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Keys to the Starting Lineup presented by CarMax: Week 2 - Patriots at Dolphins

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The Patriots travel to Miami in Week 2 for their first road game and divisional contest of the 2019 season. New England got off to a fantastic start with an impressive 33-3 opening win over the Steelers and will be facing a Dolphins team coming off an ugly 59-10 loss to the Ravens.

On paper, the Pats might look ready to hang another 50 burger on the Dolphins, but Miami has been a house of horrors for Tom Brady’s team, as New England has lost five of their last six games there. Two of those Patriots teams would go on to win the Super Bowl but lost to Dolphins teams that would miss the playoffs entirely. That about sums up the struggles despite the disparity between the teams.

If there’s any stadium in the NFL where you might have to throw the Patriots on-paper talent and recent results out the window, Miami is the place. Add in the weird games that often take place in September and it doesn’t take Bill Belichick to talk yourself into taking these Dolphins seriously.

What do the Patriots need to do to get win number two of the season and get things off to a good start on the road? Here are the Carmax Keys to the Starting Lineup!

Antonio Brown Joins Offense

With Antonio Brown practicing this week it appears the best receiver in the NFL will make his Patriots debut despite a week where he not only was signed but also faced a new civil lawsuit. While the legal process and NFL investigation run their course, Brown will begin to assimilate into New England’s offense. From a purely football perspective, Brown is a perfect fit for the Patriots attack, capable of playing any of the receiver spots and adding an element of fantastic explosiveness. Despite Brown’s talent there will likely still be a learning curve as he adjusts to the new playbook. Expect the Patriots to get his feet wet (and hopefully not frozen) at the very least. After hanging 33 on the Steelers there’s no critical need to thrust Brown right into the fire, but if he is able to jump right in and play a significant role, the potential of what this 2019 offense can do will be through the roof.

Patriots.com's Mike Dussault shares his players to watch during the Patriots Week 2 matchup against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, September 15, 2019.

Finish in the Red Zone

It was hard to find much to be critical about after the Patriots dominating performance against the Steelers, but red zone offense was one area they can be better. They were 0-for-3 inside the 20, scoring all their touchdowns on long passing plays. If there’s one thing they can’t do against the better offensive teams like the Chiefs, it’s settling for three points instead of seven. A way to get on track? Continuing to focus on the power run game inside the red zone. The team averaged just 3.4 yards-per-carry as the ground game was another surprising area of poor performance. The two go hand-in-hand, as the team had limited success passing from spread empty sets inside the Steelers 20-yard-line. Without Rob Gronkowski, or any receiving threat at tight end really, the Patriots will have to figure out a way to manufacture more red zone success. They fell to 12th in 2018 in the red zone and continue to search for a new way to finish drives off.

Will the Defense Allow a TD?

After a tantalizing summer, the Patriots defense lived up to expectations in Week 1, shutting down the Steelers for a full 60 minutes. Perhaps most impressive was how they executed a game plan against Ben Roethlisberger that required rush integrity. Any team can send six or seven rushers and get pressure, but teams that can send only four and keep the quarterback in the pocket and cause just enough disruption to keep him honest are the defenses that can be truly great. Against Ryan Fitzpatrick they won’t need to focus on keeping the quarterback contained, they can send a variety of blitzes and force him to decipher who’s coming from where. That could be the greatest strength of this edition of the Patriots defense – the multitude of linebackers who can do multiple things. With Kyle Van Noy back in action after the birth of his new son, expect the Patriots defense to put on a show against an overmatched Dolphins offense.

Offensive Line Shuffle Continues

Despite having Marcus Cannon at practice after a sustaining a shoulder injury against the Steelers, it’s unlikely he’ll play against Miami. That leaves right tackle as a question mark. Korey Cunningham or the newly-signed Marshall Newhouse could get the start, or they could use the same adjustment they used against Pittsburgh by sliding Joe Thuney to right tackle and inserting Jermaine Eluemanore at left guard. Either way, the Pats have questions along their offensive line. Ted Karras was effective in replacing David Andrews despite some floating shotgun snaps, while Isaiah Wynn looked solid in his first NFL game. The Patriots handle offensive line questions better than anybody, but if there’s a way their offense could struggle it would be breakdowns up front that result in a shaky start for Brady. If he can’t get comfortable in the pocket this game could look far different than the games looked last weekend for the two teams.

Sony on Track

Sony Michel’s Week 1 stat line of 15 carries for 14 yards was a popular talking point this week, especially after Michel showed a new level of suddenness all summer long. The offensive line and running game are complimentary, and nothing would be better for the balance of the offense than to see the kind of elusive running Michel demonstrated in training camp. The Patriots also didn’t seem interested in getting Michel involved in the passing game yet either, but he also caught the ball extremely well in preseason practices. It seems like just a matter of time before Michel goes off in a game and the sooner he does the sooner the Patriots offense will start to climb toward their full potential.

Prediction

The Dolphins should have a pretty good idea of the buzz saw that is heading their direction. The Patriots’ recent history in Miami, especially the disappointing way things ended last year that helped cost them homefield advantage in the playoffs, should be all the motivation the team needs. Bill Belichick won’t run the score up on his former pupil Brian Flores, but Miami is just too overmatched by a Patriots team that started the season playing even better than they usually do.

Patriots 35, Dolphins 10

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