This week on PhinsPhocus.com, we had a chance to sit down with Ricky Keeler, a Foxboro Blog writer about the team he follows with a passion, the New England Patriots. Over the years, and throughout the tenure of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, the Dolphins and Patriots games have become bigger than any other rivalry games. Sure the Jets draw the ire of Dolphins fans, but the Patriots consistently put the stake through the heart on the Dolphins playoff hopes. However, like in 2008, the Miami Dolphins have a legitimate chance to change their luck and make the playoffs and that run continues with a win over their rivals the New England Patriots. We checked in with Ricky about the Patriots come from behind wins, their defense, and their ability to make adjustments with the personnel they do have when injuries arise.
1. Who are the key offensive players for the Patriots that Dolphins fans need to watch for? Who is quarterback Tom Brady's favorite target?
The key offensive players for the Patriots in this game are wide receiver Julian Edelman and running back Shane Vereen. The Patriots' running game has been more of a transformation with Stevan Ridley's fumbling problems causing him to ride the pine on times. Ever since Vereen has returned from his broken wrist, he has been the go-to guy for Brady on third downs. When Rob Gronkowski went down against the Browns, Brady would have drives where his only target was Vereen who is a great pass catcher and gets significant YAC's. As for Edelman., he has stepped up in the slot position with Welker gone and Danny Amendola being ineffective and injury riddled. The new "Minitron" is capable of having big days in the receiving games. Both Vereen and Edelman have gained Brady's trust and will be relied upon if the Patriots' offense is going to play a consistent 60 minutes of offense.
2. Defensively, the Patriots haven't been able to stop the run. In the first matchup, it was apparent the Dolphins could run over the defensive line. How will the Patriots stop the Dolphins revived run game this time with a lack of experienced defensive starters?
The Patriots have struggled all season with stopping teams against the run. Miami did a good job in the first matchup of establishing the run against a Patriots' defense that has been ravaged with injuries for their front seven. People, in my opinion, underestimated the loss of Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo as key cogs to the team's run defense. Dont'a Hightower has underachieved in being the leader in the middle. They have to do a better job of penetrating gaps in the defensive line and missed tackles. Lamar Miller had 89 yards in the first matchup and is capable of having a big game if New England can't wrap up when they have the chance to do that. If I am Ryan Tannehill, stick to the ground game and take what the defense gives you on manageable third downs.
3. Based on the game in October, how did the Patriots shut down the Dolphins offense to generate no points? Was it result of the Dolphins going from run-heavy to pass or the Patriots defense played better?
In that first meeting, the Patriots were very opportunistic in the second half. They had the ability to take advantage of turnovers from Ryan Tannehill and turn them into points. The key to playing the Patriots is when you get the lead, don't change from the style of game you were playing. For Miami, they stick to being a run-heavy offense in this game, otherwise players like Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich will play an impact at getting after Tannehill. The run game will set up the play action for the Dolphins to take some shots down the field to Mike Wallace or Brian Hartline. Miami has to stay turnover-free to avoid giving the Patriots' offense short fields and easier chances to find the end zone.
4. For this weekend's game, do the Dolphins stand a chance to beat the Patriots since there is more riding on the game for Miami or is this a case of the Patriots coming into town and playing well no matter what?
Miami has a great chance to defeat the Patriots this weekend. The weather should be a factor in a good way for the Dolphins with the warmer temperatures. The Patriots have had a bad history of games in Florida in December against the Dolphins. Weather aside, I was very impressed with Ryan Tannehill in the snow last week against the Steelers. He did a complete 180 from his time at Gillette last year when he struggled to handle the wind. Miami can take advantage of the Patriots' offensive line that has allowed Brady to get sacked over 30 times this year. Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon will have their way at times since Nate Solder has a concussion and Marcus Cannon is just coming back from an injured ankle. Plus, it's like you said, the Dolphins need this game to stay in the playoff hunt and have an edge in scheduling with games against the Bills and the Jets to end the season.
5. This season, there seems to be a sense that the Patriots have been getting the pass interference calls at the end of games they otherwise would have lost. What do the players and coaches do to earn those calls, is it positioning or reputation?
This is a tough one to answer because Patriots' fans thought they finally got a break last week against the Browns after that "non-call" against the Panthers a few weeks ago. I would guess if I have to pick an answer, its more of reputation. However, Brady and company do a great job of trying to draw the penalties on those downfield passes. I didn't agree with the pass interference call last week because with 35 seconds left, you have to let players play. New England fans have felt on the short end of the stick this year with the Jets game and the Panthers game, so last week, some fans thought that felt like a makeup call.
6. What is your score prediction for this game?
Before the season began, I had the Patriots losing this game in Miami. I am going to stick to that prediction and say the Dolphins finish off the upset this week. That win in Pittsburgh last week and against the Jets two weeks ago on the road has Miami back on the same confidence level they had at the beginning of the season. I have been impressed with how they have played since the whole Incognito-Jonathan Martin scandal. The Patriots are too banged up on the offensive line and the front 7 to contain Lamar Miller. Plus, Aqib Talib is not playing like he did at the beginning of the season at cornerback. The Patriots have only scored 10 points in their last 4 games during the 1st half. THey have somehow found a way to be 3-1 in those games. If they start off slow this week, it won't end well. If Miami doesn't turn the football over, I think they win the game late on a Caleb Sturgis field goal.
DOLPHINS 24 PATRIOTS 21
We thank Ricky for his time and effort in answering our questions this week. We always want to know what the other side thinks, but Ricky has been kind enough to join us in this Know your Enemy for the second year in a row. You can read last season's interview here. Has anything changed for the Dolphins? We will find out this Sunday. Feel free to follow the @FoxboroBlog and Ricky Keeler @Rickinator555 on twitter.