Tom Brady stands as the biggest reason the Dolphins have dropped seven consecutive games in New England, a stretch in which the Patriots have averaged an obscene 32 points per game.
But he’s far from the only reason.
And so even with Brady sitting out next Sunday because of a four-game NFL suspension -- backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo looked very good against Arizona, incidentally --- the Dolphins still must solve the riddle of the Patriots defense, which has flummoxed Miami in Foxborough during Ryan Tannehill’s tenure.
Though Miami beat visiting New England, 20-10, in last season’s final game, the Dolphins have averaged 9.2 points and scored just four touchdowns combined in their four road games against the Patriots with Tannehill under center.
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Here’s another way of looking at Miami’s offensive ineptitude in New England: Their total of interceptions and sacks allowed in those four games (29) is pretty frightful, just eight fewer than the number of points they’ve produced in those games.
So even if the Dolphins can stop Garoppolo, who threw for 264 yards and posted a 106 rating in Sunday’s comeback win, they still must figure out a Patriots defense that has given them fits.
That starts with better play from Tannehill, who has thrown seven interceptions in those four games and never posted a passer rating above 73.5 in a road game in New England.
But there must be improvement in three other areas that were problems against Seattle’s exceptional defense on Sunday:
▪ Pass protection: The Patriots have seven, six, four and five sacks against Tannehill in their past four games in New England, and Miami had more problems keeping Tannehill clean Sunday against Seattle’s stout defense.
The Seahawks sacked Tannehill four times and hit him eight times, with Branden Albert and Laremy Tunsil each allowing sacks.
According to Pro Football Focus, Tannehill was under pressure on 48.5 percent of his dropbacks --- highest of any team in Week 1 entering Monday night’s double-header --- and Tannehill completed only 28 percent of those passes when he was pressured.
PFF didn’t blame new center Anthony Steen, who was given Miami’s second-best grade on offense, after Tannehill.
Though the Patriots are without suspended linebacker Rob Ninkovich and traded linebacker Chandler Jones to Arizona during the offseason, the front seven is still stout, with ends Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long, tackles Alan Branch and Malcom Brown and high-end linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower.
▪ Run game: A running game that struggled in preseason (aside from Isaiah Pead) couldn’t do much against Seattle, which led the league in run defense last year. Arian Foster, who had five yards on seven carries in preseason, ran 13 times for 38 yards (a 2.9 average), though he also caught three passes for 62 yards.
Miami averaged 3.2 on the ground overall Sunday, worse than the 3.6 average Seattle relinquished last season.
Even with Lamar Miller (who ran for 106 yards on 28 carries in his Houston Texans debut Sunday), the Dolphins have usually struggled to run the ball in New England, averaging 3.3 yards or much less on the ground in three of their last four games there.
Miami managed just 15 yards on 13 carries in last season’s 36-7 loss at the Patriots.
▪ Third-down conversions: The Dolphins converted just 5 of 27 third downs in their last two road games in New England.
And this has been a consistent problem in the past year, no matter the opponent.
The Dolphins were the AFC’s worst team at that last season, converting only 30.7 percent of third downs. Against Seattle, they converted only 21.4 percent (3 for 14), which was better than only Cleveland among the 28 teams that had played through Sunday night.
On Sunday, Tannehill will be throwing against a secondary that features four players who finished high in PFF’s rankings last season --- cornerbacks Malcolm Butler (12th) and Logan Ryan (22nd) and safeties Patrick Chung (sixth) and Devin McCourty (ninth).
And if the Dolphins thought they would have it easy going against Garoppolo instead of Brady, that might not be the case.
According to Elias, Garoppolo on Sunday became the fifth quarterback since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger to, in his first NFL start, post a triple-digit passer rating and lead his team on a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime. The first four were Scott Zolak, Brad Johnson, Rob Johnson and Billy Volek.
NEWS AND NOTES
In his first game as a backup, Cam Wake played only 29 of Miami’s 82 snaps, with 23 coming on passing downs. Fourteen teammates played more than Wake, who wasn’t credited with a tackle.
▪ On defense, four players played all 82 snaps: safeties Reshad Jones and Isa Abdul-Quddus, linebacker Kiko Alonso and cornerback Byron Maxwell. Cornerback Xavien Howard played 81 of 82.
Among linebackers, Alonso and Koa Misi (69 snaps) played far more than Jelani Jenkins (32), who had a knee procedure during preseason. Spencer Paysinger (one snap) was the only other linebacker who played.
▪ Some defensive line snap counts weren’t reflective of what they would normally be because Mario Williams (45 snaps) and Earl Mitchell (15) left with a concussion and calf injury, respectively. And Jordan Phillips (49) had a couple of physical issues during the game.
Ndamukong Suh played the most snaps of any Miami defensive lineman with 67, followed by Jason Jones (54) and Andre Branch (52).
▪ Michael Thomas and Bobby McCain, who are splitting nickel corner duties, each played 31 snaps.
▪ Offensively, the Dolphins had only 53 snaps (29 fewer than Seattle). Tannehill, all five starting linemen and receiver Kenny Stills played all 53.
Among running backs, Arian Foster played 46 of the 53, Damien Williams 6 and Kenyan Drake 1.
Among receivers, Stills played 53, Jarvis Landry 51, Leonte Carroo 45 and Justin Hunter 1. Jakeem Grant received no snaps at receiver.
Among tight ends, Jordan Cameron played 48, Dion Sims 13 and Marquies Gray one.
Besides Grant, others who were active but didn’t play on offense or defense: safety Walt Aikens, linebackers Neville Hewitt and Mike Hull, cornerbacks Tony Lippett and Jordan Lucas and offensive linemen Kraig Urbik and Billy Turner. All played on special teams, with Aikens playing the most.