Dolphins vs Patriots Preview
Miami Dolphins host New England Patriots
It is hard to believe that the calendar is about to turn to December, the NFL is about to enter week 13, and yet the Miami Dolphins have yet to see one of their AFC East foes. This division has been dominated by the New England Patriots in the 2000's. Miami won the division in 2000 and 2008. The New York Jets were division winners in 2002. The other nine seasons were all Patriots. A Pats victory in this game would put them at 9-3 and surely cement their fourth straight division crown.
For Miami their (slim) playoff hopes are through the wild card route. Even if Miami wins this game they will still be two games back with just four games to play for the division, plus the Pats would still have a big lead for the tie-breakers like division record and conference record.
Miami enters the game as the No. 8 seed in the AFC, and they have the head-to-head tiebreaker over the No. 7 Bengals. Add the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers look lost/terrible without Ben Roethlisberger and we see an actually legit path to the playoffs for the 2012 Dolphins. Dropping to 5-7 would, however, surely end all playoff hope (especially considering their next game is at the San Francisco 49ers which is a TOUGH game to win).
This slideshow article is about a few things we will look for in Dolphins vs Patriots round 1 (round 2 is the final game o the season). You are on Page 1 now...Page 2 is Tom Brady vs the Dolphins secondary...Page 3 is The Pats running game vs the Dolphins defense...Page 4 is Ryan Tannehill vs the Patriots defense...Page 5 is a look at the Dolphins RBs vs the Pats defense...Page 6 is a few other stats of interest, plus final prediction.
Tom Brady vs Dolphins D
Tom Brady is 14-6 in his career vs the Dolphins. In games played in Miami he is just 5-5, but has won three of the last four and has had a few massive performances in Sun Life Stadium lately.
Brady has had a QB rating north of 101.0 in his last four trips to Miami, including a perfect 158.3 in 2007.
Brady has tossed 22 TD passes and just 11 INTs in Miami (he had one nightmare game in 2004 where he threw 4 INTs). In his last 5 games in Miami Brady has been picked off just 3 times.
Last season Brady torched the 'Phins for 517 pass yards (yikes) with four TDs and one INT. He had a QB rating of 121.6 (his second best performance ever at Miami).
Brady will be looking to distribute the football. The Pats will be without Rob Gronkowski, but they will likely have Aaron Hernandez. Gronk has suited up vs Miami four times and the Pats have won all four games. Hernandez has faced Miami three times and the Pats have won all of those games. Gronk averages 67.5 yards per game vs Miami, but there is not much of a drop-off as Hernandez averages 56 yards per game vs Miami. Gronk has two TDs vs Miami, while Hernandez has one TD (it came in last seasons 38-24 win at Miami).
Brady will spread the ball, but we are sure to see a lot of targets for ex-Dolphin Wes Welker. In his career Welker has played as a Patriot vs Miami nine times, and the Pats have won seven of those games. He averages 109 receiving yards per game vs Miami.
Opposing QBs are attacking Jimmy Wilson. The problem for the Miami secondary is it does not matter if Wilson plays well or not, ALL DBs are targets for Brady. Having one or two guys step up and play a strong game is not going to cut it. The Pats use personnel and formations brilliantly to set up any match-up they want. Brady has gone (waaay) over 300 yards in three of his last four trips to Miami and I would imagine he will eclipse 300 again on Sunday (he is that darn good).
Stevan Ridley vs Dolphins D
As vaunted as the Patriots passing game is, they also have a monster running game going on in 2012. Second year RB Stevan Ridley is having a big season. He is sure to be the first Patriots RB in the top 10 for that position since Corey Dillon was the NFL's third best RB in 2004.
As awesome as the Patriots passing game is, they are getting legit contributions from the run game. The balance has allowed the Pats to have a whopping 38 more first downs than any other team in the NFL. Wow. Even more amazing is the Pats have 113 more first downs so far this season than the Dolphins. Wow wow wow.
Miami has rushed for a first down 59 times this season. The Pats have done it 109 times. Wow. Heck even Ridley alone has more rushing first downs (61) than Miami's entire team has.
The only RB that Miami has had issues with the past few years has been Chris Johnson. His skill-set is of a guy who tries to get to the outside in order to get to the second/third levels and make plays/gain big yards. That is similar to Ridley. He will try to run up the middle, but that is just to keep the D honest. RBs cannot run up the middle vs Paul Soliai and Randy Starks. Cameron Wake in particular will need to be wary of not being too aggressive with his pass-rush as Ridley can sneak into that lane and bust big plays.
The Pats are the best team in the NFL for rushing first downs in a game, and are No. 1 on the road for that too. Miami is No. 1 in the NFL for fewest rushing first downs allowed. Strength vs strength here.
Ryan Tannehill vs Patriots D
Ryan Tannehill has had a few nice moments in 2012, but like most rookies he has had sloppy moments as well. If you are a QB going against Tom Brady then you need to orchestrate an offense that is ready to score in the 30's.
One thing we will watch is the 1st quarter. How does the game-plan look, but really we are looking for points. The first Q is the only Q where Tannehill has yet to throw a TD pass. In Miami's five wins their opponent has one TD and four FGs total in those first quarters. In Miami's last two wins their opponents have scored zero first Q points. We cannot anticipate similar futility/slow starts from the Patriots. The Pats score 7.5 points per first Q (best in NFL) while the 'Phins are at just 3.4 points per 1st Q (25th). We know the Pats are a team that builds an early lead, and then looks to run away with the game.
Miami is scoring a TD in the red-zone at home more often than not, but they will need to find a big play(s) from WRs Davone Bess and Brian Hartline in this game outside of the red zone. Tannehill is targeting these two a ton. Both are likely to go over 100+ targets for 2012 in this game. An issue here is that Charles Clay (two) has as many TD catches as these two have combined for. Bess and Hartline each have 55 catches, so that is 110 combined catches but just two that went to the house. Yikes.
Once in the red-zone I (like many 'Phins phans) would like to see Anthony Fasano targeted. It seems like when he catches a TD Miami does well. They are 14-5 all-time when Fasano catches a TD (3-0 in 2012) and just 19-31 in games where he does not catch a TD. Even the five losses have all been one-possession games so we see when Fasano scores the Dolphins are competitive.
Miami has had issues on the offensive-line, but as far as pass-protection goes they have been stout at home where they have yielded just seven sacks in five home games (just one in each of the last two home games). The Pats have just 20 sacks in 2012 (tied for 20th in NFL).
Tannehill has four TDs and just one INT in Miami's five wins, but just three TDs and a whopping 11 INTs in their losses.
Tanny not turning the ball over is a must in all 16 games, but it is severely significant vs the Pats. We see that Miami is going to have to score early and often in this game. The best you can hope for is to hold NE in the high 20's, if you turn the ball over then the Pats are a sure thing to score in the 30's. Miami has scored in the 30's twice this season (Raiders game and second Jets game) and Tannehill needs to get them there for the third time in order to be competitive in this tilt.
Dolphins Run Game vs Patriots D
There are many who feel like Miami got their running game back on track last week vs the Seahawks. I am not quite there yet and I feel I need to take a wait-and-see approach here.
The 'Phins went off for 189 yards on the ground, and what I was most pleased with was the nine rushing first downs. Also pleasing was the balance that Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas brought to that victory.
There are only a few rush defenses worse than Seattle's, but there are few rush defenses that are as good as New England's. The Patriots are in the top 12 for every rush-D category. The Pats have recovered an amazing 18 fumbles (by far the most in the NFL; by contrast Miami has recovered just three fumbles) so not only will the onus be on Tannehill to not throw INTs, but the pressure will be on the ball carriers to secure the football too.
From Week 3 to Week 11 the only run game worse than Miami's was Jacksonville's (and they are without their best RB...what is Miami's excuse?). If they can get a second straight good running game then I will be hopeful the run game is closer to the early week contributions rather than their recent struggles.
Bush has played the Patriots twice (lost both games) and has yet to score a rushing TD against them. He will need one in this game (personally, I think he may need multiple TDs to keep Miami in this game). He averages over 100 yards from scrimmage vs the Pats, and has one receiving TD vs them.
In his only game vs the Patriots Thomas had two carries and three yards. He was good last week and I would expect double-digit carries for him in this game.
The Patriots are +24 in turnover ratio (by far the best in the NFL). Miami is a poor -10 (only four teams are worse). Miami is by far the biggest home underdog on the Week 13 schedule and losing the turnover battle is a sure fire way to lose to the Patriots.
The Pats' three losses have been by a combined four points. Wow.
In their last two road games the Patriots have put up 45 and 49 points. Wow.
The Pats have won five straight games. They are averaging 44 points in those five games. Brady has 14 TDs and 0 INTs in the winning streak. Actually, in their eight wins Brady has tossed 20 TDs and has not been picked off at all. Did I mention before--wow.
One rare area where Miami has outperformed New England is third down conversions. The Dolphins are No. 7 in third down defense, and the Pats are third worst in third down offense. Brady normally looks to spread the ball, but he seems to look for Wes Welker the most on third down so we will watch that closely on Sunday.
The Pats have won six of the last seven meetings between these two teams. The only Dolphins victory in that span was a close 22-21 win almost exactly three years ago (Dec 6, 2009).
As I mentioned earlier, the 'Phins do have a chance for the sixth seed in the AFC, but it may be too much to overcome having the 49ers and Patriots (twice) still on their schedule. Next week the Pats play the Monday nighter against the Houston Texans so we can hope that they may be looking past Miami in this game. Personally that does not sound like NE to me, but we can hope!
A victory in this game would be one of the biggest wins in the 2000's for Miami, but I think we would agree it will be a tough task. Ultimately I think the Pats will score in the 30's, and Miami will have a ceiling of low 20's.
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