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  Revived Dolphins Ready for Measuring Stick
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist
Twitter: @phinschris

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“Every now and then, somewhere, someplace, sometime, you are going to have to plant your feet, stand firm and make a point about WHO YOU ARE and what you believe in.” — Pat Riley

It has been a remarkable and dizzying three weeks since interim head coach Dan Campbell took custody of a dysfunctional group of players and transformed them into hungry competitors. From 1-3 and an obituary to the land of hope via blow out wins over the Titans and Texans, the Miami Dolphins have regained control of their season in decisive fashion. They are becoming who we thought they could be.

Dolfans sense this transformation. Sitting in Section 139 during the dismantling of the Texans, my ears were ringing and voices were hoarse from the bedlam in the stands. Folks high-fived each other as the Dolphins landed haymaker after haymaker in building a 41-0 halftime lead. As an Orange Bowl alumnus, I can tell you that the new SunLife Stadium had an Orange Bowl type feel to it at times, even when the rain came pouring down.

Yes, I know: Tennessee and Houston aren’t exactly crème-de-la-crème. However, it must be a ‘one-step, one-day-at-a-time’ approach for these Dolphins if they are going to dig themselves out of the nasty hole they are in. Give them credit for doing what good teams should do to lowly opponents and for getting themselves back to .500 football.

At 3-3 they now have something to work with, and the time has come to find out just how good are these Dolphins really are. That measuring stick is the New England Patriots at Foxborough in a Thursday night tilt (8:20pm ET, NFLN).

Could there be a stiffer test? Let’s face it: 31 teams would be underdogs to the Pats in this game. Three weeks ago, this game had a doomsday feel to it. Now it feels like a real opportunity for the hungry Dolphins to show just how much the gap between them and Pats has been closed.

So how can the Dolphins pull off the upset and send a message that the last two weeks are for real? Here are three major keys to a Dolphins win:

1) Pressure QB Tom Brady: To beat the Patriots you have to cut off the head of the snake. The best way to do that is to generate middle pressure in Brady’s face and not overly blitz. This job is a big reason why the Dolphins signed DT Ndamukong Suh. Overall, the center of the Dolphins defensive line is deep and formidable; this will force the Pats to adjust. This means DE Cam Wake will continue to have opportunities to disrupt. Brady is very quick at releasing the ball, which makes it hard to sack him. Nevertheless, the Dolphins have the ability to at least disrupt his rhythm; the defensive line will be especially critical to achieving this.

2) Limit TE Rob Gronkowski: Campbell joked that he may have to assign the entire secondary to guard Gronkowski, such is the respect the former TE has for his game. This is where the loss of DE Dion Jordan really hurts the Dolphins, because he has the freakish athleticism and speed to handle Gronk’s unique skill set one-on-one. Fortunately for the Dolphins, they have an elite free safety in Reshad Jones who can get the job done. Jones will be at a disadvantage size-wise as Gronk is 6-6, but Jones has the athleticism and technique to make up for that. The presence of shutdown CB Brent Grimes helps to free up Jones to shadow Gronkowski. Scheme-wise, OLBs Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi will need tight communication with Jones when the Pats run the ball. SS Michael Thomas and Walt Aikens must also be in-sync in order to prevent the missed opposite side assignments that other teams have suffered from.

3) Maintain balance on offense: Pats coach Bill Belichick told the assembled media this week that turnovers and penalties will probably decide this game. I agree. Campbell also noted that "(Belichick’s) better than anybody at finding those mismatches, taking away your best players". True enough. That’s why it seems reasonable to conclude that the Patriots defense will first try to take away RB Lamar Miller and force the Dolphins offensive line to pass protect more, which is not their strength. This would create opportunities for the Pats defense to generate turnovers and drive-killing sacks. The Dolphins cannot allow this to happen. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor must stick with the run (25-30 carries would be a good target). QB Ryan Tannehill and C Mike Pouncey must quickly recognize run blitzes and adjust to defeat them. If the Dolphins can prosecute the run effectively, they will be able to score points. Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will also look to contain WR Jarvis Landry, both as receiver and as a runner. This will be very hard for the Pats defense to do with just one defender, so their focus will be on limiting his Yards After Catch by getting him down on the ground quickly. Playaction and motion could create a lot of distraction, however, which will give other receivers like Rishard Matthews and Kenny Stills, as well as TE Jordan Cameron, plenty of openings to do damage.

If the Dolphins can get to a combination of runs and pass completions adding up to 50 or more, I believe they will win the game.

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