How Miami Dolphins Can Set Tone for Offseason in Week 17 vs New England Patriots

Erik FrenzSenior Writer IDecember 27, 2012

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 23: Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Miami Dolphins runs past the attempted tackle of Bryan Scott #43 of the Buffalo Bills on December 23, 2012 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. The Dolphins defeated the Bills 24-10. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins have grown a lot this year, and they have one more chance to prove just how much with a road game against the New England Patriots to close out the season.

Mainly, if the defense turns in a solid performance against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, and if Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill continues to play efficiently with the football, the Dolphins will have a lot to be excited for headed into the 2013 offseason.

Not just the players, though; the Dolphins coaching staff has grown, too, and has finally begun using Tannehill to his strengths. If they make sound adjustments based off their last game against the Patriots, Dolphins fans can get excited not just for the players, but for the ability of the coaching staff to maximize the skill set of those players—an important component in the growth of any team.

Will the Dolphins ask Tannehill to hang in the pocket, read the defense and make a throw as he did against the Patriots in the previous meeting?

I've been beating this drum for weeks, but they'd be much better off using his athleticism and running ability to their advantage and letting him move around and throw on the run. Granted, he will never improve as a pocket passer unless he practices, but their best chance to take down the Patriots is to do what they're good at. 

Too often, we've seen Tannehill struggle to hit open receivers when throwing from the pocket.

Take this deep throw to wide receiver Brian Hartline in Week 13 against the Patriots. Everything was executed to perfection; the play-action fake to running back Reggie Bush caught Patriots safety Steve Gregory by surprise, and he vacated his responsibility in Cover 2.

That allowed Hartline to break free through the secondary, and gave Tannehill all the time he needed in the pocket.

The throw was simply off-target. Quarterbacks can't afford to miss open throws like that in the NFL, and that's certainly an area Tannehill has to improve. If he can hit a throw or two like this on Sunday, it will go a long way in showing just how much he's grown.

If not, there are other ways to create big plays. Tannehill should try to extend plays to get the receivers open.

That's exactly what he did against the Jaguars on multiple occasions, but specifically on one play when he hit Hartline for a 17-yard completion.

The play was a designed bootleg for Tannehill, but he couldn't find a receiver open initially.

Thus, he extended the play with his legs, and kept extending...and extending...all the way to the sideline, before he finally found Hartline settled into a soft spot in zone coverage.

For all intents and purposes, Hartline was triple-covered on the play, but Tannehill fit the ball into the open window and Hartline rewarded his quarterback for keeping the play alive.

It took awhile, but at least the Dolphins have finally begun utilizing those strengths of Tannehill's.

A big performance from the Dolphins' pass defense would also be a huge boost to their offseason confidence level.

The Dolphins pass defense has played well all year, but there has been a trade-off from the first half to the second half of the season. In the first eight games, they were efficient but for their inability to stop big plays against them through the air.

In the last seven games, they've mitigated the damage on deep passes, but have allowed a higher completion percentage and haven't disrupted quarterbacks with sacks and interceptions quite like they did earlier.

The Patriots are not a big-play offense, and if you let Brady hang in the pocket and pick you apart, it's going to be a long day. The Dolphins would be better off to rediscover the style of defense that made them an underrated unit earlier in the season.

If they can prevent Brady from being as efficient as he's been all year, and as efficient as they've allowed quarterbacks to be recently, they could pull off an upset that would send the whole team smiling into the offseason.


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 firsthand or via team press releases.