Kevin Nogle, The Phinsider (KN): It seems like it has been forever since the Dolphins and Patriots met back in Week 1. Miami obviously won that game, but have been 6-6 on the year since, while the Patriots lost, but havebeen 10-2 since and are in position to, once again, win the AFC East. New England started slowly this year, and it seemed that was especially true for quarterback Tom Brady. Now, the Patriots are rolling like we have all grown accustomed to (and sick of) seeing. What's been the biggest change between Week 1 and Week for New England? Was it just a matter of getting all the pieces on the same page this season and getting Brady comfortable with his weapons?
Greg Knopping, Pats Pulpit (GK): To a degree, I think it's the latter. Brady was frustrated to begin the season. He wasn't able to trust his offensive line. Rob Gronkowski wasn't moving well.
Since then, the Patriots finally have a consistent starting five up front. From left to right, they have left tackle Nate Solder (struggling), Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell, and Sebastian Vollmer.
Since getting some consistency up front, everything else has become that much easier. Brady has been able to develop a chemistry with free agent pick-up Brandon LaFell (watch them hook up time and time again on 1st downs). Julian Edelman has been himself all year. Rob Gronkowski looks way more explosive than he did at the start of the year. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has been an excellent playcaller - finding ways to mask some of the team's deficiencies up front.
It's been a growth process. There are still some kinks to get worked out. But this offense is completely different than the one the Dolphins dominated week one.
KN: Speaking of Brady, the Dolphins have already faced, and lost to, one quarterback who defies aging in Peyton Manning. Now, they will face another. Earlier this year, the end of the Brady era seemed to be closing in on New England, and every analyst knew it. Someone appears to have forgotten to tell Brady, though. As someone who follows the team as closely as you do, what is the truth about the future of Brady? Does he have several years left? Is there a part of his game that is actually deteriorating?
GK: Brady's career path is going to be tough to predict from this point forward. Much like Peyton Manning, he's beginning to enter unprecedented territory when it comes to an aging superstar quarterback. I think Patriots fans had begun to resign themselves to Brady being on the decline early this year. But since week four, he's been like his old self. His mobility in the pocket has been improved as his trust in his receivers and offensive line has grown. I think the only part of his game that has noticeably slowed is his deep ball. It just hasn't been there, even with the rest of the offense clicking. Also, as the last two weeks have shown, if you can rattle Brady early and create some distrust in his offensive line, he can fall into some bad habits.
KN: New England seems to have decided that they are sick of watching teams pass against them, because a pass defense has shown up this year. The team can get after a quarterback and they can shut down wide receivers. ESPN put out a mindblowing stat this week that Philip Rivers was 2-for-10 against the Patriots this past contest in passes thrown more than five yards down the field. Obviously, Darrelle Revis is a big part of that, but what else is it about the Patriots' pass defense that has them playing so well this year?
GK:The Patriots have turned to a press-man, match-up based secondary. For the most part, the unit has been fantastic. If it wasn't for an anemic pass rush, a lot of the numbers they've allowed would look even more favorable for the unit.
Aside from Revis, the Patriots have Brandon Browner in the fold. He was on suspension when the Dolphins and Pats met week one. He's been as advertised. Physical, instinctive, strong. He can get burned by double moves and will commit penalties. But he brings an edge to this Patriots defense that they haven't had in recent years.
Kyle Arrington has once again emerged as one of the best slot cornerbacks in the league. He's been a constant in nickel packages, and is having a fine year.
The safeties, Devin McCourty, have also been excellent. McCourty is so good at covering space that the Patriots deploy a fair amount of cover one packages. Chung is more of an in-the-box safety, but has performed well in man-coverage duties as well.
And of course, there's Revis. He can guard literally any type of receiver, which gives the Patriots so much flexibility on the back-end. Browner can take bigger, more physical receivers, Arrington the faster, shiftier players. Revis can take anyone. There isn't a personnel grouping the Patriots can't match up against.
KN: Reading the Patriots' injury report each week is nearly an undecipherable code, as they will traditionally list just about everyone in the "limited" or "questionable' categories, from Tom Brady to the assistant equipment manager's cat. This week, some of the bigger names who are on the list include running back LeGarrette Blount (Did Not Practice), wide receiver Julian Edelman (Questionable; Thigh), linebacker Dont'a Hightower (Questionable; Shoulder), defensive end Rob Ninkovich (Questionable; Heel), running back Shane Vereen (Questionable; Ankle), and Brady (Probable; Ankle - and will obviously be playing). What can you tell us about the actual health of the Patriots, and will any bigger names be missing the game?
GK: Let me just give you a quick injury report as I see it (feel free to trust this more than whatever status the Patriots have placed on these players:
LeGarrette Blount: Missed practice for court case, will play
Julian Edelman: probable
Rob Ninkovich: probable
Chander Jones: questionable, true game time decision
Dont'a Hightower: doubtful, but game time decision
Brandon LaFell: probable
Shane Vereen: probable
Tom Brady: removed from injury report
The big question marks on the injury report are Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower. They might be the two best players on this defense after Revis. That'll be the situation to watch, and it's too close to call (whether or not they play) at this point.
KN: Ninkovich. Larry Izzo. Damon Huard. Junior Seau. Terrell Buckley. Wes Welker...The list of players who have left Miami and end up in New England is long, and usually those guys come back to bite Miami in some way. This year, Brian Tyms and Jonas Gray have both had really-good-to-great performances, but have been barely used as of late (Gray, after his oversleeping incident, has been just about benched ever since, playing three snaps last wee, while Tyms played just one). Should Dolphins fans be scared of watching another former Dolphins player gouge them, or is that threat not really on the table?
GK: Tyms has flashed a lot of potential, but is nothing more than a designated deep threat at this point. He plays less than 10 snaps a game, and has only been targeted a few times. You have to respect his ability to make contested catches down the field, but his usage is very predictable.
Jonas Gray deserves more playing time. He's a better short yardage back than the slow-accelerating LeGarrette Blount, and offers a nice change of pace. I'm a fanboy of Gray. I love the way he runs the football. At some point, Belichick and McDaniels are going to give him another chance. He's talented.
A big thanks to Greg for taking some time to catch us up on the Patriots. You can check out my answers to his questions here.
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