After getting blown out by the Colts, the Patriots will try and pick up the pieces against the Miami Dolphins. This is a big game in the AFC East. At 3-5, the Dolphins can grab a share of the division lead with a victory. The Patriots are just trying to get back on track and play well for an entire four quarters. They will have to do it in a place where they haven't had much success over the years. The Patriots have an all-time record of 7-30 in Miami and have only have one win in the Sunshine State since 1997.
1. Stop the Dolphins two-headed monster at running back
There is no question the Patriots secondary is decimated right now but the Dolphins are more of a running team. Luckily for Miami, the Patriots are an equal opportunity defense, ranking 27th in the NFL defending both the run and pass. Tedy Bruschi is a great player but it's obvious he is still getting his legs under him. The Colts really took advantage of Bruschi's time off by running stretch plays away from his side and blocking him with an offensive lineman. This method seemed to wear down Bruschi as the game went on. The Patriots face another tough ground game this week.Ronnie Brown is making a strong push to be Rookie of the Year. After a slow start, Brown has really come on over the last four games. The rookie back has 611 yards on the season and he is a punishing runner known for breaking tackles. Once defenses get tired of trying to tackle the 235-pound Brown, the Dolphins give them a break by bringing in former Pro Bowler Ricky Williams. Williams may not have the same power as he did in previous seasons but he is still a pretty good back. The Patriots better tackle well and stop the run early because with two quality backs and the hot, humid Miami heat, the defense will be worn out in the fourth quarter if they are on the field all game long.
2. Prevent the big-play in the passing gameOkay, this is a tough one. The Dolphins aren't the Colts but the Bills aren't the Colts either and they hit the Patriots for a long touchdown reception. Miami has two dangerous weapons in the passing game: Randy McMichael and Chris Chambers. The Patriots have struggled defending the tight end this season and that isn't good news when facing McMichael. With his size and speed, McMichael causes a lot of matchup problems, especially for a team with question marks at the safety position. Chambers is the Dolphins one really big-play threat at receiver. Chambers is underrated because he doesn't play with a great quarterback but make no mistake about it, he is a very explosive receiver. Quarterback Gus Frerotte isn't going to beat you with 17-play drives all day long. If the Patriots secondary can prevent the quick-strike through the air and not give up any cheap touchdowns, it will be difficult for the Dolphins to score a lot of points. Don't think just because the Dolphins have a journeyman quarterback, this will be a walk in the park for the Patriots defense. Both McMichael and Chambers are capable of exploiting New England's injured secondary. Besides, Kelly Holcomb is a journeyman quarterback and he had little trouble moving the ball on the Patriots. The Dolphins won't throw the ball 40 times but if they can hit a couple of big plays, their chances of winning improve.
3. Crank up the running gameIt's obvious at this point in the season the Patriots are not going to be a running football team. The Patriots have played eight games and have struggled to run the football virtually every week. Still, the team can't just let Tom Brady go back and throw the football on every play. Not only will Brady keep taking a pounding but his arm is going to tire out by the end of the season. Brady isn't blessed with the same kind of arm strength that someone like Peyton Manning or Brett Favre has. Brady's strengths are his leadership, accuracy, savvy and pocket presence. If he continues to throw the ball at this rate his arm will be dead by the end of the year, so the Patriots have to at least run the ball a little bit. The Dolphins rank 20th in the NFL in rush defense, giving up more than 118 yards per game. The Chiefs ran for almost 200 yards against the Dolphins, as the Kansas City offensive line dominated Miami up front. With the defense they have right now, there is no question the Patriots have to put the ball in the air and score points. However, the team can't forget about Corey Dillon and the running game either. If the Patriots are looking for a team they can lineup and just pound the ball against, Miami may be that team.
4. Block Jason TaylorTaylor has 68 sacks since 2000 and it feels like all of them came against the Patriots. Taylor has been a thorn in the Patriots side for close to a decade now. The new Dolphins defensive scheme doesn't have Taylor rushing the passer on every down like he used to but he is s till a big factor. He moves around a lot now and drops back in coverage more than in the past. Nick Kaczur did a good job against Dwight Freeney last week and he will have to continue his good play against the Dolphins if Brady wants to stay upright. It seems like every time these two teams get together, Taylor makes a big, game-changing play. This figures to be a close contest so a turnover could be the deciding factor. The Dolphins run a different defensive scheme under Nick Saban but Taylor is still their most disruptive player and the guy the Patriots have to control to be successful offensively.
5. Burn the blitzBill Belichick said this week that Saban blitzes more in one game than Dave Wannstedt and Jimmy Johnson did in an entire season. Saban has always loved bringing pressure, especially up the middle. This will allow the Patriots to be in position to hit some big plays in the passing game.Deion Branch and David Givens are having good years so far but the offense tends to forget about them from time to time. Both players will find themselves with one-on-one coverage throughout the game and if the Patriots can exploit that and hit some long passes early, they will have a big advantage in this game. The Dolphins offense isn't designed to come from behind so as long as they are in the game, they will be able to execute their gamelan. There is no question the blitzes are coming and if the Patriots can make them pay on those downs, it will force the Miami defense to be less aggressive as the game goes on. The passing offense hasn't been terrible the past couple of weeks but it hasn't produced many big plays either. This would be a good time for the Patriots to use their speed at receiver and push the ball down the field.
Patriots/Dolphins connectionsBelichick hired Saban as his defensive coordinator when he was named head coach of the Cleveland Browns is 1991. The two worked together until 1994…Saban coached three Patriots players while at LSU: Jarvis Green, Randall Gay and Marquise Hill…Wide receivers coach Brian Daboll, quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels and linebackers coach Dean Pees were all on Saban's staff when he was the head coach at Michigan State…Larry Izzo was originally signed by the Dolphins as a rookie free agent…Heath Evans played in the first six games of the 2005 season with the Dolphins, earning two starts…Defensive tackle Keith Traylor played for the Patriots in 2004, starting 10 of 16 games at nose tackle.
Evans said on Friday that he expected the Patriots to ask him a lot of questions about the Dolphins offense this week but to his surprise, they didn't. Evans pointed out Belichick is so familiar with Saban's scheme and what the Dolphins do, his input probably wasn't needed…The Patriots are 83-5 under Belichick when they score 21 points or more…Since 2001, the Patriots have a record of 39-6 after Nov. 1, including the playoffs.