New England has historically struggled in Miami but those days could be over when the 6-0 Patriots travel to take on the winless Dolphins this Sunday. It's usually a tight battle between the two AFC East rivals but with the way both teams are playing right now, the Patriots have been instilled as a whopping 17-point favorite on the road.
Cam Cameron came to Miami with the reputation of being an offensive mastermind. However, after five games the Dolphins ranked 21st in total offense, averaging a pedestrian 18 points per game. Needless to say, that kind of production isn't what the folks in Miami were expecting.
The challenge Cameron is facing early on in his coaching career is every decision he and general manger Randy Mueller have made in the last 10 months hasn't worked out. The two biggest black eyes on Cameron's resume up to this point have been the drafting of Ted Ginn and trading for veteran quarterback Trent Green.
Ginn has been a major disappointment early in the season. Through five games, he had only caught two passes. But that could be excused if Ginn was blowing people away as a return man. Ginn was one of the best kick returners in college football last year but that success hasn't translated over to the pro game.
Ginn was supposed to be the next Devin Hester but early on, he looks like the second coming of Peter Warrick. While he hasn't had a great start to the season, Ginn will now become a starter with Chris Chambers being shipped off to San Diego this week.
The Dolphins' two biggest offseason acquisitions -- Ginn and Green -- aren't making anyone in Miami reminisce back to the days of Dan Marino and Mark Clayton. And with rookie quarterback Brady Quinn in Cleveland and the Dolphins relegated to using career backup Cleo Lemon, the heat on Cameron is getting turned up by the week. However, Lemon showed signs of being able to lead the Miami offense last week after throwing for 256 yards and scoring three touchdowns.
The Dolphins have struggled overall this season but one player who has carried his weight is running back Ronnie Brown. Playing behind a below-average offensive line, yards haven't been easy to come by for Brown but he's run hard and produced both as a runner and receiver. Through five weeks, Brown averaged 5.1 yards per game but he won't have that kind of success against a formidable Patriots front.
Tackle Vernon Carey, along with guards Chris Liwienski and Rex Hadnot, have been inconsistent and will get exposed by a defensive line that could get Richard Seymour back for this game. The Dolphins will have their hands full with Vince Wilfork, so with or without Seymour on the field, it's going to be tough sledding for Brown on Sunday.
One problem facing Cameron is even if he gets the offense cranking, the Dolphins defense is beginning to show its age. It seems like Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas have been on the Dolphins since their undefeated season in 1972. Both are still playing at a high level, although Thomas has been banged up early in the year. Miami ranks near the top of the NFL in pass defense but those numbers are a bit misleading. Since teams are having so much success running the ball on the Dolphins, they haven't needed to air it out very often. However, when they did face a team that could throw the ball down the field, Miami only gave up 186 yards passing to Dallas.
Tom Brady has had some nightmare games in Miami, including last year when the Patriots were shut out. Taylor has made a living in New England's backfield and probably has more hits on Brady than any player in the NFL. Matt Light struggles against Taylor and will get a lot of help from Kyle Brady this Sunday. Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte' Stallworth will make plays as long as Tom Brady has time to throw.
It's going to be a monumental task for the Dolphins to pull the upset this week. They are overmatched at every position and if Miami can stay within three touchdowns of the mighty Patriots, they should consider themselves lucky.
-- The Patriots-Cowboys game certainly lived up to the hype ratings-wise. The matchup of the two unbeatens earned an average overnight household rating/share of 18.5/35, making it the highest-rated regular-season game on CBS since the station re-acquired the NFL in 1998. The record ratings may not stand for long, however. The monumental battle on Nov. 4 between New England and Indianapolis on CBS is expected to be one of the most watched regular-season games in NFL history.
-- It was a big week for Tom Brady. The Golden Boy graced the cover of Sports Illustrated after the Patriots disposed of the Cowboys 48-27. This marks the eighth time Brady has appeared on Sports Illustrated's cover. Let's just hope that Brady -- who has thrown for 21 touchdowns and two interceptions through six games -- doesn't suffer from the dreaded SI cover jinx. Patriots fans can take solace in the fact that Brady hasn't been asked to be on the cover of Madden 09 yet.
-- One minor down note for Brady was he got fined for not having his chinstrap properly buckled. Ty Warren was also fined for the same infraction.
-- "It's a test for the offense. Any time guys are down, other guys have to step it up. Other guys have to pick it up. Hopefully we're able to fill in this week against a team we always have problems with, especially down in Miami. We know in 2004, they were 2-11 and we were 12-1 and got our butt kicked." -- Tom Brady, on the possibility of playing the Dolphins this week without running back Sammy Morris.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Same story, man. We've heard it before. Whatever. That's why we have 60 minutes. You have 60 minutes to prove what you got out there, and bottom line, we won the game. We're worried about Week 7. It's over with. All the hype and all the hoopla, but like I said, at the end of the day you have to play the game between the white lines. The results are in; let's move on." -- Ellis Hobbs, responding to Cowboys receiver Patrick Crayton, who said the New England defense was not the real deal.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Cleo Lemon took over as the starting quarterback once Trent Green went down with a concussion. Despite putting up a solid performance against the Browns, the inexperienced signal-caller could be a deer in headlights facing the Patriots pass rush this week. Vernon Carey will have his hands full on the left side with either Richard Seymour or Jarvis Green, while Rosevelt Colvin and Mike Vrabel bring heat from the outside. If Lemon does have time to throw, his top target will likely be Marty Booker, who has killed the Patriots in recent years, after the team's leading receiver, Chris Chambers, was shipped to San Diego Tuesday. The Dolphins don't use the tight end much but Ronnie Brown is one of the NFL's better pass-catching backs. Inexperience at quarterback and inconsistency along the offensive line will be Miami's downfall.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Patriots LT Matt Light vs. Dolphins DE Jason Taylor: This is the matchup that haunts Light. He must see Taylor in his sleep. Last year in Miami's 21-0 win over the Patriots, Taylor beat both Light and Nick Kaczur repeatedly and was in Brady's face all day long. While Taylor has been a thorn in the Patriots side over the years, the addition of Kyle Brady should help. Light and Brady will try to double-team Taylor on the left side, so expect Dom Capers to move the reigning Defensive MVP around like he did last year.
Patriots WR Randy Moss vs. Dolphins CB Michael Lehan: Lehan is a physical corner and he'll need those skills this week going up against one of the NFL's top receivers. Moss has been close to unstoppable early in the season. If the Dolphins can get to Tom Brady, Lehan has a chance to slow down Moss at the line of scrimmage by jamming him. However, if Miami's pass rush can't pressure Brady on a consistent basis, Lehan will most likely become the latest cornerback to get "Mossed" this season.
Both Morris and Watson left the Cowboys game with injuries and didn't return. Morris injured his chest and Watson his ankle. If both players are lost for any amount of time, it could be costly to the Patriots. Watson is the only receiving threat New England has at tight end, while Morris has been taken a majority of the carries in Maroney's absence. If both Maroney and Morris are out this week, that means Kevin Faulk will get the start at running back. In other words, expect the Patriots to rely on Tom Brady and the passing game even more.