By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Glance at the depth chart for the Miami Dolphins, and one thing’s clear. It’s not getting any easier for the New England Patriots’ beleaguered receiver corps.
They do finally get a home game after two straight hellish road slogs against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions. Somehow, the receivers had more trouble getting open against the latter defense on Sunday night, which is alarming. Their chance to bounce back comes against another young, talented secondary for Miami.
This should always be a tough spot for the Dolphins, too. But on paper, their defensive backs present the latest troublesome matchup for the Patriots’ receivers. Headlining the group is third-year cornerback Xavien Howard, who has taken a big step forward in the Dolphins’ defensive backfield.
You may remember Howard from his interception against Tom Brady last season in Miami on Monday Night Football, one of the Patriots’ standout clunkers of 2017. Howard comes to Gillette Stadium with three interceptions on the season already. And now he’s facing a Patriots offense coming off an early dud in Detroit that needs to get through one more game without Julian Edelman.
Howard shut down the Raiders’ Amari Cooper in the Dolphins’ 28-20 win, holding the wideout to just two catches on five targets for 17 yards. He also intercepted a pass intended for Cooper after the receiver stopped running on a deep ball, and outmuscled Martavis Bryant in the end zone for another pick.
Whoever draws Howard in one-on-one coverage is in for a tough afternoon. But the Patriots have struggled almost across the board to get separation from man coverage. Howard leads a deep secondary for the Dolphins, which also includes the steady Bobby McCain in a starting role. They also have an interesting safety mix with veterans Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald. Impressive rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick started in place of the injured Jones (shoulder) in Week 3 against the Raiders and already looks like a factor for them.
If the Dolphins look as sharp as the Lions and Jaguars did in the secondary, they’ll have a good chance of slowing down Tom Brady and the struggling Patriots offense. They’re certainly very talented and the Patriots receivers will have their work cut out for them.
Dolphins: Notable NFL Ranks
— 1st in opponents’ passer rating (65.6)
— T-1st in passing touchdowns allowed (2)
— 1st in interceptions (7)
— 3rd in opponents’ red zone scoring rate, TDs only (33.3 percent)
— 6th in points allowed per game (17.3)
— 9th in receptions allowed to wide receivers (34)
— 24th in opponents’ third-down conversion percentage (43.2 percent)
From the locker room…
Tuesday’s locker room was noticeably thin in terms of player appearances. It’s not too out of the ordinary after a loss with the team in a tough spot right now. But last week was also uncommonly bottled up, as the Patriots seemingly did all they could to limit the noise surrounding the addition of Josh Gordon. The most important thing for the Patriots is, hopefully, they’re trending toward a much-needed rebound week.
— Danny Shelton on the frustration of his struggles defending the run: “That’s my main priority. It’s annoying to see it on film.”
— David Andrews certainly isn’t about to dissent from Bill Belichick’s assessment of the team so far. The head coach called the Patriots’ run game “inconsistent” in his most recent conference call. Andrews had no choice but to agree, because it’s true.
“Yeah, if that’s what the head coach called it I definitely agree with that,” deadpanned Andrews. “It has been [inconsistent]. We’ve got to do a better job and take more pride in it.”
— Deatrich Wise talked a lot about the “energy” he’s brought to the defense. He stood out on Sunday night against the Lions, mainly because he was one of the only players who played well. But also because he had an extra edge to him that felt like the rest of the defense needed. Bringing that energy comes naturally to Wise, who wasn’t necessarily doing anything out of the ordinary.
“I wouldn’t say it’s something I need to do, it’s who I am,” said Wise. “I’m always bringing energy, whether I’m in the cafe or the locker room. I’m always bringing energy, so it’s something that’s natural.”
Wise was sporting a small splint on his injured finger, so he’s still working his way back from that. You saw the mitt he wore against the Lions. The injury obviously hasn’t affected his performance on the field, but it may be affecting his workload (just 30 snaps against Detroit).
Wednesday: What To Expect
— Bill Belichick press conference: ~11:30 a.m.
— Rob Gronkowski press conference: ~3:45 p.m.
The first injury reports for the Patriots and Dolphins are also due out Wednesday afternoon. Rex Burkhead could land back on the list after being evaluated for a neck injury against the Lions. Phillip Dorsett, who’s reportedly expected to be able to play on Sunday, wouldn’t be a surprise if he appeared on the injury report after a scare in the fourth quarter in Detroit. Most importantly, it will be a fresh indication of Trey Flowers and Patrick Chung’s progress through the concussion protocol.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.