On Sunday the New England Patriots (8-3) will face off against the Miami Dolphins (5-6) in South Florida as they attempt to clinch the AFC East title. After starting the season 3-3, the Patriots have rolled off five consecutive wins to reach their current record. The Dolphins on the other hand, are struggling right now having lost three straight.
The biggest problem for the first place Patriots has been on defense this season. The Patriots have conceded far too many big plays through the air. But for this upcoming game, the Dolphins might help with that. Miami has scored just one touchdown in their last ten quarters. They rank just 26th in scoring this season. Much of this is on quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The 2012 first-round draft pick out of Texas A&M started strong this season but has struggled recently which has contributed to this three game losing streak.
Another problem for Miami is the Dolphins’ receivers and this is where the Patriots’ defense can be helped. A major reason for the lack of offensive success is that Miami’s receivers don’t have the speed to get deep regularly and apparently lack the ability to separate from defensive backs. This is what will help the Patriots’ defense. New England’s run defense is ranked 10th in the league this year and should force Tannehill to throw the ball. But without the inability to separate, especially with Aqib Talib there now, it’ll be easier to force long third downs.
This will be another key for the Patriots. This year the Dolphins have converted 35.8 percent of their third down, but they’ve only completed 28.8 percent of their third downs in the last five games. If the Patriots are able to force the Dolphins into long third downs, the defense should be able to get off the field quickly and hand the game over to their lethal offense.
Offensively, expect the Patriots to take control of the game. If the Patriots’ defense is able to force the Dolphins’ offense in third downs, then New England’s job on offense will simply be to keep possession. And this meager job is for an offense that averages 435.8 yards and 37 points per game which leads the league in both categories.
The only way the Dolphins can compete in this game will likely be with turnovers but that doesn’t seem likely, either. The Patriots have just eight turnovers this season which leads the league. Meanwhile, the Dolphins haven’t been able to produce a takeaway in their last four games.
On offense the Patriots simply have too many weapons which could cause too many problems for the Dolphins. Even without tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Julian Edelman, the Patriots still have Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd, and Wes Welker with which to do damage. If the Dolphins decide to drop deep to cover the passing game, that will open holes for running back Stevan Ridley.
Miami’s run defense has been solid this year, ranking seventh in the league but their passing offense has struggled ranking 26th. That’s where the Patriots’ offense can take advantage. If the Patriots can have success passing the ball, that will force more players into coverage opening up the running game. If they stay true to defending the run game, quarterback Tom Brady could have a field day in Miami.
Despite several key injuries, the Patriots sit at the top of the AFC East and still have a shot at the number one seed heading into the postseason. A win against the Dolphins Sunday will seal the division and bring them one step closer to their ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl. If the Patriots are able to perform the way they have the last few weeks, there’s no reason they shouldn’t control all three phases of the game.