Dolphins’ offense: 112.0 rush ypg (15th)
Patriots’ offense: 123.3 rush ypg (10th)
Dolphins’ defense: 117.3 rush ypg(19th)
Patriots’ defense: 119.0 rush ypg (20th)
The best way to move on from a difficult loss is to begin preparing for your next opponent. Similarly, to the Dolphins getting back to work here in the next couple days, it’s time for us to begin previewing the Dolphins-Patriots match-up. The Jets game is now officially in the review mirror and there’s really no reason to bring it up again until December.
Week 4 is here, and it’s a must win for the Dolphins. I know it’s early, but in my mind anyway, I don’t see the Dolphins winning the AFC East if they lose back-to-back home games against their two biggest competitors in the division. Considering Green Bay on the road, Pittsburgh at home, and then back on the road against Cincinnati and Baltimore await the Dolphins after the bye, they could be on the verge of burying themselves in yet another early season hole despite the 2-0 start.
That’s why the Dolphins must come away with a victory Monday night to maintain good position for a playoff push down the stretch of a less daunting second half schedule, let alone keep up in the heated AFC East race.
Even though the Dolphins finally unleashed their passing attack a couple nights ago, and the Patriots are one of the most pass happy teams in the whole league, the running game will, once again, play a big role in who comes out on top Monday night and keep at least a tie for the division lead.
Patriots running game vs. Dolphins run defense
Although Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and Wes Welker usually get all the recognition on the highlights, the New England Patriots have a very underrated running game. After a solid 12th overall ranking a year ago, the Pats are back at it with the 10th best running game after three weeks. Even better, their 4.6 yards per carryis tied for 7th. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has clearly established himself as the most productive in their committee of backs, with a very solid 4.5 yards per carry and a total of 136 yards. Fred Taylor is still holding down a contributing role with 98 yards of his own on 25 carries.
With all that said, though, I still think the Dolphins are getting somewhat of break after facing Adrian Peterson in Week 2, and the best offensive line in football on Sunday night. After stuffing the Bills’ trio of backs in Week 1, the run defense has completely fell apart. Sparano even used words like “stop the bleeding” in his press conference after the Jets game. If you can’t stop the run, no matter how much the passing game is beginning to take over, you can’t win in this league.
What is the cause for the struggles you might ask? Well, teams are beginning to test the edge, more specifically Cameron Wake and Koa Misi, and are finding all kinds of room to operate. Wake and Misi need to do a better job of block shedding and containing the perimeter, and force teams to test the middle of the defense again. Running right at them with consistent success will only get them back on their heals, thus slowing down the one thing Wake has been superb at, and the one area Misi has actually flashed some promise with his motor- the pass rush.
Another explanation could be injuries. Of course, injuries are apart of the game, every team has them, and the Dolphins will undoubtedly have some more, but Jared Odrick and Channing Crowder being out could be holding back this run defense. With Odrick at defensive end and Starks at nose tackle the Dolphins looked stout against the run in Week 1. Grant it, the Bills offensive line isn’t very good, but the Dolphins front seven had their way with them like would expect in a lopsided match-up.
With Odrick out, though, the Dolphins were forced to move Starks back over to defensive end, and Paul Soliai filled his void at nose tackle. It’s not like the front three have been terrible after the switch, as a lot of the yardage has been surrendered on the edge, but that front three looked pretty quick and athletic in that first game. We don’t know Odrick’s status yet, but best case scenerio was he was going to be back for this game.
Channing Crowder, meanwhile, hasn’t played a down yet this season and just returned to practice last week. For all of his struggles as a playmaker, he is fantastic against the run. Besides, the Dolphins have their playmaking inside linebacker now, and his name is Karlos Dansby. When Crowder returns, he simply needs to do what he’s done his whole career. Sure, some game changing plays would be welcomed, but if he can simply return to his 08′ form, when he was a complete beast filling in running lanes, the Dolphins’ run defense will significantly improve the second he gets back on the field.
I’m a little more optimistic inCrowder’s case too. He practiced, on a limited basis anyway, last week. I think another week of practice will be enough to get activated on the game day roster against the Pats.
On another note, Tony McDaniel’s one-game suspension hurts the depth at defensive end. Odrick returning this week would surely benefit some of the concerns there.
Dolphins running game vs. Patriots run defense
Just like the defense, the Dolphins’ running game should be getting a much needed break this week. After facing consistently one of the best run defenses in football two weeks ago in Minnesota, and facing the all-around great defense of the Jets, the Dolphins will surely welcome the 20th overall run defense this week.
Does that ranking do the Pats’ defense justice? Just three games can be awfully misleading, but I think it’s safe to say Monday night will provide a great opportunity for the Dolphins to get what was thought to be one of the better rushing attacks in the league going again. Vince Wilfork is still one of the best nose tackles in football, but the absence of Ty Warren at defensive end obviously detracts from their ability to stop the run. Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo provide some potential up the middle at linebacker, but are nothing like the David Harris-Bart Scott combo the Dolphins faced on Sunday night.
A lot of it just comes down to the Dolphins blocking better, though. People may want to place the blame on an expired wildcat, or Ronnie and Ricky losing a step, but to me, it all boils down to the interior offensive line. John Jerry being sick last week obviously hurt. Hopefully he returns to 100% by practice tomorrow, because the longer the starting guards and center play together, the more chemistry and cohesiveness will begin to build. Throwing Pat McQuistan into the starting lineup doesn’t bode well for the continuity.
And just because the Dolphins threw all over the Jets Sunday night, that doesn’t mean it’s time to abandon the identiy of this offense. They moved the ball, but they still fell apart in the red zone. Settling for three field goals and turning the ball over in the end zone attempting to tie the game isn’t a great offensive day in my book. Henne and his receivers were fantastic, yes, but for the Dolphins’ offense to dominate defenses and rack up the scoring they are going to need a little help from the running game.
The wildcat may have killed a few drives, but it seemed like any running play the Dolphins ran Sunday night halted the momentum the passing game was building. It shouldn’t be that way. With two talented backs like Ronnie and Ricky, the running game should keep the defense off balance and help sustain long drives that eventually tire the defense out. Then, chunk yardage, whether it be from the running game or passing game, should follow.
For the Dolphins to beat the Pats, we need to see both the passing game and running game on full display. We’ve seen potential from both, but we haven’t seen both doing well simultaneously. If Dan Henning can strike up the right balance, this offense should be successful against anyone they play, and should definitely be able to move the ball up and down the field against what has been a sub-par defense.