Keys to Victory: A formula for beating the Patriots

The first Sunday of NFL action is finally here. Few days in the year are as refreshing as today. But something is still missing.

As special as starting out the year on Monday Night Football truly is, especially against rival New England, this opening Sunday is a little watered down with no Dolphins’ football.

But fear not, I thought I would wait to post my three keys to victory for today in order to satisfy your Dolphins’ fix.

Pressure, pressure, pressure

There has been one key to slowing down Tom Brady and the Patriots over the past decade.

If you can get consistent pressure on Brady you’ll stand a chance. If not, well, you’re probably going to get run out of the building.

The Jets beat the Pats twice last year with pressure and the true blueprint was laid by the Giants in Super Bowl XLII. The Dolphins’ defense is primed for similar success with one of the game’s best pass rushers in Cameron Wake facing off against rookie Nate Solder thanks to Sebastian Vollmer likely being out of the lineup.

But Wake can’t do it all by himself. He’s going to need Jason Taylor to flash glimpses of his old self and maybe Koa Misi showing improvement in the pass rush department to truly fluster the game’s top signal caller.

I also expect Mike Nolan to dial up some of those exotic blitz packages he’s famous for. With that said, Belichick will likely counter with plenty of quick reads for Brady and a heavy dose of the screen game.

If there is a measuring stick for a defense poised to take the next step and emerge as an elite unit, it’s against Tom Brady and the Patriots. It’s time to put up or shut up for the Dolphins’ defense.

Win the turnover battle

When elite teams are upset, you can typically look no further than the turnover ratio to find out what went wrong.

If the Dolphins can protect the football tomorrow night and force two or three takeaways of their own, they’ll be in position to win. On the contrary, though, if the Pats win the turnover battle, this game will have blowout written all over it.

I expect Chad Henne to exploit a somewhat leaky Patriots’ secondary, but that won’t matter if he doesn’t protect the football. The biggest knock on Henne hasn’t been his inability to move the football. He’s put up big yardage at times but seemingly always makes the huge mistake that breaks the Dolphins’ backs.

The Patriots weren’t exactly stingy a year ago when it came to yards surrendered, but they do have a knack for forcing turnovers.

The media will be singing a different tune Tuesday morning in regards to Henne if he avoids the mind-boggling interceptions that have plagued his career thus far.

Get something going on the ground

For once, the biggest question mark heading into the year isn’t the quarterback position.

The running game was anemic in the exhibitions and with Reggie Bush projected to get the bulk of the workload behind a revolving door of an interior offensive line, there isn’t much hope things will turn around against Vince Wilfork and the Patriots’ front seven.

It will be a huge test for rookie center Mike Pouncey. He showed some promise in the preseason, but lining up against the best nose tackle in football will be a different animal.

Reggie Bush surprised by running hard between the tackles, but he’s not shaking any labels until he does it consistently when it counts.

With possibly no Daniel Thomas, who was limited in practice this week with a tweaked hamstring, Larry Johnson may have a key role.

Let’s face it, the Dolphins are probably in trouble if they need Reggie Bush to carry the football 20+ times. A power back, either Johnson or Thomas or maybe even Lex Hilliard, needs to step up and hammer out some tough yards up the middle.

If not, the Dolphins will run the risk of becoming one dimensional. If they can somehow approach 4.0 yards-per-carry, the running game will take some pressure off of Henne. 

Keys to Victory: A Formula for Beating the Patriots

Bum bum bum bum….That’s the sound of Monday ladies and gentleman. Monday’s are usually the worst day of the week, but not tonight. It’s almost time for Monday Night Football, with the Dolphins and Patriots being center stage for the whole country. Sunday Night Football was great last week, but there’s really nothing like Monday Night Football.

The Dolphins have historically provided some instant classics on MNF, and tonight figures to be no different. A week after losing in the final seconds to the hated Jets, they have to get all revved up again to go toe-to-toe with their second most hated rival- the New England Patriots.

I’ve said it before, tonight is absolutely a must win for the Dolphins. Yes, it’s early in the year, and a loss would only drop them to .500, but they can’t afford to lose their home games to the Jets and Patriots and expect to keep up in this heated division. With Green Bay and Pittsburgh looming after the bye week, the possibility of dropping to 2-4 on the year will surely kill those good feelings fans had after opening the season 2-0.

Bye weeks are never fun either, but going a week without Dolphins’ football after back-to-back loses to the Jets and Pats, will feel a bit miserable. So what exactly do the Dolphins have to do to knock off the Patriots at home, and enter the bye week tied for first in the AFC East at 3-1? My three keys to victory are below.

Get consistent pressure on Brady
Coverage wise, there is really no way to match up with Tom Brady’s talented weapons, regardless of who you are. If you take away Randy Moss and the deep ball, things are just going to open up for Wes Welker underneath. And now, if you can somehow find a way to cover both, the two rookie tight ends will be next in line to shred your defense apart.

Pressure has always been Brady’s kryptonite, though. Of course, when you blitz, that means you have less men in coverage. And if New England’s offensive line can pick up some of the exotic blitzes Mike Nolan dials up, there’s no way the Dolphins’ secondary can cover all of Brady’s weapons. Last week, they didn’t register a sack against Sanchez, and only hit him once.

If that happens against Brady, I can almost guarantee that they will be 2-2 at night’s end. Guys like Cameron Wake and Koa Misi could sure make things easier, though. If the Dolphins can somehow get pressure with their front four (in the nickel package), they could keep six or seven guys in coverage at all times, which would obviously be the safest way to slow down Brady.

Make the Pats’ offense one-dimensional
As prolific and as scary as New England’s passing attack is, they are considerably more dangerous when the running game is going too. If the Dolphins can get them pass happy, odds are they are winning the game or shutting down the run. I know Brady dropping back to pass as much as possible doesn’t sound like a recipe for success on defense, but when you know what’s coming it’s a whole lot easier to stop.

Fred Taylor is out, so BenJarvus Green-Ellis will get the majority of the reps, with the newly acquired Danny Woodhead likely to get some work as well. The Dolphins have been pretty solid up the middle, but weren’t able to effectively set the edge against the Vikings and Jets. Cameron Wake and Koa Misi will need to shed blocks quickly and take great angles to the ball-carrier when ran at, which will surely happen if New England has been watching film of the last two games.

Unleash balanced attack on offense
In Week 1 we saw Chad Henne dink and dunk while Ronnie and Ricky combined for over 120 yards on the ground. Against the Vikings, Henne only attempted 14 passes and Ronnie and Ricky each nearly cost the Dolphins the game with two fumbles deep in Minnesota territory. Then last week, the passing attack came alive, but the running game was a non-factor and Dan Henning basically abandoned the bread and butter of the offense.

The Pats haven’t been strong against the run or pass, so tonight presents a golden opportunity for the offense to begin clicking on all cylinders. Hopefully, we see Henne continue to build off that monster performance last week, and Brandon Marshall continue to be the focal point of the passing game, all the while with Ronnie and Ricky producing at the high level we’ve seen from them the past couple years.

Yes, that’s a whole lot easier said than done, but for this offense to emerge as one of the league’s best, that’s what it’s going to take. If last week was a sign of things to come from Henne, and the running game, more specifically the interior offensive line, can get back on track, how exactly would you go about stopping this offense?

Maybe they are ready for greatness, maybe not, but one things for sure, if the Bills can move the ball effectively against the Pats’ defense, the Dolphins should be able to put some points on the board tonight.