Tom Brady will be challenged mentally this during this short work week to prepare for a Dolphins (3-3) team that's won two in a row, is now playing up to its talent and has found a new energy under interim coach Dan Campbell.
Thursday night at Gillette Stadium the New England (6-0) quarterback will be challenged physically by a Miami defense that can throw a ferocious, athletic group of rushers at opposing passers.
The short work and the Dolphins defenders were just two of the key points Brady touched on in his usual weekly press conference with the media, this one on Tuesday afternoon due to the condensed time leading to the mid-week division battle.
1. Dolphins pass rushers have been "cut loose": Miami has a lot invested in its defensive front that includes $100 million free agent signing Ndamukong Suh, Pro Bowl pass rusher Cameron Wake and undrafted edge irritant Olivier Vernon. But the group, like the team, wasn't exactly living up to its resume to open the season. In the last couple weeks, though, those guys are, as they say, getting after it. They are making life tough on the opposing quarterbacks, Suh and Wake combining for eight sacks in the last two games. And while they haven't faced a talent like Brady to this point, No. 12 knows they will be coming for him on Thursday night.
"They're playing great. They have a lot of great players. They've had them…every time we've played these guys they've been a challenge," Brady said. "They're riding high right now. I think they are really getting after the quarterback. Wake and Vernon and Suh and [Earl] Mitchell and [Derrick] Shelby, they have a whole group of pass rushers that really the last couple games have been performing really well. They get ahead and kind of unleash the pass rushers on you and Cameron Wake strip sacks the quarterback and then the next thing you know the game is blown open. We have to make sure we stay on track and execute well so that we keep things under control."
Bill Belichick said on Monday that it looks like the Dolphins have cut back on their defensive scheme since Campbell took over. That's resulted in the talent the unit has playing faster and with more productive results against the Titans and Texans the last two weeks.
"Those guys are great at what they do and they've really cut those guys loose to get after the quarterback and they've done it," Brady added. "So whatever they've changed is really working. I think they are playing at an extremely high level. They've gotten out to some big leads and that spells trouble against this defense. That's one of the things they do great, they can really tee off on the quarterback. We have to try to be balanced. There is nothing easy about it. You have to go out and execute really well."
2. "You do the best you can" on a short week: It was just two days ago that Brady and the Patriots were coming out on top of a big, physical division battle with the Jets. Just two days from now, they'll be trying to do the same against an emotional Dolphins team that's rolling into Foxborough with a new swagger. In order to be ready for that meeting, Brady and his teammates have a lot to do and little time to do it. They must get both their bodies and their minds ready to get the job done, taken out of their customary weekly schedule. So which is more a challenge this short week, the mental or the physical?
"I'm not sure. You do the best you can," Brady pondered. "Mentally you just have to work as hard as you can. Physically you have to be tough enough just to push through it. It's a fun week. I think the competition starts as soon as the last game ends. We have the same amount of time to prepare and hopefully we'll make as good a use of it as we possibly can."
3.Lauding Patriots "phenomenal" line: The Patriots offensive line was a question mark heading into the season, the only real area of concern for a top-notch offense that returned the bulk of its skill players. Starting jobs were up for grabs. Rookies were in the mix. And then, when the year opened, injuries also became an issue up front. Bryan Stork landed on IR with a concussion. Nate Solder was lost to a torn bicep. His backup, Marcus Cannon, has been sidelined to a toe issue. Through it all, though, the group has more often than not gotten its job done at a relatively high level. Brady has been sacked just 16 times on nearly 270 pass attempts, portions of that action against some of the most respected defensive fronts in the game. The work of the line, and all the guys involved in the success, has not been lost on the man they are protecting each snap.
"Our offensive line has been phenomenal this year," Brady raved. "The challenge they've been up against, they've faced a lot of really great defensive lines, a lot of different scheme challenges. They've had perimeter rushers. They've had interior rushers. We see a lot of games and twists. Everyone is obviously trying to get after the quarterback all the time but we've been faced with a lot of challenges and I think those guys have really stepped up to it.
"It's a great group. They are really well coached. Coach Guge (Dave DeGuglielmo) has done a great job. Josh [McDaniels] has done a great job.
"Whatever it takes for those guys, however they can put that unit together and play cohesively, play as a group, it's a great group we have. I think those guys take a lot of pride in it and they've just done an incredible job this year."