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Sat., Mar. 28, 2015 12:00 AM to 11:59 PM EDT
Sun., Mar. 29, 2015 12:00 AM to 10:59 PM EDT
Mon., Mar. 30, 2015 12:00 AM to 11:59 PM EDT
Patriots at Dolphins Pregame Six-Pack
2. Protection is key - The health of the Patriots tackles, and by extension the potential health of Brady, has been shaky of late. Marcus Cannon missed two games with an ankle injury. Will Svitek filled in, but has been dealing with an ankle injury. Nate Solder missed a day of practice with a concussion last week. The line had been playing a bit better in terms of protection after the bye week, but that took a hit against the Browns as Brady took too many hits. He was sacked four times, hit six times and harried many others. Solder struggled on a number of occasions. Solder returned to practice and seemed on the track to return to action in Miami, but that's never a certainty with concussions. Regardless, the line faces a challenge from Miami. Cameron Wake will give the right tackle spot problems, as the Pro Bowler has 7.5 sacks. The other side will see second-year rusher Olivier Vernon and his Dolphins-best 11.5 sacks. Miami has nine different guys with multiple sacks this season. It's solid front across the board and they bring some pressures, mainly with some A-gap blitz looks. Overall the Dolphins are seventh in the league in sacks per pass play. They will try to get after Brady, who has struggled early in games at times and when under pressure early in games. The offense is already scrambling in life after Gronkowski. That's tough enough for Brady. It will be an even tougher option if Brady is under heavy pressure. New England's line needs to tighten things up, almost regardless of health.
4. Pressure to pressure - New England's pass rush recorded progressively fewer sacks each game for a four-week span, and has had just a single sack in each of the last two games. Chandler Jones was pretty much shut down by Joe Thomas a week ago, as he was in early on in the first meeting with Miami this year. That matchup saw Bryant McKinnie start at left tackle just days after arriving with the team via trade and do a solid job against Jones before New England went with more blitzes and creative rushes in the second half. Jones earned AFC Defensive Player of the Month in November, but hasn't reached the quarterback in the last two weeks with zero sacks and zero QB hits. He's only had three previous games all year with no sacks and only one game with no QB hits. Simply put, Jones needs to start making more impact plays again for a defense that's seemingly hanging on for dear life. He's healthy. He's a rising star. He's got the right attitude. Now, he just needs to start putting it all together to get to the quarterback more consistently. That should start this week with the rematch with McKinnie. Tannehill has been sacked 48 times on the season, including six for the Patriots in the first meeting. Miami is 30th in the NFL in sacks allowed per pass play. The secondary is banged up. The run defense is undermanned. The offense is looking for answers. The pass rush - i.e. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich and rookie Chris Jones - is healthy and simply needs to start being more of a positive impact for the Patriots.
There is little doubt the Patriots are in for a dogfight in Miami. The Dolphins have been playing tough, close games. New England has had 10 of 13 games decided by seven points or less. The Patriots are also looking to pull things together through transition on both sides of the ball. Both teams have shown resiliency through the year, but even with the injuries the Patriots are the better team with the better coach. That means something. I think the Patriots will look to be balanced on offense, running the ball and utilizing the quick, high-percentage passing game with a few shot plays mixed in. I'm worried about the Miami front controlling the game and making life difficult on the New England offense against the run and the pass. Defensively if the Patriots don't get pressure on Tannehill, then I think the unit could be in for a tough day. I don't believe either team is going to march up and down the field and light up the scoreboard. I'm looking for a game in the range of a 23-20 victory for the Patriots, with Stephen Gostkowski continuing to be a major factor in New England winning football games. Belichick's team has fought too hard to get where it is to give up now because of one more injury. And that fight will have to continue this week in Miami.