GAME PREVIEW WEEK 17 2016
What Ever Happens Miami Aren't Done
The truth is this game means more for the New England Patriots than the Dolphins as home field advantage is at stake. If they win or Oakland lose then the play-offs will go through Gillette Stadium. Last year they learnt the hard way that travelling in the post-season doesn't always work out that well. The problem for New England is that they have to play Miami at home and it appears as though Adam Gase isn't going to let up on them. You would think this is a slam dunk win for the Pats but the Bill Belichick-era Patriots are 7-9 on the road against the Dolphins, including losses in each of their last 3 games in Miami. Tom Brady is 6-8 against the Dolphins on the road, tied for his worst road winning percentage against any opponent he has faced at least 4 times so it isn't a walk in the park, not one bit.
One advantage Miami will definitely have is noise, it is the last game of the season and as Miami have been winning the crowds have been swelling so there is no reason why the stadium won't be rocking, it is the Patriots after all. The fans should give the team some extra energy and intensity and give Brady a hard time calling out audibles and his snap counts. There is no doubt it is going to be a tough game but this year Miami has come through more often than not, why should this game be any different.
Well they will be without the services of Byron Maxwell who is still nursing an ankle injury and Jelani Jenkins whose knee is still giving him problems, add in the fact that Isa Abdul-Quddus was lost last week and the odds aren't great. It will be a case of next man up; Michael Thomas will get his 22nd NFL start and Neville Hewitt will start in place of Jenkins, both have been dependable fill in's. Least we forget Hewitt made the open field tackle for loss on Reggie Bush last week. He could be on the field for more than usual and may be included in nickel package work, too, because of a knee injury that is limiting Spencer Paysinger, who typically pairs with linebacker Kiko Alonso in the scheme that defends three-receiver sets. If Paysinger is sidelined, Mike Hull and newcomer Trevor Reilly, who was poached off New England's practice squad two weeks ago, will serve as the only backups to Alonso, Hewitt and starting strong-side linebacker Donald Butler.
It isn't as if the Patriots aren't hurting though as Brady has a lingering thigh injury that prevented him from being a full practice participant this week. Brady was one of four players listed as limited on Thursday’s Patriots injury report, along with tight end Martellus Bennett (ankle/shoulder), linebacker Dont’a Hightower (knee) and special teamer Matthew Slater (foot). Cornerback Cyrus Jones and wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola all did not practice so are more likely scratches for Sunday, so it could be that Brady has limited options down the field especially if Bennett is slowed.
We could see a huge dose of LeGarrette Blount who is having the best season of his career, setting highs in carries, yards and touchdowns. He is a big back that pounds the ball, he doesn't have break away speed but will beat you into submission, the last time the teams met he had 123 yards on 29 carries which was a year high, that however was probably attributed to the fact that 3rd string QB Jacoby Brissett had to come off the bench. It won't just be Blount that could do damage as James White and Dion Lewis compliment Blount out of the backfield and White is particularly dangerous as he is one of Brady's favourite receivers. When it comes to wide outs it is Julian Edelman that needs to be contained, he has been a thorn in the Dolphins side in the past and has to be slowed, which could be a problem if the linebackers aren't on the same page. The player that Brady likes to go deep to is Chris Hogan, the very same Hogan who was christened 7-eleven when he was trying to make the Dolphins roster during the Hard Knocks show. He hasn't been thrown to as much as expected since joining the Pats but then Edelman does most of the slot work, but he is averaging 19.2 yards on 35 catches which isn't to be sniffed at.
The defense could struggle to contain the Patriots offense, Brady and company could pile up the yardage, but is that a problem? Miami has been giving up a lot of yards and just can't stop the run, it shouldn't equate to success but one thing that isn't getting much attention and is one of the big reasons why the Dolphins are doing well is the recent red zone performance, this explains why a defense ranked 30th overall and 30th against the run (now at 141.8 yards per game) can be a major part of a 10-win team. During their current three-game winning streak the Dolphins have allowed red-zone touchdowns on just 23.1 percent of possessions (3 of 13). In winning nine of their last 10 games, the Dolphins have allowed opponents touchdowns just 45.5 percent of the time in red zone, that figure would rank No. 4 in the NFL over the course of the season which is pretty impressive and isn't mentioned enough.
On the other side of the ball Matt Moore is still steering the ship and has kept it on the right course over the last two weeks, the offense hasn't really missed a beat and is still producing big plays on a consistent basis and was boosted last week with the re-emergence of Jay Ajayi who ran over the Bills and subsequently got Rex Ryan kicked out of Buffalo because he couldn't count to eleven. If the J-train can keep going then who knows what could happen in the following weeks. It will be a good test against the Pats as their defense is no slouch against the run; was the 200 yard outing against the Bills just a good match up for the Dolphins or has Ajayi and the offensive line got their mojo back, it would be really good if they have as it will take a lot of pressure off of Moore.
The line has done a really good job with protection over the last two weeks, considering that Moore is less mobile than Ryan Tannehill he has only been sacked once. Part of it is that he gets the ball out fractionally quicker than Tannehill but he is savvy when moving around in the pocket. Against the Jets Moore wasn't asked to throw the ball that often, at Buffalo he almost doubled the amount of pass attempts which can only be good moving forward, the only slight worry is his completion percentage is fairly low, hopefully that will pick up as he gets more comfortable. The question is will Belichick pressure him with a lot of blitzes or try and come up with some coverages that will confuse him. The one thing that Belichick can't ignore was last weeks rushing attack which couldn't have come at a better time as it will re-focused how they play Miami.
The one thing that Miami can't afford to happen is for the Patriots to jump out to a lead like the last game otherwise it will be game over. Once New England get a lead they very rarely give it up, getting behind by two scores can be overcome but three may be one too many. The Dolphins need to play turnover free football to stand a chance of beating Brady because the Patriots offense is a well oiled machine that can't be given to many chances or short fields as they will make you pay dearly. A Miami win would be great but don't hold your breath as New England will want to stay at home for the play-offs and will want this more.