The New England Patriots offense is not (yet?) putting up numbers like other units in the league, but it is still very productive. Maybe more importantly: it has started to click coming out of its week 11 bye. While still not performing at the peak levels its personnel would suggest, the group around quarterback Tom Brady appears to be headed in the right direction. And it better be given the challenge that awaits this week.
New England will head to Florida to take on the Miami Dolphins, and it is safe to say that South Beach has not been kind to the team: the Patriots under head coach Bill Belichick are just 8-10 when visiting their division rivals. Whether or not the team’s record improves this year will in a large part depend on the performance of its offense against a Miami defense that has had its moments so far this season but has been wildly inconsistent.
Leading up to Sunday’s game we spoke to Kevin Nogle, who covers the Dolphins as the managing editor for our sister site The Phinsider. And when talking to Kevin one thing became clear: Miami’s defense is underperforming. “There are names on this defense like Cameron Wake and Reshad Jones who should be leading a really stout defense,” Kevin said. “Instead, the defense loves to give up huge chunk plays, both through the air and on the ground.”
As a result of this, Miami’s defense ranks below average in almost all major statistical categories. The unit is just 29th in the NFL in total yards allowed (4,786) and 18th with 23.3 points given up per game. “Defensive coordinator Matt Burke is taking the brunt of the frustration right now, and it may be rightly so given how badly the team is performing for the most part,” Kevin said about the group’s performance.
“There is a ton of talent on the defense, and there are players deserving of Pro Bowl selections, like linebacker Kiko Alonso, cornerback Xavien Howard, and safety Jones,” he continued. “But, somehow, the sum of the defense is not equalling the parts they have right now.” However, not all is as bad is it sounds or looks like: the Dolphins are also third in the NFL when it comes to creating turnovers.
Miami has 25 takeaways on its résumé this year, with 19 interceptions and six fumble recoveries (four of which on defense). A big reason for the productivity when it comes to creating turnovers is cornerback Xavien Howard. Arguably the Dolphins’ best defender — and possibly even best player overall — the third-year man leads the club with seven interceptions and is in the middle of a Pro Bowl-worthy season.
“Howard [...] has become a true shut down cornerback who has such great ball-skills that he seems able to go get any pass thrown his direction,” Kevin said about him. And while he will miss Sunday’s game against the Patriots because of a knee injury, his impact on the defense as a whole might still be felt. “It has rubbed off on other players as well, with a turnover leading to more turnovers.”
With Howard out, the Dolphins’ other players will have to step up — especially in a secondary that has had its fair share of issues outside of its budding star cornerback. “I will look toward Bobby McCain and Minkah Fitzpatrick, who will likely be the main two cornerbacks,” Kevin said when asked about which players the Patriots and their fanbase need to know about on Miami’s defense.
“I would love if they would slide Fitzpatrick on top of Rob Gronkowski for the entire game, taking him out of the offense for the most part — Fitzpatrick will still allow completions as he makes rookie mistakes, but he is really incredible in coverage — but I guess that [...] Jerome Baker is on Gronk and Fitzpatrick is on a receiver,” Kevin continued about the Dolphins’ first-round draft pick who is looking at a bigger role with Howard out.
While Miami’s secondary has been up and down this year (up: taking the football away, down: most everything else), the team’s defensive line has mostly just disappointed. “The line is just a big question mark,” Kevin said about the group. “Cameron Wake, Robert Quinn, Andre Branch, and Charles Harris can create pressure, but they are not getting sacks, so it is really frustrating.”
“In the middle of the line, Akeem Spence has been okay this year — nothing special, but nothing horrible either,” Kevin continued. “Davon Godchaux is playing well as a developing young player. Ziggy Hood and Sylvester Williams are okay as depth players. Really, injuries, especially to William Hayes and Vincent Taylor, have hurt the defensive line. Plus, they love to get penalties, which is never helpful.”
All in all, it appears as if New England’ offense might find success against a unit that has not been stout against either the run or the pass. The main thing the Patriots will have to worry about is taking care of the football. They are good in this area as of late, but Miami poses an intriguing challenge for quarterback Tom Brady and the other players touching the football.
“It has been a lot of fun,” Kevin said about the Dolphins’ performance when it comes to creating turnovers, “even if the rest of the time the defense is just giving up yards and points.”
Pats Pulpit Live: Week 14 Patriots at Dolphins Preview
Hey Patriots Nation -- Check out Brian Phillips' Pats Pulpit Live: Week 14 preview as New England rolls into Miami to take on the Dolphins this Sunday!Posted by Pats Pulpit: For New England Patriots News on Thursday, December 6, 2018