Alain Poupart of Dolphin Digest addressed questions posed to him about the Dolphins leading up to their Week 9 matchup against the Patriots. Part 3 of this multi-part series. See Part 1 - Offense, and Part 2 - Defense
Jon Scott, of Patriots Insider, also responded to questions about the Patriots (See below)
What have teams done to shut down the Wildcat, and do you think the Patriots have the ability to do the same?
Alain Poupart: The Wildcat was running wild for most of the season until the Saints and Jets pretty much shut it down the last two weeks, and what both teams did was bring their safeties close to the line of scrimmage and dare the Dolphins to beat them over the top. The Dolphins offensive line also didn't have a great game against the Jets, and that contributed to all-around problems on offense. I'm sure the Pats have the ability to stop the Wildcat if they use the same strategy; the key is for the Dolphins to make teams pay with a couple of passes over the top. A better game by the offensive line also would help.
AP: Very cautiously (joking). Seriously, I wouldn't expect the Dolphins to change what they do, and that's throwing a lot of blitzes to try to disrupt Tom Brady's timing. The Dolphins sacked Drew Brees five times a couple of weeks and really had him reeling in the first half. Going back to the pressure vs. coverage debate, the Dolphins don't have the studs in the secondary to stop the Pats passing game without great pressure. What everyone remembers from last year's Dolphins victory at New England was the unveiling of the Wildcat and Ronnie Brown's monster game, but let's not forget that Joey Porter also had four sacks that day. That was a big reason the Patriots offense did little that day. When Matt Cassel had time to throw in the rematch in Miami, the Pats scored 48 points. Enough said.
With a slow start to the season, but having swept the Jets, do you think the Dolphins can build on that momentum against other teams now, or do the Dolphins just have the Jets number?
AP: Forget about the two victories over the Jets, the fact is the Dolphins actually have been competitive ever since their dreadful opener at Atlanta (I'm not counting the Week 3 loss at San Diego because Chad Pennington went down in the game and replacing him in mid-stream was too big a task that day). The Dolphins may be 3-4, but they easily could be 4-3 had it not been for that atrocious Sharper touchdown call against New Orleans (just check out the Sports Illustrated photo) and they also really should have beaten the Colts in Week 2. Then again, they beat the Jets last Sunday despite being outgained by almost 300 yards, so let's not quibble. The Dolphins are 3-4, but they're a good 3-4 and certainly are good enough to put themselves in the thick of the AFC playoff race.
PREDICTION and why?
AP: How about 38-13, Dolphins? Oh wait, that was last year. I believe most observers would expect the Pats to continue on the roll they started before their bye, but I believe the Dolphins are too good to get blown out (let's face it, this ain't the Titans or Bucs here). The Dolphins have scored 30 points or more in four consecutive games (although it was returns that did the trick last Sunday) and they'll need for their offense to produce if they hope to pull off another upset because the Pats will score. The Dolphins rank 17th in the league in total defense and the potential for Tom Brady to have a huge game certainly is there. So I would expect a fairly high-scoring game. It's really difficult for me to see the Dolphins leaving Gillette Stadium with a victory for the second consecutive year, but it will be close.
Let's make it: Patriots, 31-28.
1. With all the losses on defense, where does this rank in terms of Belichick's best coaching jobs?
Jon Scott: You could say that Belichick has coached the team up from when they were loaded with veterans who had Super Bowl experience. It may be more accurate to say the Pats are a work in progress. The defense shined against two teams with major issues on offense. The same defense couldnt stop Kyle Orton in crunch time at Denver and barely stopped Joe Flacco during crunch time against Baltimore. Its also the same defense which allowed Mark Sanchez to break the undefeated track record Belhcick had in New York. Before we crown Belichick as a genius this year, well need to get a close look at how players like Drew Brees and Peyton Manning fare. So far, though, the results look promising.
2. Do you see the Pats as a legitimate Super Bowl contender at this point?
JS: Again, caution is the word here. At the beginning of the season I saw no problem with the line Vegas put on the Patriots as 6-1 Super Bowl favorites. Now the Super Bowl favorites two undefeated teams; the Saints 3-1, and Colts 7-2. New England is third at 9-2. Not coincidentally, the Patriots play the Colts next week and the Saints two weeks after that. If New England beats both those teams, then theres no doubt theyre a Super Bowl contender. But staying away from the safe bet, Id have to say yes, New England is one of the best teams in the AFC, and I expect theyll be very competitive in getting to and winning the conference championship game.
3. What's your prediction for Sunday's game, and why?
JS: I expect New England to struggle here. Miami has reversed some of their early misfortune, sweeping the Jets something the Patriots cannot do. The Dolphins run the Wildcat, a formation that continues to give New England trouble. And the Patriots will be without their top 2 defensive ends from the begging of this year; Jarvis Green (knee) and Richard Seymour (traded). New England is also starting a rookie left tackle and is down to their third string running back.
With all that said, injuries aside, I think Brady can put up some points on the Miami defense. And, unlike the Jets, the Patriots have not allowed an opponent to score three times on returns fro touchdowns. Patriots will score late to put game out of reach, but will be in dogfight for much of the first part of the game.
Prediction: Patriots: 28 Dolphins 17
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