New England Patriots (6-0) at Miami Dolphins (0-6)
Ah, the divisional game. This is what makes football so great. Sure, the Dolphins are 0-6 and basically, for lack of a better word, suck right now. But these divisional matchups sure do get the juices flowing, don't they? The past two Sunday's, for me, where ho-hum. Even if they won, I knew they weren't going anywhere this year. But these divisional games mean something. And like I said earlier, this game in particular is one win I'd trade a season full of losses for in order to pick up. Of course, it sure as hell isn't going to be easy. Pay no attention to the fact that the Dolphins are 3-2 in the last 5 against New England or that since 2000, the Dolphins are 5-2 against the Pats in Miami. This is a different Dolphins team and certainly a different Patriots team. So those numbers I throw out the window.
So how do the Dolphins go about attempting to pull off this monumental upset? There aren't many weaknesses in this 2nd ranked defense in the league, that's for sure. They are big up front and athletic behind them. But if you look long and hard, you'll see some holes.
Like always, it's going to all start with Ronnie Brown. And don't think the Patriots don't know how well Brown has played. Bill Belichick said that Brown is the "best player I've seen this year offensively." Belichick also said, "I haven't seen anybody play any better than him this year." You know what they say. Bill knows his stuff so I won't argue with him here. What this means for the Dolphins is that running the ball might be hard to come by. However, this Patriots' rush defense isn't as good as they look on paper. Sure, in yards per game allowed, they rank 5th, allowing just 78 yards per game. But you have to consider that teams have ran the ball, on average, less than 20 times per game against them. New England's 4 yards allowed per carry average places them 17th in the NFL. So they can be run on if you stay with it. The key, to me, will be how well Samsom Satele does in his matchup with DT Vince Wilfork. Satele gives up about 25 pounds to Wilfork and is, undoubtedly, the best DT he's had to handle in his life. If Salete, who has played great, can hold his own, then Brown could find some decent running room. But if you ask me, I don't think Ronnie cracks the 100 yard rushing plateau this week. If I had to guess, I'd say 20-25 carries for 75-85 yards on the ground for Brown.
But just because Brown might not have a big day on the ground doesn't mean he won't be a big factor in the game. In fact, he's going to be the biggest factor. First of all, I love the matchup of Brown out of the backfield against the New England linebackers. I think that's something Cam Cameron can exploit and I do think that Brown, once all is said and done, will continue to lead the NFL in yards from scrimmage by at least his current margin of 100. Secondly, and perhaps most important, is that Brown will have a significant effect on how successful the Miami passing gmae is outside of his direct involvement. Belichick's remarks really hint to me that the Pats are going to put a premium on stopping Ronnie Brown and forcing Cleo Lemon and this mostly inexperienced receiver group to beat them. This means that the play-action pass, which was successful often last week against Cleveland, will be there for a lot of the game as long as the offensive line can give Lemon time. Lemon showed he can make good reads off the play-action and the potential is there fore some game-breaking plays deep off of the play-action pass. But all this is contingent on the idea that Cameron will give the ball to Ronnie often no matter how effective the running game is. If there isn't much room on the ground early in the game, Cam has to stay committed to the running game. Getting away from the run and forcing Cleo to win the game is an easy for this game to get ugly quickly.
So like I said, I think New England is going to key on stopping Brown on the ground, meaning the play-action pass could be there often. But what else will the Dolphins need to do through the air to win this game? Well, the New England secondary has played well, with Asante Samuel leading the way. What I'll be very curious about is how the Pats will matchup their corners against this Dolphins offense. One thing the Dolphins have going for them heading into this game is the "surprise of the unknown." What I mean by that is nobody knows how Derek Hagan and Ted Ginn will be used now that Chris Chambers is gone. I'd have to assume Samuel will be on Marty Booker, as he's likely to be Cleo's top target. But what will the Dolphins do in terms of lining up Ginn and Hagan? and how will the Pats counter? Will Ellis Hobbs cover, at just 5'9, be the one covering the 6'2 Hagan? If so, I like that matchup. Or will the slightly taller Randall Gay cover Hagan while Hobbs tries to keep up with Ted Ginn? I don't know and I don't think anyone knows. At this point, Cameron might not even know how he's going to use these 2 receivers alongside Marty Booker.
There's one last thing I wanted to bring up. Considering the Dolphins have nothing to lose here, why not be very creative in this game? Why not pull out all the stops? How about the Dolphins use one of those sneak onside kicks at some point? Why not run a couple of gimmick plays on offense? We've seen the "Statue of Liberty" play ran and I'm sure they've practice more of these kinds of plays. Why not try them out? These kinds of plays can change the momentum of a game in a heartbeat as well as being the kinds of plays which spark a team that might be a bit frustrated and disheartened. Just an idea. What do you guys think?
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