1) Make Big Plays Early
Coming into this game after a disappointing loss against the Indianapolis Colts, and a disappointing season as a whole for the Miami Dolphins, this game at first glance should be an easy victory for the incoming New England Patriots. If the Patriots win, they will claim the number one seed and home field advantage for the playoffs, and they only have the Dolphins who they beat 36-7 earlier this season. In order for the Dolphins to be competitive in this game they have to shift the momentum that is so heavily in favor of the Patriots even before opening kickoff. The Dolphins will need either an explosive long touchdown on offense, a critical turnover by the defense, or a long return by special teams early to spark a fire in the Miami sideline. The Dolphins have not played inspired football since the weeks immediately following the firing of Joe Philbin and the inspired Miami team that embarrassed the almost surely playoff bound Houston Texan team will need to show up on Sunday for this game to be close. The Patriots are coming off a overtime loss to the NY Jets and are looking for a playoff tuneup game against the Dolphins who have struggled to be competitive at times this season. The Patriots are beatable and with their numerous injuries and possibly their sights set past the Dolphins and towards the playoffs this game does have the potential to be an upset. The Dolphins will require numerous big impact plays early whether it be a turnover, a trick play, or a breakout performance by one of the many potential stars on the Miami roster in order to take place.
2) Treat this Game as a Tryout
Miami ownership has already announced that they will begin their coaching search, and that Dan Campbell will be considered as a candidate. At this point in the season will the playoffs a long lost goal these coaches and players are fighting for their spot on next years roster. Dan Campbell especially has the most to gain from a surprising last week victory against the dominant Patriots as he makes his case to remove the “interim” part of his head coach title. If the players support Campbell and want him to become their future head coach they must come up with this victory for their coach to be seriously considered amongst the top notch names the Dolphins will pursue in the offseason. Players all must perform in their own self interest to prove their worth if they want to become a part of the Dolphins' future. A new coaching regime will come in and eventuate the entire roster and locker and identify who is contributing both on the field and off of it. A marquee performance by individuals on Sunday against the Patriots may go a long way in the perception of the new coaching regime that is brought in. Look for DeVante Parker and Jay Ajayi to make big plays to justify their primary spots in the future of that offense.
3) Discipline Discipline Discipline
The story of this years Miami Dolphin team is one of immense talent and little discipline. Last week I detailed the importance of discipline on defense and yet again the talented Dolphin defense failed to deliver. On two separate occasions multiple Dolphin defenders whiffed on tackles against Frank Gore and he was able to reach the end zone for the only touchdowns by the Colts injured offense. Frank Gore looked five years younger against the uninspired Miami defense, and the lack of form tackling allowed him to bulldoze over the Miami defense. Against the Patriots offense led by future Hall of Famer Tom Brady is a veteran group that will take advantage of the defenses mistakes all day. Miami must come out and make good form tackles, swarm to the ball, communicate in coverage, and overall know and execute each players specific role on defense and pay mistake free football. Tom Brady is almost impossible to fool with disguising coverages at this point in his career so it is more important to execute the defense called and not try to do too much and hope that the injured Patriot offense is not the juggernaut that racked up 36 points against this defense this year
4. Ryan Tannehill Must Take Control of the Offense
Tannehill has put up decent and sometimes impressive stats as a whole this season, but has failed to take that next step as the true leader of this offense. He still makes critical mistakes throughout the game that undermine his otherwise productive performance. Even though he threw for 329 yards against the Colts last week Tannehill’s performance actually hurt his teams chances to win last week. Tannehill began the game with giving up yet another safety. Tannehill held the ball too long and was sacked in the end zone which has been a recurring theme this season so right there thats 2 points given up by Tannehill. Later in the game Tannehill threw a critical redzone interception to former Dolphin Vontae Davis. Redzone interceptions are poison to an offense and wipe 3 to 7 points off the board for the Dolphins which in a close game can be the difference. Tannehill was also sacked 6 times for negative 50 yards, and although they were not all his fault he does hold the ball too long which puts an undo amount of pressure on the offensive line. The loss of yards from sacks stalls drives and keeps the offense out of field goal positive. Finally after a successful last minute drive Tannehill got the Dolphins into the redzone with a chance to win, but on a 4th down he snapped the ball and the offensive line was not ready and Tannehill was sacked. The lack of communication and leadership in moments like that is why the Tannehill has not taken than next step in his development and why the talented Miami offense has not taken that next step, because their quarterbacks mistakes undercut them throughout the entire game. Tannehill has the talent and has the abilities to be a legitimate starter in this league but if he keeps making the same critical mistakes that undermine his otherwise positive plays. Against the Patriots, Tannehill must mature and hopefully take that next step as a leader, because the Patriots defense is tough and smart and will jump on every mistake Tannehill makes.