Last week's loss in Buffalo still stings - I know. But nothing helps heal wounds like a win the following week. With the Patriots coming to town on Sunday, a win would be even more enjoyable. But it obviously won't be easy. The Patriots rarely ever lose two games in a row and they are going to be angry following their blow out loss to the Saints on national television a couple of nights ago.
But still - we need to keep the faith. With that said, here are three of the most critical matchups for Sunday's game:
Randy Moss/Wes Welker vs Vontae Davis/Sean Smith
It seems like we mention our two rookie corners every single week in this post. But that's because Vontae Davis and Sean Smith have had to go up against some of the NFL's best receivers this season. I'm sure it's been a terrific learning experience for these two kids. But on Sunday, these two need to apply some of the lessons they've learned this year and do their best to contain one of the league's best receiving duo.
Wes Welker and Randy Moss are at the top of all of the key statistical categories. Welker is first in receptions (85) while Moss is sixth (66). Moss, meanwhile, is first in receiving yards (992) while Welker is fifth (886). And the duo has combined to score 12 touchdowns this season. But they can be contained. Look no further than just two nights ago when the Saints held the two to a combined 9 receptions for 99 yards and no touchdowns. And that's with using a rookie corner and two veterans who were both just signed within the last two weeks. How did they do it? The Saints used an excellent mixture of coverages - man and zone - to keep the Patriots guessing. That's probably the game plan the Dolphins should use on Sunday.
What they shouldn't do is try the same game plan that they used back in week nine when these two teams met in New England. The Dolphins used a similar game plan to what the Giants used in the Super Bowl two years ago - trying to apply a lot of pressure while having the corners in man coverage. That didn't work. Davis was thrown at nine times while covering Moss or Welker, allowing six completions for 125 yards and a touchdown. He did have an outstanding interception early in the game, though. Smith, meanwhile, was thrown at three times while defending either of the two dynamic receivers, surrendering 2 completions for 23 yards.
These two young corners need to put together good performances for a full 60 minutes if the Dolphins want to steal this game and get back to .500.
Dan Koppen vs Paul Soliai
Back in week nine, the Dolphins were without starting nose tackle Jason Ferguson. Well it showed. The Patriots ran for 109 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per carry - which is not good considering the Pats are averaging under 4 yards per carry against the rest of the NFL. That day up in Foxborough, Paul Soliai played 29 snaps at either defensive tackle (when the Dolphins were using four down linemen) or nose tackle as he attempted to replace Ferguson. Quite frankly, he was owned.
Patriots center Dan Koppen really dominated Soliai for much of the game. Koppen weights under 300 pounds but was still able to manhandle the 340+ pound Soliai for much of the game. Sure, Soliai admitted that he probably shouldn't have played once he injured his ankle in that game because it was bothering him. But even before he hurt himself, Koppen was blowing Soliai off the ball - not even needing a double team on the much bigger nose tackle.
Last week against Buffalo, Soliai continued his struggles as Bills running back Fred Jackson ran for 73 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries. On Sunday, Soliai has got to play better and help make the Pats one-dimensional on offense.
Dolphin receivers vs Patriot corners
While the Pats did a good job containing Miami on the ground back in week nine (Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams combined for just 81 yards on 22 carries), the Dolphin receivers were able to get open against this New England secondary. Greg Camarillo and Davone Bess combined for 11 receptions and 127 yards receiving while rookie Brian Hartline added an 18 yard reception. And we saw just how vulnerable New England's secondary is on Monday night when the Saints just lit them up.
Of course we all know that Drew Brees is a top three quarterback and he has a number of weapons at receiver. But still - the Patriots knew that the Saints would throw, spent the week drawing up a game plan to defend them, and still couldn't even come close to containing that offense.
Personally, I wouldn't even mind seeing Chad Henne come out and throw it around left and right on Sunday early in the game to loosen up that Patriot defense before turning to the usual run-heavy offense. I hope to see the Dolphins use some play-action passes early and take some shots in the 10 to 20 yard range to keep New England honest. But for this to work, Miami's receivers have got to step their game up and create some separation from these average (at best) Patriot cornerbacks.