Inside the matchup: Dolphins at Patriots

We are very happy to have Alen Dumonjic, an x’s and o’s football junkie who blogs for The Score, back for another season to give us his insight on the intricacies of the game.


The season finale is here and the Patriots are facing the Dolphins for the second time in five weeks. As expected, not much has changed for the Dolphins on the offensive side of the ball. They’re still featuring three major personnel groupings: 11 (one back, one tight end), 12 (one back, two tight ends), and 21 (two backs, one tight end).

In the last preview, I wrote about tight end Charles Clay potentially making an impact as an H-back, but he’s since been lost for the season. The Dolphins haven’t changed their offense much since the loss of Clay, only introducing rookie running back Lamar Miller and tight end Michael Egnew into the mix. Egnew was a non-factor last week against the Buffalo Bills, logging only eight snaps.


The offense is still led by the explosive Reggie Bush, who is the primary ball carrier on their favored inside zone, outside zone, power and lead run concepts. As noted, they’ve introduced rookie runner Lamar Miller into the fold in the last couple of weeks, and he presents some challenges. He is a dynamic ball-carrier, showing the acceleration, explosiveness and instincts to get into the open field. He possesses better vision than Bush and could be a big play threat against the defense.

In the passing game, the Dolphins utilize short passing concepts that focus on attacking the middle of the field, typical of West Coast Offense schemes. They use a lot of pattern combinations that work across the field, such as Flanker Drive and various Hi-Lo’s. As noted in the Week 13 preview, the Snag (spot and a flat route), double Smash (two square-ins and a corner route) and slant-flat are also factors.

Note: The following section has been copied from the Week 13 Inside the Matchup preview. The Dolphins’ scheme simply has not significantly changed.

The Dolphins’ defense, coordinated by Kevin Coyle, is particularly stout up front, where big tackles Paul Soliai and Randy Starks man the middle. Starks is a quality pass rusher who has also done good work against the run while Soliai is the nose tackle, eating up space but still showing the versatility to play more than the typical zero or one technique.


Accompanying them is pass rush aficionado Cameron Wake, who is one of the league’s best at getting after the quarterback and has an endless motor. Those three players have allowed the Dolphins to mix in some three-man fronts in their base four man scheme.
In the four-man scheme, Wake is a five technique end while Starks and Soliai play various techniques, which include zero, one, two and three. Three fronts used include the Over (strong-side guard covered), Under (weak-side guard covered) and Even (double three techniques). The Dolphins have also overloaded sides, creating a one on one matchup on one side of the formation, typically where Wake is stationed. Further, they’ve used three man fronts with a LEO on the weakside, as seen in the first meeting.

The Dolphins have gotten creative with their pass defenders, playing a multitude of coverages, which includes Man-Free, Man-Free Robber, Cover 2 (traditional and inverted), Cover 2 Man, Cover 2 Trap, Cover 2 Man Trap, Cover 3 (and all its variations of Sky, Buzz, and Cloud) and the always popular Cover 4 (Quarters).


Patriots OL vs. Dolphins DL – The last time these two teams met, Tom Brady was sacked four times and beaten up throughout the game. Can the Patriots keep him upright against the Dolphins’ pass rush? Cameron Wake had 1.5 sacks and is always a handful, possessing elite speed off the edge and an endless motor. Interior defensive linemen Randy Starks and Paul Soliai shouldn’t be forgotten either, as they both have quickness to them, although Starks is the superior pass rusher.


Patriots Run Offense vs. Dolphins Run Defense – Going into the playoffs, I expect the Patriots to try to continue to keep their running game going strong, and it will be a tough task against the Dolphins’ stout front four. The last time these two met, the Patriots averaged 3.4 yards per carry, which has to go up if they plan on keeping Brady up as well as tiring down the Dolphins.

Tom Brady vs. CBs Dimitri Patterson & Bryan McCann – It’s hard not to see Tom Brady finding yet another weak link in the Dolphins’ secondary and exposing it. Last year, nickel corner Benny Sapp was beaten like a drum and this time around, there are two players to keep an eye on. The first one is boundary corner Dimitri Patterson, who was claimed off of the waiver wire from the Cleveland Browns. Patterson is a talented corner with quality mirror skills, but he can be taken advantage of when he’s playing on the line of scrimmage. He tends to play with dead hands, meaning he doesn’t make any contact at the line and tries to run with his assignment. This could be a problem with Brandon Lloyd because Lloyd is quick enough to beat Patterson at the line and can win vertically. Moreover, Bryan McCann is very sloppy with technique and has a strong tendency to open his hips up too early, exposing him vertically. He’s very impatient and the Patriots should take advantage of him, especially when he slides inside across the slot receiver.

Dolphins’ A-gap Blitz – As noted last time, the Dolphins will show pressure in the A-gaps. This creates a one-on-one matchup on the outside for the defensive ends. They will show pressure, but back out at the last second or they will show it and blitz. In the last meeting, the Dolphins sometimes backed out of it when the offense spread the defense out, which could happen again this week.

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