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2 posts from October 25, 2013

October 25, 2013

Assignment football: Stop Gronkowski

The New York Jets might have thought themselves unlucky last week when their scheduled game against the New England Patriots coincided with the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski to the lineup.

Well, the Dolphins might think themselves less fortunate because the Gronkowski they will see play against them Sunday has a game under his proverbial belt. He's had a 51 game snaps to knock off some rust. He's had an extra week of practice -- although admittedly limited.

Great, right?

"Yeah, I mean certainly he’s an impact player, and any time you have guys like that that are out and you’re fortunate enough to get back, they certainly make a difference and give your team a boost, and I thought he did that on Sunday," Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. "Hopefully we’ll be able to build on that going forward.Yeah, we ended up – we had to throw a lot of passes last week based on the situation in the game."

Stopping Rob Gronkowski has to be a major goal for the Dolphins this weekend if they hope to beat the Patriots. When healthy, he has been among the most accomplished tight ends in the NFL. And when facing accomplished tight ends, the Dolphins have not exactly had awesome success.

Remember Jimmy Graham caught four passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns against Miami. Remember Coby Fleener had four catches for 69 yards and a touchdown. Remember Jordan Cameron caught nine passes for 108 yards and a touchdown.

But there is some hope.

The Dolphins limited Tony Gonzalez to only four catches for 24 yards without a TD. And Gronk is more a Gonzalez type TE than he is a Graham, who the Saints flank out wide like a wide receiver. Gronk is more an in-line, traditional tight end.

"He’s a unique guy in that his combination of size and strength, his ability to body position people is really what separates him. I thought the Jets did some things that at times they did some good things with him in the ball game, but yet he still caught the ball and had over 100 yards of receptions in the game. You don’t want him to catch the big balls down the field, if you can kind of keep him contained where he’s catching shallow balls that is a good thing. You have to be able to do some things to try and take him out of the game, so that’s going to be a big challenge for us."

So what do the Dolphins do? I'd imagine because the Patriots have no accomplished outside threats, Gronkowski will draw doubles. He'll be bracketed by either a linebacker and a safety or a nickel cornerback and a safety, probably Reshad Jones.

Gronkowski one-on-one against either a cornerback or a safety is a mismatch because he's more physical than they are. Gronk one-on-one against a linebacker is a mismatch because he's faster than the linebacker. It is a sure-fire call for bracket coverage and fulltime attention.

"Remember Gronk is a good player for us – he’s a really good player for us – but we have some other guys that I really count on too that I’ve been playing with," quarterback Tom Brady said (suggesting he's got other weapons that he really doesn't have to any consistent degree). "It’s going to be a big challenge for our guys going up against a real good coverage secondary. I’m sure – they’re very much a game plan team, and they’ll have their different elements to their particular game plan, but even playing them last year, they’re a good defense."


Dolphins need better play late in games to win

Through six games this seasons the Dolphins have had one easy win (Cleveland) one blowout loss (New Orleans) and four games that have been decided late and have required a certain amount of heroics to win.

Twice the Dolphins delivered on the heroics -- against Indianapolis and Atlanta.

Twice the Dolphins failed to deliver -- against Baltimore and Buffalo.

The Dolphins got heroics from different units in their victories. The Miami defense delivered a late-game stop to beat the Colts while the offense came up with a late-game TD drive that beat the Falcons.

Against Baltimore both the offense and defense failed to respond late as the defense gave up a last-minute FG and the offense couldn't come up with any points, instead wilting under a barrage of sacks from Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil.

Last week was more of the same as both units failed. The offense turned the ball over on a strip sack that led to the game winning field goal. And the defense not only couldn't force a long FG attempt but actually allowed the Bills to advance 21 yards on seven running plays that took 2:15 off the clock.

The good news? The Dolphins can sometimes pull out games with the heroics.

The bad news? The Dolphins are one of those teams that usually have to go to crunch time to decide a game and sometimes they'll succeed and sometimes they won't. It's a recipe for a .500 season.

"In the NFL you win close games and you lose close games," said CBS Sports analyst Phil Simms, who will be calling the Dolphins game at New England on Sunday. " t comes down to the last couple of minutes with who makes the plays to win. Most teams are in that boat. Miami is one of those teams.

"They have a lot of good players. But no matter how they play, it’s still going to come down to the last couple minutes just about every single week. So what side of the ball does it for you? Their offense could have run the clock out [against Buffalo], but that’s a little unrealistic.  he defense had a chance if they could have stopped Buffalo and not given them the field goal chance.

"They would have won. So, one side of your football team really has to dominate in those special situations.  And those special situations in the NFL are the last two or three minutes."

I share this because I believe Sunday's game might come down to the final couple of minutes. The Patriots, after all, are not exactly looking like a world-beating bunch, what with all their injuries and their two losses in the last three outings.

Yes, the Pats have dominated in Foxboro for a decade. They haven't lost an October game there dating back to 2005 and are 21-1 at the venue in October going back to 2003.

But something is different about this New England team. And this Dolphins team is as talented as we've seen in a while, despite its recent troubles. This Miami team matches up well against the Pats along the lines of scrimmage.

So it would be no surprise if this one comes down to the final minutes.

And if the Dolphins hope to win, someone is going to have to deliver bigtime in crunch time. Someone is going to have to help Miami finish.

Whatever happens, this much seems certain: The Dolphins are going to be involved in quite a few more close games decided in the final minute this season. They have to figure out a way to do better than .500 in those.