Week 2 Preview: Stats, Predictions and Keys to Victory for Miami vs. New England
The Dolphins will enter Week 2 as the underdog once again after their upset bid came up short against the Seattle Seahawks. Miami came within three points of pulling off a historic upset last week, but was ultimately done in by an inexcusable lack of execution outside of Ryan Tannehill and the defensive line. The New England Patriots, meanwhile, will be looking to start the year 2-0 without Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady after a close, but convincing, win against the NFC powerhouse Arizona Cardinals.
I can’t imagine Miami having a more difficult start to the season in terms of opposing venues. To go from CenturyLink Field in Week 1 to Gillette Stadium just one week later is a coach’s nightmare, as they are undeniably two of the toughest opposing stadiums to play in. It will be extremely interesting to see how head coach Adam Gase prepares his team in preparation for another hostile environment after what assuredly was an emotionally draining loss to start the season.
New England Patriots Stats Breakdown:
After one week, the Patriots rank as both a top-15 offense and defense. They were led by a surprising aerial attack, as Jimmy Garoppolo played well in his first career NFL start in place of Brady. He passed for the fifth most yards (257) in the AFC despite going against a defensive backfield that features Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. He achieved this by getting the ball out quickly to his receivers and avoiding drive-stalling mistakes. His 72.7 completion percentage was perhaps the most revealing stat of the night, as Tom Brady achieved that number only four times in 2015. It proved that he was perfectly content with taking what the Cardinals gave him, targeting Julian Edelman early and often on a series of short to intermediate crossing and out-routes. It also led to a comfortable lead in length of possession, with a time of 33:59.
Garoppolo also led the Patriots to a 62.5 third down conversion percentage, proving not only that he is capable of performing under pressure, but also that head coach Bill Belichick once again had a flawless game plan for his offense despite a subpar rushing performance by LeGarrette Blount. The seven-year veteran running back did have a highlight reel touchdown in which he dragged multiple defenders into the end zone, but his performance was otherwise quite pedestrian with an average of 3.2 yards per carry.
New England’s stats on defense are more than respectable as well, considering they face an opponent with a ton of talent. With Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson in the fold, Arizona is widely expected to be one of the league’s most high-powered offenses. Even still, they were hampered by New England’s pass rush (3 sacks for a loss of 19 yards) and an uncharacteristically slow start (no points in the first quarter). All in all, the Pats surrendered a total of 344 yards, just four yards over their 2015 average.
While they obviously got off to a quick start in 2016, it was by no means a perfect performance in Week 1. They allowed two touchdowns off turnovers (both fumbles), failed to notch a turnover of their own, were penalized eight times for a total of 69 yards, and allowed three Arizona touchdowns in three trips to the red zone. In other words, there are some holes to potentially exploit in this matchup.
Keys to Victory:
Start Fast Offensively:
If Miami is going to have a real chance at beating their division rival, they are going to have to get off to a much more successful start than they did against Seattle. While Andrew Franks converted his first field goal of the season in the second quarter, it wasn’t until the final 15 minutes that Ryan Tannehill and Jarvis Landry truly had the chains moving with two straight drives deep into the Seahawks’ territory (one of which resulted in Miami’s first touchdown of 2016). This slow start evidently came back to bite them, as Wilson’s late game heroics left the Dolphins with practically no chance of completing a comeback.
More worrisome is the fact that the Patriots capitalized on Arizona’s own abysmal start to take control of the matchup early in the contest. Led by Garoppolo, Edelman (48 yards in the first quarter) and Chris Hogan (37 yard touchdown), the Pats jumped out to an early 10-0 lead that the Cardinals were unable to overcome this despite outscoring New England 21-13 over the next three quarters.
Given the way Miami’s defense and run game seemed to deteriorate down the stretch against Seattle, the first quarter of play is going to be essential in their second straight upset bid.
Force Garoppolo to Hold the Ball:
One of the biggest complaints against the young quarterback up to this point in his career has been his propensity to hold onto the ball for too long. In garbage time in 2015, Garoppolo took five sacks, and he was criticized for the same issue during preseason. During the season opener, Garoppolo did a much better job at getting rid of the ball. However, on one particular instance, the former Eastern Illinois Panther could not find an open receiver within the first few seconds of the snap from the shotgun. Once the pressure reached him off the edge, he tried to step up in the pocket but was instead met by two more defenders. Garoppolo fumbled on the play, leading to Arizona’s first points of the game.
Garoppolo has the potential to get the ball out quickly; his .33-second release time was just as fast as Brady’s. This isn’t about his physical potential but rather his decision-making. Belichick obviously wants his inexperienced quarterback to get the football to his wide receivers as promptly as possible. He employed a series of screen passes, quick slants and out-routes to ensure this.
Forcing Garoppolo to hold onto the ball will increase Miami’s chances of consistently wreaking havoc in New England’s backfield, and the more chaos surrounding their quarterback, the more likely he will make mistakes. The team that wins the turnover battle will have the upper hand in winning this battle.
Tannehill played a heck of a game against the Seahawks, avoiding major mistakes and leading his team to points when it mattered most. Jarvis Landry was a major reason for that success, leading the team with seven catches. Outside of an additional 50-yard catch from Arian Foster and 29-yard catch from Damien Williams, Miami had little to any further support from its other skill players.
Kenny Stills has to be the guy that steps up. How he bounces back after a horrific Week 1 performance will have a huge impact on this game. Prior to the start of Tannehill’s partnership with Gase, much was made of his pocket presence and ability to push the ball downfield. Then, in the second quarter against Seattle, he threw a perfect deep ball to Stills only to have it clank off his receiver’s hands.
Stills displayed an obvious connection with Tannehill throughout the preseason, suggesting he could be a breakout player for the Dolphins’ offense with DeVante Parker failing to stay healthy. Yet he failed to show that connection last week. He needs to rekindle that magic against New England, as without a reliable second option in the passing offense, success is going to be very hard to come by for Tannehill and the Dolphins.
Improved Offensive Line Play:
Miami’s offensive line surrendered five sacks for 36 yards in Week 1. The second half was particularly messy, and they failed to create any holes in the rush game. Foster suffered the most, averaging less than 3 yards per carry.
In last year’s win against the Patriots, Tannehill was sacked just one time, providing him with a prime opportunity to pick apart the defense. The key for Gase may be establishing a balanced offense and keeping the Pats’ defense guessing. The first step in doing so will be forming a clean pocket for Tannehill to operate in, and opening up enough space between the tackles for Foster and Ajayi to keep the chains moving.
If Miami manages to win the battle in the trenches, they could very well upset the Pats in Foxborough.
BONUS – Covering Rob Gronkowski:
I don’t feel the need to elaborate on this one too much. It is still unclear if Gronk will suit up for this game, but if he does, he will surely be an essential part of Belichick’s game plan. Reshad Jones has historically been the man to face off against the league’s best tight end and should be tasked with doing so yet again. Keeping Gronk out of the end zone would go a long way toward securing a victory.
Miami has a golden opportunity to upset New England in Gillette Stadium. The loss of Brady has an indescribable effect on this team, even considering the surprising debut of Garoppolo. Gase should have a great game plan set up as well, but I’m wondering if they will have a little bit of a letdown after an emotionally draining loss to Seattle. If Tannehill continues his mistake-free play Miami will have a chance, but I think bad offensive line play and a disappointing follow-up performance from the defense will ultimately do them in.
Make no mistake, Jimmy Garoppolo played very well in his first NFL start against the Arizona Cardinals. However, the Miami Dolphins fielded a surprisingly stout defense against what many considered to be the best overall NFL team in the Seattle Seahawks. I think Garoppolo experiences some growing pains while the Dolphins’ offense avoids major errors for another classic unexpected Dolphins over Patriots victory.
Once again, this has nothing to do with the Dolphins’ talent level, but the Patriots are arguably the best team in football. If you don’t believe me, let me just recap what happened last week. The Patriots went into Arizona (a Super Bowl contender), played without Brady, Gronkowski, and other key figures, and still pulled out the victory. This seems like the 500th straight year that it’s Super Bowl or bust for Belichick and Co., and they certainly won’t let the mediocre Dolphins slow them down, especially in Foxborough.
If the Dolphins plan to beat the Patriots in Week 2, their offense will have to improve upon last week’s performance. Coach Gase learned a lesson in Seattle, and Ryan Tannehill will have more input in play calling. Defensively, the Dolphins will have to pressure Garoppolo, forcing the inexperienced quarterback to make a mistake. I think the Dolphins edge out the victory, leaving Foxborough 1-1.
Did the Dolphins nearly upset a team that many considered the favorites to win the NFC? Yes. Will they have a prayer against Jimmy GOATroppolo and the Patriots in New England? No.
Adam Gase will get out-coached by Bill Belichick and the Patriots. The Dolphins’ only hope is that they can outperform them on the field. If the pass rush can rattle Garoppolo, and if the Dolphins can get an early lead and force the Patriots to play from behind, then they have a shot. However, I don’t believe that the Dolphins are quite ready to pull this one off.