It’s that time of week again. Time to sit down with a blogger from the team the Dolphins are scheduled to face for a little Q&A exchange. I don’t know about you, but to me, this is hands down becoming the best read of the week. Please welcome in Derek Hanson from Foxboro Blog, Bloguin’s one stop for New England Patriots’ coverage. Be sure to check out the questions I answered for Derek about the Dolphins right here.
Phins Phocus: How are you feeling about the Pats’ defense right now? Will they turn it around, or do you see a mediocre defense separating them from the dominate Patriot teams of years past?
FB: I’m certainly not excited by what I’ve seen of the Patriots defense thus far, but I also don’t think that it’s been the disaster that most people are making it out to be. The bulk of the points that New England gave up against Cincinnati came after the Patriots were already up by 20. The D certainly wasn’t great against the Jets, but I tend to pin that loss more on the offense who blew a halftime lead by getting shut out for the last two quarters. As for the 30 points they surrendered to Buffalo, seven came off a kick return, and other seven were set up by an offensive fumble that gave the Bills great field position. That leaves 16 points, one TD and three FG’s, which isn’t horrendous.
Don’t get me wrong, the defense certainly needs work and is nowhere near the level that we saw during the Patriots big runs last decade. That being said, the bulk of our defensive players have played less than three seasons, and they’re still learning to play together. I do expect things to improve as the season progresses. Right now, the Pats’ D has some flaws, but pretty much every team in the league has something wrong with them. I don’t think there’s a clear-cut favorite for the Super Bowl at the moment. With some improvement, there’s no reason this defense shouldn’t be good enough to keep New England in contention.
Phins Phocus: If you were an opposing defensive coordinator, how exactly would you go about stopping Tom Brady and the Pats’ offense?
FB: Tom Brady simply has so many weapons at his disposal, that I don’t think that any team can shut them all down. I think there are two keys to stopping New England. For starters, if you can stop the run game, the Patriots have a tendency to abandon it and become very predictable and one-dimensional. Once you’ve been able to shut down the run, I’d say the next key is to make it difficult for Brady to hit Wes Welker. The Jets were able to turn Welker into a non-factor in the second half of their game, and, as a result, Brady was stuck either bombing to Moss (which has a high incompletion percentage) or throwing to receivers he’s less comfortable with. That’s how New England’s powerful offense found themselves shut out in the second half.
Phins Phocus: How much longer do you anticipate the Super Bowl window being open for this team? How much longer will they remain elite, or have they already fallen from that pedestal?
FB: I actually don’t see the Super Bowl window as something that is closing on this team. I think it’s a window that’s been shut since last season, is currently still shut, and is about to open up again. This Patriots team is young. Yes, Brady, Moss, and Welker are all getting up there in years, but they certainly aren’t rapidly declining. Then you have a defense comprised largely of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year players, who all look good but just need time to mature. Tack on two 1st round picks and two 2nd round picks in 2011, and the Patriots are a team that could be really, really scary in a couple of years. 2011-14 has the potential for some nice Super Bowl runs with the way this team is currently set up.
Phins Phocus: With the Pats, Phins, and Jets all being tied at 2-1, how do you see this heated race eventually playing out?
FB: It’s really anybody’s game at this point, although I think New York and New England have a slight edge over Miami. Monday Night’s game is absolutely critical. Whoever loses that game will have dropped two of two to their top division rivals. It would be particularly devastating for Miami, because you would’ve have blown both home games and I’m not sure you can recover from that. At least with a Pats loss, they were both on the road and there’s reasonable hope for redeption at home. Still, whoever loses on Monday is going to be in a really bad spot.
I’m going to stick with the Patriots taking the division. In the end, they have the better quarterback, and the Jets just seem ripe for an implosion. Like I said though, it’s anybody’s game. The only team that would surprise me is Buffalo.
Phins Phocus: How do you see Monday night’s game unfolding? Final Score?
FB: I’m very, very nervous about this game. No matter how good the Patriots are or how bad the Dolphins are, this annual game at Miami is usually a house of horrors for New England. One thing that I think does bode well for the Patriots is that everyone seems a little down on them. When that happens, they tend to respond by coming out and playing some good football.
I think it’s going to be a fairly physical game. The Patriots will likely get their points and the big question will be how the defense plays. A key for the Patriots will be stopping the run. I think that the secondary will have their hands full with Brandon Marshall. If the Dolphins are also allowed to run all over the field, it’s going to be a long night for the Patriots.
Another thing to watch is how New England plays during the second half. In 2009, the Patriots were 1-6 on the road if you discount the neutral site game in England against Tampa. In the majority of those games they held leads going into halftime before they stalled out and blew the game. Two weeks ago against the Jets it was the same old story. The Patriots are certainly going to have to reverse that trend if they want to walk out of Miami 3-1.
I think the Patriots will be able to contain the run and put enough pressure on Henne to force him into some mistakes. Brandon Marshall will get his catches, but in the end the New England offense will put up enough points to seal the deal.
Prediction: New England 31, Miami 27