The Miami Dolphins will host the New England Patriots on Sunday in a season finale, AFC East showdown. The Dolphins are 10-5 on the year and heading to the Playoffs for the first time since 2008, but they have not received a lot of love from the national media throughout the season. That does not mean Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has overlooked the Dolphins.
“Well I think you've seen the Dolphins make plays in a lot of different areas,” Belichick told the media this week. “It hasn't all been one thing. They've made plays defensively, offensively and in the kicking game. They had the kickoff return against the Jets. They had the 55-yard field goal last week in Buffalo to send it into overtime. [Kiko] Alonso had the interception against San Diego and ran it back for a touchdown that kind of sealed that game. They've had some big runs from [Jay] Ajayi and obviously [Jarvis] Landry has given them a lot of plays. It just seems that it's one of those years and they kind of have that, whatever you want to call it, that type of season where it's just whatever it takes. Whatever it takes, somebody is making it for them. That's the mark of a good team is having good players in all areas and making the plays when they count. Not that plays in the first quarter aren't important - they are - but you get to those plays at the end when everything hinges on the last minute or two and those first 15 minutes came out about even and now it's down to just a play or a drive or a possession or whatever. That's where you've got to have your best execution and your best football and that's usually where your best players step up and come through for you.”
Belichick was not done waxing poetic about Miami this season. Speaking about Miami’s 14 point charge in the fourth quarter back in the Week 2 meeting between the two clubs, a charge that nearly completed a furious comeback only to have New England hold on for a 31-24 victory, Belichick added, “Well, I mean they have a lot of good players. They have a lot of disruptive players. They were able to turn the ball over. They have a lot of explosive players offensively so there's a lot of that in this league. You see it's so evenly matched sometimes it doesn't go back and forth and have seven or eight lead changes. Sometimes one team gets out and then the other team comes back. But look, they've been the best second half team in the league and they've been a great fourth quarter team. They've done it multiple games throughout the course of the season so there has got to be something to it.”
Not to be outdone, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels also took to heaping praise on the Dolphins. Asked about Miami’s top ranked third-down defense this season, McDaniels replied, “They do a lot of different things on third down, but I would say the thing that they do the best is they challenge you at all three levels. They have a really good pass rush. Obviously, they have a lot of guys that can be effective in getting to the quarterback and creating pressure so you force the ball out before you really want to. They get on you tight in the secondary and really challenge your ability to get open versus man coverage, and then they have a pressure package that they have some different unique looks that they will give you and challenge your ability to pick up pressures in those types of situations, and they execute them very well. I think the thing that stands out to us is they have more third-and-10-plus situations than they do any other situations, and I think any time you play a defense that creates more long-yardage situations than they have shorter distances to defend, you're usually going to find that they're ranked highly in third down efficiency, and that is the case with Dolphins.”
McDaniels was not done discussing the strengths of Miami’s defense, “They've played a lot of different guys. We've seen a lot of different guys, not only in the early part of the season when we played them, but in all of our film preparation the last few days, we've definitely - they've played a lot of different people in multiple spots on their defense and [they] now have experience. They're a confident group, they create turnovers, like I told Mike [Reiss] earlier, they put you in a lot of long yardage situations with negative plays and pressure on the quarterback. Sometimes it doesn't always equate to sacks, but when they get pressure on the quarterback and you throw two incomplete passes and you're in third-and-10, that's a bad situation for the offense to be in against this group. They play a very sound defensive system. They challenge you in a lot of different areas, they give you a lot of different looks. They don't sit in one thing and do it the whole game. They play zone, they play man, they blitz, they cover, they rush four. They do a lot of different things that are going to force you to really be on top of your game as you go through each quarter of the game and each series that you're out there on the field. I think they've got a lot of good players at a lot of different spots that have gained a lot of valuable experience as the season has gone on and this is going to be a great test for us down there on Sunday afternoon.”
Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia also got in on the love-fest, focusing on running back Jay Ajayi. He explained, “Ajayi [is] obviously a very good running back. A guy that has really kind of inspired their offense here I would say kind of as of late. I think he's one of the top backs here in the league since Week 6. [He] runs extremely hard, I would say even runs violent. You know the guy just comes downhill with an extreme force and really does a great job with the stretch-run game. They have a couple different schemes that they run with him but basically just putting him on a track where he can get downhill as fast as he can, he really attacks the C-gap hard. He gets kind of that one cut, downhill momentum going, can quickly get to the line of scrimmage, break into the secondary and then obviously has a big advantage when that happens. I think the guy has enough speed and good quickness to get to the edge. You can see him definitely get to the edge of the defense and getting around the corner. There are a lot of plays where he just - he'll run about eight yards before anyone has really had the chance to get on him. I think the offensive line is doing a great job with the scheme of covering guys up and being able to get their hands on them, really making it difficult to find him in the backfield. The offensive line, they're all big and long guys. They're athletic guys so it's hard to kind of see him as he's running through those lanes in behind them then all of a sudden he's on you coming full speed downhill with all that power and force. He's got the ability to break big plays very quickly and turn things into those long runs. I think they're really feeding off that energy. He runs with a lot of excitement and good pad level and I think that's kind of what's fueling them right now as far as the run game is concerned, so definitely a major problem. He's obviously a great back and having a tremendous year. Certainly the first and foremost thing, too, we've got to try to get handled in the game.“
The Dolphins have beaten the Patriots in Miami each of the last three years and will be looking to keep that streak alive this year, with the ability to move into the fifth seed in the AFC playoffs with a win and a Kansas City Chiefs loss, as well as a chance to keep the Patriots from earning the top-seed in the conference if New England were to lose along with a Oakland Raiders win.
And, is it just me, or do other people read Belichick quotes in his mumbling, barely audible voice?