Curran's Patriots-Dolphins preview
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
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.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL
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 KICKING GAME
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…”
PATRIOTS SICK BAY
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)
DOLPHINS SICK BAY
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)
GAME WITHIN THE GAME
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.
PATRIOTS GOTTA STOP …
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.
DOLPHINS GOTTA STOP …
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.
DON'T BE SURPRISED IF …
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.
THAT SUMS IT UP PATRIOTS STYLE
“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.
THAT SUMS IT UP DOLPHINS STYLE
“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
THE WINNER IS...
Dolphins 24, Patriots 20