Ryan Tannehill vs. Patriots Defense
Ryan Tannehill is on a roll to start off the 2018 season but playing the Bill Belichick and the Patriots defense will be his toughest test of the year. Fortunately, there looks to be some major cracks in their armor. Currently, the Patriots are allowing 25.7 points per game, 406.3 yards per game and 143.3 rushing yards per game. Those numbers are good for 20th, 28th and 31st respectively. That is what you call a bad defense folks. Both Trey Flowers and Patrick Chung missed the game last week against Detroit and are back on the injury report this week. If they were to miss this game against Miami as well, that would put an already struggling defense even further behind the 8-ball going against this hot Miami Dolphins offense.
On the other side of the ball, Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins offense may not be lighting up the scoreboard but have still been very exciting this season. They are averaging 25 points per game, 324 yards per game and 98.7 rushing yards per game, good for 11th, 23rd and 17th respectively. Going up against the Patriots struggling defense, in Foxborough nonetheless, will still be a tall task for Tannehill. Tannehill is averaging only 229 yards per game through the air but is making a big impact with his ability to scramble and his overall decision making. He is currently 4th in the NFL with a 121.8 passer rating and tied for third in the league with 9.3 yards per attempt. He is also ranked 6th in total rushing yards for quarterbacks. Hopefully the Patriots try and bring the pressure on Sunday as Tannehill is currently second in the league in passer rating under pressure with a 139.2. All in all, I do believe it will come down to us being able to get something going on the ground to allow Tannehill to play complimentary football. If that happens, then he’ll benefit with some big plays off play action.
Advantage: Ryan Tannehill
Tom Brady vs. Dolphins Defense
Tom Brady is, well Tom Brady. Like it or not, he is the most accomplished, not necessarily greatest, quarterback of all time. However, he is (finally)starting to look his age early in the 2018 season. He is actually behind Ryan Tannehill in passing yards, completion percentage, touchdowns, yards per attempt and passer rating. When is the last time you have seen that? Still, this is a division game, and Tom Brady has only lost to the Dolphins one time in Gillette Stadium, back in 2005. The Dolphins did beat the Patriots in Foxborough in 2008 in the infamous Wildcat game, a game which also snapped the Patriots regular season win streak just shy of the Dolphins all-time record, however that was also the year that Brady missed with the knee injury. Even with all of that, playing at home against the Dolphins is something that Brady has traditionally done very well in, and I don’t see that changing this year.
The Dolphins defense is a big reason why they are currently undefeated heading into this critical matchup in Foxborough. They are 6th in points allowed per game at 17.3 and are leading the league in interceptions (7) and opposing quarterback rating (65.6). That is the kind of defense that can not only get you into the postseason but do some damage when you’re there. We also have the X factor back there in Xavien Howard, who is playing at an all pro level this season. Since that Monday night game against the Patriots where he picked off Brady twice, he has been targeted 43 times and allowed just a 13.9 passer rating vs opposing quarterbacks. On top of that, he has seven interceptions and allowed zero touchdowns over that timeframe. Unfortunately, the Dolphins did lose a key rotational piece in William Hayes for the season due to an ACL tear he suffered against the Raiders, and they will also be without Andre Branch. The silver lining to those two injuries is that if there was any position on defense that the Dolphins felt they could sustain an injury or two, it would be defensive end. I am also curious to see if Charles Harris, our 2017 1st round pick, takes advantage of this opportunity as his snap count is looking to increase about 15 plays a game or so.
Advantage: Tom Brady
Adam Gase vs. Bill Belichick
Where Bill Belichick has excelled throughout his career is taking away the strength of his opponents and forcing them to beat him in ways that is atypical from how they are used to operating. He also has a knack for getting the most out of his team, taking players that many teams label as “castoffs” or that have too many off the field issues, and turning them into all stars. Players like Wes Welker, as we Dolphin fans know all too well, and Randy Moss, who looked washed up in Oakland at the time, literally set records after joining Belichicks team. However, this year looks to be a little different for him as the Patriots have looked uncharacteristically average through the first three weeks. Aside from Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady, the Patriots have little on offense or defense that really strikes fear into opposing defenses. It’s going to be up to Belichick to come up with a Game plan to stop this opportunistic Dolphins team.
Adam Gase is finally living up to his reputation as an offensive “guru” or “mastermind” or whatever synonym you may have heard. His offense isn’t lighting up the scoreboard like the Rams or Saints, but it is really, really fun to watch. He has been creative in his formations and play calling, aside from those awful screens, to get the most out of his players and play to their strengths perfectly. Whether it be the speed of Jakeem Grant and Kenny Stills, or the versatility of Albert Wilson, or mobility and decision making of Ryan Tannehill, Gase is doing an excellent job of utilizing his players in ways that allow them to succeed on the field. The beautiful thing about what Gase is doing, is that he is calling a type of offense that really limits on what Darth Belichick does best, and that is neutralize your primary offensive weapon. In Gase’s system, there isn’t really any primary offensive weapon. Kenny Stills has three touchdowns this season while Jakeem Grant and Albert Wilson both have two. Belichick was even quoted in saying that we are a hard team to prepare for due to their versatility. I think Gase needs to find ways to get the running game going using the multifaceted Kenyan Drake and the ageless Frank Gore, as he has not been able to do so this season. If, and it’s a big if, he can do that, then I see the Dolphins coming away with the victory.
Advantage: Adam Gase
There hasn’t been a regular season game of this magnitude for the Dolphins since 2008 when they had to go up to the Meadowlands and beat Favre and the Jets in the final week of the season to make the playoffs. There are a multitude of streaks in play as well. If the Dolphins win, not only will it snap a 9-game losing streak up in Foxborough, but they will go to 4-0 for the first time in 23 years. The last time the Dolphins accomplished this feat was Don Shula’s final season back in 1995. If the Patriots lose, it will be the first time they will be down three games in the division since the turn of the millennium. It will also be the first time since 2002 that Bill Belichick has lost 3 games in a row. Even with all the arrows seeming to point in the Dolphins favor for this game, I just don’t see them going into New England and beating the Patriots. I love Gase’s play calling, but we couldn’t get anything going on the ground last week against a bad Raiders front seven. I think our running game will be key, and if we can have success there, we can win. Unfortunately, I think Belichick knows this too, and will focus much of their game preparation into stopping Miami’s run game this week. Hopefully I’m wrong but going into Foxborough may be just a little too much for the Dolphins at this point of the season.
Final Score: Dolphins 20 – Patriots 28