Greetings Pats Pulpit,
Normally, I'd wait a couple of more days before putting this type of FanPost up, but I figure with both of our teams coming off of discouraging divisional losses, we all would be eager to look ahead to this Sunday instead of continue to debate the woulda/coulda/shoulda's from the previous game. I'll just provide an overview of the 2013 Miami Dolphins because I'm bored and desperate to get over what happened on Sunday.
The 2013 Miami Dolphins are a well-deserved 3-3.
The team has a signature win (week 2 on the road against the impressive Indianapolis Colts) and an incredibly disappointing loss (last week's narrow, last-minute loss to the Buffalo Bills with the Dolphins being at home and coming off a bye with 21 of 22 week 1 starters healthy enough to be active).
And last, the team has a narrow win over a below average team (27 to 23 over the Atlanta Falcons in week 3) and a narrow loss to an above average team (26 to 23 defeat against the Baltimore Ravens in week 4).
Hence, the "well-deserved 0.500 team" label I've given them.
1. Defensive tackle rotation - The Miami Dolphins have 3 of the top 11 defensive tackles in the NFL, per ProFootball Focus' rankings. Two are former ProBowlers playing in contract years (Paul Soliai and Randy Starks), and one is a former first round pick finally playing his true position (Jared Odrick was a 4-3 DT in college who has been stuck starting as a 3-4 DE or a 4-3 DE up until this year). The 3-headed monster at DT is good at rushing the passer and stopping the run, though Soliai is clearly the best run-stopper and Starks is the best pass-rusher.
2. Pass catchers on offense - That's not a typo. WR#1 Mike Wallace has been hit or miss this year in terms of production - he's combined for 6 catches for 61 yards in his worst 3 games (basically shut down) and 21 catches for 296 yards in his best 3 games (All-Pro production). However, he's listed under "strengths" rather than "wildcard" because what he has consistently done is alter how teams play defense against us. Safeties play deep on his side of the field, and it's unsurprising that our possession-type receivers have seen a surge in production this year with Wallace drawing attention downfield. WR#2 Brian Hartline's production has been far more steady than Wallace's, as he's feasted on #2 CBs after struggling with #1 CBs at times last year when he was our best WR. Slot WR Brandon Gibson has played well and has proven to be a surprisingly good yards after the catch threat who made a nice highlight reel play against the Bills. Last, Charles Clay has stepped up at TE after Dustin Keller's gruesome pre-season knee injury, and he has been a surprisingly consistent redzone threat. He's an H-back who has scored TDs lined up at TE, FB, and WR this year.
3. CB Brent Grimes - Brent Grimes is back. In his first 3 regular season games, he racked up 5 pass deflections and an interception after being targeted 19 times. In his last 3 regular season games, quarterbacks have only targeted him 13 times (a 32% decrease). He's not playing at a Revis-like level, but he's a legitimate Pro Bowl candidate who is ranked in the top-12 of ProFootball Focus' CB rankings. Sean Payton and Drew Brees only decided to target him twice. I'd expect Bill Belichick and Tom Brady to reach the same conclusion.
1. Tight end coverage - The Dolphins have struggled against tight ends so far this year, with the one notable exception being Tony Gonzalez. The short explanation is that part of our struggles against TEs are due to the aggressiveness of our scheme. The Miami Dolphins are among the 10-most blitz happy teams in the NFL. Smart QBs who identify the blitz quickly enough tend to quickly throw to tight ends serving as safety outlets who usually have a favorable matchup when our LBs and/or safeties blitz. Another part is key players who normally cover tight ends have been injured (Dannell Ellerbe, our new offseason signing at MLB, has been good in coverage this year but has missed nearly 2 full games) or have regressed from last year (Reshad Jones and new OLB Phillip Wheeler have had rough starts in coverage this year after doing pretty well last year.) Rob Gronkowski should have a pretty nice game against us.
2. Offensive line - The Dolphins just traded a conditional late-round pick to the Ravens for Bryant McKinnie, and there's a good chance he starts for us at left tackle against the Patriots. The Dolphins' O-line is not as bad as the sack total they've allowed suggests (1/3 of the sacks allowed have been due to RBs/TEs whiffing on blocks or Tannehill holding onto the ball too long), but our offensive tackles have been a weak point (hence the trade). The Patriots' edge rushers could be set for a nice game.
3. Pass coverage by defensive backs who aren't CB Brent Grimes or FS Chris Clemons - The Dolphins' #2 CB is Dimitri Patterson, who has been hampered by a hamstring injury that has cost him 4 games and limited him in a fifth game. Our #3 CB, Nolan Carroll, has played pretty well but has also missed snaps with injury. Those injuries have meant playing time for Jimmy Wilson and Jamar Taylor, who have both been below-average. As mentioned earlier, safety Reshad Jones has struggled in coverage. The Dolphins when healthy have a solid secondary but in its current state have definite weaknesses that smart teams have exploited.
1. Ryan Tannehill - Tannehill the past 2 seasons has had good games against the pass defenses of the 2012 Seahawks, 2012 Cardinals, and 2013 Colts, while he has had bad games against the pass defenses of the 2012 New England Patriots, 2012 Tennesse Titans, and now the 2013 Buffalo Bills. Tannehill is a polarizing QB because of that - is the real Tannehill the guy who led his team to victory over Andrew Luck at Lucas Oil Stadium this year?
Or is he really the guy who threw a pick-6 and struggled to put up points against the Bills' defense on Sunday?
I can't answer that - hence the wildcard label. I wouldn't be surprised by Tannehill finishing with either a QB rating above 95 or below 75 on Sunday because he hasn't been consistent enough to get a sense of how good/bad he is this year.
2. Run game - In 1 game this year, the Dolphins running backs averaged under 1 yard per carry against the Browns. 2 weeks later, the Dolphins running backs averaged over 6 yards per carry against the Falcons. The Patriots have usually had great run defenses, but due to the significant injuries to guys like Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, it'll be interesting to see how Dolphins RBs Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas perform given their inconsistency this year.
3. DE - Dion Jordan in limited snaps has played well in all but 2 games (the first two games of his career). Cameron Wake was arguably the best 4-3 DE in the NFL last year. So why is the DE rotation a wildcard, not a strength? Well, the Dolphins coaches have kept Jordan on a snap-limit on defense, saying they only want to increase his workload slowly. Even though he's been positively graded by PFF as a pass rusher and a run defender, he's only getting around 20-25 snaps per game, with most of the rest going to starter Olivier Vernon. Meanwhile, Wake has been dealing with a knee sprain that has limited him for a few weeks. So this is a wildcard to me because Jordan and Wake could be playing limited snaps due to inexperience and injury, respectively, plus they happen to be going up against one of the best offensive tackle tandems in the NFL in Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer. The Dolphins DEs both could play great or they both could be shut-down - I have no idea. Hence "wildcards."
Time for your questions!