|Scouting Report: What you have to know about Patriots-Dolphins||01.02.16 at 9:35 am ET|
Here’s everything you need to know when the Patriots (12-3) take on the Dolphins (5-10) Sunday afternoon at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens:
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL
Regardless of the personnel around Steven Jackson, New England figures to lean on the veteran for an extended stretch Sunday for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the team needs to know exactly what he’s capable of accomplishing between now and the start of the postseason. There’s also the fact that when it comes to between-the-tackles options on the ground, they are few and far between. That’s not to suggest the Patriots are going to force the ball down Miami’s throat, but it would be nice to know just what Jackson, who had seven carries for 15 yards in his New England debut last Sunday against the Jets, might be able to do with the postseason just around the corner. With Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount in the lineup for the first meeting between these two teams in October, the Patriots were able to grind out 95 yards on 26 carries on the way to the 36-7 win. Not an overwhelming performance, but more than enough to keep the Dolphins defense off guard. (New England enters this week’s game at 88.9 rushing yards per contest, 29th in the league.) Look for more of that this week, as the New England ground game is trying to do just enough to keep the threat of play-action alive for the passing game. Over the second half of the 2015 season, Miami has struggled to stop the run. In eight of Miami’s last nine games, the Dolphins have allowed 90 or more rushing yards. (In four of those games, Miami yielded 135 rushing yards or more.) Overall, the Dolphins are 30th in the league against the run on the season, having yielded an average of 129.9 rushing yards per contest. (For what it’s worth, the yards per carry against actually is relatively average — 4.1 yards per carry allowed, which puts them in the middle of the pack and tied with the likes of New England.) From this viewpoint, if the game plan works out, the Patriots are able to take a big lead early and grind out the clock in the second half with a heavy dose of Jackson and Brandon Bolden (54 carries, 176 yards, 3.3 yards per carry).
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL
Julian Edelman and new left tackle Sebastian Vollmer both were ruled out Friday, so it’ll be a bit of an adventure at times for the Patriots passing game. But look for quarterback Tom Brady (65 percent completion rate, 4,636 passing yards, 36 TDs, 7 INTs, 103.1 passer rating) to rely on familiar faces like Rob Gronkowski (70 catches, 113 targets, 1,158 yards, 11 TDs), Danny Amendola (63 catches, 83 targets, 631 yards, 3 TDs), Brandon LaFell (35 catches, 70 targets, 508 yards) and James White (38 catches, 51 targets, 347 yards, 4 TDs). According to Football Outsiders, Miami struggles with pretty much everyone in the passing game, but the most intriguing matchup might be White. He had just three carries for three yards the first time these two teams played, and while the Dolphins have obviously had a chance to see him on film since then, the fact that he’s a relatively new face to contend with could mean the Patriots could have an edge when it comes to utilizing him in the early going. Look for New England to try to get him matched up on a linebacker on short and intermediate routes. On the other side, the Dolphins are 24th in the league against the pass, having allowed an average of 258 yards per game through the air. A once mighty pass rush has slipped a little off the pace this year — Miami is tied for 27th in the league in sacks with 29 (Olivier Vernon and Cameron Wake are tied with seven each, but Wake is on IR).
|‘It Is What It Is’ podcast: Dolphin dysfunction reminds New England fans of greatness of Patriot Way||12.30.15 at 8:38 pm ET|
In this week’s It Is What It Is Podcast, WEEI’s Mike Petraglia fills in for Chris Price, who was filling in on air during the Dale & Holley show. Mike is joined by WEEI stat guru Ryan Hannable and they talk everything from Tom Brady to Brent Grimes and his opinionated wife, Miko, to how badly the Patriots will beat the Dolphins to the Winter Classic at Gillette. Mike and Ryan discuss how the Patriots can function with the NHL running one of its jewel events around Gillette Stadium while the Dolphins can’t even get out of their own way as they try to finish up another miserable season in South Florida. Do Patriots fans know how good they have it?
|Fantasy Football: Week 13 starts, sits||12.04.15 at 9:20 am ET|
It’s money time for fantasy owners. If you are reading this article, you are either very bored or, more likely, you are playing for your life this week — or at least a better playoff seed. Maybe you need a win to get a Week 14 bye. Yes, things are getting serious, and I’ll be around the next few days if you are in need of some help or a second opinion.
Jim Hackett and I will be doing a podcast later Friday and it will be all about Week 13. That will continue on Sunday morning with the this week’s edition of the Fantasy Football Hour. And, as always, I will be ready for your lineup questions when I host our Sunday morning chat at 11 a.m., so head on over if you want a little clarity. I will tweet a link to the chat when it becomes available on Sunday morning.
Cutler is a good Week 13 option at home in a plus matchup with his key weapons ready to go. He’s come up light the last few games, but this week projects to be different. He’s a fringe QB1 option, and you still can add him in more than half of Yahoo! leagues.
Fitzpatrick has been about what you would expect as a quarterback so far, but his stats have been a little better than expected and there are two key reasons for this. They are Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Both veteran receivers are playing very good football, and it’s making the little bearded quarterback a viable fantasy play when the matchup is right. This most certainly is one of those weeks, as the Giants defend the pass poorly yet handle the run pretty well.
Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins vs. Ravens
It’s the matchup. The Ravens can play the run but have serious weaknesses in pass defense. While I expect the new regime in Miami to run more consistently than the last, I also expect the Dolphins to scheme for the defense in front of them, not generically. The way to move the ball against Baltimore is by throwing. Expect volume and a decent fantasy outing.
|Fantasy Football: Week 12 starts, sits||11.27.15 at 12:45 pm ET|
I’m taking some deep shots today in hopes of helping those in need, so you’ll want to be careful with how you use these recommendations. As I said last week, it’s a good idea to cross-reference these ideas against my full lineup rankings that are up at Rotobahn and will be fully updated Saturday afternoon.
As always, I will be here Sunday at 11 a.m. for our weekly chat. Bring your lineup questions and I’ll do my best to help. And don’t forget to tune in to the Fantasy Football Hour this Sunday at 8 a.m. when Jim Hackett and I will discuss trending Week 12 topics and crucial game day information.
Brian Hoyer, Texans vs. Saints
The matchup is syrupy sweet, and he has enough healthy weapons to take advantage of it. DeAndre Hopkins has taken his game to another level, and the Saints simply do not play there. Cecil Shorts is healthy, and so is deep threat Nate Washington. The table is set here, so use Hoyer if you are looking to stream a quarterback in Week 12.
Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins at Jets
The Jets are banged up on defense and the injuries are to their crucial players, like Darrelle Revis and Sheldon Richardson. I’d be all-in on Tannehill, but he may be without his security blanket, Jarvis Landry. Still, if this was a chess match, the Jets are down a queen and a bishop while Tannehill loses a knight. He has a good chance to post QB1-type numbers.
Josh McCown, Browns vs. Ravens
Baltimore has been hit by an injury tsunami, and you have to wonder what that team has in the tank right now. Matt Schaub inspires no one at this stage of his career. The Browns should be able to do some things throwing the ball, and at the end of the day McCown should have serviceable numbers, and he has the potential for a plus performance if things break right. He’s a guy you can probably get, too.
|Scouting Report: What you have to know about Dolphins-Patriots||10.28.15 at 8:51 pm ET|
Here’s what you have to know when it comes to Thursday’s Dolphins-Patriots contest at Gillette Stadium:
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL
Overall, the Patriots have the 31st-ranked run game in the NFL at 83.7 yards per carry, but those numbers are certainly skewed because of the nonstop pass-a-thon last week against the Jets. (The nine carries for New England were the fewest in a game since a 2007 win over the Steelers.) In many ways, considering the scheme and matchup, this week could be a completely opposite approach for the Patriots offense, as Miami totes one of the worst run-defenses in the league into this league into Thursday’s showdown — the Dolphins are 30th overall, yielding 129.3 rushing yards per game. However, those Miami numbers also have to be looked at in context, as the change from Joe Philbin to Dan Campbell and the substandard level of competition has combined to see the Dolphins hold the last two opponents to an average of 67 yards. (That’s in the wake of four straight games where Miami allowed at least 123 rushing yards in each game to start the season.)
So where does that leave us heading into Thursday? Well, expect the Patriots to run the ball more than they did against the Jets. The strength of the Miami defensive front is getting after the passer, and given the fact that the Texans and Titans fell behind early against Miami the last two weeks, there was no reason for them to run for those two teams. The Dolphins trailed for much of the four other games, and so I’m inclined to believe their run defense, if pressed, will respond in much the same fashion it did over the course of the first four games than the last two. That means expect more LeGarrette Blount (52 carries, 246 yards, 4 TDs), and, if he’s healthy enough to play, Dion Lewis (40 carries, 201 yards, 2 TDs).
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL
This is the matchup that will likely decide the game. If Tom Brady gets enough time in the wake of the Miami pass rush — he’s averaged just over two seconds for most of the year between snap and throw — he will continue to make his money with the short and intermediate passes to Julian Edelman (45 catches, 503 yards, 4 TDs), Rob Gronkowski (34 catches, 533 yards, 6 TDs), Danny Amendola (25 catches, 289 yards, 2 TDs) and (if he plays), Lewis (26 catches, 256 yards, 1 TD). In addition, if that time is there, expect more shots at Brandon LaFell (2 catches, 25 yards), who was clearly asked to do too much in his first game of the year last week against the Jets.
It’s not going to be easy, as the Miami front has always played Brady tough — there have been an awful lot of mentions over the last few days about how the Dolphins got after the quarterback plenty in the second half of last year’s opener in South Florida, sacking him four times on the way to that win. And since 2012, Brady has completed only 58.6 percent of his passes and has a passer rating of just 82.7 against the Dolphins, both well below his career averages. Ndamukong Suh will test the youthful interior of the New England offensive line, while the expected Cameron Wake vs. Cameron Fleming matchup on Brady’s right side is going to DEMAND that Mike Williams spend a lot of time on Fleming’s hip. If Brady does get enough time, look for him to target the Miami linebackers, who have struggled in coverage. Curiously, the Dolphins have had issues covering receivers, but have done well when it comes to getting after tight ends, per Football Outsiders. We’ll see how they do when it comes to matching up with Gronkowski on Thursday night.
|Batting down those passes: Bill Belichick drills fundamentals into his team||10.27.15 at 11:23 am ET|
FOXBORO — In the first half Sunday, the Patriots defensive front was very active disrupting Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Rob Ninkovich swatted three passes at the line of scrimmage, Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones got their mitts on pieces of two others.
None of them resulted in interceptions but the Patriots came very close.
On New York’s second drive of the game, Fitzpatrick drove the Jets to the Patriots 2 and had second-and-goal. Fitzpatrick saw an open Chris Owusu in the end zone. The pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and Ninkovich dove and just missed the ball.
Still, the play kept the Jets out of the end zone and, after a Patrick Chung strip of tight end Jeff Cumberland in the end zone a play later, the Jets settled for a field goal.
Those four points saved by the tipped pass were big in allowing the Patriots to command a 13-10 lead at the half.
“I’d say we definitely work on it every week, I mean not every week, every day,” Belichick said of the art of batting down passes at the line. “It’s one of those things we work on fundamentally with our defensive players, turning the ball over. It’s part of our turnover-type circuit and tackling and all those things. We have a variety of drills that we work on regularly, emphasizing in practice.
“There are some games where you might notice a few more tipped balls than in other games, but I’d say for the most part it’s just a fundamental part of knowing where you are relative to the quarterback and where he’s throwing and if you’re in the passing lane to try to put your hand or hands up where that lane is, and if you’re not in that lane then you keep rushing.”
|5 things you have to know about Dolphins: Dan Campbell has Miami feeling good entering clash with Patriots||10.26.15 at 12:16 pm ET|
Five things you have to know about the 3-3 Dolphins, who will face the 6-0 Patriots on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.
1. They feel really good about themselves right now.
No team has endured more roller-coaster moments over the first six games than the Dolphins. After barely beating Washington in the opener, Miami suffered consecutive defeats to the Jaguars (!!!), Bills (a 41-14 blowout at home) and Jets. The loss to New York, which took place in London, was the final straw for ownership, which fired coach Joe Philbin and replaced him with Dan “Dantallica” Campbell. Blasting in with Oklahoma drills and Metallica at practice, the hard-nosed Campbell has injected new life into the team with back-to-back wins over the Titans (38-10) and Texans (44-26). Campbell is only the fifth interim coach of 26 in the NFL since 2000 to win his first two games. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed his first 18 pass attempts against Houston on Sunday, and Miami became the first team in at least 75 years to score four offensive touchdowns of at least 50 yards in a half. (All according to STATS.) While you have to take into account the competition they faced in those two games, it’s certainly got the Dolphins feeling better about themselves once again, even while faced with the prospect of going on the road on a short week to face the defending Super Bowl champions.
2. Running back Lamar Miller finally is getting his chance.
One of the biggest on-field changes Campbell has introduced is the decision to unleash Miller. The 5-foot-11, 215-pounder was always utilized sparingly under Philbin, but with Campbell in charge he’s become much more of an every-down presence in the Miami offense and now needs to be seriously accounted for as a potential game-changer when you are game-planning for the Dolphins offense. The 24-year-old, who had 37 carries for 131 yards in the first four games of the season under Philbin, has 33 carries for 288 yards and a pair of touchdowns with Campbell at the helm in the last two games. Again, you have to take into consideration the talent Miami has faced the last two weeks, but when it comes to Miller, from this viewpoint, he’s the real deal. The youngster, who rushed for 1,099 yards last year, simply didn’t get enough reps in the old system. Campbell has managed to right that wrong, and has discovered a set of relatively fresh legs for the Dolphins running game as a result.
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