December is upon as in the NFL season as the Patriots get set to try to clinch another AFC East title this Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. New England is coming off of a solid Thanksgiving win over the New York Jets. By the way, being at the game, I had no idea that Mark Sanchez ran into Brando Moore’s backside until I got home. This game on Sunday is what Tedy Bruschi used to refer to as the “hat and T-shirt game”. However, historically, the Patriots have not played well late in the year against the Miami Dolphins..
I was a fan of the Dolphins coming into the year and by fan I mean that they weren’t going to finish in last place. This idea originated from when I saw this team on Hard Knocks and the way new head coach Joe Philbin brought the team together with not much talent. Now, Miami is 5-6, but Ryan Tannehill has showed a lot of poise at times this year. Last week, he came out against a tough defense in Seattle and drove his team down the field for a game winning field goal. Miami still has a strong defense and a decent running attack. They will look to throw some new schemes at a Patriots’ defense that is starting to improve each and every week.
With that being said, here are my three keys to this weekend’s game in Miami:
Which Receiver is the Bess: If Ryan Tannehill is going to have success against the Patriots’ defense, he is going to have to make quick decisions with the football. The Pats have shown more of a pass rush the last two weeks even without stud rookie defensive end Chandler Jones. The player I am watching on Miami’s offense if they are going to score points is Davone Bess. Bess has been Miami’s slot receiver for years, but has had to become a primary option because of the lack of talent in their receiving corps. Last week against the Seahawks, Bess had seven catches for 129 yards and a touchdown. The last time the Pats and Dolphins played in Miami, he had seven catches for 92 yards. Brian Hartline has had his weeks, but he has been inconsistent. If Miami is going to win, Davone Bess needs to make some third down receptions and move the chains, especially when he has averaged ten targets per game the last two weeks.
Don’t Wake The Pass Rush: For the last three weeks, the Patriots’ offensive line has done a good job protecting Tom Brady from sacks. The Dolphins have had their games against Tom Brady over the years when they have sacked him repeatedly. In the past, that player was Jason Taylor. For the past couple of seasons, that guy is Cameron Wake. Wake is in the running for Defensive Player of the year with 10 sacks in 11 games. Last year, Wake had two sacks in two games vs. New England, but he can make an impact in the run defense as well. For the Patriots, they will look on their defensive line to find another member of the defensive line to step up with Chandler Jones still out and Jermaine Cunningham starting a four game suspension. Look for Trevor Scott or rookie Justin Francis to step up and try to stop the run and free up players like Rob Ninkovich and Don’t’a Hightower to get after Tannehill.
Keep The Bush From Burning Up: Miami is looking for a balanced attack in the running game similar to what the Patriots have found this year with Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. The Dolphins have a nice combo on the ground with Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas. Last week, Thomas had nine carries for 60 yards and a touchdown. He gets some of the carries on the goal line along with fullback Jovorski Lane. As for Bush, he said preseason that he would be the NFL rushing leader at season’s end. This year, he has been inconsistent at best. In Miami’s five wins, he has averaged 77 yards on the ground. In their four losses, he has just 46 yards per game! If Belichick can stop Bush the way he contained CJ Spiller, then this one should be no problem.
Despite the discrepancy in the records, these AFC East games are always tough to predict. The Dolphins are capable of pulling a surprise at home as we saw last week against the Seattle Seahawks. Miami is in a must-win situation at 5-6 with the Bengals and Steelers in front of them plus the Colts have the head-to-head tiebreaker against them. Tannehill will have his flashes in this game, but I think the Patriots’ offense is too machine-like right now even without Rob Gronkowski at tight end or Logan Mankins on the offensive line. I would be worried about a trap game here as the Pats will have a huge game with the Texans next Monday night, They suffered a letdown game earlier this year against the Cardinals and Belichick will not let that happen this time around.
PATRIOTS 38 DOLPHINS 24