How Cam Newton and the Patriots can cripple Fins playoff hopes

During the season opener against the Dolphins three months ago, Cam Newton and a revamped Patriots offense splashed with a grand debut.
With Newton rushing for 75 yards and a pair of scores, and the unit rushing for 217 yards collectively, that backboned an impressive 21-11 victory over the Fins. Newton was also efficient in the passing game, completing 15 of 19 passes for 155 yards.
With the teams meeting again Sunday in Miami, the question is whether that kind of performance is still possible?
Since the opening game, Brian Flores’ defense has established itself as one of the best in the NFL, allowing a mere 18.8 points per game, second only to the Steelers. The Patriots, meanwhile, have struggled offensively ever since.
They won’t be getting the expected boost from receiver Julian Edelman, who practiced this week but didn’t make the trip to Miami.
So, with the stakes high for the Dolphins, who are clinging to their wild-card spot, the Patriots could prove a spoiler if the offense delivers.
Here’s how they can derail the Dolphins defense:
1. Defeat the blitz
It’s no secret. Flores runs an aggressive defense. He loves to blitz, whether it’s sending just one, or the house, on third down or obvious passing situations.
It’s also not much of a secret that blitzing teams have hindered Newton this season. He’s had problems knowing when the blitz is coming, and from where, and then reacting with the proper counter.
Whether the Dolphins use disguise, which is something the Patriots also do, Newton has to do a better job picking it up at the line, and maneuvering to defeat it.
Quick outs to the running backs or tight end are usually good options.
The utilization of James White and Sony Michel will be critical. Rookie tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene also need to be more involved.
While Newton has had accuracy issues with the shorter passes, that’s what it’s going to take to help beat the Dolphins defense.
Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs had success going that route against the Dolphins defense last week. The Patriots need to follow suit.
2. Protect the rock
The Dolphins have created at least one turnover in 19 consecutive games, which is the longest active streak in the NFL.
Against the Chiefs last week, they produced four, picking off Mahomes three times. The 25 turnovers (16 interceptions, nine fumble recoveries) the Fins have produced on the season is tied for tops with the Steelers.
So ball security will be at a premium against the opportunistic Dolphins.
“They’ve been able to do it and do it in a number of ways — fumbles, strip-sacks, interceptions,” said Bill Belichick. “They’ve been very opportunistic and they’ve forced offenses into some bad plays and capitalized on them.”
The Patriots quarterback collective has thrown 14 picks this season, with Newton contributing 10 to the cause. They’ve only lost four fumbles. So the Patriots have been pretty good about protecting the football, and will once again need to stay clean to give themselves a chance.
3. Ground and pound
The Dolphins will likely load up the box to stop the run, and try to force Newton to throw the football. Other teams have employed the same strategy and enjoyed some success.
That shouldn’t necessarily dictate the Patriots attack. No matter how Flores deploys his front, the Patriots need to get back to their roots, and attempt to slug it out on the ground, utilizing the passing game as a complementary part much like they did Week 1.
With leading rusher Damien Harris ruled out Saturday, more of the work will fall to Michel, who carried the load for the Pats in the season opener.
The 217 rushing yards they gained in the opener against the Fins wasn’t merely due to the Dolphins being unfamiliar with how Josh McDaniels was going to employ Newton given there was no preseason.
Flores’ defense is ranked 21st against the run, so other teams have had success moving the football on the ground. The Patriots’ strength is their offensive line, and they’ll need to impose their will once again.

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