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The Dolphins kept their faint playoff hopes alive with a win over the Seahawks in Week 12, but have a much stiffer test to slow the attack of Tom Brady and the Patriots in Week 13.
Patriots QB Tom Brady vs. Dolphins defense
Maybe it’s the success of his counterpart Peyton Manning, or the fact that the Patriots have three losses, but Tom Brady is having somewhat of an under-the-radar MVP-esque season. He has thrown 24 touchdown passes and only three interceptions, having not thrown a pick since Week Six.
During the Patriots’ current five-game win streak, Brady has thrown 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions, and New England has scored a staggering 43.8 points per game.
“(Brady is) playing at an extremely high level. He’s very, very productive and he’s playing well,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin told reporters this week. “The big thing for us (is) we’re going to have to get off the field on third down and we’re going to have to play well in the red zone and keep them out of the endzone. But he’s playing very well.”
This is the first meeting between the Patriots and Dolphins this season, and Brady has had plenty of success against Miami in his career (14-6 record, 36 touchdowns and 17 interceptions).
What Brady excels at is attacking an opponent’s weakness. Last year against Miami, Brady threw at Dolphins CB Benny Sapp, who gave up the 99-yard touchdown pass to Wes Welker in Week One, and CB Nolan Carroll, who was subbing for an injured Vontae Davis.
Miami’s top corner this year, Sean Smith, won’t be covering Welker — it likely will be nickel CB Jimmy Wilson. The second-year player is physical, but green, and Brady could take advantage of this matchup. Dolphins LBs Kevin Burnett, Koa Misi and Karlos Dansby will need to help in the middle of the field on Welker and TE Aaron Hernandez.
The Dolphins’ offense can help in containing Brady by controlling the clock and running the ball well, though that’s not an easy feat against the Patriots’ run defense. Miami needs to avoid a shootout — Ryan Tannehill has had his moments this season, but he’s not ready to go toe-to-toe with Brady.
The key will be the pass rush. In last season’s second meeting in Week 16, Brady was only 7-of-19 in the first half, as the Dolphins jumped out to a 17-0 lead. They sacked him three times in the first half, but it was a different story after halftime. Brady finished with 304 yards passing and a touchdown, and the Dolphins got him to the turf only once in the second half. Miami fell 27-24.
Paul Soliai and Randy Starks can get the pass rush going up the middle, keeping Brady from stepping up in the pocket. Cameron Wake has the speed on the edge, and if Patriots ORT Sebastian Vollmer (back, knee) can’t play, Wake will have an advantage vs. Marcus Cannon.
The Dolphins will have to blitz with caution, considering Brady’s success against the rush and Miami will not want to leave a young, thin secondary out to dry. The Patriots have run the ball very efficiently this season. If the Dolphins can make them one-dimensional by stopping the run, it would make stopping Brady easier.
For the Patriots, it’s one of those “keep doing what you’re doing” situations. New England’s offense has been unstoppable of late, using a run-pass balance in a fast-paced system. The O-line needs to keep up its impressive play — the interior O-line will have to keep Soliai and Starks from getting penetration, and the tackles need to win the first punch with Wake.
With a win, the Patriots will win the AFC East. The Dolphins’ only way of keeping that from happening is finding a way to keep Brady in check.