Dicing the Division: Breaking Down Miami’s Matchup with the New England Patriots
Yes, we saved the best for last. In 2015, Miami will have the privilege of matching up twice with the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Despite the new addition to Brady’s trophy case, the Patriots might not be as strong this season. After losing Darelle Revis, Vince Wilfork, and Brandon Browner, the rest of the AFC East could smell blood in the frigid waters of the North East. Bill Belichick’s genius makes it hard to really analyze the matchups Miami will face again the AFC East superpower, but the team will certainly have a sense that now is the time to unseat the perennial division champs within a suddenly competitive AFC East arms race.
Miami Wide Receivers VS. New England Defensive Backs
Winning this matchup should be Miami’s number one priority heading into their games against New England. While Bill Belichick will always be able to coach his players up and turn otherwise mediocre talent into adequate starters, it is important to attack the opposition’s weakest point, which is will most likely be cornerback for the Patriots in 2015.
This section is very difficult to analyze, as we don’t really know who New England will start at cornerback when the season opens. We do have an idea as to who is in the mix for the starting job, including the newly acquired Bradley Fletcher, Super Bowl hero Malcom Butler, and 2013 3rd rounder Logan Ryan. The beauty for Miami is that it might not even matter.
While New England’s cornerbacks are weak, the Dolphins will have to make plays underneath as the Patriots’ defense features two of the league’s best safeties. Devin McCourty is the NFL’s second best free safety and should stop Kenny Stills from having much of an impact in the team’s two meetings. With McCourty defending the deep pass, Miami will be best served using big bodied receiver DeVante Parker, and skilled route runners Jarvis Landry and Gregg Jennings to make plays in short yardage. Who cares if it takes 16 plays? If it works, keep dinking and dunking.
Jordan Cameron VS. New England Linebackers:
Unfortunately for the Dolphins it will be hard to rely on Jordan Cameron to come up big against the Patriots linebackers. With Jamie Collins, Jerod Mayo and Don’t’a Hightower returning as starters, Bill Belichick’s defense will remain strong over the middle of the field. Collins has elite athletic ability and will be the Patriot’s best bet to cover Jordan Cameron. Patrick Chung will provide coverage support against the Dolphins’ new tight end due to his physicality and toughness. If Miami can break off a few plays for Cameron within the red zone they will be in luck, but I would count him out for the most part when these two teams meet.
Miami Offensive Line VS. New England Defensive Line
In 2014, Miami beat the Patriots through a strong running game, and by dominating on the offensive line. Knownshon Moreno was in fact a thing. I know it was short lived, but goddamn it if you didn’t love that man for 3 hours in early September you aren’t a real Dolphins fan. The problem is that Miami’s offensive line doesn’t seem capable of mimicking that performance in 2015. If they can provide some running lanes for Lamar Miller it would be a huge aid for the team’s offense, but it appears to be an uphill battle against a strong Patriots front-seven.
Branden Albert VS. Chandler Jones:
This will be one of the game’s pivotal battles. Chandler Jones has shown a great deal of potential, and has had a few good seasons for the Patriots. It is just a matter of time before Jones breaks through and goes from being a good player who flashes potential, to a perennial pro bowl candidate. Belichick has to be waiting for Jones to be the next Willie McGinnest.
Branden Albert is a proven entity in the league, and as long as he is healthy Miami stands a good chance at blocking Jones’ path to Ryan Tannehill. This matchup could end up as a stalemate. And all Dolphins’ fans should be infinitely happy with even a stalemate for the offensive line this season wherever and whenever they can get it. Seriously, even just a moderate ass-whipping up front and I’d be okay.
Miami Interior Line VS. New England Defensive Tackles & Linebackers
Every divisional breakdown sounds the same at this point: hide. Run and hide as fast as you can. While I am not overly concerned about the Patriots’ defensive tackles (Malcom Brown and Alan Branch in all likelihood), the prospect of Hightower, Collins and Mayo coming down the middle on a blitz gives me nightmares. Full on night-sweats. Miami will be hard pressed to find a way to block the Patriots linebackers assisting on the blitz, and it will be important for Lamar Miller to contribute as a blocker and help chip the extra pass rushers.
The moral of the story? Pray.
Ja’Wuan James VS. Rob Ninkovich:
Big scary European man versus the eyebrow-less wonder. I like it. Well, actually none of us know if we like it. This matchup depends entirely upon which Ja’Wuan James shows up this season. If we get the Ja’Wuan from the first half of the season, he should be able to handle Ninkovich. If we get second-half Ja’Wuan, it could be messy. It is really impossible to predict, but if Ja’Wuan James plays up to his potential this season it would be a huge help for the Dolphins’ undermanned offensive line. He will have to watch out for Ninkovich’s sneaky play, as he usually sees single blocking due to the other threats in New England’s defense. He is one of the most underrated, and effective, players within Bill Belichick’s vaunted unit.
Miami Defensive Line VS. New England Offensive Line
This is where Miami will have to make their mark. The formula for beating New England has been proven: Pressure. Well, prayer combined with rain dancing and sacrificial worship to the football gods are also factors, but pressure usually helps too.
Miami Defensive Ends VS. New England Tackles:
Miami’s outside rushers (Vernon and Wake) will face two experiences tackles in Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder. In Week 1 Cameron Wake dominated the Patriots, and singlehandedly placed Brady on his rear-end for much of the game. Wake has the speed to beat Vollmer on the edge, and should have a big impact. Olivier Vernon facing Nate Solder will be more interesting. This is a similar matchup to Branden Albert VS. Chandler Jones. There will be a few plays won for each player throughout the course of the game, and whoever can make more of those plays could shift the scales of victory for one team.
Miami Interior D-Line VS. New England Interior O-Line:
Now the fun part. Miami should theoretically run through the Patriots’ interior offensive line like a freight train. Seriously, the Patriots cannot expect Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell, and Tre Jackson to stop Ndamukong Suh, Jordan Phillips, and CJ Moseley. Well, really just Suh. Signing the NFL’s best defensive tackle was a clear move to challenge the Patriots, as the formula to beating the Brady Bunch is proven to be pressure. The big, strong, angry man should do his job here.
Hopefully, New England is forced to double up on Suh, which would leave Wake and Vernon with single blockers. This is where the Suh signing will pay off. If there were anything Dolphins’ fans would pay $100 million to see, it’s Tom Brady on the turf. Often. And aggressively.
Miami Defensive Backs VS. New England Pass Catchers:
This is the big one. While Suh’s presence up front will actually help the defensive backs in coverage, it will still be a tall order to slow down a very deep Patriots offense.
Last season Edelman was able to perform well against Miami, and was the lone positive for New England in that first game. And yes, Brent Grimes will be out for revenge. I believe that Edelman will get most of his looks as a check down when pressure comes hard at Brady, which could result in turnovers generated by Grimes. It will be a huge boost for Miami if Grimes can take away Edelman as a check down, which most would agree is far from impossible.
Jamar Taylor VS. Brandon LaFell
Ladies and gentlemen your “Average-ometer” will be off the charts during this matchup. Maybe both players will just agree to not try. I can say with a fair amount of confidence that LaFell or Taylor will not decide this game. Maybe they can go out for a nice steak dinner and just leave it at 10 on 10. Now I could be wrong, but I don’t think I will be. Which is usually when I’m wrong.
Gronk loves big games against the Dolphins. Maybe they show him more love at the clubs I’m 150% sure he attends in South Beach when he balls out against Miami? Maybe he’s a robot forged in a lab? Maybe he wasn’t forged in a lab and was just raised by gorillas? Who knows? But there is one thing that is certain (as the one Patriots fan I actually associate myself with frequently states): he drinks your milkshake. And he KILLS the Dolphins whenever they play in Foxboro.
Rob Gronkowski will be the most important weapon for the Patriots on offense against Miami. He is Brady’s security blanket. When Suh is coming up the middle, Brady will look right to 87 and fire. It will not be easy for Miami to cover Gronk, but it would be the best way to slow down New England. Last season’s win featured a 50% Gronkowski at best, and it was why the Dolphins won. It hurts to hear, but it is true. If Miami wants to pull out another victory over the defending champs, Reshad Jones and Louis Delmas will have to have the games of their lives, AND get help from the linebackers. Not looking so good, but there is something to be said for a team playing a division rival. It should be noted that some of the best games for Kevin Coyle’s defense have come against the Patriots in Sun Life Stadium, and recently he has been able to scheme up ways to stop the Patriots’ rhinoceros of a tight end.
There is an old expression that you can’t polish dog shit. Well, try telling that to Bill Belichick. His ability to turn subpar players into high-caliber starters makes him the league’s best head coach. The unstated matchup through this entire article that the Patriots will always win is coaching. If you even try to outcoach the Patriots you will do things like throw the ball on the goal line instead of just handing it your All Pro power-running back. And you end up getting intercepted by a completely unknown cornerback. Just like The Hoodie planned.
While wins over the Patriots have always seemed to evade the Dolphins, the one man wrecking crew known as Ndamukong Suh could sway the matchup in Miami’s favor. History has shown Brady’s struggles under pressure. It is the only way to slow down their high-powered offense. Well, pairing Suh with an already strong Dolphins’ defensive line could be just what the team needs. It wont be easy, but if Ndamukong Suh does his job, Miami could be celebrating at least one win over the Patriots this season. Yeah, I said one. They’re still the damn Patriots, and as long as Bill Belichick roams the sideline as the dark emperor of the New England dynasty they’ll win 11 games. But hey, I’d like to see them sun-tanning in December.