One of the reasons the Miami Dolphins have reached .500 after a 1-3 start is the physical and competitive nature of their practices, interim coach Dan Campbell has said. The Dolphins have put a premium on winning and performing in practice and that has translated to the games.
The only problem with that is this week the Dolphins aren't going to get very physical at all in practice. This short week that will offer the Dolphins only two practice sessions before Thursday night's game at New England, the preparation will have to be more about brain than brawn.
That's bad for a team that has been building its foundation for success on tough, physical practice preparation.
“We’re not going to do anything physical this week," Campbell said Monday. "When you’re on a short week like this it’s hard and what’s most important is rest, recovery and then the mental work."
And so aside from playing on a short week. And traveling to that game. And not being able to use the formula that has proven itself fruitful the past two weeks, the Dolphins are going to have to simply find another way to be ready.
The Dolphins are going to have to prove they're not just a physical, tough team, but instead will have to show they're a smart team.
Indeed, they'll have to prove they're smarter than the New England Patriots.
"That to me is what it’s about and that’s where this team, talking about the New England Patriots, among other things that they’re so good at," Campbell said. "They try to find a weakness. They exploit it and then they will repeat it over and over and over. They’ll get the certain formation you know? If you’re talking about us defensively, they’ll get in these certain formations. They’ll get in empty. They’ll go hurry-up. So we have to be able to communicate. We have to get lined up. We have to be ready to go when the ball is snapped, things of that nature defensively.
"They are going to give us some looks. I’m sure they are going to try to take some of our players out [of the game plan] and we’ve got to have other answers. At the same token though, we have to find ways to get our playmakers the ball. So to me that’s what it is. It’s more of an emphasis mentally because you aren’t going to be able to get the physical work that you want to get. It’s just too short of a week."
This is obviously not great news for the Dolphins. You'll recall that when they've had an advantage over the Patriots is when they beat the Patriots in the smarts department. You'll recall Miami surprised the entire NFL in September 2008 when Tony Sparano's team sprung the Wildcat package on the Patriots.
The shots of New England coach Bill Belichick trying to diagram the play and explain to his defenders what was happening and how they should react was evidence the surprise was complete.
The Dolphins also had a mental advantage in the 2013 regular-season opener because the Patriots had no template for what to expect from the Dolphins offense. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was new at the time. It was his first game. The Patriots didn't know what they were about to face.
On Thursday, the Patriots have a template of what to expect. They have the advantage of being home. And the Dolphins are at the disadvantage of having to separate themselves from what has worked for them in preparation.
Oh, and New England being a more veteran team also helps them.
"It's tough physically and mentally, it’s tough to prepare the way you want to, but you have to find a way to get it in, spend extra time, obviously we’re here, we’re going to be here late tonight and back at it early again tomorrow," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said before Monday's evening practice, which was really just a walkthru.
"It’s going to be a jam-packed three days, but we’re going to be on top of our game and be ready to go."