Tale Of The Tape: New England Patriots At Miami Dolphins
- QuarterbackAfter a mediocre start, Tom Brady has turned his season around and has led the Patriots to three remarkable come-from-behind victories in the last three games. Brady reads defenses well and spreads the ball around to his receivers. Brady is completing 60.8 percent of his passes and has a 21-9 TD-interception ratio.Ryan Tannehill has exceeded expectations for the Dolphins in his first two years, but if he is going to establish himself as one of the game’s better quarterbacks he has more work to do. That work includes leading the Dolphins to the playoffs. While they need help, Tannehill will have to perform well in this game against New England’s vulnerable defense.
- OffenseThe Patriots suffered a major blow in their Week 14 victory over the Cleveland Browns when tight end Rob Gronkowski suffered a severe knee injury (torn ACL and MCL). Gronkowski’s strength and power after the catch made him the Pats’ most important player other than Brady. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola will have to do more to make up for his absence.The Dolphins appeared to be a lost cause at midseason when the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito controversy threatened to wreck the offensive line. Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas have provided a decent punch at the running back position, while wide receiver Brian Hartline can get open and will catch anything he can reach. Speedy Mike Wallace is a dangerous deep threat.
- DefenseThe Patriots’ defense has been torn apart by injuries and head coach Bill Belichick does not have the depth to make up for the losses of Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo. Cornerback Aqib Talib is a solid cover man, and he will have to keep Wallace in check. Defensive end Chandler Jones has a team-high 10.5 sacks and has speed coming around the corner.The Dolphins rank 16th in overall defense and head coach Joe Philbin regularly gets a solid effort from his players on this side of the ball. Outside linebacker Philip Wheeler is quite underrated. He leads the team with 92 tackles and has the range to go sideline-to-sideline to make tackles. Defensive ends Olivier Vernon (11.5 sacks) and Cameron Wake (7.5 sacks) are capable of causing problems for Brady.
- Special TeamsThe Patriots made a huge play on special teams when they recovered placekicker Stephen Gostkowski’s onside kick in the final minute of their comeback victory against the Browns. The Pats are solid in their punt and kickoff coverage, while Gostkowski has made 30-of-32 FG attempts.The Dolphins have done a decent job of covering kickoffs and punts, but they are not a threat to turn a game around with a big play because return specialist Marcus Thigpen is quite ordinary. Caleb Sturgis is an ordinary placekicker (25-of-33) who does not inspire confidence when the game is on the line.
The Dolphins may be catching the Patriots at the right time following the loss of Gronkowski. The Pats have been slow starting and that could cost them against a hungry team playing at home. -Steve Silverman, CBS Local Sports contributor