While a lot has changed since the New England Patriots’ 43-0 rout of the Miami Dolphins in Week 2, the reigning world champions’ defensive dominance has not: the unit is entering Sunday’s regular season finale as still the best in the league when it comes to scoring — and one of the toughest challenges an offense could encounter at this point in the season. Needless to say that the Dolphins’, which averages just 18 points per game, will have its work cut out.
To get a clearer picture of the unit coordinated by former Patriots wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea — he joined new head coach Brian Flores’ staff in Miami during the offseason — we spoke with The Phinsider’s Kevin Nogle earlier this week. And one thing became clear rather quickly: it would not be a surprise if New England’s defense again succeeded in significantly slowing down the Dolphins’ attack to power another victory.
What should the Patriots therefore do today against their 4-11 division rivals? According to Kevin, the approach should be a simple one considering one major reason for Miami’s offensive struggles: “Pass rush, pass rush, pass rush. The Miami offensive line is a mess this year, with multiple lineups used this year, including the team swapping out linemen in-game as they try to find a group that works.”
“Ryan Fitzpatrick currently leads the team in rushing yards, in part because Miami traded Kenyan Drake, cut Mark Walton, and Kalen Ballage was struggling before landing on injured reserve, but in part because Fitzpatrick has to run to avoid taking sacks,” added Kevin when discussing how New England should try to attack Miami’s 25th ranked scoring offense. “Generate pressure early and keep the offensive line from finding any momentum.”
The Patriots have made a living out of disrupting the momentum created by opposing offenses this year, and the pass rush has been a major reason for that. While New England lacks a top-tier rusher in the mold of Chandler Jones or Trey Flowers, the team still has been able to manufacture 45 sacks so far this season — sixth best in the league — due to creative pressure packages and some well-times linebacker and defensive back blitzes.
Given the Dolphins’ issues up front, it would not be a surprise if the Patriots again invested heavily in attacking the pocket in the passing game and trying to win their battles in the secondary on a one-on-one basis. Doing that is easier said than done, however, given the quality some of Miami’s playmakers bring to the table — even though the offense as a whole can very much be considered as one of the least potent in the NFL.
Kevin named three players in particular, starting with the Dolphins’ top wide receiver: “DeVante Parker. I know he is a name you probably already know, but he has broken out this year and is looking like the first-round prospect Miami selected five years ago. He seems to have figure out how to be a professional — I feel like he came into the league looking to continue to excel based solely on talent, having never really had to worry about outworking people or taking care of himself to the degree the NFL requires.”
“He has been healthy and he has been effective this year,” Kevin continued when breaking down what the 26-year-old, who leads Miami in every major receiving category and has registered 64 catches for 1,065 yards and nine touchdowns. “He has become Fitzpatrick’s favorite target, and they love to throw the jump ball, letting Parker go up, be physical, and make plays. It has been an exciting addition to the offense and has 2020 looking a little brighter.”
“Mike Gesicki is having a breakout late this season as well,” continued Kevin when discussing the most dangerous players on Miami’s offensive roster. “He is not Rob Gronkowski, but he is looking like the seam-threat, touchdown catching tight end Miami needs. Pairing him with Parker next year, along with Preston Williams, who will hopefully be healthy and ready next season, and the Dolphins have the start of a really good skills group.”
Parker and Gesicki are the clear one-two punch in Miami’s offense and have gained a combined 35% of the team’s yardage output as well as 61.9% of its aerial touchdowns, so the Patriots will have them rather high up on their list of defensive priorities. As Kevin pointed out, however, this could open up things elsewhere and one player in particular came to mind as a potential beneficiary: “Albert Wilson has looked healthy the last couple of weeks, so he is starting to add another dimension to the offense.”
Despite the Dolphins having some dangerous offensive pieces in place that will be key to the upcoming rebuild, New England should still be able to win its battles on the defensive side of the ball — especially if Parker and Gesicki are contained.