be playing at full tilt so with his brawn and speed he becomes the key to the passing attack as he is the proverbial “nightmare matchup” for linebackers and safeties alike, while Lloyd works the sidelines and Welker and Edelman cause chaos underneath.
But the key to this game for the Patriots on offense is to run the ball effectively early on, then use the aggressiveness of the Dolphins’ front 7 against them by utilizing the play action pass. And any conversation about the Patriots’ running game begins and ends with the offensive line.
Big and powerful and relentlessly violent, the Patriot’s line play has been nothing short of spectacular this season. They open huge holes in the running game and leave no gap whatever uncovered in pass protection, and trap blocking schemes involving the tight ends have been devastating for opposing run defenders. They are regularly praised as being one of the top units in the NFL.
The main beneficiary of the line play and having the future first ballot Hall of Famer Brady handing the ball to him is 2nd year back Stevan Ridley, who is just 61 yards shy of the 1000 yard mark with 5 games left. His determined running style and nifty moves in the gap has allowed him to find the first down marker, and his burst into the defenders helps him to cross it.
Speed merchants Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead both contribute well in spot duty, both running the ball and catching it in the flat – and both are greased lightening when they get loose past the second level.
All of these things put together suggest another Patriots’ rout, so with their playoff hopes on the line the Dolphins need to be just about perfect to have a chance – and they know it.
“Every game is a playoff game from now on out,” Miami linebacker Kevin Burnett said. “Now is the time.”
The Dolphins had better hope so, because they get the 49ers next week and a rematch with New England looming on the last day of the regular season – and it will be a minor miracle if they’re still in the playoff conversation when they travel to snowy Foxborough at the end of December.