youíre trying to dig yourself out of an 0-3 hole, it seems like every game is
the next Game of the Season.
mindset suits Tony Sparano and his One Game at a Time mantra just fine, even
when the margin for error is razor thin.
is it fair to say that this upcoming contest versus the New England Patriots is
really THE Game of the Season?
win erases that horrible 0-3 start by getting them to .500, earns them a
sparkling 4-0 divisional record, and sets the stage for them to take advantage
of a much weaker second half of football, fertile ground for a playoff run.
loss leaves the Dolphins floundering at 3-5, with a three game gap between
themselves and the division leading Patriots, a tough deficit to overcome with
just eight left to play and the wildcard picture looking very iffy.
yes, call it The Game of the Season, because their realistic postseason chances
are pretty much on the line this Sunday (1pm ET, CBS).
talking about winning and actually WINNING are two different things, as Jets
coach Rex Ryan has yet to learn. Then thereís Sparano, who gets it just fine
even though he isnít one to yap about it. He wonít say it, but Sparano knows the Patriots are beatable. But to
pull it off, his guys are going to need their best effort yet.
are my keys to earning this critical win.
Time of Possession: Job One for the Dolphins is to keep QB Tom Brady and his
offense (3rd in the NFL in yards per game) off the field. They must
limit his opportunities and discourage a high scoring affair which the Dolphins
would be hard pressed to win. To do this, the Dolphins must first dominate Time
of Possession, and the best way to do that is to run the ball consistently at the
Patsí 15th ranked run defense. This wonít be as easy as the stats
suggest, especially with Bill Belichick having two weeks to prepare for the
standard and Wildcat sets. The play of guards Justin Smiley and Donald Thomas,
and center Jake Grove, will be critical in dealing with the myriad of games,
stunts, dogs, sets, techniques, and blitzes that Belichick loves to serve up. Really,
as the entire offensive line goes, so go the Dolphins in this one. Miamiís continued
effectiveness with 3rd down conversions (50%, #2 in the NFL) will
also be vital in sustaining time consuming drives.
2) Finish long
drives with points: There is perhaps no bigger sin in football than to go on a
long, sustained drive only to come away with empty pockets. While the Dolphins
have done a terrific job these past four games scoring 30 or better, not all of
that output has been from the offense. In fact, since halftime of the Saints
game, the offense has been pretty much AWOL. So itís terribly important for the
Dolphins that they sustain and finish time consuming drives with touchdowns. The
good news is that the Dolphins are 6th in the league in red zone
efficiency (63%). This trend needs to continue on Sunday.
games the Dolphins have won over the Patriots in recent years all had one thing
in common: Brady (mostly) was consistently under duress. The Pats do a terrific
job of keeping their MVP clean (8 sacks, tied for 4th fewest), so
the Dolphins will have to work hard to beat their pass protection schemes. Just
remember that Brady and his receivers are pretty good at hot reads and beating
the blitz. So when you consider that the Dolphins have two rookie starters at
corner, have struggled at safety versus the deep pass, and have their best
inside linebacker (Channing Crowder) at less than 100%, you realize that defensive
coordinator Paul Pasqualoni will have to be extra careful with the risks he
takes. The Dolphins have had very good success getting to Brady, often out of
base sets by depending on their better players (e.g. Jason Taylor) to win
match-ups. With a deeper stable of pass rushers this year, it will be
interesting to see how Pasqualoni decides to play it.
Last year the Dolphins tried to single cover Moss with disastrous results.
Trying the same thing this year with a rookie corner is just asking for
trouble. Moss is the best WR in the game, a great test for Vontae Davis and
Sean Smith but not one to tempt too often. Davis and Smith cannot lose their
technique against him even for a second because no one has the capability to
make DBs pay for errors better (or faster) than Moss.
This would be a goal for any game, but especially important in this one. It all
gets back to limiting Bradyís chances. The Pats are a very opportunistic team
in this regard. Ruinous turnovers, like the ones WR Davone Bess was responsible
for these past two weeks, will prove very costly.
Field Position: Again, a goal worthy of any game plan but vitally important
in this one. Giving Brady a short field is like tossing meat to a hungry shark.
Punter Brandon Fields and his cover team had a very good game against the Jets.
Theyíll need to do it again this week, especially after drives where the
Dolphins go three-and-out. When the Pats kick to the Dolphins, returners Ted
Ginn, Jr. (#1 in NFL in kick returns) and Bess, together with their blockers, need
to give the offense good field position to work with.
7) Hit the
Home Run: QB
Chad Henne has had some opportunities to hit big plays but has either
overthrown the ball, not seen the open man, or has been under pressure. One or
two easy scores will make the job on Sunday much, much easier. Remember, the
Dolphins have one of the worst scoring defenses in the NFL, surrendering a
whopping 25.3 per game (25th overall); Brady is likely to have
success against them. So, to win this game, the Dolphins will probably need to
register their fifth 30 point effort in a row (a new team record).