Travel back to week 8 of the NFL season where the Miami Dolphins allowed the New England Patriots to claw back from a 17-3 half-time deficit to later on defeat Miami 24-17. This week the Miami Dolphins (7-6) will host the AFC leading New England Patriots (10-3) for the final time this season.
Miami is still in the thick of things for the sixth and final playoff spot out of the AFC, while New England is currently sitting pretty possessing the second seed. That being said, both teams can help or hurt their playoff chances this week. Miami, on one hand, will be looking to either keep even with Baltimore, who owns the tie-breaker over Miami for the final wild card playoff spot, or gain a smidge of breathing room over Baltimore by one game. New England, on the other hand, is stuck between Cincinnati (9-4, the third seed) and Denver (11-3, the first seed). Bottom line, both teams have a lot riding on this game.
Obviously, the Patriots will be without all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski, whom was lost for the remainder of the season last week on a hit that Dolphins fans should be quite familiar with. With Gronk out, Tom Brady and co. will have to lean on these young receivers, Julian Edelman, and Danny Amendola to score a win over the division rival Dolphins.
Here are some keys to victory for Miami:
—- Run the football with Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller early and often.
Last week Miami was able to pound the rock successfully against a Pittsburgh defense that has done a decent job keeping running backs in check this season. New England’s defense, however, is faltering after the loss of MLB Jerod Mayo and NT Vince Wilfork. This unit allows 135.8 yards per game to opposing teams on the ground, which should be an excellent indicator for Miami offensive coordinator, Mike Sherman…. “RUN THE FOOTBALL!”…
Daniel Thomas surprised many last week breaking the century mark with an ankle injury which many thought would sideline the former Kansas State running back for the remainder of the season. Lamar Miller, on the other hand, left last week’s game with a head injury, but will be good to go Sunday against New England. Miller found success in Miami’s last bout with New England, rushing for 89 yards on 18 carries.
Look for Miami to pound Thomas inside to set up Miller on the edge. Thomas looked quite good last week in terms of getting the most out of his carries, so I’m expecting Head Coach Joe Philbin to ride with the healthier Thomas for the start.
—- Can Miami’s defensive line get Brady “out of his comfort zone”?
Brady has always been the type of quarterback who loves to sit back in the pocket and find his receivers with little to no pressure at all. When Brady is at his best, his offensive line gives him exactly what he wants, and puts him in this situation, his ‘comfort zone’ if you will.
That being said, Brady typically struggles when hit, pressured, and beat up consistently from start to finish.
In their last meeting, Brady completed just 13 passes for 116 yards along with 1 touchdown and interception each. He was also sacked 3 times on the day.
Miami’s defense comes into this game ranked 13th against the pass thanks in part to great play from their corner trio of Brent Grimes, Nolan Carroll, and Jimmy Wilson from the nickel position.
They also rank 5th in terms of sacks with 40 on the season, 11.5 of those coming from second-year defensive end Olivier Vernon, whom has broken out of his shell this season opposite Cameron Wake. It will be key in this match-up for the trio of Vernon, Wake, and first-round pick Dion Jordan to get constant pressure on Brady, especially with those young receivers.
And another important factor could be crowd noise. SunLife hasn’t had as important a game in quite some time so make sure to grab your Dolphins tickets for Sunday and make Brady as uncomfortable as possible.
—- Can this offensive line hold up long enough for Ryan Tannehill?
Perhaps one of the biggest concerns offensively for Miami this season has been the questionable offensive line. From Jonathan Martin to Richie Incognito to John Jerry to even a guy like Nate Garner, Miami’s offensive line has struggled for the majority of the season holding up for Ryan Tannehill allowing 47 sacks thus far.
That has actually changed in recent weeks, however; with the unthinkable unit of Bryant McKinnie, Sam Brenner/Nate Garner, Mike Pouncey, John Jerry/Sam Brenner, and Tyson Clabo this unit has only allowed 3 sacks in it’s past two games.
The former unit allowed an astounding 6 sacks in Miami’s previous match-up with New England – many of those were picked up during “garbage time”, however.
This offensive line needs to gel together against an under-rated pass rush to give Ryan Tannehill time to find his targets outside. Charles Clay should have a big game against this New England secondary, along with Brian Hartline, who has been hot in recent weeks, and Miami’s big off-season pick-up, Mike Wallace.
—- Can you finish, play a full four quarters, and pull off a huge upset over big brother, New England?
Like I previously mentioned, Miami had New England beat during their week 8 bout. The squad was up 17-3 at the half and was dominating on all levels. But, of course, Brady was able to rally the troops and take down Miami in the process.
Can you finish? Can you play a full game? Can you play all four quarters completely?
All questions Miami must answer in this one to be taken seriously as a playoff contender. The conditions are there for Miami to win. They’re at home. They’re in their own element, and they have some swagger. But, can they rally together to take down New England?
I’ll tell you, it will take a full team effort, or as Joe Philbin calls it, “A team win”.
Will Miami pull off a huge upset?
This is the question I really have been asking myself for a few weeks now. I’ve been looking forward to it, and no it has nothing to do with the fact that my sister is a Patriots fan.
It has huge implications for both teams, which is why I am weary of taking the upset. That being said, I like the way Miami is playing right now. The defense has been showing up, while the offensive line has been able to hold up long enough for Ryan Tannehill to finally find his targets.
New England: 24
P.S. Don’t forget to tune in to our newest edition of The Direct Snap this Saturday night at 8:30 PM EST! The show features yours truly and Mr. Joseph Kleine! Like us on facebook by clicking here —–> Right here man! Or follow us on twitter by clicking right here —–> Tweet us!
And if you have never joined us for the show or are just interested in checking it out, here’s our most recent episode! Click here!