The keys to victory for the Miami Dolphins this Sunday are fairly simple. Generally they’re similar from week-to-week, specific to how each team plays and where their strengths and weaknesses are.
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This week Miami is on the road once again as they prepare to take on a divisional rival, the New England Patriots. It will be head coach Adam Gase‘s first test against an AFC opponent. So how does he find victory for his team?
5. The Health of Jordan Phillips
Jordan Phillips, 2nd year player out of the University of Oklahoma, was a force last weekend in the start against the Seattle Seahawks. Sometimes defensive tackles go unnoticed throughout a game but between him and Ndamukong Suh, Russell Wilson surely noticed.
Phillips made a huge play late in the game causing a turnover that set up what would have been a game-winning field goal. That field goal was blocked, however, and Miami ultimately lost by two points.
In the latter half of the game, however, Phillips was unavailable due to an ankle injury. An injury he’s been nursing all week in preparation for this weekends game. After Miami lost Earl Mitchell to a calf injury for the near future it’ll be Phillips that has to step up and play like he did in Seattle.
His primary task this week: stop Legarrette Blount.
4. Gillette Stadium
It was a hostile environment at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, much like it always is. Although not as loud, Gillette Stadium is no easy place for opposing teams to go into.
The Dolphins offensive line showed us all that they struggled mightily with the silent count and picking up blitzes throughout the game. When quarterback Ryan Tannehill felt comfortable calling audibles – he made one on the 50 yard completion to running back Arian Foster – the Dolphins offense found success.
Patriots fans are going to feel comfortable after going into Arizona and beating a team many think will contend for a Super Bowl. They’ll assume this is just another Dolphins game at home, chalk it up to a victory. The rowdy crowd will be another test for Tannehill and the offense. What adjustments have they made this week to prepare?
3. Pass Protection
This is obvious every week. Not just for Miami but for every NFL team. Last week against Seattle, Tannehill was sacked five times and hit multiple times on his drop backs, ultimately setting the tone for the Seahawks defense.
Most would jump to blame the inexperienced offensive line – more notably rookie Laremy Tunsil and Anthony Steen – and they were to blame on a few instances. But Tannehill proved on Sunday that he still struggles getting the ball out of his hand when he needs to. That flaw has led to multiple sacks over the course of his career.
Miami is lucky the Patriots will be without Chandler Jones (traded to Arizona in the off season) and Rob Ninkovich. New England did record three sacks against the Cardinals on Sunday night but they’re not what they were last January when Miami knocked them out of contention for home-field advantage through the playoffs.
You’re welcome, Denver.
2. Pass Rush
This last Sunday was proof that Miami can rush the quarterback and wreak havoc in the backfield. Up until the last Seattle drive the defense was what kept Miami in the game. Cameron Wake and Mario Williams chased Wilson around throughout the first half, and Jason Jones applied the pressure that led to an Isa Abdul-Quddus interception.
A pass rush will always be one of the keys to victory, no matter the team or game. It’s up to the defense to flush inexperienced quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo out of the pocket and give the unproven Dolphins secondary a chance to make a play.
Unless you’re Jeff Fisher you don’t get long to prove you’re “worth the wait” in terms of team success as an NFL head coach. Coaches typically have a short leash but there’s one way owner Stephen Ross can loosen it up for Gase: beat Bill Belichick in New England.
Since Ross became owner in February of 2008 he’s won in New England just one time. That game created the wildcat sensation across the NFL. Then head coach Tony Sporano out-coached Belichick on his way to a 38-13 victory. Miami has since then been outscored in Foxborough 224-85.
September 21st, 2008 was the last time Miami won in New England. It’s the last time the Dolphins have faced the Patriots on the road in September, led by a quarterback not named Tom Brady. 2008 was also the last year Miami made the postseason.
A victory on Sunday can not only set the tone for the season but a career for Gase. Although we won’t talk about Sporano’s tenure in Miami, we’ll hope that Gase can rally this squad for continual success.