The Patriots know Miami and quarterback Ryan Tannehill well from four years in the same division. But Tannehill played for Joe Philbin from 2012-15, the coach who, despite having drafted Tannehill, limited his ability to be a part of the game-planning process or to call audibles.
Now, quarterback guru Adam Gase is the head coach and Tannehill has been enabled to play a larger role in controlling the offense. It didn’t go so well in Week 1, when the Dolphins put up just 10 points against the Seahawks. Gase said he should have listened to Tannehill even more when calling the offensive plays, so expect the newly empowered Tannehill to show up Sunday.
“You definitely can see Tannehill in the games that he’s played in the preseason and then [Sunday], he does have the ability to change plays, audible, move them around, check plays based on the looks, and try to get them in the best play possible,” Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said.
The Patriots already know Tannehill is athletic, and can make good throws on the move in the pocket. Bill Belichick, though, said that evaluating him within the Dolphins’ new system, in preseason games and last week, will be paramount.
“I don’t think we’ve seen anything physically from him that we didn’t already know about, but what we see now is the way that he handles the new offensive structure that they have and obviously that system is built to go through the quarterback in terms of on-the-line play-calling, adjustments, signals, identifying blitzes and pressures, and things like that,” Belichick said.
“I don’t think there’s any question that what Tannehill’s doing now — what he’s done this year is what’s most important to us because that’s the system that he’s playing in.”
The Patriots have crossed paths with Gase before, too. He and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels were both lower-level assistants on Nick Saban’s Michigan State teams in the late 1990s, when Gase was a student.
In 2009, when McDaniels was with the Broncos, he hired Gase as wide receivers coach.
“Tempo is always something that could be part of the game plan that you have to prepare for, so you know you’re going to face a team that’s well-prepared,” McDaniels said.
There were hot takes aplenty after Jimmy Garoppolo’s 24-for-33 night against Arizona, but none from McDaniels. He offered a fairly reasoned analysis of Garoppolo’s first start.
“Jimmy took his preparation and tried to apply it to field as best he could. That’s what his goal is each week and I thought he did a nice job of that,” McDaniels said. “I thought he made some critical plays for us, there’s no question about it. Those are things you need to do to win in this league.”
McDaniels said he thought it was still too early to put much time into considering how the Dolphins would react to Sunday’s game tape.
“I think for us to try to worry about how somebody may or may not play us or try to defend us or try to affect what we’re doing, it’s really a hard thing to narrow down,” he said.
Relying on Hightower
Dont’a Hightower has had time to adjust to the role of defensive signal-caller, filling in for fellow linebacker Jerod Mayo in past seasons when the former defensive captain was injured. But with Mayo now retired, the role is Hightower’s to make his own.
“Dont’a just does an excellent job of leading when he’s out there, so he’s certainly someone I rely on a lot,” Patricia said. “We talk a lot about the scheme and we talk a lot about what we’re trying to get done.
“He’s a guy for me that is out on the field but is really the voice that’s coming through of what we’re trying to get done. A really smart player; very tough, physical, all the ability, but just a really smart football player.”
Hightower called a timeout with less than a minute to go in the second half of Sunday’s game. It was curious the Patriots waited so long since the Cardinals were getting within range for a go-ahead field goal, but Belichick said Hightower did exactly what he wanted. Belichick was waiting for the Cardinals to kick, and thought they’d either line up quickly and kick it or line up and run off some clock, which could have made the Arizona kicker uncomfortable. Obviously, it worked out for the Patriots.
“[Timeouts are] always going to come into play at the end of the game,” Belichick said. “It’s just a question of which team is going to use them. I think there’s a whole different priority and importance to those at the end of the game.”
“Like for example, the one that we used at the end of the game to try and help us on defense — had the game gone a little differently we might’ve wanted that timeout. We might’ve needed it on offense, but you’ve got to use them when you think it’s the most important and when it will help you.”