fb-pixel Skip to main content

How do the Patriots stack up against this year’s Dolphins?

<?EM-dummyText [Drophead goes here] ?>

Ndamukong Suh is a force to be reckoned with on the Dolphins’ defensive line.Stephen Brashear

For the last decade Dolphins fans have been treated to one disappointment after another, from the four head coaches they fired, to the multitude of draft picks and free agency signings that didn't work out, to the bevy of heartbreaking losses and the one playoff appearance in 14 seasons.

The Dolphins entered the 2016 season with newfound hope created by the hiring of young, brash, and innovative offensive coach, Adam Gase, who replaced Joe Philbin.

And yet the more things change down in Miami, the more they seem the same.

There's no shame in losing on the road at Seattle, 12-10, as the Dolphins did on Sunday. The Seahawks are a good team and have possibly the best homefield advantage in the NFL. But the way the Dolphins lost felt like the same old sorry Dolphins.

Advertisement



Ryan Tannehill and the offense still struggled, amassing just 214 yards and going 3 of 14 on third down. The offensive line couldn't block, and allowed five sacks. The Dolphins lost by 2 points, and had a 27-yard field goal blocked in the fourth quarter. They gave up two fourth-down conversions on the Seahawks' final drive. And they allowed the Seahawks to score the winning touchdown with 31 seconds left.

The Dolphins come to Foxborough this Sunday having lost seven in a row at Gillette Stadium. Let's take a closer look at what the Patriots can expect in all three phases, after reviewing the All-22:

Dolphins offense

Offensive coordinator: Clyde Christensen

Key skill players: QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Arian Foster, WR Jarvis Landry, WR Kenny Stills, WR DeVante Parker, TE Jordan Cameron.

Personnel notes: C Mike Pouncey missed last week with a hip injury and his status is uncertain. Parker sat out with a hamstring injury and is week to week. And RB Jay Ajayi was left home for undisclosed, non-injury reasons, though it appears he will return this week.

Advertisement



What to expect: There's still a lot unknown about the Dolphins, who only have only played one game under Gase and Christensen (the former Colts offensive coordinator) and were playing a bit shorthanded last week without Pouncey, Parker, and Ajayi. They didn't do a whole lot of substituting, with Foster, Landry, Stills, Cameron, and rookie receiver Leonte Carroo each playing at least 85 percent of snaps. Foster, in his first game back since tearing his Achilles' last year, impressively played 46 of 53 snaps.

The Dolphins have invested a ton of resources into the offensive line – first-round picks on Pouncey, right tackle Ja'Wuan James, and left guard Laremy Tunsil, plus a big free agent contract to left tackle Branden Albert — but their run game struggled in the preseason, and those struggles continued in Week 1. Overall they averaged just 3.2 yards on 20 carries, with Foster rushing 13 times for just 38 yards (2.9 average).

Foster will likely remain the primary back, though Ajayi will probably get some work. Damien Williams is the third-down back, and the speedster had a nice 29-yard gain on a screen pass against Seattle.

Tannehill is also a dangerous runner, both on scrambles and designed read-option runs.

The Dolphins don't use a fullback, but their tight ends are active in the run game with traps and wham blocks.

The passing game had the same issues as in recent years — the Dolphins couldn't protect Tannehill or push the ball down the field. According to Pro Football Focus, Tannehill was under pressure on 48.5 percent of his dropbacks against Seattle, the highest rate in the league last week. Expect the Patriots' front seven to give the Dolphins fits with their zone-blitzing scheme, particularly if the Dolphins are forced to use backup center Anthony Steen.

Advertisement



The Dolphins called the game for Tannehill much in the same way the Patriots called last week's game for Jimmy Garoppolo. They call quick passes to get the ball out of Tannehill's hands quickly, use a decent amount of play-action passes to buy Tannehill time to throw, they call screens to Foster, Williams, and Landry, and like to move Tannehill out of the pocket and take advantage of his athleticism.

Landry is an explosive slot receiver and will likely draw heavy attention from Malcolm Butler. Stills played all 53 snaps, but only caught one pass and dropped a sure touchdown on a wide-open bomb. Landry and Stills received 15 of Tannehill's 29 targets.

The Dolphins' offense finally moved the ball when they ran move comebacks and deeper routes late in the fourth quarter, at Tannehill's insistence.

"He kept pressing me to get to that stuff, and I kept talking myself out it," Gase said. "And then finally, once I listened to him, then we marched the ball down the field. I mean it was a great lesson for me as far as, when he says to go to something, we're going to go to it."

Advertisement



Dolphins defense

Defensive coordinator: Vance Joseph

Key players: DT Ndamukong Suh, DE Mario Williams, DE Cameron Wake, LB Koa Misi, CB Byron Maxwell, SS Reshad Jones.

Personnel notes: Williams left last game with a concussion and his status is unknown. Wake was a backup and only played 29 of 82 snaps as he returns from a torn Achilles'. DT Earl Mitchell was placed on injured reserve Tuesday with a calf injury.

What to expect: The Dolphins utilized what is known as the "Wide 9" technique against the Seahawks, an alignment used heavily by the Eagles and Lions in recent years. Basically it means that the defensive line is really spread out. The two defensive ends play outside the tackles (or tight ends), and the defensive tackles line up in the "B" gaps. The three linebackers then fill in the spaces.

The alignment generally helps create a better pass rush, particularly for the defensive ends, who get better angles to the quarterback and put stress on the offensive tackles around the edge. Wake and Williams can basically line up in a track stance, pin their ears back, and get after the quarterback. They will be a tough challenge for Marcus Cannon, Nate Solder, or whomever the Patriots have at tackle.

The Dolphins sacked Russell Wilson three times Sunday and hit him nine times. Suh had one sack and three hits, and will be a good test for the Patriots' interior offensive line.

However, the Wide 9 alignment can be susceptible to the run. With so much space created on the line of scrimmage, it's easier for interior offensive linemen to get out to the second level and create space for the running backs. The Dolphins have quick but undersized linebackers in Kiko Alonso and Jelani Jenkins, and LeGarrette Blount could be in line for a big day of ramming the football up the middle. We also expect James White to have success running the ball out of shotgun spread formations against the Dolphins' sub package.

Advertisement



On the back end, the Dolphins generally play zone defense, and showed a lot of Cover 1 and Cover 3. They blitz their linebackers and Jones occasionally, but generally like to play it safe, keep everything in front of them and then swarm to the football.

Jones is a great playmaker who flies all over the field, but the Dolphins are weak at cornerback. I would expect the Patriots to utilize more three- and four-receiver sets and pick on rookie cornerback Xavien Howard and second-year slot corner Bobby McCain.

Special teams

The Dolphins have a dangerous home run returner in Landry, and one of the league's best special teams coaches in Darren Rizzi, who has held the job since 2010. Rizzi's units blocked five kicks in the 2014 season (three punts, two field goals), and they almost came through for a blocked punt on three occasions against the Seahawks. However, the Dolphins did have a 27-yard field goal blocked in the fourth quarter against Seattle, which proved to be the deciding points.


Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.