Jon Scott: Teams opted to play man coverage. Those were also some of the better defenses in the league, and caught the Patriots at the right time. When teams decide to double Wes Welker, the other Patriots receivers have a difficult time stepping up. Only Deion Branch has been a consistent second option. When teams double the wideouts, Brady finds the tight ends. Take away Gronkowski, Welker and Branch and it helps slow the Patriots. Also, those teams had great front seven defensive fronts. They applied plenty of pressure on Brady forcing hurried throws. If New England kept in Max protection, often the receivers couldn't get open.
Q: Just how good is tight end Rob Gronkowski?
JS: He's certainly unbelievably athletic for a guy THAT big. He's huge. What amazes me is how teams try to put a linebacker on him or a smaller DB and think that's enough. His wingspan is huge, giving Brady plenty of target space to throw the ball. Is he good? Well breaking the single season TD record for TEs would make you think he's up there, but Vernon Davis, was one of the record holders and he hasn't done much since. If it was just Gronkowski you had to defend, teams could do it, but as a second or third option for Brady, he's a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.
Q: Do the Patriots really think they can get to the Super Bowl with a defense that's ranked 32nd in the league?
JS: The yardage and third down conversion issues are huge obstacles for the Patriots to overcome. Not quite sure what they're thinking, but I can tell you they are in a lot of close games that should be utter blowouts the way Brady has the offense clicking. Breakdowns in coverage, poor tackling, and soft coverage in crucial situations has have all been factors in that ranking. I equate it to this: If they can play Red Zone defense in the middle of the field, then I think they have a chance. If they play the way they've been playing all season, then no way. Don't forget, they got rid of nearly their entire secondary from the past few years. These guys are all new. Brandon Meriweather, James Sanders are two safeties they desperately need. Darius Butler, Leigh Bodden, Jonathan Wilhite and Terrance Wheatley held their own better than this crew. But it's Belichick's call, so we'll see.
Q: Just how devastating was the loss of DE Andre Carter?
JS: Losing Carter is going to be a real problem for this team. At times, he was the only defender getting pressure on the QB. He had 10 sacks before the injury, and was playing like a man possessed. It's really a shame the injury bug bit, as he was definitely having a Pro Bowl caliber season. It will be up to Guys like Brandon Deaderick, Mark Anderson and some of the linebackers to take on Carter's role.
Q: How has Rob Ninkovich, who was a bottom-of-the-roster player in Miami, become such an important part of the Patriots defense?
JS: Ninkovich was one of the guys the Patriots liked coming out in college. It's not surprising he fits in with what the Patriots do on defense, much like Mike Vrabel did when Pittsburgh let him go. Setting the edge is key for Ninkovich, but the ability to cover is something he has enough of to allow him to see more time on the field. Ironically, both Vrabel and Ninkovich wore/wear No. 50.
Q: Do you see any reason whatsoever to think the Dolphins have a shot in this game?
JS: Pressure, pressure, pressure and just throw deep baby. The Patriots have let every "sub par" team keep the games close. Close games that come down the wire with the opponent holding the last possession favors an upset. I think the Dolphins have a good enough defense to keep the score from getting completely out of control, contrary to what the season opener was like. If Reggie Bush can run like that again, the playaction will kill this Patriots defense and allow for plenty of big plays. Big plays usually pave the way for big upsets.
Q: What is your prediction for the game?
JS: I have to take the Patriots winning this one at home to keep their home field advantage in the playoffs rolling for another week. It's not that Miami can't win, but with all of the turmoil in South Florida, I'm not convinced Belichick won't roll out a new wrinkle this week. Patriots 34, Dolphins 24