DAVIE — Adam Gase has faced the New England Patriots three times since his arrival in South Florida and the games really haven’t been close at all, certainly not as close as a few of the box scores indicate, because usually the Miami Dolphins quickly fall into an insurmountable canyon.
“It’s the wrong team to get behind as much as we have,” Gase said this week.
So here is this nationally televised game, and the Dolphins are 0-4 in such scenarios this season, and once again they are a huge underdog to the perennial AFC East champions. And perhaps this will be some sort of trap game for the Patriots, as looking ahead to a match with the Steelers would be more than understandable.
Probably not. But in the search for a reason to think it could be closer than the experts think on Monday Night Football, we stumble upon this quirk. What if the Dolphins facing the Patriots twice in three weeks, is somehow, some sort of advantage for the underdog Fins?
Gase has pondered how close these two meetings with the Patriots are, and his staff, of course, has devised a plan.
The Dolphins closely studied New England’s 23-3 defeat of the Bills last Sunday. Of course they closely studied New England’s 35-17 defeat of them at Gillette Stadium on Nov. 26.
And they’re also leaning heavily on all the research and scheming they did on New England since last season ended.
You don’t just throw all that reconnaissance away.
“A lot of your game plan you can revisit, that you haven’t run, which is nice in the fact that you’ve repped it, so you’re getting reps at the same plays you’ve already been working on versus what they do,” Gase said. “The hardest thing is, I think it’s hard for either team really to change too much, playing each other so close together, because sometimes when you go the third game and then the 12th game, you can kind of evolve over time. It’s always interesting to kind of play in these games of what each side comes up with as far as scheme-wise.”
In reality, the Dolphins know New England, perhaps more than any other NFL team, is liable to come out with a ton of packages and looks and schemes that are entirely unlike what Miami saw two weeks ago. And on the surface, with Miami struggling for most of this season to properly execute the stuff they’ve worked on all year, that would seem to be a disadvantage for Miami.
Will Gase and offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen and defensive coordinator Matt Burke trust their players enough to add in sufficient wrinkles to force the Patriots to think as much as the Patriots usually force opponents to think?
This week, Burke seemed to indicate yes.
“They try to find matchups that they can take advantage of,” Burke said. “For us, it’s trying to keep the matchups in our favor as much as possible. Whether it’s moving different personnel groups or moving bodies on bodies that we like better in terms of certain, specific skill sets or matchups for us. Or just trying to keep the target moving. It might look like this is a matchup you like and then the next play, we’re playing something different. That’s just the game you have to play with them. They’re going to try to put as many players on the field that they think are positive matchups for them, and find the one that they like the best and go to it. Our job is to try to take those matchups away as best as possible.”
Miami’s secondary was a mess against Brady and the Patriots in the first meeting, but the Dolphins feel they’ve figured some things out since then. On the downside for chemistry and communication, veteran Alterraun Verner, who is capable, is scheduled to start his first Miami game due to a Cordrea Tankersley injury.
Frankly, Miami was encouraged by how many times their highly-paid, somewhat underachieving defensive front hit Brady in the last meeting. They seem to enjoy it when Brady complains to officials about how he’s been hit. They think they know then they’re doing their job.
In that last meeting, Miami quarterback Matt Moore was sacked seven times. Now, Jay Cutler is in this week and perhaps he can help make some adjustments at the line that will help limit free Patriots blitzers, a glaring issue in the first game.
“We’ve just got to do a better job of making sure that we handle that up front,” Gase said. “They make it difficult because those guys, they do a good job game planning. They find your weakness and they try to maximize using the information they have.”
Miami also feels Jesse Davis and Sam Young have settled in at right guard and tackle and Ted Larsen has shaken some rust at left guard.
Cutler, who doesn’t seem to much enjoy weekly news conferences, can actually be quite candid when asked about specific concerns or factors in a game. As for Monday Night’s game, Cutler knows what he watched from the sideline two weeks ago may not be highly relevant.
“You can’t say, ‘Hey, they’re a Cover 2 team,’ or, ‘Hey, they’re a 3-4 Buzz team.’” Cutler said. “That’s not who they are. They’re going to play whatever defense they think gives them the best chance to win. It could be different every week. It could be different this week than what we saw two weeks ago.”
Dolphins offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen, as a coach will do, suggested it’s about who makes the plays, not which plays are called.
“It’s just weird,” Christensen said. “It’s a weird deal. It’s both ways, but we’ve played them so many times and you see them twice a year, and now you see them twice in three weeks that you know what they do. You know what you have to do, but it doesn’t make it easier to beat them. It’s still hard work to beat them and they do a good job. They’ll have their wrinkles and we’ll try to have a wrinkle or two but at the end of the day, it’ll come down to if we can block them, if they can tackle us, if we can beat man coverage, if they can cover us, if we can protect our quarterback and it’ll come down to the same basic things in football.”
All week, Miami players spoke about how New England players are smart; and how they must be smart.
All week, they spoke about how Patriots players don’t turn the ball over and don’t take foolish penalties; and how they must do the same.
Surely, all week, Dolphins coaches have wondered what New England coaches have cooked up for them; and if their plan is good enough to defeat it.
“I’ve played these guys 12 times in my career,” Gase said. “I’ve called six or seven games against them. (Patriots defensive coordinator) Matt Patricia knows me pretty well. That’s the challenging part. How much hasn’t he seen? You just keep trying to find ways to move the ball. They do a good job of changing things up and showing you different looks. Every year it’s different. That’s what makes that whole organization tough to compete against because they’ve got good players and at the same time, they have really good coaches that make it very tough on your offensive and defensive play callers and special teams.”
But Miami coaches have a chance to show they’re really good, too.
They have a chance to show they’ve identified their strengths and identified the Patriots’ weaknesses.
Surely there are weaknesses?