Curran's Patriots - Dolphins preview review

Curran's Patriots - Dolphins preview review
December 15, 2013, 9:45 pm
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FOXBORO – If you’ve only paid passing attention to the Dolphins, you might not have noticed that they are becoming a concern. They are 7-6 and while they have losses to the Bills and Bucs on their resume, they also have wins over Cincy and at Pittsburgh and Indy. Among their six losses, only once did they get smooshed – 38-17 – by New Orleans. Having won four of six since they last saw the Patriots (the two losses by seven points total) and with a flickering chance at the playoffs, the Dolphins need this game. And they are convinced – after coughing up a 17-3 halftime lead in the last meeting – that they can do that.
Anyone surprised by this loss wasn’t up on their State of the Dolphins. If the last thing you knew was Jonathan Martin got bullied and Richie Incognito is a jackass, then you got a quick refresher. The Dolphins are good.
Miami has a nasty front-four. Cameron Wake (7.5 sacks) and Olivier Vernon (11.5 sacks) are the ends; Randy Starks and Paul Soliai are the tackles and Jared Odrick is a situational guy. On the edges, the Patriots have two dinged-up tackles – Nate Solder is coming off a concussion and Marcus Cannon is coming back from an ankle injury. The undersized Vernon – 6-2, 268 – will try to outquick Solder. Wake will try to blast Cannon or Will Svitek. And the Dolphins like to bring pressure right up the middle. Their linebackers can run – Dannell Ellerbe was one of the best defenders the Ravens had last year before going to Miami as a free agent. The pass rush makes the secondary potent. New England’s going to have to get some traction on the ground to get the heat off and they probably will be able to. The Patriots ran for 152 in the first meeting in October and the Chargers – a recent opponent with an offense similar to New England – got 154 on November 17. Entering another après-Gronk era, we’ll see what the Patriots cook up. Stevan Ridley needs to get paroled to give the Patriots their best shot.
Here’s the thing…what else do you expect? They ran it (96 yards on 22 carries), they threw with some effectiveness to Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman (23 catches and 270 yards between them) and they missed the hell out of tight end Rob Gronkowski in the red zone (never mind the guy in jail for murder) and their angular wideout Aaron Dobson. The Dolphins made sure Vereen was kept in check when he delayed out into the flat, so that option was erased. The protection for Brady was very good in the first half and Miami had to send extra men to create pressure in the second half. They got some but the Patriots offensive line with Marcus Cannon returning, Nate Solder going down, Logan Mankins kicking out to left tackle and Josh Kline playing left guard had a pretty good performance.  The absence of Gronkowski allows safeties to creep up since the Patriots don’t have a downfield guy to really challenge a defense which makes it harder to just keep running knowing the box will be stacked. One-on-one in space, Amendola and Edelman will win but in traffic in the red zone with less space it’s a lot harder.
The big issue for the Dolphins has been getting Ryan Tannehill protected and finding receivers on time. Miami bottomed out in that respect against the Patriots as Tannehill took six sacks and was picked off twice. He’s completed 63 percent of his passes in the six games since, has nine touchdowns and five picks and the sacks have tapered off. He’s been sacked 48 times this season but just 15 times in the last six games after 33 in the first seven. Daniel Thomas was in for Lamar Miller last week and ran for 105 yards on 16 carries in the snow at Pittsburgh. Miami ran effectively in the first meeting and – given the Patriots inability to work cohesively in the front-seven against the run – expect more of that this week. The Patriots have to be alert to Tannehill’s scramble ability as well. Mike Wallace was the Dolphins big-ticket signing in the offseason but he’s the third-most effective player through the air behind Brian Hartline and Charles Clay. Clay is a particular problem as the H-back, tight end guy and Tannehill loves throwing to him (7 of more targets each of last five games). Aqib Talib didn’t play in the first meeting with Miami so having him back could take a little of the wind from Miami’s sails.
The Patriots seemed intent on making Tannehill beat them with short stuff while keeping him in the pocket. He did. Tannehill went 25 for 37 for 312 and three TDs. He didn’t throw a pick. He didn’t scramble for any yards. He just beat the Patriots with accuracy when the Patriots dared him to. New England held up against the run (23 for 89 yards). The big scoring plays Miami got came when they got matchups – Donta Hightower on running back Marcus Thigpen for the go-ahead score, Mike Wallace on Marquice Cole when Cole subbed in for Kyle Arrington. The Patriots kept Charles Clay well in check with just one catch but it was a big one – a 6-yarder on fourth-and-5 in the fourth. Miami proved able to adjust – as Thigpen and Tannehill did on their TD – and able to come back from the adversity of the skull snap.
Marcus Thigpen returns kickoffs and punts for Miami. Garden-variety returner. Caleb Stugis has missed two 50-plus yarders in the last six games but made everything else. Brandon Fields is a pretty effective punter – 42.1 net, just two touchbacks, 25 punts inside the 20. The Patriots keep killing it on special teams in almost every facet. Kicking, punting, coverage, specialty plays. Kickoff returns are the only thing that’s just “blah…”
Stephen Gostkowski’s missed 48-yarder and kickoff out of bounds are the lamentable plays for the special teams in this one. Both Fields and Ryan Allen punted great. Nothing doing on the kick returns. The punt snap that smacked off Brandon Fields’ facemask was precious.

QUESTIONABLE: CB Kyle Arrington (groin), T Marcus Cannon (ankle), CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee, shoulder), WR Aaron Dobson (foot), TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee), T Nate Solder (concussion), LB Brandon Spikes (knee), T Will Svitek (ankle), WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip). PROBABLE: WR Danny Amendola (groin), QB Tom Brady (right shoulder), S Steve Gregory (finger), WR Matt Slater (wrist), CB Aqib Talib (hip), RB Shane Vereen (wrist)
Thompkins and Dobson couldn’t go and fellow rookie Josh Boyce may join them. He left the locker room with one shoe on, one shoe off and a pronounced limp. Nate Solder left with concussion symptoms a week after sustaining one against Cleveland. Spikes continues to move gingerly.  

QUESTIONABLE: S Reshad Jones (groin), CB Jamar Taylor (hamstring). PROBABLE: CB Nolan Carroll (hamstring, knee), S Chris Clemons (knee, hamstring), P Brandon Fields (not injury related), T Nate Garner (ribs), RB Lamar Miller (concussion), DT Paul Soliai (ankle)
Soliai had issues trying to come back from that ankle injury.
Patriots have won 7 in a row. Can Miami get over its collective mental block that they are going to be hunted down and killed by Tom Brady? Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has been trying to convince them of that. We’ll see if they can carry out what he’s sold them.
Miami poured everything into this one and they still were nearly hunted down and killed by Tom Brady.
Wake and Vernon. The Dolphins know their best chance of winning is creating turnovers. Without pressure, Tom Brady isn’t going to give it away. He’s pissed about recent picks already and he will be extra careful with the ball because this game should be won on the ground. The only way the turnovers come is if the offensive line can’t stop the edge guys.
Really nice job of doing that, overall. Wake had a sack, three tackles and got five hits on Brady but Vernon was a non-factor.
Stevan Ridley. Or LeGarrette Blount. To a lesser extent, Shane Vereen. This looks like a running Sunday for the Patriots who will miss Gronk in the running game but can still plow forward against Miami.
The Dolphins didn’t have to contend with a commitment to the run that I expected and that’s because, after halftime, the Patriots were just more pass-oriented. New England only ran it nine times in the second half.
The post-Gronk offense rolls back the clock to about Week 4 as Miami beats the hell out of Shane Vereen and stymies the Patriots running game.
It wasn’t that desperate but the difficulty of getting things done in the red zone were quite obvious.

“Because Gronk’s not in there, so someone’s got to be in there. That will fall on the backs, that will fall on the tight ends, that will fall on the receivers, anyone who’s got an opportunity to produce while they’re out on the field. If you’re an eligible receiver, then you’ve got to do something with it, so we either run it better or throw it better or catch it better or run with it after the catch. It’s not going to be an excuse for us, I know that.” – Tom Brady on post-Gronk life.
It mostly fell on Edelman and Amendola. But God bless Hooman for the circus one-handed cuff touchdown catch.

“Oh, you’re talking about the past? You’re talking about the past? That’s the past. I don’t think they dominated us this year. They won the game. But you’re still talking about the past, though, right? We got a game to play on Sunday. It’ll be at 1 o’clock. You just show up. We got a little something up our sleeve.” – Mike Wallace, Dolphins wide receiver
Miami was feeling good going into this one They came out feeling even better.

Dolphins 24, Patriots 20
Dolphins 24, Patriots 20
Prettyyyy, prettyyyy, prettyyyy…pretty good.