This Sunday, the Dolphins have a chance to post a statement win over the injury-depleted Patriots, the type that truly signals a turning point for a new regime. Now, Ryan Tannehill and company have to finally deliver
For the Dolphins, it’s now or never. If they can’t beat Bill Belichick and Tom Brady Sunday, they might as well pack up until the B&B Boys retire.
The opportunity for a signature win, the kind that signals a regime has arrived, doesn’t come any better than this. At 7-6, the Dolphins need a victory—regardless of the opponent—to stay in the race for their first playoff berth with Brady healthy since the Patriots won their first Super Bowl under Belichick in 2001.
The Dolphins are at home, so we don’t have the whole frozen fish scenario if the game was at New England. Miami has righted the ship after losing three of four during the whole Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito mess, winning three of their last four games—two on the road—with the lone loss coming to Carolina, which also beat the Patriots.
The Dolphins, for December football, are relatively healthy. Sure, they had to place two cornerbacks, Dimitri Patterson (starter) and R.J. Stanford, on injured reserve this week, joining tight end Dustin Keller and receiver Brandon Gibson, but Miami is the picture of health compared to the Patriots.
With superlative tight end Rob Gronkowski lost for the season, and rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins battling injuries, the Patriots’ passing game is left with just two talented players, receiver Julian Edelman and running back Shane Vereen, for the Dolphins to concentrate on. Receiver Danny Amendola would be on this list, but it’s clear he’s not near 100 percent gutting out a groin injury. Stevan Ridley is certainly a talented running back, but the Patriots are starting to feel the effect of losing their best-performing offensive lineman, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. The offensive line has underperformed all season.
On defense, the Patriots don’t have tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, and linebacker Jerod Mayo. In the secondary, cornerbacks Aqib Talib (hip), Alfonzo Dennard (knee) and Kyle Arrington (groin), and safety Steve Gregory (finger) are all playing beat up. All of it shows. The Patriots can’t stop the run, and they’re having a hard time rushing the passer since there’s no one to garner attention on the inside. The Patriots would probably like to pressure more, but the state of the secondary makes that an uneasy proposition.
There are no excuses for the Dolphins Sunday. The Patriots are ripe for the taking. Get it done, or you’re no better than the Texans and Browns, who had their chance to pummel the Patriots and instead got beat.
"It’s time," coach Joe Philbin said this week. "There’s nothing to wait for. It’s time to play a complete game and play as well as we can." He was talking about December football, but he might as well have been talking about this one game, against an opponent that has beaten them seven straight times and in 14 of the last 19.
Oh, it is most definitely time.
It’s time for the Dolphins not to be shutout 24-0 in the second half like they were on Oct. 27 after taking a 17-3 halftime lead at New England. And that goes for both the offense, defense and special teams. These were Miami’s second-half possessions: missed field goal, fumble, punt, punt, interception, blocked field goal and interception. Talk about a colossal choke.
It’s time for quarterback Ryan Tannehill to continue his progress, make the right pre-snap reads on every snap to find the mismatch and not hold the ball while trying to be a hero.
It’s time for Mike Wallace to deliver on his $60 million contract by finding any way possible to be a factor in this game.
It’s time for the Dolphins’ defense to be prepared for the Patriots to use their hurry-up attack. It’s time for a talented defensive line to dominate the Patriots up front. It’s time for the two linebackers signed in the offseason, Dannell Ellerbee and Philip Wheeler, to do what they were brought to Miami to do: blitz the living daylights out of Brady and pound him into ineffectiveness. It’s time for the Dolphins’ coverage players to realize that if you shut down Edelman and Vereen, the Patriots are going to have a hard time moving the ball.
"It’s a good time to test yourselves, the one-on-one matchups put it all to the test, the team as a whole and see where you are after all this work you’ve put in come the middle of December," receiver Brian Hartline said.
It’s not just a good time, it’s the only time for the Dolphins against the Patriots.
Head over to Page 2 for five bold Week 15 predictions, and the one-on-one matchup you should watch Sunday.
Get your popcorn ready
The one-on-one battle to watch closely in Week 15:
Colts OLB Robert Mathis vs. Texans LT Duane Brown
Mathis, who is really the lone pass-rush threat on the Colts, leads the league with 15.5 sacks and ranks 10th in our Pressure Points rate. Brown is still one of the best pass-blocking left tackles in the game. He can enter the All-Pro discussion a bit more by shutting Mathis down.
Last week’s verdict:
Titans DT Jurrell Casey vs. Broncos guards Zane Beadles and Louis Vasquez
Casey played 63 snaps against the Broncos in their eventual 51-28 victory. Of those, 29 were plays where the Broncos doubled Casey and he didn’t have a chance, the play was run away from him, or there was a quick pass. Of the remaining 34 plays, the Broncos got the best of the impressive Casey on 24 plays. And it was an entire line effort. There were several zone concepts, stunts by the Titans and other plays that had Casey matched up with everyone from center to the left tackles. Casey appeared to tire greatly as the game went along. He got off to a terrific start, winning five one-on-one matchups against three negative plays for the first three series. But after that, the Broncos adjusted and "won" 21-7 the rest of the way.
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Five bold predictions for Week 15
1. Get ready for Kirk Cousins mania. The Falcons are atrocious against the pass on defense. FootballOutsiders.com has them ranked 31st in efficiency. They can’t rush the passer, and that has made the secondary play look worse than it is. Kirk Cousins, who is getting the call for the shut-down Robert Griffin III, will light up the Falcons, and that will lead to a week-long discussion about whether Washington should trade Griffin or Cousins. That’s a bit unfair. During Washington’s five-game losing streak, Griffin never got to face a pass defense this bad: Chiefs (10th), Giants (13th), 49ers (7th), Eagles (23rd), Vikings (24th).
2. The 49ers’ confidence will be short-lived. I don’t know if the Buccaneers will beat visiting San Francisco, but I expect this to be a low-scoring game. Coming off a big win over the Seahawks, traveling to the East Coast and facing a talented (if sometimes underperforming) Tampa defense is recipe for a tough game for Colin Kaepernick, and a possible upset.
3. Eli Manning might not make it out alive vs. Seattle. The Seahawks are the second-ranked defense in Pressure Points rate on the season, just behind the Texans. The Giants have been near the bottom in pass protection and are currently 29th. Manning is going to have a very tough time surviving the relentless pass rush of the Seahawks.
4. The Jets will give Panthers a fight. This feels like a spot where the Panthers—in between showdowns against the Saints—overlook the Jets, and the Fightin’ Rex Ryans find a way to hang around and possibly pull off a road upset. Yes, I know the Jets are 1-5 on the road and have gotten blown out in the last three of them. Yes, I’m also aware that I can be an idiot.
5. The Bills will start to wonder if E.J. Manuel is the guy. Coach Doug Marrone said the team will start to pare down the playbook in order to give Manuel a more solid foundation to build off of for next season. What happens if that doesn’t work well against the Jaguars, and Buffalo loses? At this point, Manuel is too inaccurate to be relied upon. That’s a problem. Accuracy doesn’t normally improve—quarterbacks are who they are as throwers. If Manuel continues to be erratic down the stretch, there are going to be a lot of questions about him.