Jon Scott: New England had no idea what to expect in Week 3. They are playing better, but the general consensus is that the defense still has a lot of work to do. Every time there's an injury to the personnel, the defense has a letdown. Last week it was Ty Warren. The Pats were unable to generate pressure from the left side on a regular basis, and Brett Favre was able to sit in the pocket long enough to pick the secondary apart. If that happens again — and many in Patriots land think it might — then the Dolphins will have all day to decimate the suspect secondary again.
When I suggested that without pressure by the Patriots defense, a bit of luck in the turnover department and a solid showing on special teams there would be trouble, I was scoffed at. Just watch, if Chad Pennington has time to throw, and the defense has to adjust to the pass, then Ronnie Brown will have little trouble turning in another record day against the banged-up defense.
Q: Is there any sense of panic over there because the team's playoff run might be in jeopardy?
JS: Sure. But you have to realize the big sense of panic ensued when Tom Brady was lost of the season. Then the world was ending when Rodney Harrison hurt his thigh. Then even more trouble when the team lost their top three starting running backs, then again when Adalius Thomas went down. Yet each time, the Patriots were able to find a way to scratch out a win. In the case of the Jets game, Matt Cassel set records for the Patriots in a losing effort that was only a lost cause because of a breakdown in overtime.
The nation has moved beyond panic. If any other fan base had to endure this, they'd have said, well, a .500 record is good enough. In New England, the fans expect to win, even after losing multiple Hall of Fame-worthy players.
Pats fans are beyond panic, but the players know they can't afford to give away another one like they did in Indy, and again against New York.
Q: What is your prediction for this game, and why?
JS: My prediction is based on keys to the game. If the Patriots can find a way to limit the Wildcat to 5 yards or less, if they can stay even in the turnover department, and if they can win the battle of field position, I think they will win. If all that is a wash, and the Dolphins do their normal ball control offense, then I think Chad Pennington will decimate the Patriots secondary. New England is yielding a woeful 43 percent success rate in converting third downs. That killed them against Miami, Indianapolis and New York.
Assuming Ty Warren is back, and the defense finds its solution on third down and against the Wildcat, I think the Pats win. I just believe Cassel and the offense have developed enough of a rhythm to score when they need to. The Pats are much better prepared to roll on offense so they don't become one-dimensional, and the decision to blitz Cassel at this point has a much lower payoff-to-risk ratio than it did in Week 3.