The Dolphins will let you score. Well, they won't let you, but teams do seem to rack up the points on Miami. Even teams with rookie quarterbacks who ultimately lose. Miami allows just over 25 points per game, good enough for 23rd league wide and a tie with Jacksonville.
Their D ranks 18th overall when adjusted for strength of schedule. Not horrid, I guess, but not scintillating either. Since playing Buffalo, the Phins have surrendered 27, 46 and 30 points (Jest, Saints, Jest). But the question tonight isn't "how good is Miami generally," but rather "How good will Miami be against New England?" On paper, at least, the answer is "not good."
According to Football Outsiders, Miami has the worst pass defense in the league against Tight Ends. They're quite good against other receivers, but simply cannot seem to locate that skinny-looking lineman when he runs out for a pass. On a per game basis, they allow almost seventy yards receiving to the TE. That's a lot.
Sticking for the moment with FO's system, New England has one of the best tight ends in the league right now and two in the top 30. Ben Watson ranks 6th overall in his value over a replacement player. His per play value over an average player ranks him first in the league. While Chris Baker doesn't rank as high as Watson overall, both players suffer in the rankings somewhat because they aren't used all that often. Expect that to change on Sunday. Note, however, that Watson is listed as questionable.)
For the first time in its history, Miami is now starting three rookies in its defensive backfield. Young cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Sean Smith have been thrown into the fire this year, and have been described by Coach Tony Sparano as forgetful youngsters. In other words, they're cocky SOB's who remember their successes and instantly forget their mistakes. Perfect CB material, but young is young.
At the safety position Miami entered the season with maturity, and could have felt about as good as any team about the two rangers. Yeremiah Bell and Gibril Wilson were expected to be steadying hands on the tiller. The high-priced Wilson struggled, however, and Sparano boldly elevated rookie Chris Clemons against the Jest, the same week Davis got the full time nod due to WIll Allen's season-ending injury.
The upshot? Mark Sanchez went 20 of 35 for 265 yards. Ouch. Still, as the Phaithful will quickly remind you, they won. (Thanks, boys.) Although Smith was drafted to handle the tall guys, Cotchery torched him and now he gets Moss. There's no one in the league who can cover Welker.
Why they won is mostly to do with special teams (about which more briefly). But let's not rush to phase three. Our running game is average; their run D is average. (Though FO ranks our run game a defense-adjusted seventh, so it's more effective than given credit for.) But like I said in Part I, running isn't going to be the whole story and when Miami is on defense it isn't going to be half of the story. Injuries are why.
Nosetackle Jason Ferguson and old friend Channing Crowder are both listed as questionable for the game. Coach Sparano states confidence in Crowder's replacement, Reggie Torbor, but NT understudy Paul Soliai would be making his first start. (Bonus: Joey Porter still tender in the hamstringal region.) But those aren't the injuries I'm most interested in.
I know Matt Light doesn't have many fans anymore. But no one does very well against Jason Taylor, which is a left-handed way of saying Light does as well as anyone. Light will sit with a bum knee and rookie Sebastian Vollmer will get his second start. He did pretty well in his first shot of big playing time against Tennessee, but struggled against an underwhelming Tampa Bay from time to time. On Sunday he'll confront the toughest competition he's ever faced.
How he performs may well determine the outcome of the game. Just as safety play by the Patriots will key the defense, I think that our offensive success rides on how well Vollmer handles Taylor -- or fails to. Miami has been very frank about the need to get pressure on Tom. Indeed, it's the only way they'll likely accumulate enough of an edge to win (more, again, below). Expect them to bring the house.
Finally, the "more." The Jets dominated the game in every category last week, yet still came up short. Key plays by the defense were a big reason -- including one from JT -- but the numerical advantage came on the feet of Ted Ginn. The Patriots absolutely must contain him in the return game. If things are going well, GInn is going to get the ball a lot. New England can not afford to let him do a lot with it.
That's all I've got time for and I'm sorry. Blogging from the road isn't a joy, but I'll be back in time to watch the game tomorrow. Add your own analysis in the comments and thanks to you all for helping Marima and me keep the place warm for MaPatsFan. Family issues are front and center for him right now, so let's all hold him warmly in our thoughts. I'm sure we'll have him back before long.
Enjoy the balance of your weekend -- see you at Game Time!