Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been under more duress from opposing pass rushers while his threat to throw deep has all but disappeared. The offense does not look like the same unit that put up 23 points in the second half of a 33-20 season opening win over New England.
Tannehill was sacked six times in last week's loss to Baltimore and has led just two touchdown drives over the past eight quarters. The Dolphins escaped with a 16-13 road victory over the New York Jets two weeks ago, but after taking a 10-0 lead on Baltimore in the first quarter were outscored 28-3 the rest of the way.
''It makes your life a little bit more difficult when you're behind the chains so to speak,'' said head coach Joe Philbin, referring to some negative runs, sacks and penalties on first downs that plagued Miami against the Ravens. ''I think if you look back at what we were able to do in the first game (against New England), I think we were able to be in some manageable third downs and I think that's going to be important in this game. You're on the road, they've got a good pass defense and a good pass rush.''
The loss of veteran left tackle Branden Albert to a season-ending knee injury last month at Detroit has taken its toll on an offensive line that has given up 14 sacks in the last four games without him. Rookie Ja'Wuan James had to move over from the right tackle spot and his college teammate at Tennessee, Dallas Thomas, took over at right tackle. Several of Baltimore's sacks came at the expense of Thomas, and he will likely be targeted more on Sunday.
Despite the shaky performance last week, Tannehill still has confidence in his linemen and they have confidence in his ability to keep plays alive with his feet and make quick decisions with his throws. That aspect of his game will have to work in concert with the protection.
''It helps, especially if you get beat on the block he can make it right a lot of times,'' James said. ''But we don't have a clock in our heads. We've got to keep blocking until we hear the whistle.''
A combination of James and veteran guards Mike Pouncey and Daryn Colledge have been in Thomas' ear this week making sure he moves on from the Ravens game. Miami will need the entire line to play better against a hot Patriots team.
Wide receiver Mike Wallace is expecting to be covered again by Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis and even though he and Tannehill haven't connected enough on the deep ball, he is ready for Revis to contest the route anyway. Revis acknowledged that Wallace is still a vertical threat and that he has to defend him that way.
''I know I'll see him. How much? I'm not sure,'' said Wallace, who has 700 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. ''We are playing the Patriots. You never know what those guys are thinking. You just have to go about your business and prepare like you're going to play against him or whoever. However the game unfolds, we'll be ready.''
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