The Dolphins ride into what is the most important game of the season on a 2-game winning streak, with a patchwork o-line working better than the one originally envision, a running game finally getting results and ascending play from young Ryan Tannehill. Last week was a statement game by this much-maligned team; this Sunday is an opportunity to ghostbust another team that has haunted them in recent history and make an argument for best team in their division.
As Sunday approaches, here are some things to look out for:
1. Can The Dolphins Finally Take Advantage of a Weakened Pats team?
On paper, the Patriots are down one of their best players (Gronk), their running back situation is spotty, and their rushing defense is 2nd-worst in the league. However, these are the Patriots and they still have Tom Asshole Brady. The Pats managed to go 5-1 without Gronk earlier in the season and Aqib Talib is one of the best corners in the game (someone that will surely neutralize Wallace once again). Therefore, the Dolphins will have to rely heavily on Brian Hartline and Charles Clay once again in the passing game and their improved running game. Based on recent performances by their running backs, it seems clear that platooning Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas doesn't work so here's to hoping the Dolphins ride the hot hand and feed him early and often throughout the game.
2. Need More Big Play Clay
Amidst a bevy of seemingly useless draft picks, Ireland sure found a diamond in the rough in TE/FB Charles Clay. Everyone thought we were totally hosed after Dustin Keller went down in the preseason but BIG PLAY CLAY has steadily improved, gained confidence and become a huge weapon in this offense. In the past 4 games, Clay has 24 catches for 294 yards and 3 TDs. He's as important a player on offense as just about anyone right now and the Pats will no doubt be honed in on him (he had a modest game against them back in October). The Dolphins will need to find a way to get him out in space and confuse the defense to focus on Mike Wallace and their other weapons as they did against the Steelers.
3. Ascending Tannehill
Right up there kicking nards left and right with Clay is Ryan Tannehill as of late. He's completed at least 60% of his throws in each of the last 6 games and has had a respectable 2:1 TD-to-INT ratio to go with it. Furthermore, the Dolphins are finding better ways to use his legs as a weapon against teams by occasionally having him keep the ball on spread option plays. He's run for 21, 36, 22, and 56 yards in the last 4 games and most of these rushing plays were not of the 'holy-shit-my-offensive-line-plays-like-5-dudes-with-Kmart-fishing-poles-for-arms' variety. There has been a marked difference in the playcalling and offensive schemes since the San Diego game and it shows in the production and execution of Miami's offense. This must continue against an intelligent and better-than-ranked Patriots defense that always ends up with at least 1-2 really game-changing and impossibly annoying Rob Ninkovich plays. OWHA PLAYAHS AWHE SOAA MUCH GRITTYAH!!!
4. Start Strong, Finish Strong
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The Dolphins finally scored a 4th quarter touchdown last week for the first time since the Reagan Administration. The Patriots are notorious slow-starters - but as evidenced in our Week 8 loss against them - the Patriots have a Heat-like ability to say 'okay, enough fucking around...let's win this game and get the fuck outta here'. If the Dolphins want to win this game and put their balls on the AFC East table, point at them and ask someone to gently rub butter all over them, they will need to be consistent throughout the game. There's no more room for lapses or mistakes; the Patriots have beaten us NINE times in a row, dating back to 2009. Enough is enough and it's time for the Dolphins to step up.
....Or they might as well pack it in and be 7-9 foreverrrrrrr.
The Patriots come to Sun Life Stadium this Sunday to face the playoff-hopeful Dolphins. Kickoff is at 1 p.m.