New England Patriots vs Miami Dolphins: Game 14 Preview and Prediction
By Hal Bent
WHY THE PATRIOTS WILL WIN:
- Familiarity with Miami:
The Patriots put a game plan into place two weeks ago that led to a 35-17 win as the offense piled up 417 yards of total offense and the defense held Miami to only 221 yards of total offense. The Patriots knew Miami could not stop the run and pounded the ball right at them. The offense rushed for 196 yards on the ground with Dion Lewis leading the way with 112 yards rushing on just 15 attempts (7.5 yards per rush average). Rex Burkhead added another 50 yards on the ground with a rushing touchdown and also a receiving touchdown.
What has to be scary for the Dolphins was that New England was not particularly sharp and still won going away. The Patriots went three-and-out on their first drive before being bailed out by Ebner’s fake punt run for the first down. Then with a 14-0 lead and driving again after forcing Miami to punt, guard Ted Karras–playing center in place of the injured David Andrews–sailed a snap past Brady before he was ready and was not even looking forward when the ball flew past him. Miami safety Reshad Jones made a clean scoop-and-run and all of a sudden Miami had cut the lead in half.
The offensive line had a sloppy performance as well overall allowing Brady to take a number of big hits. Miami had just one sack but Cameron Wake was a beast the entire game getting pressure on Brady and finishing with three hits and two hurries to go along with his sack (per Pro Football Focus). Brady hung in the pocket much of the game waiting for receivers to run open and took eight hits during the game.
Brady had a sloppy interception under pressure as he did not step into his third-and-eight pass with just over 2:30 to play in the first half. Throwing blindly into the middle of the field led to trouble as Bobby McCain made a diving interception that almost led to a huge momentum-swing towards Miami heading into the half.
Despite all that, New England allowed just two scoring drives and the offense scored five touchdowns on four drives of 75 yards or more. This was a letdown game and they beat Miami by 18 points. They should be able to go on the road and replicate the performance even without tight end Rob Gronkowski.
- Tight Ends (yes, that is a plural):
Rob Gronkowski is usually the focal point of the Patriots offense. That is a given any week he is on the field as his athletic ability and high-level route-running and power make him someone that opposing defensive coordinators must account for on each and every snap. His loss due to suspension will be a big loss for the Patriots in the passing game.
His effect on the Miami defense was noticeable rewatching the film of his performance against Miami as multiple defenders followed him on every route abandoning their responsibilities in other parts of the field and leaving other receivers open. He still managed to catch five passes for 82 yards and two touchdowns that game.
This week the Dolphins will catch a break and not have to worry about trying to account for Gronkowski. However, even without Gronkowski the Patriots will no doubt still be in two-tight end sets to take advantage of the biggest strength of tight end Dwayne Allen as Allen arguably is one of the most important players on the offense.
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Allen’s value is not as a receiver but as a blocker. The Patriots are likely down to option number three at right tackle again this week as Marcus Cannon is out for the fourth straight week and top backup LaAdrian Waddle is game-time decision whether he will play this week after missing the Bills game after injuring his ankle against Miami.
That leaves Cameron Fleming trying to slow down veteran defensive end Cameron Wake who is a load for any right tackle to block. This week Miami will be to trying to exploit that match-up and get pressure on Brady. Expect the Patriots to counter by planting Dwayne Allen and his strong blocking skills right next to Fleming to mitigate his weaknesses.
Rookie tight end Jacob Hollister has a chance to get some significant playing time and contribute in the passing game. Hollister has just three receptions on the season but has been limited in his playing time. He was effective in the preseason finding seams in the defense vertically and could be called upon to make a couple of big plays and catch Miami keying on other receivers.
- Secondary Making Big Plays
The Patriots did not have the honor of facing Miami quarterback Jay Cutler in their last match-up and had to make due with Matt Moore. Moore actually is a better quarterback than Cutler who had retired to the announcing booth this offseason before being lured out of retirement to reunite with head coach Adam Gase.
Rather than link to all the embarrassing tweets and stories coming out of Miami and in the national press in August when Cutler was signed about how Cutler should be an improvement over Ryan Tannehill, instead let the stats do the talking: 183.7 yards passing per game, 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in ten games and just 6.1 yards passing per attempt with a 82.1 quarterback rating.
Miami actually has a very dangerous quartet of wide receivers. Jarvis Landry catches everything thrown his way and is on pace for yet another 100 receptions season with 80 through 12 games. Kenny Stills leads the team in receiving yards with 733 and has an impressive 15.3 yards per reception average. DeVante Parker is a former first-round draft pick with impressive athleticism and all the talent in the world. Tight end Julius Thomas is a solid receiving tight end. Heck, even Leonte Carroo, who has been nailed to the bench for two years, was a third-round pick in 2016 who Miami moved up to grab and somehow cannot find a role for him.
The big argument for Cutler was the oft-repeated line of “his best season was with Adam Gase in Chicago in 2015.” Yes, Cutler completed 64.4 percent of his passes and threw for 3,659 yards with 21 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions but he also had Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery as receivers. Also, he only won six games that season as a starter so “best season” is a relative term.
Cutler has always been prone to turnovers (157 interceptions in 149 games) and for the improved New England secondary that could lead to a big game for the unit. After their ugly start to the season (six straight games allowing 290 or more passing yards) the secondary has been a strength and has not allowed more than 235 passing yards in the past six games.
Miami had just 154 yards passing in the first match-up and Buffalo was held to just 85 last week. The Dolphins will face a New England secondary with cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler playing at a high level.
The Patriots have found another undrafted free agent gem in second-year cornerback Jonathan Jones who has been fantastic as the slot corner. Now expected starting cornerback Eric Rowe is healthy at last after being injured in week four and finally got back on the field last week against Buffalo. New England still has Johnson Bademosi in reserve at cornerback after his strong play when Gilmore was out.
This group is in position to make a number of big plays against Jay Cutler and the Dolphins on Monday night. A couple of interceptions could swing the entire game in New England’s favor and this group of cornerbacks could be in position to make those plays.