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News Blitz 9/8: Patriots have some big holes to fill

Last night, Zuri Berry of Boston.com provided his five biggest takeways from the Patriots 33-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins. He said that the debut of the Patriots 3-4 defense was not very impressive, while Rob Gronkowski's return to game action seemed a bit "awkward". Gronk didn't look like his usual self and at times, even looked clumsy on the field.

Former Patriots players, Troy Brown and Dan Koppen joined Michael Felger on Comcast SportsNet's "Sports Sunday" to discuss which Patriots decisions deserve to be second guessed. Felger thinks that the Patriots should have targeted Julian Edelman more in the second half, while Brown is second-guessing Belichick's decision to trade Logan Mankins two weeks ago.

Ben Volin of the* Boston Globe* says that the timing of the Mankins trade is what made it risky. Had the trade been made in June, July, or even early August, the team would have had more time to fill that hole on the offensive line. Instead, the Patriots still appear to have no permanent lineup and now sit at 0-1 after being demolished on the line of scrimmage in Miami.

"Subtracting Mankins didn't just take a left guard out of the equation. The Patriots shook up their locker room by trading their popular leader, a guy who most players along the veteran line still looked at as the best player among them," writes Volin.

Unfortunately, NESN's Doug Kyed says that the Patriots offensive line issues won't be easily fixed. Kyed points out that it wasn't just one player who was the problem on Sunday because pressure was coming from all directions on the line of scrimmage.

"The Patriots played horribly in the second half, but they're talented enough on defense and at the skill positions that those struggles shouldn't linger," says Kyed. "The offensive line is another story, however, and this could be a season-long problem for Brady and his offense."

The offensive line was one of three position groups who's stock was down in Erik Frenz's weekly stock watch on Boston.com. Frenz listed Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, and Shane Vereen as the lone bright spots in the game, while the defensive line, punt team, and the offensive line were on the opposite end of the spectrum.

"There's no one person to blame for the offensive line struggles against the Dolphins, it was a group effort. As mentioned, Brady was sacked four times and hit many more," explains Frenz. "The Patriots went to a lot of screens early, perhaps an indication that they had an inclination that their offensive line might struggle."

One aspect of Sunday's game that came as a surprise was Rob Ninkovich's diminished role. Ninkovich missed only 52 defensive snaps all season in 2013, but against the Dolphins on Sunday he played only 35 of 74 defensive snaps. Doug Kyed of NESN.com says he was shocked to see such a sizable drop in Ninkovich's snap count and he's interested to see how the Patriots will handle the defensive line in future weeks.

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