The Miami Dolphins have scored 34 points apiece against the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills over the last two weeks with back-up QB Matt Moore under center. Moore has thrown for six touchdown passes and has done a great job of leading the Dolphins offense.
That success might stop on Sunday against the New England Patriots.
Three of Moore’s touchdowns have come on big plays, including 52-, 66-, and 56-yard scores, while another of the Dolphins touchdowns came on a 45-yard run by RB Kenyan Drake. The game-winning drive against the Bills required a 57-yard scamper by RB Jay Ajayi.
The Dolphins rely heavily on these big plays to score because Moore isn’t the most accurate of passers. His career completion rate of 58.9% isn’t far from his 58.5% completion rate in 2016; the Dolphins really struggle to string together extended drives.
In fact, only 16% of the Dolphins drives have come on drives of 8 or more plays, the lowest rate in the league. For comparison, 35% of the Patriots drives have gone for 8 or more plays, the 4th highest rate in the league.
The Dolphins have gained 25 or more yards on 6.8% of their passing plays this year, the 4th highest rate in the league. They also rank 4th in the league with 14.4% of their rushing plays going for 10 or more yards. These are pretty arbitrary benchmarks that I’m borrowing from SportingCharts.com, but it shows that the Dolphins thrive with the big plays on offense.
When you combine the 25+ yard passing plays and 10+ yard rushing plays, no team has more explosive plays than the Dolphins, who generate a big play on 10.2% of their snaps. For comparison, the Patriots rank 8th with 8.3%.
The Patriots defensive game plan for week 17 should be the elimination of the Dolphins big plays. If the Patriots can force Moore and the Dolphins to lead extended drives, then it’s likely the Miami offense will stall and fail to produce many points.
Fortunately for New England, they rank 3rd in the NFL when it comes to allowing these big plays, giving up 25+ yard passes or 10+ yard rushes on just 6.1% of plays. The Broncos (5.4%) and the Giants (5.9%) lead the league. The Patriots rank 10th in preventing big passing plays and 4th against the run.
For comparison, the Dolphins rank 26th on defense in preventing the big play and rank dead last in defending against the run. A whopping 14.0% of runs have gone for 10+ yards against the Dolphins this year, opening up the door for a big day by the Patriots running backs.
The Patriots remain the only team in the NFL not to allow a touchdown of 30+ yards on the year, while the Dolphins offense ranks 2nd in the league, behind only the Atlanta Falcons, in 30+ yard scores. If the Patriots are going to defeat the Dolphins and claim homefield advantage, they will have to limit the Dolphins offensive strength.