By Jeremiah Thermidor
Earning a victory against perhaps the best team in the league will be no easy task for the Dolphins, but they’re certainly up for the challenge as they prepare to face off against New England on Sunday. The Patriots are riding a five-game winning streak, which included a 49-19 thumping of the New York Jets in their last matchup on November 22. New England, of course, boasts a high-powered offense behind the consistent play of 13th-year All-Pro quarterback Tom Brady.
Brady currently has the second best passer rating in the NFL this season (105.2), behind only Packers QB Aaron Rodgers.
“He’s playing at an extremely high level,” said Dolphins coach Joe Philbin on Thursday when asked if there’s anything he sees on film in Tom Brady that can be exploited. “The big thing for us is we’re going to have to get off the field on third down and we’re going to have to play well in the red zone and keep them out of the end zone.”
Ironically, the last team that defeated New England this season was Seattle, who the Dolphins just beat last Sunday. Miami’s coaching staff certainly looked at some of that game footage to analyze what the Seahawks did to claim the 24-23 win. Although Brady passed for 395 yards in the contest versus Seattle, he threw two picks as well. So, if the Dolphins are able to put some pressure on the Pro Bowl quarterback early and get in his head a little bit, they could force him to make some mistakes and turn the ball over.
Brady, however, isn’t a mistake-prone quarterback as he’s only thrown three interceptions this entire season. So, Miami really can’t hinge its hopes on Brady turning the ball over often. He’s been very efficient this season because of his offensive linemen, who have given their quarterback ample time in the pocket to make all the right decisions. “They do a good job protecting the quarterback,” said Philbin. “I think Dante Scarnecchia is one of the best line coaches in the league. They do a great job. He doesn’t get hit a ton.”
Miami’s defensive backs will look to hinder New England’s receivers to the best of their ability. Patriots wide out Wes Welker and Julian Edelman have stepped up the past few games. Welker has totaled 225 receiving yards in his last three starts while Edelman has enjoyed time in the end zone with two touchdown receptions during the past two contests. Welker, a four-time Pro Bowler, has earned the respect as one of the best slot receivers in the NFL today. His speed and his ability to get open and catch passes in tight windows is why he’s regarded as a force to be reckoned with anytime he steps on to the field. “He’s a good football player. He catches the ball well,” said Philbin. “He has good awareness and anticipates well.”
As far as New England’s defense is concerned, the unit hasn’t done so well this season defending the pass. In fact, the Patriots are 29th in the league in passing defense. But they have done a respectable job defending the run, limiting rushers to an average of 3.9 yards per game and forcing a league-high 11 fumbles from running backs. New England also has the NFL’s best linebacker in Jerod Mayo who leads the league with 112 tackles. The Patriots, who will likely win the AFC East division this season, have some flaws here and there. But their strengths outshine the weaknesses they do have. Miami will have to play its best football if it hopes to walk away with the win.
The Miami Dolphins (5-6) will play host to the New England Patriots (8-3) on Sunday at 1 p.m. eastern. You can watch full coverage of the game on CBS 4.
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Jeremiah Thermidor is a freelance writer covering all things Miami Dolphins. His work can be found on Examiner.com.