Fifteen-of-nineteen, 155 yards, 100.7 passer rating, 15 carries, 75 yards, two touchdowns. Those were the final statistics for New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton in Week 1 when he ran over, around, and through the Miami Dolphins. Now, 15 weeks later, the Dolphins are looking to make sure it does not happen again. The annual home-and-home series between the two AFC East rivals comes to an end on Sunday as the Dolphins welcome the Patriots to Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium.
“I think it’s better communication,” linebacker Kyle Van Noy said of trying to slow Newton this week. “Just playing better. I think we are comfortable with where we’re at and we’ve got to make strides to get better each time we take the field. I think as an older guy, just playing better and having everybody play better helps as well. I think it’s a lot of different things and I hope we do our best to slow it down. They are really, really good.”
The Dolphins need to slow Newton, and the rest of the Patriots, this weekend to keep themselves in realistic playoff contention. Miami (8-5) is currently in the seventh-and-final postseason position in the AFC, edging out the Baltimore Ravens (8-5) based on conference win percentage (5-4 for Miami, 5-5 for Baltimore). The Patriots (6-7) are still in the playoff hunt, but desperately need a win this weekend to stay relevant.
“Cam does a really good job of just controlling that offense and making plays in the passing game and obviously on his feet,” safety Brandon Jones stated on Thursday. “A big pillar of our defense every week is to stop the run, so I think that’s kind of the mindset we go in with each and every week, trying to minimize the run and do what we can from that standpoint, and then from there, being able to play our ball.”
“I think they are third in rushing in the league,” Van Noy continued, looking to to the entire ground-attack for the Patriots. “Their o-line is amazing. (Offensive Line Coach) Cole Popovich does a really good job getting those guys ready to go. That rookie (Michael Onwenu) is playing really well and (Jermaine) Eluemunor is playing well. The backs – Damien Harris is playing really well. Sony (Michel)’s still got juice, obviously James White is just all-around amazing. Then you’ve got Cam Newton who still runs the ball really well. He’s doing a lot of things well. They do a good job. You can splash in the receivers too. They all run the ball pretty well too when they get the ball on sweeps and different things like that. (Head Coach) Bill (Belichick) has them playing hard and he’s a really good coach and they are doing a really good job running the ball.”
Stopping the run will be the absolute key for Miami. Over the last six games, the Patriots have rushed for 800 yards, or an average of 133.3 yards per game. For the season, they are averaging the fifth-most rushing yards per game, gaining 147.5 yards per game on the ground. Newton is only averaging 37.6 rushing yards per game this year, but he put up those 75 yards against Miami and can bust out another day like that if Miami is not prepared for him.
“Just getting a stop,” defensive tackle Raekwon Davis said of what the defensive line needs to do against a multi-threat quarterback like Newton. “We know he likes to rush and he’s a pretty good quarterback. He can rush; he can throw. Just being where I’m supposed to be at, to be honest with you. I’m just trying to keep him (in the pocket) and try to make him throw the ball, basically. We don’t want him rushing.”
Davis added that the team is in a better position now than where they were in Week 1. “I think we’ve improved a lot,” he explained. “There is big improvement. That was my first game starting as a rookie. Anybody can tell the difference. It’s a big difference now.”
Head coach Brian Flores agreed that the team has seen a lot of growth over the last 15 weeks. “I think we’ve made improvements over the course of the season, which is always the goal,” he said. “I think a lot of guys have really worked hard offensively, defensively and in the kicking game, to get better in a lot of areas – communication, technique, fundamentals. But that’s the case for their team as well. I think they’ve made a lot of improvement as well. Week 1 feels like a long time ago, especially in this particular year in 2020 with all of the things that have gone on and the different protocols and things of that nature. We try to take things one week at a time. This week we’re playing against a division opponent who plays well in all three phases. We expect a tough, physical 60-minute ball game.”
The Dolphins are in position to make a statement, right a wrong from Week 1, and set themselves in firm control of the race for the final AFC Wildcard position. If Miami wins out, they are in the playoffs. They can only win out if that includes a win this weekend, meaning they cannot afford a repeat of Week 1.