Tom Brady and the New England Patriots square off against the Miami Dolphins next Monday night in Game 1 of the 2011 NFL regular season. Brady started his career poorly in games played in Miami, however, since New England’s record-breaking 2007 season, No. 12 has figured out a way to break the dry spell. He and the Pats hope to continue the trend by starting this season off right—with an offensive explosion at the hands of their disorganized division rival.
The Fins haven’t had the easiest offseason. They lost both of their starting running backs—Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams—and they were at the center of an ugly quarterback controversy between incumbent starter Chad Henne, recently acquired Matt Moore and Denver Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton.
However bad the Miami offense may be next Monday, their defense remains one of the NFL’s best at getting after the quarterback.
Judging by the Patriots’ complete meltdown against the Detroit Lions pass rush in Week 3 of the preseason (I know, it’s just the preseason), it doesn’t look like such a sure bet that the offensive line is quite ready for the onslaught of pressure sure to be brought by the Dolphins in prime time.
Brady will have to get rid of the ball quickly, and the running game will need to prove effective in order to offset Miami’s speed.
That means a lot of Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead.
Miami’s entire defensive game plan will center around their relentless linebacking corps. Anchored in the middle by Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, who combined for 190 tackles, nine sacks, and four forced fumbles last year (Burnett did his damage as a member of the San Diego Chargers), the outside is opened up for Defensive Player of the Year candidate Cameron Wake (14 sacks) and talented second-year player Koa Misi (five sacks).
Patriots offensive tackles Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer will have their hands full, and Bill Belichick will get a good feel for what veteran offensive guard Brian Waters is capable of.
Waters was just signed by the Pats, and he is most likely the starter at right guard going forward.
The fate of New England’s offense against Miami lies in the hands of the offensive line. If they play like they did against Detroit two weeks ago, this contest will be a lot closer than people expect.
If they hang tough and push back against the merciless Dolphins attack? This game could end in a blow out.
Here are five ways Tom Brady and the New England offense should attack the underrated Dolphins defense next week.
It’s no secret that New England Patriots wideout Chad Ochocinco has had his fair share of troubles this preseason.
You know expectations are low when a one-catch performance in the last game of the preseason is reason to feel good about yourself. It has gotten to that point with the six-time Pro Bowler.
However, the preseason is over, and Ocho is still here. If nothing else, I expect No. 85 to produce this season because he has Tom Brady as his quarterback. Brady is pretty well-known for his ability to make mediocre receivers look like superstars (RE: Deion Branch), and the former Cincinnati Bengals receiver is no exception.
Against the Miami Dolphins next week, Brady must get the ball to Ocho early and often.
The Fins will most likely stick huge cornerback Sean Smith on him (6’3”, 214 pounds). Unfortunately for Smith, his size hasn’t yet translated to skill. Ocho should be able to use his veteran savvy and route-running wizardry to gain separation right off the line of scrimmage.
If Brady can find him, the entire field will open up. Imagine if Miami has to worry about Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Danny Woodhead, the tight ends and Ochocinco.
That's impossible to defend, even with a great pass rush.
The Miami Dolphins got lucky with outside linebacker Cameron Wake.
There aren't many teams who can say they plucked someone from the Canadian Football League who turned into possibly their best player.
Wake was a total beast last season.
His 14 sacks tell part of the story, but it was his unwillingness to succumb to the double teams he started seeing as the season went on that was most impressive. His motor runs 24/7, and he is the type of player that has always given the New England Patriots trouble (think Aaron Schobel, except more athletic).
Next Monday night, the Patriots will most likely try to neutralize him the same way they try to neutralize pass-rushing god Dwight Freeney—run right at him.
It's the only way to really slow him down.
The Pats have to run draw plays for Danny Woodhead behind their best two offensive lineman—Matt Light and Logan Mankins.
If New England can keep Wake on his toes and keep him second-guessing himself, they have a chance to limit his effectiveness. Like with Freeney, there is not really a way to completely shut him down, but if the offense can keep the outside pressure to a minimum, Brady should be able to pick the secondary apart all night.
Sometimes a passing game's best friend is a good running game. On Sunday in Miami, the Pats need to run the ball well if they want to catch fire in the passing game. Otherwise, look for the speed-rushing Wake to have a big game.
Last season, the New England Patriots made a change to their offensive philosophy. By drafting tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the 2010 NFL Draft, the Pats were drifting away from their spread formation offense of the glorious 2007 team and morphing into the multiple tight end set Patriots of 2010.
Well, the philosophy change worked.
Brady put up possibly his most impressive numbers to date, throwing 36 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
Gronkowski and Hernandez?
They combined for 87 catches, 1,099 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. Those numbers, to say the absolute least, are phenomenal. They were so good last season that fans are expecting an uptick in production this year.
Against the Miami Dolphins next Monday night, their season should start off with a bang.
The Fins are an attacking defense. Therefore, the middle of the field is going to be open...a LOT. Gronk (as he's called in Boston) and Hernandez should be able to make Miami pay for sending pressure from the linebackers.
I expect them to quietly shred Miami's defense while they worry about containing Wes Welker and Deion Branch.
Assuming Brady gets a few seconds to throw the ball, these two should be open all night long.
I keep harping on the same thing when it comes to the Miami Dolphins defense.
Pressure. Pressure. Pressure.
Luckily for the New England Patriots, they have a perfect pressure-beater—Danny Woodhead. Last season, splitting time with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Woodhead carved out a nice niche for himself as a third-down back/draw and screen play specialist.
In Game 1, Woodhead's services are going to be needed big time.
By finding Woody in the flat, or handing it off to him inside the tackles, the Dolphins pressure will subside very quickly.
Everyone knows that the best way to stop a pass-rusher is to throw screens and run draws, and that is exactly what Woodhead will do. There will be less Green-Ellis against Miami, as their massive defensive front (all three starters on their defensive line are 300-plus pounds) dictates a strong dose of the little man.
Woodhead doesn't even need to have such a big game to make his impact felt. All he has to do is convert one big play, and Miami defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will think twice about sending the house on Tom Brady.
And if Brady gets time to throw against this secondary?
Forget about it. It's a blowout.
Wes Welker gets open, and he does it just about as well as anyone in the history of the NFL.
The only player to have 110-plus receptions in three seasons (and he did them consecutively), guarding Welker is nearly impossible. A minor neck injury in the preseason could limit him some in the New England Patriots' first game against the Miami Dolphins, but I highly doubt it.
I expect Welker to be ready, willing and able.
The Dolphins are thin at cornerback, and their linebackers are not known for their coverage skills. You know what that means: a huge day at the office for No. 83.
Welker should be able to juke, dive and slither his way to about eight or nine catches in Game 1. In a way that only he can, Welker somehow avoids almost every big hit despite touching the ball about 10 times a game.
He and Tom Brady have developed such a great rapport that Welker is no longer exclusively a player who catches the ball for short yardage.
Now, Welker can go up the sidelines, up the seam and has even developed a nice comeback route despite standing at just 5'9" tall.
He will probably line up against cornerback Vontae Davis, and he will probably light him up.
Welker is Brady's best option against the Dolphins next weekend in what should be a really fun game for Patriots fans.