Patriots Prepping for Different Dolphins Without Ronnie Brown


December 4, 2009

Patriots Prepping for Different Dolphins Without Ronnie Brown When the Patriots were preparing to face their AFC East-rival Dolphins back in Week 9, most of the talk from New England centered on the difficulties in defending against Miami's Wildcat offense. This time around, the Dolphins' Wildcat seems on the surface to be considerably less threatening.

The Patriots won that first matchup at home on Nov. 8, eking out a 27-17 victory despite Miami's success with their versatile direct-snap formation. But when the Dolphins' lead back — and Wildcat quarterback — Ronnie Brown went down with a season-ending foot injury against Tampa Bay the following week, their offensive philosophy would have to change.

Just four weeks removed from its first meeting with the Dolphins, New England must now plan for a vastly different Miami team.

Or is it?

Interestingly, despite the loss of Brown, Miami's philosophy hasn't changed all that much. Though Brown was one of the league's more exciting backs prior to his injury — he rushed for 648 yards and eight touchdowns in the nine games he played, also throwing for a touchdown in that Week 9 loss to New England — Miami's offense has hardly missed a beat. In fact, since their loss to the Patriots a month ago, the Dolphins have gone 2-1, topping both the Buccaneers and Panthers before falling 31-14 to the Bills last Sunday.

The key has been the revival of running back Ricky Williams, who has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the past three games and has scored a total of four touchdowns over that period. Entering this weekend's action, Williams is 11th in the NFL with 792 yards on the ground and his nine rushing scores are tied for fourth in the league.

So with Williams, traditional quarterback Chad Henne and rookie quarterback/scatback/slasher Pat White thrown into the mix, the Patriots still have plenty of looks and sets to be ready for come Sunday.

"The Dolphins give you a lot of things to prepare for offensively," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said earlier this week. "[Miami offensive coordinator] Dan Henning does a great job with all the different packages. He has different backs they use, quarterbacks, receivers, tight ends, formation-ing and all of that. [It's a] tough, tough group to get ready for."

In other words, losing their top offensive weapon doesn't automatically make the Dolphins easy to categorize or plan for.

"I still feel they're the same team [without Brown,]" said New England safety Brandon McGowan. "They've still got good [running] backs, a good quarterback and some good receivers."

Belichick, notorious for his meticulous preparation on the defensive side — and for overstating the abilities of upcoming opponents — suggested this week that the Dolphins are just as dangerous with Williams in the backfield as they were with Brown.

"I think when they had both players, they were comfortable with either one of them in the game," said Belichick. "And if there was only one of them, then they were comfortable with that player in the game. So whether they shared the load or it was all Ronnie or all Rickey — based on the availability of the players — I think their offense is pretty much the same.

"It looks to me like 95 percent of their offense is the same as it was with Ronnie," the Patriots field general continued, "and [it] looks like they've maybe replaced a little bit of that Wildcat package with both of them in there with some other things, maybe the Pat White package."

The Dolphins' Wildcat sets rely on their players to be quick, resourceful and decisive. And though Miami doesn't have the adaptable Brown to run the show anymore, White can be even more dangerous in some ways.

"He's a quarterback," Belichick said of the 23-year-old White. "Ronnie's not the passer Pat is and Pat's not the runner that Ronnie is, but they both can do elements of both. That's how they give you problems. That's why they use them the way they have. That's why they're effective. They both can run. They both can throw. They have their strengths and they have enough versatility to put pressure on the defense."

With his legitimate experience as a passer during his college days, White does add a slightly different dimension to his variation on the Wildcat, but the fact remains that he has thrown just three passes all season long. But Belichick knows that White's versatility means that passing out of the formation is still something against which the Patriots have to guard.

"It's not blind; they've thrown, he's thrown," said Belichick. "[White] played in preseason. He threw the ball in preseason. He played quarterback and we did a lot of work on him at West Virginia and we know he can throw the ball. He was a good passer and is a good passer.

"That's one of the hard things about playing Miami," Belichick continued. "They keep it moving on you. You work on one thing and they are working on something else. Sometimes they come back to it, sometimes they don't, so you've got a lot of different bases to cover. They did a good job of keeping us off balance. They just keep pecking away and sooner or later they get you on something [where] you don't have quite the right placement or technique or distribution on, and you can be in trouble."

Whether this is serious concern on the part of the Patriots coach or merely typical Belichickean coach-speak, no one can say. The fact of the matter is that after facing Indianapolis and New Orleans in the past three weeks, defending against the Dolphins, even in Miami, should be at least slightly easier. As such, cornerback Leigh Bodden and the rest of his defensive mates remain secure in their ability to keep the Wildcat in check.

"We're confident," Bodden said this week. "There's no need for us not to be. If you go in not confident, you're not going to be successful. You need to still have confidence in yourself and the game and just prepare as well as we can for the game to get a win."

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