After coaches gave the players the weekend off, they’ll return today to begin preparation for the Dolphins, who present three unique challenges to Bill Belichick and his staff. Belichick addressed them today in his weekly conference call with the media.
1. Preparing for the Wildcat: It was last Sept. 21 when the Dolphins unveiled the Wildcat offense at Gillette Stadium in a 38-13 pummeling of the Patriots. The Dolphins still squeeze some efficacy out of the formation because Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams run it with such skill, but as the Jets proved yesterday in holding the Dolphins’ offense to 104 total yards, teams have begun to solve it.
The thing is, no matter how effective or ineffective the Wildcat is on Sundays, opposing defenses must devote significant time to prepare for its subtleties. The Patriots will need to decide how much take time out of their normal preparation to account for the Wildcat.
“That’s always a tough decision,” Belichick said. The Dolphins’ use of the Wildcat “varies from game to game. It’s not always used in the same percentages. The better it’s going, the more you’re going to see it. There’s other times where they make you spend time defending it and don’t use it all that much. The most important thing is that we’re sound on it and we’re prepared for it, so if we get it, we at least know how to play it and the different thing that come out of it.”
2. A varied offensive approach: Even without using the Wildcat, the Dolphins and offensive coordinator Dan Henning deploy an unusually large mix of formations, which Belichick described as a “very broad offensive system.”
“We’ll have to be ready for all of those,” Belichick said. “We want to be ready to defend that. But at the same time, we don’t want to commit so much time to [the Wildcat] that we don’t do a good job on the other things they do as well. Hopefully we’ll be able to use a little bit of the extra time to get those bases covered. But it’s definitely a preparation problem they present.”
Since Chad Henne took over for injured starter Chad Pennington during Miami’s Week 4 victory over the Bills, Belichick has seen “basically the same” offense used by Henning. Pennington’s intelligence and experience allowed him to make some pre-snap adjustments that maybe Henne can’t. But their overall attack is unchanged.
That’s significant, because Belichick feels the Dolphins change their personnel packages and formations on a weekly basis. That hasn’t changed, even with a second-year quarterback.
“There’s a lot of things that we’ll see in the game Sunday that we really can’t prepare for, because they haven’t shown them yet exactly the way they’re going to do them,” Belichick said. “There will be something different and creative this week that will be different from the other games that we’ve seen them play. They kind of keep the wheels spinning that way.”
3. Stopping Ted Ginn: The Dolphins scored 30 points in their victory yesterday despite a meager 104 yards of total offense. The reason was Ginn, who became the first player in league history to take back two kickoffs more than 100 yards for touchdowns in the same game.
Ginn’s speed presents a major challenge. His speed allows him to take any path on a kickoff return – from side to side, from the middle to the outside, or from the sideline to the middle on a cutback.
“He has the ability, really, to take the ball any place on the field,” Belichick said. “He can just outrun just about everybody that we have on our kickoff team. I don’t know that we, or any team in the league, really, has more than one or two people, if that, that can run with Ted Ginn.”
The main emphasis will be, simply, on tackling. Former Patriots special teams maven Larry Izzo whiffed on Ginn’s second touchdown, diving past Ginn and missing a tackle that would have started the Dolphins inside their own 20-yard line.
Containing Ginn will also take discipline from the Patriots’ coverage team, the players making sure the stay in their lane. The gunners (players closest to the sideline) will have stay outside of Ginn at all times, even if it appears he’s taking the ball up the middle or to the other sideline.