October 04, 2002
Patriots Have Problems With Miami Heat
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
MIAMI -- Patriots win 1985 AFC title in the Orange Bowl. In January.
Patriots win 1986 AFC East title in the Orange Bowl. In December.
Patriots win 1997 AFC East title in ProPlayer Park. In December.
The 2001 World Champion Patriots suffer their worst defeat of the season at ProPlayer Park. In October.
You won't find too many people who claim a fond feeling for the muggies. You can list the Patriots somewhere near the top of that list. As much as the Dolphins loathe having December games in northern outdoor stadia, Dolphin opponents dread the proposition of early season games in the inferno that is south Florida. Retirees seem to love this state (like the late, great Ted Williams, for example), but one has to wonder how anyone can enjoy the vast recreational activities of this state given how hot and humid it is down here.
Under normal circumstances, worrying this much about Williams would never have warranted this much concern. This is not to demean Williams' stature as an NFL back. It is to say that the Patriots have some history with Williams, and most of it is quite good.
Williams came to Foxborough last year as a member of the New Orleans Saints. The Patriots held Williams to 56 yards on 15 carries, and beat his team 34-17. Williams was hardly a factor all game long; his longest run was 14 yards, and he wasn't even the team leader in rushing (quarterback Aaron Brooks was with 65 yards). The Patriot win over the Saints was one of their most convincing of the 2001 season.
Williams has since headed across the Gulf of Mexico to the Sunshine State, and his fortunes have since gone upwards. His 460 rushing yards is second in the NFL, and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry.
What has to be keeping Bill Belichick and Romeo Crennel awake at night is the fact that LaDainian Tomlinson is number one in rushing and Priest Holmes is number three. So, in three consecutive weeks, the Patriots are facing the top three rushers in the league. The results thus far have been disastrous, and the team is 1-1 during this stretch. It makes the fact that the Patriots were able to eke out a win in overtime against Kansas City even more important and significant.
Overreacting to these numbers is possible, given that the Patriots did beat the Chiefs and this column outlined how the Patriot offense could have been more responsible for the loss versus the lack of containment on Tomlinson. The fact that the Dolphins gave up 48 points to Kansas City last week also figures prominently in the Patriot fortunes this weekend. Factor in Jay Fiedler's propensity for interceptions, and you get the ingredients for a high scoring game Sunday.
In a way, it's kind of like a balance. There are perhaps as many factors that favor the Patriots on Sunday as there are factors that favor the Dolphins. If the Patriots can withstand the oppressive Miami weather, they have a solid chance to win this game. The weather factor may yet turn out to be the key to this game.
Both teams are playing against projections the last week or so. How can the Patriots stop Jerome Bettis and Curtis Martin, then proceed to literally fall down against Holmes and Tomlinson? And how can the Dolphins look so invincible for three weeks against Detroit, Indianapolis and the Jets, and then go into Kansas City and cut a stinker?
Williams may break 200 yards rushing. Tom Brady may break 400 yards passing. Either Troy Brown or Deion Branch may again threaten the Patriot receiving record. If Brady can return to his pinpoint control, no mistake passing style, and if the offensive line can block for him and keep their lightning quick defensive linemen off of Brady, the Patriots ought to be able to withstand any assault Williams might lay on them.
To repeat the mantra from the other day, the Patriots did give up 217 yards rushing to Tomlinson, and lost by only seven points on the road. There is no reason to expect anything less from the Patriots on Sunday.
Except for that dadblasted humidity.
The weather in San Diego was partly cloudy, warm and dry. That city is often hailed as having the best weather in the USA. Whatever advantage the Patriots have offensively over the Dolphins, the humid weather will negate that advantage. The homefield advantage will carry Williams and his mates, and he will likely make great hay against the Patriots.
In preparation for this eventuality, it behooves Belichick and Crennel to come up with a way to bring back the solid run defense. Run stoppers like Lawyer Milloy, Tedi Bruschi and Ted Johnson are in a bit of a slump right now. The defense has been letting too many players slip out of tackles, and Belichick this week stressed the need to return to basics.
One player who needs to come up big is Richard Seymour. He, like many others, had a rather bad game Sunday at San Diego. He needs to cause disruption in the middle and force Williams to go to the outside, where Bruschi and Roman Phifer must then pick up their games and be ready to cover and contain.
One other area the Patriots really must address is their susceptibility to bite on fake reverses and fake end arounds. Both Kansas City and San Diego used this play with great effectiveness, and most every time it froze Patriot defenders and prevented them from exploding to the ball carrier. Keeping the end defenders at home will help a bit, but the Patriots also need to blitz more from the outside and keep this in the back of their heads as they rush.
This being a division game, the Patriots won't have any trouble getting up for this contest. There should be no lack of effort out there. The only thing lacking will be stamina, if the weather acts like the name of the local basketball team.
And Patriot Nation hopes that the only use of the word "mourning" will continue to apply to someone named Zo.
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