Behind Enemy Lines: Pats - Dolphins Part 1

An inside look at the Dolphins from Alain Poupart who answers a half dozen burning questions on Sunday's matchup.

1.  How is the development of Ryan Tannehill coming along, and was it basically a waste of the season to hand the reins of the team to a rookie?

Alain Poupart: Tannehill is coming along just fine, although he has gone through the inevitable ups and downs of rookie quarterbacks. To a man, his teammates have talked about how impressive his poise has been from the start of training camp and he clearly has never looked rattled. From a physical standpoint, he certainly looks the part and shows a lively arm. What he does best just might be throwing on the run. What he needs to avoid is trying to force passes, which he did a couple of times last Sunday against Seattle — even though he was bailed out on an end-zone interception by a roughing-the-passer penalty. Because Tannehill is the future of the franchise and because he was so familiar with the Dolphins offense, having played under offensive coordinator Mike Sherman at Texas A&M, it's not fair to categorize this as a waste of a season.

2.  We all know that the Jayson Taylor led Miami defense has been a hurdle for the Patriots in the past.  What should people know about this year's Dolphins defense than differs from those in the past?  Even without Taylor, can the D still bring the heat?

AP:  First off, Jason Taylor wasn't a major factor on the Dolphins defense the last few years, so his impact shouldn't be overstated. This year's defense, under new coordinator Kevin Coyle, is different in that the base is a 4-3 instead of a 3-4, even though they still use elements of that defense. The Dolphins seem to be blitzing more than they have in the past, but they can only do so much of that because their secondary isn't elite by any means. As has been the case since 2009, Cameron Wake is the pass rusher opponents have to worry about, and there really hasn't been another consistent presence applying pressure.

3.  The only time the Patriots haven't won the division since Tom Brady became a starter was in 2008 when the Dolphins took the tiebreaker and 2002 when the Jets won the division.    With a Patriots win on Sunday, they take the division again.  How important is winning the division to the Miami faithful, compared to just getting in? And do you think the Dolphins have a shot at the playoffs this year?

AP: Considering the Dolphins have made the playoffs once since the 2001 season, at this point just getting into the postseason is the goal and then fans will worry about winning the division. It's also important for the fan base to make the playoffs emphatically, as opposed to 2008 when they had no injuries, a brittle veteran quarterback having a career year and a soft schedule. As for this season, with two of their last five games coming against the Patriots and another being a trip to San Francisco, I have a hard time seeing a playoff berth being realistic.

4.  Who are the top players on offense and defense that fans who don't know the dolphins should keep an eye on?


AP: The marquee names on offense are Tannehill and Reggie Bush, but in Davone Bess the Dolphins have one of the most reliable receivers around. New England fans, however, should know him considering he's had some big games against the Patriots. On defense, the one player who doesn't get the attention he deserves is tackle Paul Soliai — and that's even though he went to the Pro Bowl last season. He doesn't get many tackles, but the guy is a best in run defense.

5.  Best promising player from the Draft except for Tannehill?

AP:  Based on what we've seen so far this season, the most promising rookie draft pick other than Tannehill has to be defensive end Olivier Vernon, who has a couple of sacks on the seasons along with a couple of blocked field goals. Running back Lamar Miller also has shown explosiveness running the ball, but his pass-protection issues have kept him from getting significance playing time.

6. How much gas does reggie Bush have left in the tank, and do you think he'll play a key role on Sunday?

AP:  Reggie Bush has been in the league since 2006, but he doesn't have nearly the normal wear and tear of someone who's been around that league because he was used sparingly in New Orleans. So to think Bush is wearing down is off the mark. That said, his performance has been very uneven this season, although a lot of that has to be attributed to the offensive line. Will he play a key role Sunday? Let's put it this way: If he does, the Dolphins have a shot; if he doesn't, it could get ugly.

Prediction:
The Dolphins have had very impressive performances against New England in recent years — but can't sustain them. Just think back to last year's game at New England when Miami led 17-0 at the half before the Pats rallied to win, 27-24. If the Dolphins bring their A-plus game, they have a chance to make it a game, but in the end I'd say to see Miami winning without a more prolific offense and with a secondary that's not playing great football lately.

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Alain Poupart is the Associate Editor for Dolphin Digest . You can find more of his material at DolphinDigest.com or on Twitter at @apoupartFins

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