As we've talked about all week, the Dolphins face quite the challenge on Sunday when they welcome the Patriots to Land Shark Stadium. So to talk about the Pats and the game on Sunday, let's welcome in "MaPatsFan" from Pats Pulpit. His responses to my questions are below. Be sure to head over to his blog to see my responses to his questions at some point on Friday.
Matty I: We all saw that game on Monday night. But the one thing that stuck out to me isn't how poorly New England's defense performed. It's how effective the Saints were at containing Wes Welker and Randy Moss. What were the Saints doing to hold them to a combined 99 yards receiving?
MaPatsFan: You noticed that too, huh? ;-) There's a few reasons, but let me start with pressure. There were only 2 sacks for 12 yards, but sacks alone aren't a good indication of pressure. Our offensive line has been dinged up of late and this past Monday we witnessed a serious gashing of the 300 pounders by a defense that wasn't supposed to do that. They were pressuring Brady with only 3 and 4 men; that's a serious knock on Matt Light and crew.
But the most important reason for limiting Wes Welker and Randy Moss had to do with the officiating crew. This crew has been known to "let the players play", to not call a whole lot of penalties. In fact, there was only 4 for 36 yards called against the Saints and none for New England. The "light" penalty calling resulted in our receivers getting banged up off the line, throwing timing off. Actually, banged up is kind - they were abused. No harm no foul if that's the way it was going to be called. I just wish Belichick would've returned the favor.
Matty I: It's to that point in the season where I begin to ask fellow bloggers about how their team's rookies are progressing. So I'll do the same here. In particular, how have Darius Butler and Ron Brace been coming along?
MaPatsFan: Darius Butler is coming along, but at a snail's pace, in my opinion. It could be that he's buried behind a fairly well stocked cornerback stable or he's just not giving Belichick a reason to put him in. Ron Brace is a slight disappointment; drafted 9th in the 2nd round, he's been losing snaps to fellow rookie, Myron Pryor who was drafted 9th in the 6th round.
The biggest surprises of all, however, have been Sebastian Vollmer and Julian Edelman. Vollmer filled in for Matt Light for some games (including Indy) and did an incredible job. In fact, some were calling for Light to move to right tackle and Vollmer to be installed as the starting left tackle. I don't see that happening this season, but Vollmer's excellent showing will give Light something to think about come contract time. Julian Edelman, a college quarterback, has done an incredible job at wide receiver, so well that he's been nicknamed "Welker Jr." (Edelman is about the same size and is mostly in the slot).
Matty I: Even though the Patriots are sitting at "just 7-4" - and I say that because of how good the Pats have been over the past several seasons - their remaining schedule isn't exactly difficult and I'm willing to bet the house that this team makes the playoffs. So with that said, what aspect of the team worries you the most as you prepare to head into the crapshoot that is the NFL Playoffs?
MaPatsFan: Well, if I had to pick one area that worries me the most it would be the lack of a consistent pass rush. Adalius Thomas was supposed to be a good weapon for us, but he hasn't performed like we'd hoped. Derrick Burgess, pulled in specifically to perform that duty, has been a bust for all intents and purposes.
I would also add the lack of depth at wide receiver. Once defenses figure out how to contain Moss and Welker, we simply don't have that many weapons; if you look at the Saints, Brees' 5 TD passes were to 5 different players. That's depth.
Another area of concern is Tom Brady's lack of consistency against quality teams. He's struggled against the likes of Indy and NO. This leads me to believe that he's really not "back" and still has a way to go.
Matty I: In their first meeting, the Patriots did an excellent job to contain Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. But Chad Henne was surprisingly effective because of all the attention being paid to the running backs. Do you expect a similar game plan this week even with Miami being without Ronnie or do you think New England's defense will not sell out as much against the run?
MaPatsFan: At #3 in yards per game, teams have to respect Miami's run game, no question. That may have dulled a bit without Brown, but Williams is still a threat that needs to be dealt with. That being said, I'm not sure I'd call 19/34 and 219 yards surprisingly effective unless you were expecting a lot less. Would I like that contained a bit more? Sure, but I didn't see any long bombs in that game (longest was a 23 yarder to Camarillo) so I'm not sure it's a part of the game Belichick will be too worried about.
Matty I: When all is said and done on Sunday in Miami, what will the final score be and why?
MaPatsFan: Believe it or not, I think this will be fairly close. It's hard to factor out the home field advantage, so I'm thinking 28-21, Patriots. Brady, throwing to Moss and Welker, is 3-0 (2007: 2-0, 2009: 1-0), so I'm inclined to think he's fairly successful against Miami.