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Week 15 Patriots vs Dolphins: Film Review

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An in-depth review of the Miami Dolphins in the recent weeks, and how the Patriots can take advantage.

Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

How many times have the Patriots had the chance for revenge against a division rival under Bill Belichick?

The answer is 12. Belichick's Patriots have lost the first game to a division rival 12 times.

How many times have Belichick's Patriots lost the rematch?

The answer is twice. Both in 2000, against the Jets (L 20-19, L 34-17) and the Dolphins (L 10-3, L 27-24).

Note that this has never happened with quarterback Tom Brady at the helm. Brady has lost the first match-up to a division rival just seven times in his career, and he has avenged six of them. This Sunday will be his chance for number seven.

Year ha Opp Rd Result OT
2001 @ MIA 1 L 10-30
2001 MIA 2 W 20-13
2002 @ MIA 1 L 13-26
2002 MIA 2 W 27-24 OT
2003 @ BUF 1 L 0-31
2003 BUF 2 W 31-0
2009 @ NYJ 1 L 9-16
2009 NYJ 2 W 31-14
2010 @ NYJ 1 L 14-28
2010 NYJ 2 W 45-3
2011 @ BUF 1 L 31-34
2011 BUF 2 W 49-21
2014 @ MIA 1 L 20-33

The Patriots have averaged a 27.5 to 12.8 round 1 loss with Brady at quarterback, and have followed that with an average 33.8 to 12.5 round 2 victory. In fact, no revenge game has been decided by fewer than two scores since 2002 (a 27-24 overtime victory against the Dolphins).

Let's hope the Patriots can keep this streak alive and walk away with another multi-score victory.

To see how New England can accomplish this, let's look at the tape of the Dolphins past three games (Ravens, Jets, Broncos); a game of this magnitude deserves an extra game to review.

When the Dolphins run the ball

The Dolphins will be without Knowshon Moreno, but they have a very capable back in Lamar Miller. He's less versatile- not as great a receiver or blocker, weaker between the tackles, but he's much more dangerous in the open field. It just so happens that Miami does a good job of getting him into the open field.

The Dolphins don't do anything fancy, but they do a good job of having the receivers come in to open running lanes on the outside. They're all great blockers and they're all very important to the running game. Miami will motion a receiver across the formation to draw a defensive back in man coverage and leave one half of the field open. Once the field is open, they'll have Miller run outside on that edge, meaning defensive ends and safeties will have their hands full.

Rob Ninkovich has really been struggling when keeping the edge in the 4-3 formation, so edge integrity is of utmost importance. The Patriots might even look to playing a 3-4 front to get some beef on the tackles to lessen the load for the smaller 4-3 ends.

On the interior, the Dolphins aren't powerful in the run game. Mike Pouncey does a good job at right guard to shed blockers, or direct them away from the rushing lane to give Miller a chance. If Vince Wilfork lines up across Pouncey, Miami shouldn't be able to run inside.

When the Dolphins pass the ball

In all three games, the Dolphins passing offense looked fairly simple. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill will go though his first couple of reads and then check down to whoever his outlet is- very similar to Philip Rivers and the Chargers. The Jets did a great job of keeping the Dolphins receivers in front to deter Tannehill from taking big throws, which resulted in a lot of low crossers to rookie Jarvis Landry.

The rookie slot receiver Landry has really become an integral part of their offense, particularly due to his ability after the catch. He's quick and shakes coverage well. Over the past five games, he's seen 15 targets on third down, while typical number one receiver Mike Wallace has seen just 7. Landry has reeled in 11 receptions; Wallace, just 2.

Wallace is heavily used on sideline hitches at the sticks, so whoever is the cornerback in coverage needs to be aware- but he can also set up the stop and go for a big gain. If Tannehill looks away from the big throw to Wallace, the Miami offense transforms into a dink-and-dunk unit that isn't very sustainable.

Brian Hartline is his consistent self. He can move the sticks, which is important, but he's not going to attack the defense at all levels of the field. A more noticeable target was tight end Dion Sims, who saw time due to Charles Clay's injury. Sims ran a lot of out patterns in front of safeties and used his big frame to shield the pass for easy first downs. The Patriots typically use Pat Chung in coverage of these plays, but it might make sense to use Devin McCourty.

This isn't a real Chung game, though, and the Patriots might be better off with a McCourty and Duron Harmon- or dare I say Tavon Wilson?- outfit to allow for better protection on the deep half of the field, and to allow McCourty to slide up into more tight end coverage.

The Jets, Broncos, and Ravens all did a good job of putting their linebackers in the passing lanes to not just take away passes up the middle, but also to hit Landry and whoever else was crossing the field. Look for a few Jamie Collins thumpers.

Tannehill also shows a complete lack of awareness when under pressure in the pocket, although he is extremely dangerous outside of it. A 3-4 front, like against the run, would help to push and contain Tannehill in the pocket, while the Patriots can alternate which linebacker rushes Tannehill to keep him confused.

For match-ups, the Patriots should put Brandon Browner on Hartline, Darrelle Revis on Wallace, and Kyle Arrington on Jarvis Landry. They could even put Logan Ryan or Alfonzo Dennard on Hartline if they wanted to slide Browner across from the tight ends Sims or Clay. McCourty and Harmon should play deep safety to deter the big throws and to keep the crossers in front of them.

On third down, the Patriots should slide Revis onto Landry and put Arrington on Wallace, if they don't use those as the match-ups for the whole game (and Arrington has shut down Wallace before). Still, Wallace can do the most damage, so it would help to give Revis some redemption for Week 1, especially as Revis has taken his game to a whole new level.

When the Patriots run the ball

The Dolphins have a good defensive line with players who can win each individual battle. Their defensive tackles, Randy Starks and Jared Odrick, are powerful and can shed blockers, while their defensive ends Olivier Vernon and Cameron Wake are both fast and dangerous.

The defensive ends love to penetrate the backfield to disrupt any rushing lanes to the outside. The Ravens and Jets did a good job of using their tight ends to let the ends run inside, but then hit them as they're running by so the defensive ends are off balanced as the running back makes their outside cut. This frees the tight end to block on the second level, allows the offensive tackle to not worry about the defensive end, and lets the running back have a lane to run at the linebackers.

It also happens that the Miami linebackers are all injured. Like, they're not playing. Miami's suiting up their back-ups, and it's hard to get a good read. Their actual starters, Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins, are strong north-south defenders, like the Packers, where they love attacking downhill. But if you get them moving laterally, they're out of their depth and can get washed out.

(Un)fortunately, both are listed as doubtful and aren't expected to play, which means that the Patriots will suit up against linebackers who are further down the depth chart and probably less skilled.

What the Broncos and Jets both did was attack the strong defensive line, and let the running backs get a clear shot into the second level- and then force the linebackers to make a play. The offenses would use their linemen to attack and make a big hole, and not really worry about moving to the second level, and then let the running back just run. It was fun to watch.

Alternatively, teams would spread out their receivers and force the defensive backs outside of the box and just hammer into the line, while the linebackers would take a wasted second or two to diagnose the play. This gave a lot of open field for running backs up the middle. Safety Rashad Jones takes angles like Brandon Meriweather so if he hits, he hits hard- but he's more than likely just going to run himself out of the play.

Essentially, the Dolphins back seven aren't very stout against the run and are liable to miss more than a couple tackles. This is a game that, depending on how the offensive line blocks, could end up being a huge day for LeGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray.

When the Patriots pass the ball

What's difficult about watching the past few weeks is how all three teams were just choosing to run the ball. There wasn't much to see with regards to the passing game taking advantage of the Dolphins defense.

Brent Grimes is very good on the outside and will likely match up against Brandon LaFell. It's been hard to see Grimes' level of effectiveness because it's clear that the Ravens and Broncos (the Jets didn't really throw at all) just opted to attack everyone but Grimes. They both threw 11 passes at the corner on the opposite side of the field and they really just abused them, whether it was R.J. Stanford or Jamar Taylor. Cortland Finnegan will be returning from injury on Sunday.

Unfortunately for the Patriots, they don't really have a second outside receiver to take advantage of this mis-match, but it's likely that either Julian Edelman will spend time towards to the outside, while Tim Wright or Danny Amendola face off against the slot. Whether it's Edelman or Brian Tyms, this will be an extremely favorable match-up.

It seemed as if the most effective plays against the Dolphins were on crossing patterns at all three depths of the field. Whether they used the tight ends to run up the seam to clear out the linebackers for an open running back, or a wide receiver ran an in route, or there was a post route, Miami was visibly weaker in coverage up the middle.

49 of the 77 (63.6%) passing attempts were up the middle, per Pro Football Focus. Very few passes challenged the deep sideline. Teams were just more effective attacking quickly and making plays in the open field.

Rob Gronkowski could have a big game, but it's entirely possible that the Dolphins will dedicate a fair portion of their coverage to his attention. It's likely that Edelman will have a big day, while Wright or Amendola- whoever is asked to play in the slot- will be extremely productive.

Quick passes are the best way to neutralize the Dolphins defense.

Miscellaneous

The Dolphins seem like they don't like to get hit. It's also possible that the Broncos, Jets, and Ravens all really enjoy playing physical defense, but they would chip and hit Dolphins players up to the whistle and it seemed to wear them down over the course of the game.

The refs also really weren't fair to the Dolphins. They missed a lot of pick plays- but it also showed that the Dolphins defenders would go to the round, rather than try and fight through the pick, which meant that when the flags didn't come, the other team had a big gain.

Hopefully Shane Vereen's ankle is okay because he would be extremely useful as a receiver against whatever mishmash of a linebacker is put on the field. If not, then look for Blount to be the main running back since he's shown an ability to catch out of the back field.