Patriots wary of Miami's ability to block punts

Patriots wary of Miami's ability to block punts
December 12, 2013, 11:00 pm
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FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick had three question-and-answer sessions in a two-day span earlier this week, and in his opening remarks for each, unprovoked, he pointed out that the Dolphins have proven that they can block punts.

It's a top-of-mind issue for the Patriots, it seems.

"Good in the kicking game," Belichick said of Miami on Wednesday. "Obviously punt protection is going to be a big emphasis point this week, they do a real good job of that. They have a lot of good rushers but obviously [Jimmy] Wilson is a key guy for them there."

Wilson was a seventh round pick in 2011 and has contributed in Miami's defensive backfield, but he has also made his share of game-changing plays on special teams in his time as a pro. He blocked one punt last year against the Jets after he blew by personal punt protector Tim Tebow to get his hands on a ball that was eventually scooped up for a touchdown.

Last week against the Steelers, Wilson got through the middle of the line again to deflect a ball that was recovered by Miami's Jason Trusnik near the end of the first half.

Both plays were drawn up differently, but both were effective because of one basic principle: It's difficult for one man to block two.

In Pittsburgh, Wilson (No. 27) started out on the line of scrimmage but eventually crept back to a yard or two behind his teammates in the middle of the formation.

Trusnik (No. 93) came out of his three-point stance on the overloaded right side of the Steelers line and attacked the 'A' gap next to the Steelers long snapper. Untouched off the line, Trusnik headed straight for Pittsburgh's personal protector to take him out. Following close behind Trusnik was Wilson, who had a clear path to the punter.

Something similar happened last year when Wilson beat Tebow for a block. This time Miami's Jonathan Amaya (No. 29) served as Wilson's road plow.

On the overloaded right side of the Jets line, Amaya scooted by the long snapper through the 'A' gap, barreled into Tebow, and left Wilson more than enough daylight to get to the Jets punter.

Wilson's closing speed and his well-timed jumps that allow him to block punts without running into the kicker are what make him an effective weapon on Miami's punt block unit. Without help, though, he wouldn't have such clear-cut opportunities.

The Patriots know that the Dolphins may test their punt protection with pressure at some point, but they won't be rushing to get punts away just to ensure that they won't have one blocked.

"We go for standard operation," Patriots punter Ryan Allen said. "That's why we stick to our progression. There's a certain standard that we operate at. That's the targeted time that we're supposed to be under, and that's what we go for every time. Under any circumstances or any situation we're always working for that time. Our progression stays the same. I believe that's how you stay consistent so that's my mentality on it."

The Patriots used Nate Ebner and Tavon Wilson as their punt team edge blockers last week while Steve Gregory manned the middle as personal protector -- the spot the Dolphins may try to clear out to give Wilson the space he needs to make his next big play in the kicking game.

"If we're on that good time, we'll be in good shape," Allen said. "It's all about trust. You need the other ten guys as well, and they're trying to do their best to hold up. If they do their job, then we're good to go. It's a whole unit working as one."