The Dolphins this year have enjoyed a favorable schedule just as they did in 2008. In fact, they are playing the NFC West again this year as they did that year. So be thankful for that.
But, alas, even in a season when the opposition is not the toughest week in and week out, there are teams on the schedule that give pause. This season the Dolphins play four games against super teams -- at Houston, at New England, at San Francisco and New England at home.
The opponent this week is New England at home.
The Patriots are the best team the Dolphins have faced since the season opener against Houston. And that means this game will be a measuring stick. This game will tell where precisely the Dolphins are in the NFL food chain.
As coach Joe Philbin said Monday, "We're going to have to play extremely well, no doubt about it," to beat the Patriots.
The Patriots are obviously a great offensive team. They are No. 1 on offense in the NFL. They average a league-best 37 points per game, which is almost twice as many points per game as the Dolphins.
And that should worry defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, who has to stop the Patriots. But it should also worry offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who has to keep up with the Patriots.
Both assistants talked on Monday. I thought I would share everything they said:
(On his reaction to seeing his 300 plus pound center leading Reggie Bush on a sweep down the sideline) –“Well it’s actually something that I’ve seen him do a number of times, obviously more in practice. We’d been practicing that play all last week and actually ran it against our defense in a competitive drill in probably the same spot on the field, with almost the same result. We didn’t quite score, but I’ve seen him do that a few times.”
(On the improvement in the running game helping with the offense’s confidence) –“Well everything that we do is predicated on the success of being able to run the football. You really want to be able to avoid, as best you can, the third and twelve, the third and tens, the second and twelve’s. And so we were able to do that a number of times yesterday. Even two or three yard runs are better than some of the ones we’ve had in weeks past. So it definitely got things going for us and allowed us to do some things throwing the football.”
(On integrating Charles Clay into more of the offense) –“Well he’s kind of a hybrid type of player. He lines up in the backfield as a fullback, he lines up in the slot, we’ve lined him up as an outside receiver and as an inside receiver, and also as a tight end. I think defenses have to make a decision when he's in the game whether to play base defense or nickel defense, so it puts them in a precarious position. I think it’s definitely a benefit to us with his abilities that we’re able to move him around. We’ve got to make sure that we don’t load him up with too much stuff, but he certainly rose to the occasion yesterday, and hopefully will continue to do so.”
(On why Davone Bess was able to have so much success yesterday) –“Well, because he’s a heck of a player in his own right and a tremendous competitor. We were able to get him working in the middle of the field some and that freed him up on a couple of play action passes where he was able to get free. Also, in that last drive he made two huge catches for us coming across the middle. One was on a shallow cross type route, and another one was (when) they were in two safety defense and he beat the middle safety and the underneath coverage. But I think it’s a compliment more to him than that scheme. He just competed and made plays and he's a good player in his own right just like those corners were.”
(On the Patriot’s run defense and what enables them to create so many turnovers) –“Well they’re a tenacious defense. Their run defense is very strong. Their structure, obviously as you guys know, is out of the 3-4, which is Coach Belichick’s staple. They work from there with their nickel and dime packages, but obviously they’re a challenge, but we’re looking forward to it. I think we’re in a lot better position now, from a confidence standpoint, to play them than we would have been if we hadn’t won this football game.”
(On the next step in the progression for Ryan Tannehill) –“Probably not to make that throw back across the grain. That would probably be the next step in that we have to make sure he doesn’t do that, which I doubt very much he will. You know one thing that I’ve said before and I will continue to say it, he's the first one to know when he screws up and makes a mistake. He's hard on himself and I doubt very much that would (happen again). I’m very glad we survived that, but I doubt very much you’ll see that pass again. But the next step for him is to continue to believe in himself and have the confidence that he had and demonstrated to the rest of the team, particularly the offense. When we had the ball there at the end of the game, they all believed in him and trusted him. Just build off of that confidence is the biggest thing.”
(On whether he talked with him about that pass) –“Right after the game in the locker room, it was pretty jovial, but I still was able to pretty much make my point clear about that and that we’d be talking about that pretty soon.”
(On whether he focuses on the playoff talk or if he worries about the players focusing on it) –“I think our focus, as you go around the building Joe (Philbin) has ‘1-0’ just all over the place, is winning the next ball game and everything will take care of itself. I do believe the players… you know I like to listen to their comments or read their comments after the games and I think they typify the same comments that the head coach is making, and that’s ‘hey we’re just worried about winning the next football game against a great opponent.”
(On what Daniel Thomas showed him yesterday and how efficient the offense can be with him and Bush running so effectively) –“In this league, because of the type of game it is and the way we want to run the football, to be able to have two backs, and I really think we have three backs; he wasn’t dressed, but I think (Lamar) Miller can also help us in there when his time comes. But the one two punch, they’re different types of runners and you have to come to balance a little bit differently on both of them. So I do think it presents some issues for the defense, but it was nice to see Daniel come up strong. I thought he had some good strong runs for us.”
(On whether they used the ‘I’ formation more often than usual yesterday) –“That’s fairly accurate. We ran more out of a two back set than a one back set yesterday. Part of that was a function of how we wanted to attack them with some of our play action.”
(On whether all the problems are fixed now) –“If we can run the ball for 180 whatever yards, we should have pretty good success I would think. The week before, we ran it for 60 yards on almost the same amount of carries. I can’t figure that out. (We used) pretty much the same schemes. This defense we played yesterday was a very tough defense, but we seem to rise to the occasion. I think the players are certainly deserving of all the credit for what they put into this ball game and what they were able to do. Hopefully we are able to continue.”
(On whether he likes Tannehill and the offense operating at a faster pace, similar to a two minute drill speed) –“Personally I like the faster pace, but at the same time, in the beginning stages of the offense the whole idea of being in the no huddle from my standpoint is getting Ryan to the line of scrimmage to be able to decipher and dissect what people are doing and give him time. We did have to call a timeout yesterday one time because of a possible delay of game; that was my fault. I was a little bit late getting the call in, but we’ve been pretty clock savvy in relationship to getting the play in and giving him time on the clock; usually we have about ten seconds or more on the clock when he snaps the football. But it gives him time at the line scrimmage to not feel rushed, and he did feel rushed on that play and we didn’t have a successful play. I would prefer to go faster than we are but I think right now, and the Patriots go faster than we do, but right now I think we are where we are and we’ll probably stay here for a bit. As we grow maybe we’ll move a little bit forward.”
(On what Vince Wilfork brings to the Patriot’s defensive line) – “Well when you talk about the structure of their defense you want to be strong through the middle, and they are. He’s at the center point of just about everything that happens. You have to be able to block him to have any success around the football. I mean he is a man amongst boys out there a lot of times and really controls that line of scrimmage for them.”
(On whether it feels daunting to have to keep up with the pace of the Patriot’s offense scoring) – “Well You know I do always look at what an opposing offense is doing and how that plays into how we’re going to play, and so it is a little bit of a challenge there’s no question. You have a Hall of Fame quarterback over there, a Hall of Fame Coach over there, other players that are noteworthy and Pro Bowl players, so you certainly have to stay in touch with what they’re doing, but at the same time not lose sight of what you have to do. You have to focus more on yourself and what you have to do actually.”
And now Coyle:
(On what kind of ideas he has to slow down Tom Brady) –“I’m open for anybody’s suggestions (joking). They just do such a great job of executing their offense. They’re not a team that uses a lot of trickery. They are a team that does a great job of working matchups and they’re built that way. They’ve got speed receivers, quick receivers, big receivers. When you do things to try to negate their passing game, as evidenced this year, they’re very effective running the ball. So they pose a lot of problems for you in terms of the matchups. Honestly, we haven’t had, we didn’t have great success against them in Cincinnati and I hope that we can do a better job here.”
(On what he said to the defense after yesterday’s game in light of the success stopping the run) – “Well, we were real pleased. Going into the game, we felt this was one of the better running teams we were going to face that had a running back that had four consecutive 100-yard games. I think he was third in the league coming into the game in rushing and, quite honestly, with the exception of one play that bounced out there later in the second half, we did a tremendous job against the run the entire day. Guys up front did a super job - (Paul) Soliai and (Randy) Starks. Really, it all started with those two and we were able to set the edges. Geez, I think the quarterback did more damage rushing the ball against us than the running back did. So that’s good. We have to get back to doing that in order to be as good as we want to be on defense. That was a big positive step and a lot of different individuals came up with plays as the game went on. When we needed to make plays at the end, there was two things that stood out during the game. There was the sudden change there early in the game on the 35-yard line. We took the field and then knocked them back a little bit and got them out field goal range. There was no points scored in the sudden change. That was big in retrospect when you look at the whole game. You don’t think, at the time, it felt good them not scoring, but really the way the game unfolded. Then, certainly at the end of the game when they got the ball at the 40-yard line with over two minutes left and it didn’t look good. It looked like they were going to be able to try to grind it in there and set up a field goal and we might not even get a chance to get the ball back, but three consecutive negative plays got them out of field goal range again and gave our offense a chance to go down the field and win. That’s positive. There’s still a lot of things that we have to do better and containing the quarterback was a big issue yesterday.”
(On if it’s smarter to blitz Brady or put more people in coverage) – “It’s kind of like pick your poison. I think we’re going to have to do some of both obviously. He’s not the most mobile quarterback that we face for sure. That’s a bit a relief after the guy last week to be honest with you, but he stands in there and he waits and he waits and he waits and guys separate and get open. He’s very patient and he’s so smart. That’s the things about him. I don’t think you can sit there and cover them all day long. Although, I do think you have to do things coverage wise that, because of their personnel spreads you out all over the field, that you have to be able to be somewhat multiple in what you’re going to try to do covering their receivers. But I don’t think you can let him sit there and wait because eventually he finds somebody open. So I think you’re going to have to… We are a pressure team to a pretty high degree and we’re not going to change what we do, but we’re going to have to be really smart in how we do it."
(On the challenges of facing Wes Welker) – “He’s fun to watch if you’re not playing against him. He’s a lot like our Davone Bess in that he gets in the slot and he just works you. They do such a good job of running option routes with him, and him and Brady, Welker and Brady, are on such the same page where if you take leverage to his outside, he’s going to beat you inside. If you take leverage to the inside, he’s going to stick you and he’s going to break you outside. Unless you somehow have him bracketed and when you start to do that, then that’s leaving (Brandon) Lloyd open on the other side or one of the tight ends getting a one-on-one matchup. He’s very, very, it’s not his just flat vertical speed that scary, it’s more he’s one of the quickest players that I’ve ever seen in the league. Because of that, he just finds a way to (get open) and he’s tough. He’ll catch the ball in traffic and he’ll block and he’ll do all the things that you want a receiver to do.”
(On his impressions of Russell Wilson) –“You know he didn’t do anything for me to think anything less of him. I was watching him in pregame and I looked over and I said, ‘Geez, he is small.’ You look at him and he’s not very tall, not impressive physically. But I was watching him move and they were taking him through a progression of throws and he’s really smooth. He’s got good velocity on the ball. In our game, it wasn’t his downfield throwing that hurt us, he found the back, check the ball down a couple of times. He made a couple of good throws in the game, but he’s just one of those guys that finds a way to win. He competes and we were fortunate at the end of the game that we were able to get to him. We stopped them on the first play, that running play. Then, we sniffed out the screen play, which was really big making the play on the screen and then (Jared) Odrick got the sack on the final play. I think he’s going to be a very fine quarterback.”
(On how Jared Odrick has done this season opposite of Cam Wake)– “Well, he certainly had a big, big impact play in the game yesterday. Actually, yesterday I think was probably his best overall game. He made some plays down the line in terms of just good physical run force plays that he made. He has a minus-yardage play on a play that Paul really knocked the line of scrimmage back. He looked like a bull dozer in there taking about three of their linemen with him and then the ball bounced deep and Jared was there to make the play on the edge. But he did a good job. We want him to be a productive guy on the opposite side. Cam, again, you don’t see the numbers in stats yesterday, but yet he was a major factor. He had a couple of quarterback hits, knocked him down a couple of times, set the edge in the run game. People don’t realize how good of a job, going into the season, I think I mentioned to you guys everybody was concerned – is he going to hold up? And he’s done more than hold up. He’s outstanding in the run game. I think we’re getting better there. We’re getting better at that spot. We’re getting better with a guy like Derrick Shelby getting into the game too at that defensive end position. He’s giving us quality snaps. He’s not just coming there to give a guy a blow. If you noticed yesterday, he’s made a couple of good plays on the edge. Overall, between (Olivier) Vernon and Shelby, as young players developing, and then Odrick coming along the way he is, I think we’re pretty solid at that spot.”
(On putting Wake in coverage like he was on the Seahawks’ second touchdown)– “No, it’s not pointless to send him in coverage because sometimes you can free someone else up because they’re so preoccupied with having to block a guy like Cam. Really that particular blitz I’ll put on me that the ends are not necessarily, they’re kind of in between. In the way that play unfolded, they’re going to be late to come out into coverage, so that really wasn’t Cam trying to cover the guy. We needed to do a better job on the edge in terms of the guys blitzing being able to take care of it. But it was something we thought we might catch them in a play action pass and it’s what they did, but yet the one that they ran got the back out fast in flat and we were hoping that we would keep the back in the protection because of the blitz and he avoided the outside blitzer. By the time we recognized it, it was too late.”