The New England Patriots defense is coming off arguably its best game of the season: the team held the Minnesota Vikings to just 10 points while basically shutting down one of the NFL’s best wide receiver duos in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Today, the unit will have a chance to build on its momentum against a Miami Dolphins offense that has struggled so far this season — in part because of injuries, in part because of inconsistency.
Leading up to today’s game we spoke with Kevin Nogle, who covers the Dolphins as the managing editor for our sister site The Phinsider, about the matchup between New England’s defense and Miami’s offense. And by the sound of it, it looks as if Brian Flores’ group should be seen as the favorites heading into the battle — not just because the Dolphins rank near the bottom of the NFL in every major statistical category.
“It is just frustrating because there is no real identity to the offense right now,” Kevin said when asked about what the Patriots’ defensive staff needs to focus on when it comes to game-planning. “There is no one that is dominant. Miami’s offense is designed to spread the ball around, and they are not relying on the run as much as fans would hope. There just really is not anyone you can point to and say, ‘That is the guy to shut down.’”
“I would love to tell you to stack the box to shut down Kenyan Drake and/or Frank Gore, but really, Miami loves to abandon the run on their own,” Kevin continued. “I would love to say shut down Kenny Stills and you will find success, but he only has 24 receptions this season. DeVante Parker? 21 receptions. There just really is no one that is that critical to a stagnant offense that would force Miami into an odd situation. ”
While New England’s offense loves to take away teams’ top options to make them play left-handed — think of the success against the Vikings’ wide receiver duo — Miami’s lacks one clear-cut strength that needs to be focused on. While the aforementioned Frank Gore leads the team with 139 carries for 616 yards, Miami, as Kevin noted, does not consistently stick to its ground game as a weapon to get the unit going.
The same is the case in the passing game: ex-Patriot man Danny Amendola is Miami’s leading receiver with 48 catches for 469 yards (he also has one touchdown reception) but not necessarily a player on the same level as Thielen or Diggs. The rest of the Dolphins’ receiving corps is also not putting up world-class numbers — and a big reason for that is the play calling and uneven performances across the board.
“His shoulder is not 100 percent, and he has said he will be playing with significant pain the rest of the season, but has also looked a little better each of the last two weeks,” Kevin said about the passer that hurt his shoulder in week five and missed the Dolphins’ subsequent five contests because of it. But while the effects of the injury can still be felt and his statistics this year — 118 of 178, 1,313 yards, 13 touchdowns, 6 interceptions — are not spectacular, Tannehill is still the undisputed starter.
“He is clearly the better option for this offense than Brock Osweiler, so even if he is at 80 percent, he is the right choice to be on the field,” Kevin continued. “The Dolphins offense is built to start with the run and the short passing game, then use the play action to open up things deep. The loss of Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant from the receiving corps is an issue when it comes to the deep pass, but Kenny Stills can still provide that threat.”
The injuries and inconsistent running game have all contributed to what can be seen as a slump. “Miami’s offense has been stagnant lately — even since Tannehill returned — so hopefully Adam Gase is willing to open up the playbook some this week to keep the Patriots off balance,” Kevin said about a unit that ranks just sixth in scoring the NFL by putting an average of 18.6 points on the board per game.
Another big reason for the team’s disappointing offensive output appears to be its offensive line. “The offensive line is a mess because of injuries,” Kevin said about the position group that gave up 31 sacks through its first 12 games. “It looks like the team will get their second-string center, Travis Swanson, back, just as they lose their third-string center/second-string left guard, Jake Brendel, to a re-injury of his calf which had him on injured reserve the first half of the season.”
“[Former Patriot] Ted Larsen, the third-string left guard, will likely start again this week and he has been an issue since having to move into the starting lineup,” continued Kevin when breaking down the interior of Miami’s offensive line — a group that obviously lacks continuity. “Jesse Davis at right guard had been fairly solid all season, but had a horrible game last week, with multiple penalties and struggles against stunts and twists.”
Not all is bad, though, as Kevin points out. “The tackles are both playing well,” he said about the bookends of Miami’s line, “with Laremy Tunsil not allowing a sack thus far this year and should be a Pro Bowl consideration; Ja’Wuan James is a solid right tackle.” Against a similarly inconsistent line last week, the Patriots defense had a field day by using pre-snap shifts and disguises to cause confusion.
If New England’s defense — a unit that struggled with consistency over the first half of the season itself — can duplicate its performance from last Sunday, it will likely produce similar results. And considering that the Dolphins as a whole are not as well equipped on offense and defense as the Vikings, this could cause major problems for the home team.
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