This week the writers of Patriots Unfiltered lock in on a major AFC East divisional battle for the Patriots against the Dolphins with a wild card playoff spot still up for grabs. With injuries striking significant players for both teams, which one can overcome the attrition and pull out a season-defining win?
How big of a loss for the Patriots will it be if Marcus Jones can't play this weekend and how do they make up for his absence in all three phases?
It's big, mostly because of the lack of depth right now at cornerback. As it was, he was playing out of position on the outside because of injuries, instead of at slot corner. The biggest challenge on Sunday will be Miami's weapons and this is where bodies are most needed. Pierre Strong will probably get the nod on special team returns and he will also have to provide some help in the short passing game. It would be a great day to see some big plays out of Thornton, as well. -Fred Kirsch
Losing Marcus Jones is tough because of the other injuries in the secondary. If Jack Jones and Jalen Mills remain out, then Shaun Wade or a practice squad callup will need to fill in. With Miami's speed at receiver, that's an alarming lack of depth in the secondary. -Paul Perillo
It's a massive loss on defense this week. The blueprint to stop McDaniel's system is to play press-man coverage to smother their speedy receivers and prevent the conflicts that all the motion/play-action presents in zone. They had the two guys in Jon and Marcus Jones to match Hill and Waddle. Now what? You're asking a lot of Myles Bryant in the slot. I'm sure we'll see more soft zones while praying that Teddy Bridgewater turns it over. -Evan Lazar
It's a huge loss for a couple reasons, first is the already thin depth at cornerback with Jalen Mills and Jack Jones missing multiple weeks. Second is simply Marcus Jones' speed and ability to stick in man coverage. Of course asking him to handle Jaylen Waddle is a huge ask of a rookie but he at least has some intriguing traits that would've made it interesting. Finally, comes the dropoff to Shaun Wade who has unfortunately only played 18 snaps on defense this year. I guess it could be worse if they had to go to the practice squad like last year's playoff game. And of course the lack of Marcus as a returner and offensive gadget piece has to qualify as a major hit for the offense overall, field position, explosive scores… there are quite a few factors that are impacted with Jones not available. -Mike Dussault
Is there one under-the-radar player that you'd love to see pop here over the final two games, someone you think could help give the team a needed boost?
Deatrich Wise has been somewhat quiet after the best start to the season in his career. Going back to the issues in coverage, pressure up front is the way to help the defense compensate and Wise can help there. -FK
I'm not sure if he qualifies as "under the radar" but I'd love to see Christian Barmore finish the season healthy and showing the kind of disruptive player he can be. -PP
I'm going with Pierre Strong. His speed in the Arizona game was intriguing, and the mental wear and tear is starting to take its toll on Rhamondre. Strong is one of the few explosive guys they have on offense. Got to get him the ball a little bit. -EL
Yeah, I'm with Paul on Barmore. With a battered secondary and an offense that hasn't found a 60 minutes game this season it seems to me like the pass rush has to lead the way to the playoffs with dominant play against Bridgewater and then Josh Allen. Barmore has been more effective than his numbers indicate but if he can go off over these last two games with his best football of the year the Patriots might have a chance to punch a postseason ticket. -MD
How much dropoff do you expect from Tua to Teddy Bridgewater? How should the Patriots defense plan to defend the Miami attack with their backup?
With the exception of perhaps a little less accuracy, Miami will be able to run their offense with little adjustment. Bridgewater is an experienced vet who has won games in this league. He's the type of QB who can come off the bench and keep things rolling for a period of time, as he's done in the past. That said, make sure he can't lean on the run game and then get in his face when passing. He'll throw you a ball or two as a result. -FK
I think the dropoff is huge. Bridgewater played the bulk of two games earlier in the season and the Dolphins offense couldn't put points on the board. I think the Patriots should attack him and force him to make quick decisions with the ball. -PP
They're both rhythm-based passers who can hit receivers on the move on the underneath stuff. But Bridgewater isn't as effective as a deep passer. If you can bait him into those deeper throws, his ball hangs up more than Tua's and you can cause turnovers with trap coverages. I expect the Pats to try that a few times. -EL
With the lack of depth at cornerback I feel like the Patriots might stack the center of the field with more of their linebackers and safeties and really challenge Bridgewater to beat them deep. Of course that's a risky proposition against two of the most explosive pass catchers in the game. Again, that's why the pass rush must be consistently effective. -MD
What is your one simple ask of the offense this week, just one key thing to get right that will point the team toward victory?
The operative word here is "simple." Nothing has been simple or easy with the offense this season. The one thing that each individual can control is their own mistakes -- penalties, turnovers -- so let's simply start there. -FK
Productivity in the passing game. That starts with better execution in terms of play calling, play design and route running. If the offense can clean up the mental mistakes I think it can be more productive. -PP
Is it too late to improve the timing and route details on offense? The offensive line has been okay in recent weeks. But the timing, spacing, and route-running technique has hit a wall. As the quarterback said, "when game time comes it's got to be just in rhythm. The spacing needs to be good. That's how really good offenses work." -EL
Just get off to a good start and try to eliminate unnecessary mistakes like presnap penalties and mental lapses. Seems like every week this offense gets a slow start and find themselves in an early hole that they need a bunch of things to go right to get out of. What's it look like with a scoring drive on the first possession? Could that inspire some confidence and even better play overall? It would be nice to get a glimpse of it before it's too late. -MD
What is your big overall key to a Patriots victory?
Sound offensive line play. They've been playing better of late. Keep it up. FK
Harass Bridgewater and force him to make mistakes. That could lead to yet another defensive touchdown and should lead to victory. -PP
You have to take advantage of Bridgewater playing instead of Tua. Their deep passing offense won't be the same, so get him into longer down and distances to force Bridgewater to beat you down the field. Hope you get off the field and force some turnovers. -EL
Get after Bridgewater. The pass rush is the only true strength I have some confidence in. A poor game from the defensive front where they fail to win one-on-one matchups will have a negative outcome. -MD