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Patriots 2016 Opponents, A Second Look at the Dolphins

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
December 28, 2016 at 7:08 am ET

Patriots 2016 Opponents, A Second Look at the Dolphins(PHOTO: Greg M. Cooper - USA TODAY Sports)

🕑 Read Time: 4 minutes

Miami Back in the Playoffs And On a Roll

The Patriots 2016 regular season finale brings them back to South Florida where they’ll take on the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at 1 p.m.

The Dolphins have seemed to have found the right man in head coach Adam Gase. After a slow start, the team has bought into Gase’s system and they’re winners of nine of their last ten games.

The Dolphins started 1-4 including a Week 2 loss to the Patriots but have been on a roll since. With their win over the Bills on Sunday, coupled with the loss of the Broncos to the Chiefs on Sunday night, Miami is playoff bound for the first time since 2008.

They scantly resemble the team that came into Foxboro early in the season and will be looking to enter the playoffs on a high note. FWIW, Miami has beaten the Patriots on their last three trips to South Beach including last year’s regular season finale where the Patriots dusted off a game plan from 1933.

The Patriots need a win or an Oakland loss or tie to secure home-field advantage for the playoffs. They remember all too well having to travel to Denver for the AFC Championship Game and want the playoffs to run thru Foxboro. Miami is currently in the 6th playoff spot, but with a win and a KC, loss could move into the 5th position.

Here are our Five Updated Impressions of the Dolphins:

Gase Was the Best Move Made in Offseason:  We wrote this in mid-September and it has been proven by the way the season has played out. When Miami landed Gase this offseason, it was perhaps the best move the franchise has made in many years and arguably one of the best that any team had done this spring.

The acquisition of the Nick Saban disciple in Gase was a much needed and smart move by Miami who has had a coaching carousel for far too long. Gase worked well with Peyton Manning and he turned things around for Ryan Tannehill who hasn’t had a stable coaching staff in his career.

Gase went to a simpler offense that plays to the strengths of his QB and his talented skill players. Instead of the deep play offense that didn’t work, but more of a methodical approach that the Patriots employ.

The youngest coach (38) in the NFL got a ringing endorsement from Manning, who called him, “the smartest man I know.”

Jay Ajayi Has Been the Biggest Surprise of 2016: When the Patriots faced the Dolphins in Week 2, Ajayi wasn’t a big part of the Miami offense. They brought in veteran Arian Foster to bolster the running game, but his injuries proved to be too much and he’s since retired. Since then, Ajayi has become an explosive weapon.

Ajayi has three games this season where’s he’s topped 200 yards rushing including back-to-back games in Weeks 6-7 against Pittsburgh (204) and Buffalo (214). He was slowed in recent weeks but exploded for another 200-yard effort against the Bills last week when he rushed for 206 yards. In overtime, he burst 57 yards to set the Dolphins up for an Andrew Franks game-winning field goal.

Ajayi suffered a shoulder injury late in the game against Buffalo but is expected to be ready to go on Sunday. This will be a big test for the Patriots run defense, who prior to Saturday’s game against the Jets have held their previous four opponents to under 64 yards rushing.

Landry, Parker, and Stills, A Big Three in the Passing Game: The Dolphins have the receivers to give the Patriots plenty of issues when the teams face off in Miami. Jarvis Landry is the most prolific receiver on the Dolphins with 85 catches for 1060 yards and three touchdowns. He’s the go-to guy in the passing game. But DeVante Parker has been effective as well. He’s caught 51 passes for 699 yards and four scores. Both Landry and Parker had over 100 yards receiving when the teams met in September.

But it has been Kenny Stills who has become the homerun hitter for the offense. Stills has 38 catches for 685 yards and eight touchdowns in 2016. His 18.0 yards per reception is second in the NFL to only Chris Hogan’s 19.2. Stills has seven touchdown receptions of 20 yards or more, including three of over 50 yards. While Landry and Parker have moved the chains, Stills, in his second season in Miami has been the big play guy in the passing game.

This should be an intriguing matchup between the Patriots secondary and a Dolphins group of receivers who really came on in the second half of the game against them in Foxboro and narrowly missed an upset win.

Resilience, Depth the Keys to This Dolphins Team: As we mentioned above, the Dolphins made a very smart move in hiring Adam Gase. He kept the team marching forward despite a 1-4 start and a slew of injuries and kept this team winning where so many other Miami teams in the past would have folded up their tents.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, since 1990, 128 teams have started 1-4. Only eight of those teams, just six percent have made the playoffs. The Dolphins join the Chiefs of 2015 as the two latest teams to accomplish that.

Miami has also lost arguably their best offensive and defensive players in safety Reshad Jones and center Mike Pouncey. They’ve had to deal with their starting QB Ryan Tannehill being out as well as the loss of linebackers Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins. This week, they’ll probably be without safety Isa Abdul- Quddus who is banged up.

Run Defense is a Huge Problem Spot: Miami’s defense takes a page from the Patriots playbook, while they’ve given up plenty of yardage, they’re not giving up a lot of points. However, the run defense has been a problem all year and continues to be an issue.

The Dolphins run defense is 30th in the league allowing a whopping 141.8 yards per game. They also allow a league worst 4.9 yards per carry. The defense has already allowed more yards than the awful 1-15 team of 2007. If the Patriots generate 335 yards of offense on Sunday, it will mark the most yards allowed by a Miami defense in their history.

But despite being #24 in yards allowed in 2016 (5726) and an average of 381.7 per game, the Dolphins are just 14 in points allowed.

Check back with us later in the week as we’ll break down the key matchups for the game right here on

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

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About Steve Balestrieri

A former US Army Special Forces NCO and Officer, Steve has been following the Patriots since their days at Fenway Park. Steve has worked in the film industry and wrote as an Military Editor at, as a reporter for the Millbury Daily Voice, Millbury-Sutton Chronicle, and the Grafton News. He's also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Tags: 2016 NFL Season 2016 Patriots season Adam Gase Bill Belichick Devante Parker Jarvis Landry Jay Ajayi Kenny Stills Matt Moore Miami Dolphins Ndamukong Suh New England Patriots NFL Patriots Reshad Jones Tom Brady

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