|12.08.14 at 9:40 pm ET|
Five things you have to know about the Dolphins (7-6), who travel to Gillette Stadium for a date with the Patriots (10-3) Sunday afternoon.
This isn’t the same offensive team that beat the Patriots in South Florida in September.
In that one, the Patriots were gashed time and again by running back Knowshon Moreno, who ran for 134 yards on 24 carries. (It still stands as the most rushing yards New England has yielded to an individual in a single game this season.) However, Moreno went down with a season-ending knee injury in October, and since then, the Dolphins have struggled to get consistent yards on the ground. Four of their last five games, the Dolphins have failed to top at least 100 yards — that includes last week against the Ravens, when Miami had just 63 rushing yards as a team. Lamar Miller became the starting back, and has 162 carries for 782 yards and six touchdowns to lead the Dolphins. Much of their success on offense has been because of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who has become one of the more accurate passers in the league — he has completed at least 70 percent of his passes in his last six games. When he looks to throw, Tannehill (67 percent completion rate, 3,044 yards passing, 21 TDs, 9 INTs) has a nice variety of targets. There’s rookie wide receiver Jarvis Landry (63 catches, 573 yards, 5 TDs), veteran receiver Mike Wallace (57 catches, 700 yards, 7 TDs) and tight end Charles Clay (41 catches, 387 yards, 2 TDs).
Specifically, there are some soft spots on the Miami offensive line.
The Dolphins did a miserable job protecting Tannehill last year, as he took a league-high 58 sacks. Things are a little better this year, but he’s still taken 34 sacks through 13 games (including six on Sunday against the Ravens), and is on pace for 42 before the year is done. Right tackle Dallas Thomas yielded three sacks against Baltimore, and if Miami doesn’t change things up on the edge, it could be a winnable matchup for New England no matter who lines up opposite him. (Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Akeem Ayers are all possibilities to try and bring pressure off the edge for the Patriots against the Dolphins.)
Cameron Wake is still just as terrifying as ever.
The edge rusher is having a terrific season for Miami. The 32-year-old is tied for 12th in the league with 9.5 sacks, and has the potential to make it a very long afternoon for whatever tackle is lined up opposite him. The 6-foot-3, 262-pounder was a disruptive presence in the season opener in Miami, coming away with three tackles, two sacks, two quarterback hits and a pair of forced fumbles. One more defensive note — prior to this past weekend’s action, according to Football Outsiders, Miami has the best DVOA against opposing tight ends. It’s also worth noting that, at least historically, the Dolphins have done better than most at containing Gronkowski, as in his seven career games against Miami, he’s averaged four catches for 54 yards per game, some of the lowest averages for any opponent he’s faced over the last few seasons. (That includes four catches for 40 yards in the season opener.)
|12.08.14 at 6:42 pm ET|
The decision to head out to California a week early to practice instead of coming back to New England paid off as the Patriots came away with a 23-14 win over the Chargers Sunday night. As many of the players have stated, Belichick said there were plenty of benefits to the decision.
“I think we watched a lot of film, players watched a lot of film with each other,” Belichick said. “They hung around more, talked more football, just hung out together and I think that’s a good thing.
“The schedule was the main thing. It was kind of the decision to go out there and try and pick up the benefit at the end of the week in terms of not traveling cross-country two days before the game, or go to Green Bay, come back here [Foxboro], turnaround, go back out there, turnaround come back. It just seemed like it would be more efficient for us to go from halfway across the country to just finish it off and get out there and get set up. And also it’s December, practicing here in December and playing in San Diego, I felt like we’d get better quality relative to game conditions out there.”
Jamie Collins filled in admirably as the Patriots’ defensive signal caller this weekend with Dont’a Hightower out with a shoulder injury. The linebacker finished with eight tackles and two sacks of Philip Rivers.
Said Belichick: “I thought he did a great job, I thought did a real good job. San Diego’s a team that’s spent a lot of time at the line of scrimmage, similar to the Denver offense. They used a lot of formationing, three receivers away from the ball, three open, four open, sometimes five open with the back out. They did that quite a bit, which Jamie usually was the adjuster on that and he went out to make those adjustments. And a lot of the time the back would come back in, so we had to make another adjustment to the defense. And he’s right in the middle of it, communicating with the linebackers, with the inside coverage players, with the defensive line, getting that coordinated. He and [Dont’a] Hightower have done a good job since Jerod [Mayo] got injured and last night a lot more of it fell to Jamie. I thought he handled it very well.”
|12.08.14 at 1:51 pm ET|
Things were not looking good for the Patriots early in the second quarter Sunday night, as following an 11-play, 89-yard touchdown drive taking up 4:46 of the clock, just over two minutes later the Chargers struck again when Darrell Stuckey returned a Brandon LaFell fumble 53 yards for a touchdown, giving San Diego a 14-3 lead.
Following the score things changed in a big way for the Patriots defense, as well as the rest of the team, outscoring the Chargers 20-0 the rest of the game, and it all started with third-down defense.
“It’s really important to get off the field on third down,” said Belichick on a conference call Monday. “That’s always a big point of emphasis for us. Third downs are, on both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively, third downs are really kind of like turnovers in terms of the possession of the ball changing if a team can’t convert, whether it’s us or them. Those are huge plays in the game. Red area plays are huge plays in the game because they involve points. When you talk about third down in the red area, that’s really as important as it gets because those are kind of four-point plays, if you will.”
San Diego entered the game third in the NFL on third-down — converting 47.5 percent of the time, including 81.8 percent against the Ravens in the game prior. The Chargers got off to a good start, converting on three of the first four third-downs in the game, but the Patriots defense buckled down, as San Diego went just 1-for-9 the rest of the game, finishing 4-for-13.
The defense as a whole changed following San Diego’s touchdown drive as after the touchdown, the Chargers went: blocked punt, punt, half, punt, punt, INT, punt, punt, punt, downs. The Patriots allowed 107 total yards in the first quarter, but just 109 the rest of the game. New England also allowed 13 total first downs, their lowest allowed in a game since Dec. 10, 2010 against the Bears when they allowed 12.
|12.08.14 at 1:31 pm ET|
Here’s a quick rundown of what some NFL analysts were saying about the Patriots after Sunday’s win over the Chargers:
Sanders on NFL Network after the game: “The secondary is playing physical, they’re getting to the ball, [and] they’re making things happen. It seems as though they come up and make a play week in and week out. This is a whole collection of players on defense that have bought in to the Bill Belichick way and they are exuding with confidence.”
Willie McGinest on NFL Network after the game: “This defense is good enough to win a Super Bowl. “They’re good against the run, they can cover. Bringing in [Brandon] Browner, bringing in [Darrelle] Revis, now they can match up with those high-powered offenses.”
Michael Irvin on NFL Network after the game: “I just love what [Julian Edelman] has become in the National Football League. He’s earned it the old fashioned way. He has worked his way to become of the best receivers in this league right now.”
Irvin on NFL Network before the game: “[Rob Gronkowski] is my man. I want my son to play like Gronk.”
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|12.08.14 at 12:54 pm ET|
In their win Sunday night over the Chargers, cornerback Darrelle Revis effectively contained San Diego receiver Keenan Allen. Allen, who entered the game with a team-high 72 catches, was blanketed by Revis for the bulk of the game, and he finished with just two catches for three yards.
In a conference call with the media on Monday morning, Patriots coach Bill Belichick praised the work of Revis in helping hold Allen to a season-low in receiving yardage.
“I thought Revis played good,” Belichick said. “I think we really competed well against their receivers. We had pressure at times on the quarterback and that eliminated some downfield options. Overall, I thought he did a real good job. [Keenan Allen] wasn’t targeted a lot, but Revis was on him and they moved Allen around a little bit. He was usually outside, but played on both sides, played in the slot a little bit.
“[Allen is] a very good catch-and-run player. [When] he caught that under-route, Darrelle was right there to make the tackle on him for a pretty short gain,” added Belichick. “It’s not just covering him, but also tackling him. That was a good finish on that play. Yeah, no, he did a good job — a good job against a real good receiver. That guy is tough to cover and like I said, tough to tackle.”
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|12.08.14 at 12:34 pm ET|
Bill Belichick spoke Monday morning about the disputed penalty call against Brandon Browner that saw the cornerback penalized 15 yards for what appeared to be a blow to the head of Chargers tight end Ladarius Green.
On the replay, it appeared Browner caught Green’s shoulder and not his head. The call negated a New England interception.
“The Browner play, we coach it exactly the way that’s written in the rulebook,” he told reporters on a conference call. “What we’re allowed to do and what we’re not allowed to do, and that’s exactly the way we coach it. It was a close play. You should probably talk to the crew that called it.
“We coach whatever the rules are; we coach within the rules. That’s how we coach it. [You] can’t lead with your head, can’t him them above the shoulders. We coach it the way it’s … we coach what you’re allowed to do, what you’re not allowed to do. I think that’s the way the players play it. Sometimes it doesn’t always turn out that way, but that’s what we try to do.”
After the game, Browner told reporters that the reaction of the officials was simply part of the game as it exists today.
“It’s just part of the game nowadays. If you make a big hit nowadays, they tend to call a penalty,” Browner said. “I felt it was pretty clean. I hit him with my shoulder to his chest. You know, that’s just the nature of the game.
“At the moment it was tough, but I think that set the tone right there,” Browner added. “You win some, you lose some. Good thing that didn’t bite us in the butt. I’m really happy we won the game.”
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|12.08.14 at 12:19 pm ET|
Sunday night’s Chargers-Patriots game was played at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, but by looking and hearing the crowd, it seemed more like Gillette Stadium, even though it is almost 3,000 miles away on the opposite coast.
Many Patriots fans made the trip across the country to support their team, something many players appreciated on the field during and after the game, as they saw their team come-from-behind in a 23-14 win over the Chargers on Sunday Night Football to improve to 10-3 on the season and stay atop the AFC standings.
“Thought there was a lot of energy in the stadium,” Belichick said on a conference call Monday. “Night game. Chargers in their powder blues. Definitely a lot of energy in the stadium, and there was a sea of Patriots fans behind our bench. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. They were all kind of in the same spot. It was almost like a college game — a game at a neutral site, where one side of the field is one team and the other side of the field is the other team. It wasn’t quite like that, but we had all those fans right behind us. They were loud, vocal.”
Belichick wasn’t the only one who acknowledged the support, as many players took to Twitter following the game sending out appreciative tweets.
New England will now return home for two of its final three games this season, a place they have been even more dominant — winning 15 straight home games, and are 56-12 at home after Halloween, the best winning percentage in the NFL over that span.
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