Can the Miami Dolphins beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots? That's the million-dollar question facing all Dolphins fans this week. Four weeks ago it looked very possible. Fresh off a three-game winning run, fans started to believe this would be the year where the Dolphins would gatecrash the playoff party. Fast-forward to week 8, and the team find themselves at 3-3 after losing three consecutive games.
But there's one thing that every NFL team must remember when facing the Patriots. They are no longer the powerhouse they once were. These are challenging times in Foxborough. The Patriots are no longer invincible after losing two of their last three games. On a good day, the Dolphins can beat them.
The main problem facing Miami is the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski. Brady loves to attack the short-middle area of the field. In the past few seasons, Brady had the luxury of throwing the football to Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Gronkowski. Welker and Hernandez are now gone, and Danny Amendola has been struggling with injuries. As a result, Brady has lost much his effectiveness in this area.
Nevertheless, this is still a big danger area for the Dolphins. In week 7 against the New York Jets, Gronkowski made eight catches for 114 yards. Add into the equation that Miami has struggled to defend tight ends in the past couple of years, and this could be a difficult afternoon for the defense in trying to contain him. The good news is that it took 17 attempts and an interception to get Gronkowski those yards. Will the Brady-Gronkowski combination be lethal, or too predictable? Time will tell.
Stopping the Patriots run game should also be a huge priority going into this game. With New England having a few difficulties when they pass the football, the team has leant increasingly on running back Stevan Ridley. On a side note, watch out for when Brady is either in the shotgun, or dropping back to throw the football. Brady has a much greater tendency to throw the football in the shotgun than when he drops back to throw. Miami's defense need to watch this in order to gain the edge. Stop Gronkowski and Stevan Ridley, and you have a formula to win the game.
As for the Dolphins offense, protecting Ryan Tannehill needs to take precedence. Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones have both combined for 10 sacks this season, of which Jones has 8. Miami must run the football to keep New England's pass rushers at bay. The run game was successful against Buffalo, with Lamar Miller gaining 48 yards on 9 carries and Daniel Thomas running for 60 yards for 12 runs. New England's defense have allowed the second-most run yards per game in the NFL. The Dolphins need to exploit and attack this area early on in the game, and maintain it.
In Miami's passing game - will Bryant McKinnie start at left tackle? Surely anything is better than Tyson Clabo at this point. McKinnie is an experienced professional who should be an upgrade over Jonathan Martin, who himself should shift over to the right tackle position, and Clabo. Once the Dolphins give Tannehill better pass protection, they will have won half the battle. As for the Patriots, they're hoping starting cornerback Aqib Talib will be back for the game. If he's not, this will be a great help to Miami.
New England haven't lost at Foxborough in an October game since 2005. But don't think the Patriots are invincible; they are all but a shadow of their former selves. If Miami can consistently run the football, they'll have a chance against the Patriots. Keep the game tight and don't let Brady and Gronkowski have a good day If Miami can do both those things, they'll have a chance.
Miami Dolphins 26-23 New England Patriots
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