Scouting The Dolphins: What’s Changed Since Patriots’ Week 2 Win?


Dec 28, 2016

FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots used two quarterbacks in their Week 2 victory over the Miami Dolphins. Neither was named Tom Brady.

So, yes, the Patriots currently are a very different team than the one they were back in mid-September. But the Dolphins have changed a great deal, as well; so much so that they’ve been able to snap out of their prolonged stretch of mediocrity and secure a playoff berth for the first time in eight years.

With New England and Miami set to square off again Sunday in the regular-season finale for both teams, here’s a look at a few of those Dolphins differences:

Jay Ajayi did play in these teams’ first meeting, but he was a non-factor, rushing five times for just 14 yards in a 31-24 Patriots win. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that he became one of the NFL’s biggest breakout stars.

Fast forward to Week 17, and the 2015 fifth-round draft pick now has three 200-yard rushing efforts under his belt (204 in Week 6 vs. Pittsburgh, 211 in Week 7 vs. Buffalo and 206 this past Sunday at Buffalo) and enters the weekend ranked in the top seven in the NFL in rushing yards (sixth), yards per carry (seventh) and rushes of 20 yards or more (tied for third).

Ajayi, who earned AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors after running roughshod over the Bills for a second time, also tends to get stronger later in games, as evidenced by his 6.1 yard-per-carry average in the fourth quarter. His three longest runs this season (62, 57 and 53 yards) all came in the fourth quarter or overtime.

“(The Dolphins) are the best running team we’ve faced so far,” Patriots defensive end Chris Long said Wednesday. “So it will be a great test.”

Ryan Tannehill will be watching Sunday’s game from the sideline as he continues to recover from a sprained knee. Starting in his place will be veteran backup Matt Moore, who has guided Miami to two consecutive wins since replacing his injured comrade.

The 32-year-old Moore did not start a single game over the previous four seasons, but the drop-off from Tannehill to him really is not all that significant. Tannehill has yet to live up to his billing as a top-10 pick, and Moore, who lacks some of Tannehill’s athleticism but still can be mobile in the pocket, has played well since taking over, throwing six touchdown passes with two interceptions and posting a 113.4 passer rating.

Moore’s last game against the Patriots came in 2011. He completed 16 of 32 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns with one interception in a 27-24 Dolphins loss.

“He’s started and led that football team,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “I would imagine that that team has tremendous trust in him.”

The Dolphins could be without three of their four starting defensive backs for Sunday’s game. They’ll definitely be missing at least two, as safeties Reshad Jones and Isa Abdul-Quddus both are on injured reserved. Cornerback Byron Maxwell also could be unavailable as he nurses an ankle injury.

Defending an offense as explosive as the Patriots’ with a crew of backups in the secondary will be a tall order for Miami. New England, fresh off a 41-3 beatdown of the New York Jets, has scored 30 or more points in two of its last three games and hasn’t lost since Week 10.

The Patriots have owned the Dolphins in Foxboro in recent years, but their traditional struggles in South Florida have persisted. Bill Belichick’s troops have lost three straight games at the venue now known as Hard Rock Stadium, including an ugly 20-10 defeat in Week 17 last season that cost them home-field advantage.

“I think for us, this is a really tough test,” McCourty said. “We haven’t won there in three years. … And not winning shows we just haven’t played well down there.”

New England can clinch the AFC’s No. 1 playoff seed with a win or a tie over Miami or an Oakland Raiders loss or tie. The Dolphins, meanwhile, are hoping to nab the No. 5 seed, which would mean a trip to Houston in the wild-card round rather than one to Pittsburgh. To do so, they’ll need to beat the Patriots and have the Kansas City Chiefs lose to the San Diego Chargers.

Miami has won nine of its last 10 games, but only one of those wins — a Week 6 victory over the Steelers — came against a team that will qualify for the playoffs this season.

Thumbnail photo via Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports Images

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