Looking back on the Dolphins' 38-24 loss in Week 1 to the Patriots on a muggy Monday evening at Sun Life Stadium, it's still hard to explain why Miami followed up a respectable offensive showing against New England with six disastrous games that left most fans gasping for the firings of head coach Tony Sparano and general manager Jeff Ireland. Was it Miami's beleaguered quarterback situation? The fact that their defense's conditioning had them looking like Biggest Loser contestants? Could there have been some rust left over from the NFL lockout? All three of these theories almost certainly had a hand in Miami going winless through September and October 2011, but with the Dolphins set to visit the Patriots this Christmas weekend, one thing is for certain: none of those three issues are a concern for Miami right now.The Dolphins' success in November and December of this season started with quarterback Matt Moore, who took over the role to little fanfare in late October and hasn't looked back. Moore is smart, accurate and able to make any throw asked of him, and he's been a grand facilitator on a team that features incredible talent in running back Reggie Bush and wide receiver Brandon Marshall; an up-and-coming bruiser in running back Daniel Thomas; quality role players in receivers Davone Bess and Brian Hartline; and a surprising weapon in rookie fullback/tight end Charles Clay. Moore should be able to hold his own against a Patriots defense ranked last against the pass, but he'll need to be aggressive and challenge New England's cornerbacks early and often. Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne threw for 416 yards and two touchdowns against the Patriots in early September, and with the Dolphins' offense looking halfway refined right now, it's not irrational to believe that Moore will get the better of this match-up.
Sluggish and borderline disinterested, it wasn't surprising to see the Dolphins' defense get scalded by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (517 yards and four touchdowns) in Week 1. Fifteen weeks later, the Dolphins are certainly better equipped to take on Brady and Co., but to snuff New England, the Dolphins will have to contain both Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski. Welker notched 160 yards receiving and two scores the first time these teams collided this season, with Gronkowski collecting a slightly more modest 86/1. Miami's defense will have to play its best game of 2011 to bottle up the Patriots' formidable passing attack, and it starts with the Dolphins' pass rush, which has been exceptional over the last seven weeks. The only way to keep Brady down is to literally get him down, and Miami just struggled to even hurry him in Week 1. Cameron Wake did collect a sack during the game, but the only other Dolphin to get a hand on Brady during the game was Kendall Langford. That's it. Add in a tipped pass intercepted by defensive end Jared Odrick and you have a complete picture of how little the Dolphins did on defense that night. Players were cramping and gasping on the field--thanks to Brady running the hurry-up offense down their throats--and it was just a sad thing to watch for any Dolphins fans who expected their team to immediately pick up where the 2010 Dolphins left off on defense (the sixth-best defensive unit that season).
Here's to hoping that things are different for the Dolphins' defense this time around.