Miami Dolphins head coach Dan Campbell has made sure his team is no longer a pushover.
That doesn’t mean his Dolphins will march into Gillette Stadium and beat the New England Patriots, however. The Dolphins have dominated the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans in consecutive weeks, but trouncing two of the worst teams in the AFC only proves Miami no longer belongs in that bottom-tier group.
The Dolphins face their first true test under the new regime Thursday in the Patriots, and something tells us the Dolphins won’t get off to a 41-0 head start like they did in Week 7 against the Texans.
Here are three keys in the Patriots-Dolphins Thursday night matchup:
The Patriots typically go into each week attempting to take away the opposing team’s best player. In this matchup, that could be wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who does his best work out of the slot and has 36 catches for 395 yards and two touchdowns this season.
Since Ryan Tannehill is a scrambling threat, the Patriots might go back to more zone coverages this week after spending most of Week 7 in a Cover-1. Using either Cover-2 or Cover-3 also works in defending Landry, since there will be plenty of players in the middle of the field to keep him at bay. Cornerback Logan Ryan could spend most of the game in the slot, lined up across from Landry at the snap. Safety Patrick Chung also will patrol the middle of the field, where he can chip in on Landry.
GIVE CAMERON FLEMING HELP
Starting Patriots right tackle Cameron Fleming has an extremely difficult matchup against Dolphins pass rusher Cameron Wake. Tom Brady will either need to get rid of the football extremely fast, or the Patriots will need to keep a tight end — either Michael Williams or Scott Chandler — on the right side to help against Wake.
Sebastian Vollmer should be able to limit right defensive end Olivier Vernon, but Ndamukong Suh could give Patriots guards Josh Kline and Tre’ Jackson issues at three-technique defensive tackle. Expect center David Andrews to help out on Suh.
PREVENTING BIG PLAYS
The Dolphins have speedy playmakers at running back in Lamar Miller and wide receiver with Rishard Matthews and Kenny Stills.
If the Patriots are in a Cover-3, it will be up to cornerback Malcolm Butler, safety Devin McCourty and either Justin Coleman or Duron Harmon to limit Matthews and Stills.
Patriots defensive ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich will have to set the edge to make sure Miller doesn’t use his speed to get outside. Chung and the Patriots’ cornerbacks also will need to be consistent in run defense. Linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins have enough speed to help out on the outside, as well.
The Patriots have faced some solid running backs this season but no one with Miller’s 4.40 speed.
Thumbnail photo via Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports images
Thumbnail photo via Sep 7, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins running back Lamar Miller (26) fumbles the ball from New England Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan (26) during the first half at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports