When going solely off last week’s happenings, the New England Patriots’ offense should be expected to slice through the Miami Dolphins’ defense like the proverbial hot knife through butter. Tom Brady and company were able to put up 33 points on opening day against the Pittsburgh Steelers, after all, while the Dolphins — coordinated by former Patriots assistant coach Patrick Graham — surrendered a whooping 59 to the Baltimore Ravens.
That being said, taking one performance and drawing conclusions from it can be a dangerous endeavor. Yes, the Patriots offense has tremendous firepower (and now also Antonio Brown at its disposal). Yes, Miami showed some huge deficits when it came to stopping Baltimore. Ultimately, however, seven days have passed since opening week and a lot can change in the NFL in just a short amount of time.
In order to get a clearer picture of Miami’s defense coming off a 59-10 blowout, we therefore spoke with Kevin Nogle — managing editor at our sister site The Phinsider. According to him, the Dolphins are certainly a better defensive team than the one they fielded last week: “It is definitely not great, but I do not think it is that bad either,” Kevin said during our conversation earlier this week.
“The secondary should be better than how they played against the Ravens, but they definitely did not play up to expectations,” he continued. “A big part of that was the game plan, where the Dolphins were selling out against the run (not that they stopped that either), and did not leave a deep safety for much of the game. They wanted to make Lamar Jackson show he could beat them deep, and he did. The Dolphins did not adjust and Jackson kept picking them apart.”
The Ravens’ second-year quarterback had a career day against Miami’s defense last week: Jackson completed 17 of his 20 pass attempts for 324 yards and five touchdowns — resulting in a perfect passer rating of 158.3. No matter which areas of the field he attacked, he was successful as the Dolphins failed to put much physical and mental pressure on him through their pass rush and their coverage schemes.
“Miami still has to find a pass rush and apparently have to show they can slow down the run,” said Kevin when speaking about what the Dolphins have to do in order to avoid getting picked apart by a quarterback that is on a different level than Jackson. “I would hope Brian Flores realizes he cannot allow Tom Brady a completely open middle of the field. I mean, he has some knowledge of the skill of Brady, right? So it will be better, right? Right???”
For Kevin, however, Brady and the passing game are not necessarily the only key to a potential New England victory: “Make them show you they can stop the run. Tom Brady is Tom Brady, and if the Dolphins cannot generate a pass rush, he is going to feast. Xavien Howard should be able to shutdown whomever he is covering, and, depending on how they use Minkah Fitzpatrick could help limit another receiver — especially out of the slot.”
“But making the Dolphins prove they can keep a running back from opening the game with a 49-yard run would be a great way to attack Miami early,” he continued while alluding to the very first play from scrimmage last week. The Patriots, of course, had a comparatively hard time moving the football on the ground last week against the Steelers: New England gained a comparatively modest 99 yards on 29 carries, with the longest going for only 11.
In the end, however, the rushing and passing attacks are not the only factors to keep an eye on: the Patriots have also historically had a tough time in Miami, losing five of their last six games in Florida. “If this game were in Foxboro, this is probably an easy game for New England. The fact that it is in Miami, and weird things seem to happen to the Patriots in Miami, means Miami and Hard Rock Stadium are probably the biggest X-factor,” said Kevin.
“The heat and humidity should be baking that visitor sideline for the 1:00 pm kickoff, so that will help as well,” he added. Whether or not this will be enough to slow down a hot Patriots offense, and for Miami to bounce back from a devastating Week 1 loss, remains to be seen.