It seemed as if the season was over: the Miami Dolphins were playing lackadaisically; then, coming off three consecutive losses, their head coach was fired; and to make matters worse, some unknown tight end’s coach whose biceps were bigger than his coaching resume was named the interim coach for the rest of the season. What the hell went wrong? The season was lost.
Then, the unthinkable happened. Under Dan Campbell, the Dolphins played with a different type of swag—the kind of swag reminiscent of the University of Miami in the 80’s. Since Campbell has taken over, the Dolphins are 2-0 and have completely manhandled their two opponents, outscoring them 82-36 (58-3 in the first half).
Now, Campbell and the Dolphins face their ultimate test: playing the New England Patriots in Foxboro—a place the Patriots never lose. This is exactly how Dan Campbell and the new resurgence of the Miami Dolphins can prove to the football world that they are, in fact, for real.
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As of today, the Dolphins are riding high. There’s optimism in the air in South Florida for the first time since training camp opened in late July. There’s a new coach, new attitude, and higher expectations. But, let’s get things straight: this Dolphins team will be tested more than they have all year.
As I’m typing, there’s no doubt Bill Belichick is in his office dissecting game film, ready to exploit any weakness he can find; it’s what the future hall of fame coach does best; it’s what scares the living hell out of every team that faces him.
For the Dolphins, this is a statement game. And although it’s going to be hell to come out of this thing with a win, there’s a chance. Certainly a better chance with Dan Campbell in their corner than Joe, I’m being bad by having my second O’Douls of the night, Philbin. Hypothetically, the Dolphins have a chance in this game.
It may not have been against the upper echelon of the NFL, but these past two games has shown us a Dolphins team that possess specific traits that can upset the Patriots Thursday night: a balanced offense that can run the football, a defense that can stop the run, and most importantly, a defense that can get to the quarterback and cause turnovers. If Miami can play the way they have the past two games, things may get interesting.
Although Miami may keep things the same offensively, I expect the Patriots to stack the box and try to take away the run from Miami. I believe they’ll blitz a lot and force the Dolphins to throw the ball. To counter, expect the Dolphins to continue to implement a lot of misdirection plays, accompanied with run options and passing out of three-step drops.
However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Miami takes chances early. More than likely, the Patriots will play man to man on the outside. With receivers going one-on-one, Tannehill and the offense will have ample of opportunities to open things up through the air. It hasn’t been Campbell’s M.O. to take his foot off the throttle, so I would be surprised if the offense didn’t take shots downfield.
Defensively, the Dolphins linebackers and defensive backs must play a stellar game in order to come out of this game victorious. The Patriots throw the ball. They throw the ball a lot. In fact, the Patriots are fourth in NFL in pass attempts—their whole offense is pass oriented. And being that New England utilizes a lot of wide receiver screens and quick routes, it can, and often does, negate a teams pass rush (the Dolphins’ biggest asset).
A lot will be asked of the Dolphins’ young linebackers, as they’ll have the misfortune of fighting off screens and the displeasure of going up against a monster that goes by the name of Gronkowski. With Brent Grimes as the only reliable corner on the team, a lot of pressure will be put on Brice McCain and the rest of the young cornerbacks.
Reshad Jones, who has been playing at a Pro Bowl level, is Miami’s last line of defense. Miami will have to count on him to continue his stellar play in order to control the secondary and take away big plays both in the running and passing game.
Of course, all of this goes out the window if Miami’s pass rush continues to play the way they have. Since Campbell has taken over, the Dolphins went from one sack in four games to ten sacks in the last two. Considering how much the Patriots throw the football, Cameron Wake and the boys will have plenty of opportunity to make a difference.
Win or lose, Thursday night will tell us a lot. If Miami continues to play with the passion and physicality they have the past two games, this should be a competitive bout. If anything, Campbell has the chance to gain respect from Belichick. And hopefully, strike fear into his eyes.