DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins are struggling on a three-game losing streak. They have a variety of issues, which includes sloppy play, lack of pass protection, and a quarterback with seven turnovers in the past three games.
To add to the misery, the first-place New England Patriots (5-2) will be unleashing Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski on Miami’s defense this Sunday. Gronkowski made his 2013 debut last week against the New York Jets and recorded eight receptions for 114 yards.
Gronkowski will have another week of practice to shake the rust and get in shape before facing the Dolphins (3-3) in a big AFC East game on Sunday.
“Obviously, they made a conscious effort to try and get him the football,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said of Gronkowski. “He’s a unique guy in that his combination of size and strength, his ability to body position people is really what separates him. I thought the Jets did some things, that at times they did some good things with him in the ball game, but yet he still caught the ball and had over 100 yards of receptions in the game.”
The Dolphins have struggled defending tight ends at various points this season. They’ve allowed four passing touchdowns to tight ends in six games. Two tight ends -- Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints and Jordan Cameron of the Cleveland Browns -- recorded 100 yards or more against Miami.
Gronkowski and Graham are widely regarded as the top two tight ends in the NFL. Graham lit up Miami’s defense for four catches, 100 yards and two touchdowns on Sept. 30. Gronkowski has the potential to do similar damage. Dolphins linebackers Philip Wheeler, Koa Misi and Dannell Ellerbe have been inconsistent defending tight ends in the middle of the field and vertically.
After dealing with young and inexperienced receivers, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is happy for Gronkowski’s return. Brady targeted Gronkowski 17 times in the tight end’s first game Sunday. The Dolphins expect Gronkowski to get plenty of opportunities again in Week 8 and have to be ready for the burly and talented tight end.
“You don’t want him to catch the big balls down the field,” Coyle said. “If you can kind of keep him contained where he’s catching shallow balls that is a good thing. You have to be able to do some things to try and take him out of the game, so that’s going to be a big challenge for us.”