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A passing reference

Belichick comes to Miami's defense

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick wanted to get one thing straight about the Miami Dolphins. As woeful as their offense has been in this 2-11 season, Miami's defense has been an entirely different matter.

Even as horrible as their season has been, the Dolphins seemed to take some measure of satisfaction in having the AFC's best pass defense and being second overall against the pass in the National Football League. Through Week 14, Miami, which boasts the NFL's eighth-ranked defense overall, has allowed an average of 165.5 net passing yards. In addition, the Dolphins' defense leads the league in third-down efficiency (28.3 percent, allowing 51 first downs on 180 attempts).

It all spoke to the point Belichick tried to make yesterday.

"They never struggle on defense, OK? Never," Belichick said during his briefing at Gillette Stadium. "I mean, some games and some plays might be better than others, but you look at them -- game in and game out, year in and year out -- they are always at the top of the league defensively, and they're always at the top of the league in pass defense.

"And they're high on third-down conversions," Belichick added. "They're a hard team to throw against. Like I said, they might give up a few plays here and there from time to time, but over the long haul, in terms of consistency, nobody -- nobody -- plays the passing game better than Miami does, and that includes the pass rush.

"It's a collective team effort."

If you think Belichick's comments are are aimed at getting his playoff-bound Patriots up for a "Monday Night Football" appearance against the moribund Dolphins at Pro Player Stadium, guess again.

To prove his point, Belichick would probably have you go back to the tape or, better yet, have you crunch the statistics of New England's 24-10 victory over the Dolphins Oct. 10 at Gillette Stadium.

It's all there. In black and white.

In their first three games of the season, the Patriots were a pass-happy bunch with quarterback Tom Brady completing 61.7 percent of his passes (58 of 94 attempts) for 852 yards and seven touchdowns. Then Miami came to town and put the clamps on the passing game, limiting Brady to a season-low seven completions on a season-low 15 attempts for a season-low 76 yards. All in all, a lowly passing effort for the Patriots.

"We didn't throw the ball very well at all against Miami as a team," Belichick said. "We had trouble with pressure, we didn't have people open, and we only completed seven or eight passes -- whatever it was -- for some 70 yards.

"And we were fortunate to get some of those yards. A couple of 'em were on screens and scramble plays."

Although New England's offensive line surrendered only one sack, the Dolphins' pass rush made life difficult for Brady in the pocket. Led by defensive end Jason Taylor, a two-time Pro Bowl selection who leads the team with 7 1/2 sacks, the Dolphins came with unrelenting pressure.

"He's pretty good now," Belichick said of Taylor. "We've seen a lot of good edge rushers and there's not too many that we would put ahead of him, let's put it that way."

Patriots left tackle Matt Light, whose job is to neutralize Taylor, concurred.

"It's a huge week for anyone who has to face Miami and their defense, and especially guys like Taylor," Light said. "Yeah, it's going to be a tough battle, it always is. He's the type of player who's gotten better every season. He's in his eighth year now and I wish I could say he's getting worse, but he's actually improving."

When he wasn't getting hurried, hit, or knocked to the ground, Brady's deep throws were getting swatted away by cornerbacks Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain.

"I'm just saying their coverage is good, real good, but that extends into their [pass] rush," Belichick said. "As we talk about the passing game and Miami, it's important for our team to understand we don't have all day. Whatever we're going to do in the passing game, we've got to get it done because you can't stand back there and hold the ball against Jason Taylor, [Jay] Williams, and those guys."

New England's offensive line didn't take too kindly to having the Dolphins bat their quarterback around the yard.

"We try and keep Tom clean as much as we can," said center Dan Koppen. "Whenever he's on the ground, we don't like that. Really, a focus of ours is trying to keep him clean every week."

Said Light, "I think any time he gets hit, it's a letdown on our end of it. But he does well with that. He doesn't get rattled too often, and I've never worried about situations like that.

"But it is our job as offensive linemen -- even tight ends and backs also -- to make sure we keep people off him and keep his confidence up and let him sit back there and do what he does best, and that's finding the open receivers and delivering the ball to them."

Whether the Patriots can succeed will remain to be seen. 

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