Miami Dolphins: How Past Experience Should Influence Joe Philbin vs. Patriots

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Miami Dolphins: How Past Experience Should Influence Joe Philbin vs. Patriots
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The Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots are no strangers to one another, but with a brand new coaching staff in Miami, the familiarity is not there between these two teams.

Or is it?

Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin has some experience coaching an inexperienced quarterback against Bill Belichick's defense, but obviously, that experience didn't come with Miami and that quarterback was not Ryan Tannehill.

You have to go all the way back to Week 15 of the 2010 season to find it. Philbin, as the offensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers, traveled to Gillette Stadium with Matt Flynn starting his first career game in place of then-concussed Aaron Rodgers

The Packers did a great job of opening up passing lanes for Flynn by establishing the run early and making Flynn's throws easier.

A diagram of his throws by direction, via ProFootballFocus.com, gives some insight into how Philbinfelt most comfortable attacking the Patriots defense, and how it translated onto the field.

Twenty of his 32 aimed passes were between the numbers, ranging from the area behind the line of scrimmage to nine yards downfield. Two more, including the 16-yard gain to Driver depicted above, were between the numbers from 10-19 yards downfield.

The Patriots mixed up their coverages, but they gave Flynn opportunities to complete those short passes by blitzing him a lot more frequently than they normally do; they sent five or more defenders after Flynn on 21 of his 44 drop-backs.

It is not likely that the Patriots will try to blitz Tannehill as much as they did Flynn; he is proving more effective when blitzed than when teams hang back and force him to make throws into coverage.

That being said, the Dolphins will probably do a few things to try to counter the pressure from the Patriots defensive front, a unit which has struggled to get pressure this season and has begun blitzing a little more frequently over the past two weeks (28 of 90 drop-backs, 31.1 percent).

Take this throw, for example, on 2nd-and-7 on the Packers' first drive. 

They had just run the ball two times, once from the shotgun, and used that to their benefit by lining up in a run formation out of the shotgun.

The play-action fake was enough to force the linebackers to stay close to the line of scrimmage, thereby opening up a huge window at the second level.

They went right over the middle for a big gain to wide receiver Donald Driver, and that would be far from the only time they'd expose the area over the middle.

The Packers used the same formation on 3rd-and-5 in the second quarter, once again exposing the Patriots over the middle of the field in the process.

This time, it was tight end Andrew Quarless picking up the reception for the first down, who ran a little in-breaking route underneath the zone coverage from the Patriots linebackers and stopped right in the soft spot, right at the first-down marker.

The Patriots only sent three men on the rush this time, allowing Flynn all kinds of time in the pocket to make the read and for Quarless to get open.

The catch was made before Patriots linebacker Dane Fletcher could do anything about it, and the Packers would convert another third down on a screen pass to fullback John Kuhn before punching it in for a touchdown.

It wasn't always about giving the illusion of the run, though.

In fact, the Packers weren't afraid to attack the middle of the field even when they were in an empty set. This play in the third quarter saw a common route combination, with two receivers—James Jones and Donald Driver—running the same in-breaking route at the same depth beyond the line of scrimmage.

That allowed a window just big enough for Flynn to fit the ball. He released the ball the moment the two receivers came out of their breaks, at the moment when the defensive backs would be at their most vulnerable. Another short pitch-and-catch but it gave the Packers a manageable 3rd-and-1, which they would convert (no surprise against the Patriots defense that year, which ranked dead last on third down).

How does all this apply to Sunday's game? 

The Dolphins have already spent most of their season establishing the very same things that the Packers did with Flynn against the Patriots. Their ability to run has opened things up over the middle for the passing game, where the Dolphins receivers do a bulk of their best work.

They have recently turned things around in the running game, but will that continue against the Patriots defense which ranks 10th against the run?

On the other hand, New England's dominance against the run could be another reason to dip into the game plan that worked so brilliantly in 2010. The Patriots do not have good cover linebackers, which has prompted them to rush the linebackers a bit more frequently. 

A matchup with the Patriots may seem like uncharted territory for Philbin, but his experience against them could pay dividends if he is able to draw on it.

 

Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained via team press releases.

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