If there is one thing Miami Dolphins coach Dan Campbell hasn’t needed, it’s in-game adjustments. The Dolphins have had early success in both of their previous games under Campbell leading to large margins of victory. Campbell hasn’t had to make half-time adjustments or in-game adjustments and if he has they have been minor ones at best.
That will change tonight.
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As the Dolphins take on the powerhouse New England Patriots, Campbell faces a chess match against Bill Belichick and in the NFL very few coaches play the game as well as the Patriots head coach. Belichick is one of the best and knowing the intricacies of the NFL rule book so don’t be surprised if the Patriots throw out some wrinkles we haven’t seen should the game be close at the end.
When it comes to making adjustments, Belichick does it on the fly. His team is so prepared for the unexpected that it only takes a few plays to adjust. It’s more than keeping one step ahead, it’s like a computer learning the program as you write it and then changing the programming as you go. Dan Campbell is facing that.
Campbell is a raw head coach. He has four years experience in the NFL as a tight-ends coach and while he has motivated his team to a degree no one believed possible, tonight’s challenge is one that will sit on Campbell’s shoulders as he moves the pawns, the rooks, and protects the king. We all know that Campbell can motivate but can he out coach a coach who typically only out coaches himself?
The Dolphins may need to make in-game adjustments as early as the first quarter depending on how the game plays out. Between the first and second quarters Belichick will already be changing up his game plan and the Dolphins need to be ready to counter with their own changes both in personnel on the field and the plays that are being called. Campbell can’t simply stick with what works because the Patriots will find a way to take that away.
At half-time Campbell will be faced with a daunting challenge. The game will be one of three ways at the end of two quarters. A close game, a blowout loss in the making, or the Dolphins ahead and playing strong. Campbell can’t afford to let two of those possibilities influence his decisions for the 2nd half. He must make changes that will decide the outcome of the game.
Miami is in a precarious position as all three head coaches to some degree are inexperienced. Lou Anarumo will need to keep the defensive schemes changing to keep the Patriots offense guessing. He needs to hide his blitzes and disguise his coverages throughout the game. Offensively, Bill Lazor needs to do the same and mix up the offense. Whether by moving Tannehill around in the pocket or putting Jarvis Landry in different positions on the field where he gets more favorable coverage.
It all starts with Campbell however and how well he can adjust to what the Patriots are doing on both sides of the ball. The last two weeks Campbell has been able to manage the game in large part to early and big leads. Tonight he will have to do more than simply manage the clock, challenges, and 3rd downs. He needs to look across the field and predict what Belichick will do next.
There are a lot of variables to the game tonight that could play into Miami’s favor but the biggest challenge will be Campbell’s ability to stop and turn on a dime. He needs to keep the players and the schemes fresh. He can get his players to play as physical as they can but bull rushing and power blocking won’t be enough to keep the Patriots from changing the way they play. If Miami plays too physical, New England will play finesse and burn the team with different looks and routes. If the Dolphins play with too much finesse, the Patriots will get physical.
Miami needs to do the same.
Discipline will also be a big part of tonight’s game. The Dolphins can’t afford to make stupid and costly penalties. Giving Tom Brady another chance on a 3rd down failure will only give Tom Brady another shot at scoring. The Dolphins must play physical and clean if they are going to have a chance tonight. This means Olivier Vernon needs to be smarter when rushing the passer.
The best hope for the Dolphins is a big lead early that they can build on. The Dolphins will need to continue that play throughout the game and not let up as the Patriots, unlike the Texans can come back.
Tonight is the biggest test for these new Dolphins and if the Dolphins do in fact lose, next week will be interesting to see how the team rebounds. The first two weeks were fun but they were the icing on a cake that hasn’t been finished yet. How well Miami can adjust during the game will be a telltale sign on how the game progresses and eventually ends. Tonight we get to see what Dan Campbell the coach can do instead of Dan Campbell the motivator.
And if he succeeds, the Dolphins fan base will explode with talks of playoffs.