When the season started, nobody thought the Miami Dolphins had even a ghost of a chance against the kings of the AFC East, expecting Tom Brady to make quick work of the Dolphins defense, and for the Patriots defense to expose Ryan Tannehill and the supposed "new-look" Dolphins offense. The whole world quickly became stunned when the Dolphins made the Patriots look ordinary instead of the usual juggernauts they are.
But ever since then, the usual NFL routine has resumed its course, and the Patriots are once again on the verge of earning the top seed in the AFC playoff picture while the Dolphins are struggling to keep their playoff hopes alive. In fact, this game against the Patriots is more than likely the Dolphins last chance to secure a playoff berth.
It doesn't look good to say the least. Considering the team's recent struggles on defense and protecting Ryan Tannehill, and the Patriots constantly getting stronger as time goes on, it seems all but guaranteed that the team could find themselves going into Foxborough and then getting pummeled like everyone expected would happen in the first week of the season.
Despite all those circumstances and new matchups that they will have to find a way to overcome, head coach Joe Philbin isn't really looking at this game much differently than he did in the first week of the season, as he feels the Patriots haven't changed their way of doing things since week one.
"It’s a team that takes great care of the football. I think they are what plus-10 or something in the turnover margin. They’re one of the best teams in football in that regard of holding onto the ball and taking it away, number one." said Philbin. "I think they are operating at a high level in all three phases. They’re scoring a lot of points, they’re not giving up a lot of points. I think, the last three weeks, they’re giving up an average of about 16 points a game. They’re just playing good all-around football.”
That's exactly what the Dolphins will have to do if they even want a chance to beat the New England Patriots in Foxborough. Philbin alluded back to what the Dolphins did on defense in the second-half during their week one meeting.
“We shut down the run, number one, relatively well. I don’t have a statistic coming off the top of my head, but I thought we kept them behind the chain a little bit." he said. "We got them off the field on third down. We did the basic things. I think we got some pressure on the quarterback, if I remember correctly. Just all the basic fundamental things you do well.”
The problem is, the team is down many of their top players who were a big part of that win. Players like Branden Albert, Knowshon Moreno, Louis Delmas, they were all key players in the win against New England in Miami. To make matters worse, the Patriots have several key players that have returned to full strength, such as Rob Gronkowski, who was a non-factor during the team's first meeting due to his injury. Also, the return of power runner LeGarrette Blount to the team makes things all the more difficult.
But again, while Philbin is acknowledging the Patriots have done well with newer players, he doesn't seem to be worried about anyone in particular.
“Like I said, you look at the beginning of the season and our first game and you see obviously there are still a number of players that are playing in this game that played in that game, but then there are the new ones." he said. "You study the recent tape. Again, I think you have to give your hats off to the Patriots coaching staff. They’ve integrated these guys into their scheme well. They’re making a good contribution and obviously playing well as a team. You have to give credit to the new guys that have come there and the way that the Patriots and their staff have integrated them.”
Yes indeed, the Patriots have done an excellent job integrating players into their system since week one. However given the Dolphins recent struggles doing the same sort of thing, it stands to reason that maybe Philbin should be a little more concerned than he sounds. Maybe he is and he's just playing it cool? Hopefully he has some sort of game plan in mind, because it's quite possible his future as head coach is riding on the results of this game.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @FLSportDebater