When the Dolphins first met up with the New England Patriots in week one of the 2014 NFL season, it appeared that the established status quo had been completely reversed. The normally invincible Patriots offensive line had fallen after the trading of guard Logan Mankins and allowed their quarterback to be destroyed by a strong pass-rush, and the Dolphins offensive line had been greatly improved with the additions of Branden Albert and Ja'Wuan James at the tackle spots.
Now, the world's expectations for both teams have seemingly been fulfilled as they originally expected. The Great Wall of Foxborough (the Patriots offensive line) has been rebuilt, while the new look offensive line for the Dolphins has crumbled due to injuries. Albert suffered a torn ACL and MCL against the Detroit Lions, which forced utility lineman Dallas Thomas to take the right tackle spot, where he was struggled to handle opposing teams' top pass-rushers.
Thomas, for his part, according to Pro Football Focus, currently has the second-worst pass blocking efficiency in the entire history of the website's existence. Only one other player has been worse at tackle at pass-blocking with at least 25% of the snaps taken since Pro Football Focus was created, and that was Michael Harris in 2012 with a score of 86.4. Thomas currently has 88.4. Despite all this however, the team is focused on making sure Thomas stays encouraged for the next game.
“Just tell him to put his head down and keep working. At the end of the day, everyone has those kinds of games, and we really believe in Dallas." said center/guard Mike Pouncey. "We know he’s going to go out there and get the job done this weekend. We just tell him it’s just going to take work. You have to go out and you have to practice at your craft. Just go out and get better week by week.”
If there's one bright side left shining on the Dolphins crumbling line, it's rookie tackle Ja'Wuan James, who has performed incredibly well since being drafted and has performed admirably at left tackle in Albert's absence, especially considering that James was drafted out of Tennessee as a pure right tackle.
“I think he’s doing a pretty good job. He obviously keeps getting better and better each week. The transition that he made was big-time for our football team." said Pouncey. "It was unfortunate we lost our star left tackle, but Ja’Wuan has been doing a pretty good job.”
As for the Patriots offensive line, for the first four weeks, it seemed like Brady would be running for his life for the whole season, and the Dolphins are well aware that as long as teams can get to Brady, they can make him make mistakes.
“I don’t think Tom Brady is any different than any other quarterback, if you start hitting him, to some degree, they have to make sure that they’re protecting the ball or protecting the team and taking care of the ball. If there are guys hitting them all day, then that’s something they’re going to be aware of." said star defensive end Cameron Wake. "Like I said, he’s no different than any other quarterback, I think hitting the quarterback has always been something that’s a help to your defense as a whole, whether it’s them tucking the ball and covering up or throwing the ball a little too early or getting off the spot, whatever it may be. Those things are going to help your defense out. Obviously, that’s not a surprise that that’s something we’re going to have to take care of on Sunday.”
So it's clear that the Dolphins will be focused on getting pressure on Tom Brady, which considering the recent defensive woes they've been suffering, should be more challenging than it has any right to be. But the Dolphins' backs are against the wall, perhaps that's the motivation they need to go all out and achieve victory against all odds.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @FLSportDebater