With the Pats and Phins set to do battle on Sunday with the AFC East crown on the line, our staff writer Ricky Keeler sat down for a Q&A session with Michael Serrania from Bloguin's Miami Dolphin's blog, Phins Phocus
1. How have the Dolphins been able to stay in the playoff hunt despite all of the controversy on and off the field with the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin situation?
It's amazing to me that after late October, the Dolphins have managed to play balls out since news of this controversy first broke. With wins on the road versus the Jets and Steelers, I never would have thought that the Dolphins could play this well late into the season where collapses have been evident in year's before. However, the Dolphins 0-line play has improved and the team is showing better chemistry and playing at a high level with 100 plus-yard rush games, control of the clock and possession, and a dominant passing attack. It's amazing what facing and overcoming adversity can do to a team and the players, not the coaches are winning these games.
2. How do you grade Ryan Tannehill's season thus far? Has his last two games in the cold weather showed you he can win big games in January should Miami get there?
Ryan Tannehill has put himself where he needs to be in his second season. He's on the verge of surpassing 4,000 yards as well as already throwing 20 touchdowns. However, last season, Tannehill played exceptional football and played the same exact level of football or better in recent weeks. Tannehill has had multiple touchdown games and has shown he can play in cold games outside of South Florida. His willingness to sense pressure and take off if there are no passing options down field have given the Dolphins life offensively and have extended drives because of his ability to run. The running game in addition has helped Tannehill thrive in clutch situations. The Dolphins have seemingly been in every game at the end of a game and have shown they can win in the closing seconds. If the Dolphins do make the playoffs, Dolphin fans should have high expectations of their quarterback playing in the cold.
3. We know about Cameron Wake, but who else should the Patriots keep an eye on on this Dolphins' defensive unit?
That would be OV Vernon coming off the edge as someone to watch for. Vernon has 10.5 sacks and has been a disruptive force in pursuit of quarterbacks and making a TFL. The biggest thing about Vernon is he is hard to block one on one. He gets past his man either one on one or even un-blocked. Many of those sacks have come in blitzing situations, but he deserves a shot at a Pro Bowl. He was quite raw coming out of the University of Miami and the former Cane has thrived in Kevin Coyle's 4-3 defense. In addition, don't underestimate the size of Brent Grimes. Grimes has come up huge in sealing wins for the Dolphins. His four interceptions and interception for a touchdown have been the reason that the Dolphins secondary has had success this year. Grimes' ability to take away the ball has proved to be infectious as Nolan Carroll and Jimmy Wilson have been able to influence the outcomes of games as well.
4. How much confidence do the Dolphins take into this game knowing they blew a 17-3 lead in the last meeting at Foxboro back in October? Revenge mindset for them?
The Dolphins confidence is at an all time high and this home game is just what the doctor ordered. If the Dolphins get another start and jump ahead early, the Dolphins have learned from past mistakes, had a short memory and are forcing teams beat them which hasn't always been the case in Miami and this late in the season. The Dolphins have beaten playoff contenders such as the Chargers, Jets, and now Steelers. Who's next? The Patriots are coming in hobbling, the Dolphins know it, and it's time for the team to feast on their prey. We'll see about Sunday, but the Dolphins could have their biggest win because they seem to want it more.
5. We know Mike Wallace has been a disappointment this season, but who has stepped up to help Tannehill in the passing game?
Charles Clay and he has been amazing. No player on offense has been a bigger reason for winning football than Charles Clay. Clay does so many things such as breaking tackles, blocking, and catching touchdowns in the red zone. Clay's signature play was his 34 yard touchdown after breaking 5 tackles versus the San Diego Chargers. I expect the Dolphins to find Charles Clay early and often and for Tannehill to have a big day because of it.
6. X-Factor in this game?
The X-factor in this game has to be the weather. It's still warm in Miami and the Dolphins always wear white on game days to force the opponent to sweat wearing a darker color. Darker jerseys get soaking wet because of the warm humid air and the Patriots with their dark navy jerseys could be in for one if the Dolphins control the clock. It's all about the weather in Miami and if it's warm and hot for New England, they could get gassed early.
7. Who wins and why? Bonus: Do the Dolphins make the playoffs when all is set and done?
The Dolphins win a close game, but it could get closer in the 4th quarter because of Tom Brady. I'll say 28-24 for now in favor of the Dolphins. The Dolphins with this win will make the playoffs and they are on a roll to exceeding all expectations with 10 possible wins.