Patriots vs. Dolphins: Analyzing the Week 8 Match-Up

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Oct 4, 2015; London, United Kingdom; Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kenny Stills, Wide Receiver

Miami paid a pretty hefty price to bring Drew Brees’ former deep threat to the Dolphins, swapping linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and a third-round pick with New Orleans for Stills, who almost had 1,000 receiving yards in 2014 (he finished with 931).  After things didn’t really work out with Mike Wallace as the home-run threat everyone knew him as in Pittsburgh, Miami sent Wallace to Minnesota and picked up Kenny Stills to give the deep-ball experiment another try.

So far, it’s not going well.  Stills is on the field for almost half of Miami’s offensive snaps, but the ball’s rarely coming his way – he’s only been targeted 18 times all year, and when he is, he’s barely catching half of them (10 catches on 18 targets).  

Surely, 147 receiving yards after six games isn’t what Miami had in mind when they pried him away from the Saints.  In 2014, Stills averaged 62.1 yards per game.  So far in 2015, he’s averaging less than half of that, at 24.5 yards per game.

Miami coach Dan Campbell noted that Stills caught a “9” ball against the Titans, which usually means a fade route up the sideline, and that’s really all New England should have to defend against to keep the ex-Saint in check.

Who Can Stop It?

If the Patriots stick with their recent strategy of having Devin McCourty help out Logan Ryan on a team’s top receiver, whichever other safety takes the field absolutely cannot allow the home-run shot.  Whether it’s the vastly improving Duron Harmon, new kid Jordan Richards, or another cornerback like Justin Coleman in a man-coverage situation, the task with Stills is generally refreshingly simple:

Don’t let him get behind you.

Fortunately, with the way Miami is playing lately, emphasizing shorter throws and more spread-based formations that NFL analyst Bucky Brooks describes as “..the basic concepts of the spread, as well as some movement-based throws designed to put the quarterback on the edges”.  

Brooks also notes the Dolphins use “a number of crossing routes” (similar to the Patriots).  None of these concepts point towards a big day for a deep-threat receiver.  Stills hasn’t been much of a factor for the Dolphins yet, and it doesn’t look like that’s changing even with Miami’s newfound energy.

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