NFL Week 8 Preview: Dolphins @ Patriots
Referees aside, Tom Brady and the Patriots did not execute well enough to earn a victory against the Jets in the controversial finish at Metlife Stadium last week. Despite the return of Gronkowski (17 tgts, 8 rec, 114 yds), TB12 finished the 30-27 OT loss with an uncharacteristic 53.5 QBR, completing 22/46 passes for 222 yards, zero touchdowns and a critical pick six. New England converted one out of 12 third down chances, surrendering 11/21 opportunities on the opposite side of the ball. The Patriots allowed 30 points to a Jets team that hadn’t scored over 29 in a game over their last 16 matchups and got manhandled in time of possession 46:13 to 23:40. New England still had chances to win the game late but could not pull through.
The (3-3) Miami Dolphins come into Gillette Stadium after losing 23-21 to the Bills on a late Dan Carpenter FG. It’s been seven years since Belichick and the Pats have lost back-to-back AFC East contests as they look to extend that dominance on Sunday. The injury bug continues to strike week after week, building New England’s injury report up to 15 players this week. Two of the notable cogs returning to practice on Friday were Danny Amendola (concussion) and Aqib Talib (hip). Gronk and Danny have not lined up together this year, creating an optimistic outlook for TB12 to get back on track in 2013. After escaping against New Orleans and almost again last week, the Patriots need a decisive and dominating win against the unproven but dangerous Dolphins tomorrow afternoon. Check out these three keys to a divisional New England victory:
1) Running back production: After netting over 100 total yards and 2 TD against the Saints, Ridley lead the Patriots with just 50 yards, 1 TD on the ground after Bolden (36 yards, 1 TD) got the “start” against the Jets. The two of them combined for three receptions for 10 yards, an area where New England needs to improve. Blount gained four yards on one carry, as Rex Ryan limited the backs to under 100 yards rushing for the second time this season. The aforementioned time of possession stats from last week will urge Josh McDaniels and company to execute a balanced gameplan. Shane Vereen returned to practice but remains eligible to return in Week 11, putting more pressure on Ridley and Bolden to maintain production. Brady’s completion percentage will increase and their three WR sets + Gronk will open holes for the rushing attack to gain over 100 yards.
2) Protect Brady: DE Cameron Wake is finally healthy for the Dolphins and will be going up against T Sebastian Vollmer all day. While Brady will always have an impressive “pocket presence”, there is no denying his age has come into play a few times each game in 2013. Whether it’s taking a sack that could be avoided with younger legs and increased mobility, this is his 13th season and is now 36 years old. If the Patriots want any chance of staying atop the AFC East the rest of the season, they will have to improve from the four sacks the Jets got on Brady during the OT defeat.
The offensive line has been a model of consistency for years, creating the time for Tom to make the right decisions. But as he continues to grow older, the rushing attack becomes exponentially important. Being able to lean on positive yards in early down situations opens up the playbook for manageable and more flexible third down playcalls. The Pats were 1/12 on third down because most of them were longer than five yards. The offensive line needs to have a strong performance this week in order to pave the way for a victory against the Dolphins.
3) Stay aggressive: DE Chandler Jones has established himself as the Patriots’ leading pass rusher all season long, already surpassing his sack total (6.5) from last year. There was never a question of his ability, but rather the health of his ankle that was injured early in his rookie campaign last year. The resigning of veteran DE Andre Carter sheds light upon Belichick’s emphasis on QB disruption. Ryan Tannehill has 9 TD and 7 INT on the year but is almost athletic as Geno Smith, playing WR in his first two years at Texas A&M. The Pats have forced a turnover in 34 consecutive games and need to continue this streak with defensive schemes to cause some bad decisions by Tannehill. The phrase “You play to win the game” has been long overused; however, Belichick and New England need to be proactive in their playcalling.
It’s clear that the Patriots are not the dominating team they have been in years past. If TB12 and the defense can make enough clutch plays each week, the wire-to-wire nailbiting games will start to vanish. WR Mike Wallace is always a threat to take the top of the defense but Devin McCourty has been strong at safety this year and made a brilliant play to break up a TD last week. RB Lamar Miller has been solid, if that, but has topped out at 69 yards for his season high. The Patriots will win this game 24-20 and command the AFC East lead for another week. If they lose at home, the media will start to rumble.