On the Dolphins invasion of Foxboro

On the Dolphins invasion of Foxboro
October 25, 2013, 4:00 pm
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There are very few drawbacks to the Red Sox playing in the World Series. In fact, other than the sound of Tim McCarver’s voice, I can only think of one: No Alphabet NFL Preview. There just wasn’t enough time between watching and writing about the Sox these last two days/nights to do the level of reading/planning those columns demand. So, instead of one big league-wide preview, here are a few thoughts on Pats/Dolphins —

For most of September, we looked ahead to this week as the first meeting between the two best teams in the AFC East. After all, the Pats (4-0) and the Dolphins (3-1) went a combined 7-1 over the first month of the season, and it didn’t feel like a fluke.

But since then, it’s been a mess. The Dolphins have lost three straight. Most recently at home, to the Buffalo Bills, and starting quarterback Thad Lewis. Meanwhile, the Pats have lost two of three; the last one in devastating fashion to the Jets. In all, the teams that were a combined 7-1 in September are a combined 1-4 in October. And that one win only barely materialized thanks to Tom Brady’s late game heroics.

Anyway, you’d obviously still rather be the Pats here. They’re at home. They’re favored by six points. It looks like Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola will share a huddle for the time in their respective Patriots careers, and as a result, you know that Tom Brady is feeling better about his offense than he has at any point this year.

On defense, the Pats are still hurting. Wilfork and Mayo are out for the season. Tommy Kelly is more than likely to miss another game. But they should get a boost from the return of Aqib Talib. He’s practiced the last three days, and at least looks on track to play. If he does, the Pats will probably stick him on receiver Mike Wallace, and if recent history is any indicator, that should pretty much take Wallace, Miami’s best deep threat, out of the game. In which case, bad news for the Dolphins.

That’s because their running game stinks. They rank 31st in rushing attempts, 25th in rushing yards and 17th in yards per carry. Second-year running back Lamar Miller was supposed to break out this season, but instead, he’s disappeared. Over the last two games, he’s picked up a total of 58 yards on 16 carries, while catching only one ball for four yards. That said, it’s not all on Miller. The Dolphins offensive line is struggling. Not in only opening holes, but protecting their QB. On the season, Miami has allowed 26 sacks, the fourth most in the league, behind only the magnificent trio of Jacksonville, Cleveland and Oakland.

That’s put all kinds of pressure on Ryan Tannehill, and he’s responded as you might expect any second-year QB to respond — with seven turnovers (five interceptions, two lost fumbles) in the past three games.

If they were playing this one in Miami, there’d be more reason to fear what the ‘Phins will bring to table. Even as it is, they’ll put up a good fight. Division wins never come easy. And obviously, the Patriots have seen better days. But with the offense slowly coming together, and the defense now with one Mayo-less game under their belt to better understand new roles and responsibilities, I’ll take the Pats. Not big. But big enough.

Final Score: New England 27, Miami 20

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