Tough times have fallen over Patriot Place in Foxboro, Massachusetts. After a tough loss in Jacksonville against a very good defense in the Florida heat, the New England Patriots followed up with an embarrassing display on national television against a rather pedestrian Detroit Lions team. Was it lack of execution or lack of shear talent? Time will tell, but one thing is for sure, Sunday afternoon’s game at home against the 3-0 Miami Dolphins is as must win as it can get for Tom Brady & Bill Belichick. September or not, falling to 1-3 would incite a doomsday scenario in New England and more importantly, three games back to a division rival is a tough task to climb out of in a long and grinding NFL season.
Things have seemingly gone from bad to worse for the Patriots in the proceeding days following the double digit loss to Matt Patricia‘s Lions. First, superstar Rob Gronkowski confirmed a report that he threatened to retire this off-season rather than be traded, something you just don’t see leave that building, then his brother Chris openly bashed the rest of the receiving corp on Twitter, and Rex Burkehead a vital weapon in the passing and running game went on injured reserve with a neck injury suffered last week after a concussion in week one. Rookie linebacker Ja’whaun Bentley also hit IR this week with an undisclosed injury as the already barren linebacking depth took another blow.
With all of that being said, I am not hitting the panic button on this team and season. After all, it is September and this is how this team generally looks more often than not. If you’re playing your best football now, then you are in trouble. This is when the coaching points take precedent and the execution of game plans and assignments is really honed in. I have the utmost confidence in their coaching staff and this week has been all about them getting the focus of this team off the “drama” and headlines and shift it purely to Miami. It’s one week at a time, and with three straight home contests forthcoming, it quite frankly could not have come at a more opportune time.
The last time Miami went in to Foxboro and won a game against the Patriots was back in 2008 during the better known “wildcat game” where Ronnie Brown ran all over the New England defense that was not prepared for that type of attack. While we won’t see the wildcat on Sunday, we will see a very talented Miami team hungry to come in and knock off the Patriots and take a commanding leading over the AFC East in Week 4. Time to dive right in to my full game preview and analysis.
Dolphins offense vs. Patriots defense:
I’ve got to be honest with you, defending the Dolphins is going to be an uphill battle all day long for the Patriots defense that has been tested these last two weeks. First of all, Adam Gase is showing why Miami had so much faith in him years ago to lead their franchise. He coaches his team tough and they do not make mistakes. The offensive minded coach has a flurry of weapons at his Quarterback’s disposal, one that Patriots defenders will have a challenge of holding in check. On that QB, did you know Ryan Tannehill is 10-1 in his last eleven games as a starter? He hasn’t skipped a beat despite missing all last season with a torn ACL, and looking the part of a franchise Quarterback. Through the first three weeks, Tannehill is completing 73% of his passes with 7 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions and is averaging a staggering 9.3 yards per attempt. Here’s to hoping the Patriots can get both Trey Flowers & Pat Chung back healthy this week to help defend against the passing game, otherwise it is going to be a LONG afternoon for New England.
The Dolphins have no shortage of talent and weapons on the offensive side of the ball. They have a two-headed monster at running back with Kenyan Drake and the ageless Frank Gore, a rookie tight end in Mike Gesicki who is playing a major role in the Dolphins offense after an outstanding college career at Penn State and the Dolphins also have four legitimate threats at the wide receiver position. First up is the very talented Kenny Stills who has three receiving touchdowns on the season including a pair in the season opening contest where he also eclipsed the 100 yard mark. Former Chief Albert Wilson who was signed to a big deal this off-season, has also made a profound contribution in the passing attack last week catching just two passes for 74 yards and a touchdown while also completing a 52-yard touchdown pass to speedster Jakeem Grant who hauled in two touchdowns himself against the Raiders last week. Devante Parker is healthy coming off a finger injury that forced him to miss the first two games and should have the reigns loosened in Foxboro on Sunday while old friend Danny Amendola makes his return to Patriot Place this time playing for the division foe Miami with 11 receptions through the first three games.
For those of you counting, I just listed off eight weapons for Ryan Tannehill and Adam Gase in the Miami offense. On the defensive side of the ball for New England, I can probably count on less than one hand the amount of guys I can trust to perform each week. I don’t see any way for New England to slow down the Miami offense as their pass rush has been virtually non existent these last two weeks giving Blake Bortles and Matthew Stafford ample time to carve up their secondary, namely target Eric Rowe. Veteran OLB John Simon was signed this week to help the depleted LB group, but it’s only just a start. The Patriots defense is in store for a massive challenge on Sunday, and it’s time for someone to step up and rise to the occasion. Could it be second year DE Deatrich Wise who was one of the few guys playing with emotion on Sunday night? Or can Dont’a Hightower look like his old self and fly to the football making big plays and cause a the Miami offense to make a mistake? I don’t think it’s very likely this defense holds Miami’s big-play offense in check as the pressure will fall on the shoulders of Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels to outscore the Dolphins and keep their defense off the field as much as possible.
Patriots offense vs. Dolphins defense
Game’s like this are why Josh McDaniels is paid like an NFL Head Coach. It’s why Robert Kraft went above and beyond to keep him steering the offensive ship and is likely tabbed as the coach-in-waiting. It’s time for Josh to put together a fantastic gameplan and his offense to go out there and just execute. Easier said than done, but we’re talking about an offense with Tom Brady & Rob Gronkowski at home. Julian Edelman will be back next week, and the biggest question entering play Sunday is whether or not we will see the debut of Josh Gordon. I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I have any clue as to whether or not Gordon plays on Sunday, but I have a feeling with another week under his belt and the hamstring issue having had more time to heal, compiled with the fact just how bad this offense looked last week, we see Gordon on Sunday. Maybe it’s just as a decoy to force Miami to cover someone other than doubling Gronk all night, but it’s time for other guys on the offense to step up.
Miami has a few key defensive players that will make Tom Brady’s afternoon a difficult one if his teammates aren’t executing. The first is old friend Cameron Wake, who will be bearing down on TB12 all afternoon if the offensive tackles can’t hold him in check. Across from Wake is former LA Ram Robert Quinn, the veteran acquired in an off-season trade brings 63.5 career sacks to the table while Wake has 93 of his own. Not only do the Dolphins have a really good pass rush anchored by the two veteran defensive ends, but they have an emerging young shutdown corner in Xavien Howard, whom Brady became all too familiar with at the end of last season in their road game down on South Beach.
There are three players on offense that NEED to step up this week. First, I’m calling out Chris Hogan. With all the hype around him the last few years, when Brady has really needed him to emerge as a number one receiver, he’s been a ghost. Not creating separation from defenders, finding the hole in the defense or fighting to the ball. Time to step up and earn your nickname of “7-11, always open” and make some key plays to help New England take over a must-win contest at home. Second on my list is Sony Michel. This is it man, it’s your show. Time to flash those abilities we all saw at UGA and in the national championship game. Hill, Gillislee and Burkehead are all out of the picture, its the James White & Sony Michel backfield in Foxboro. Time to prove why McDaniels loves you so much and enticed the organization to use a first round pick on you. Michel should theoretically be a matchup nightmare for the Dolphins linebackers, hopefully he shows something we didn’t see in his debut against the Lions and we can just chalk that up to a rookie mistake. I’m expecting a lot out of him on Sunday in Foxboro. The third player that has to step up on Sunday is Phillip Dorsett. After an impressive opening contest that included six catches and a touchdown, Dorsett has been nothing short of disappointing for the Patriots offense in the ensuing two road games. Somehow the former first round pick managed to put up a donut last Sunday night in Detroit. Despite being on the field for 45 of 48 offensive snaps, Dorsett had zero receptions and was targeted five times. Tom Brady has grown increasingly frustrated with the receivers he’s had at his disposal and this week represents an opportunity for Dorsett to put up or shut up. Edelman is back next week, Josh Gordon will have a larger role one would assume as the season rolls on, this is Dorsett’s last chance to prove his worth before being relegated to special teams. He has the matchup advantage on paper not being covered by Howard, and he needs to exploit it on Sunday if New England is to come out victorious. All three players need to step up and pull their own weight on the offensive side of the ball if the Patriots are going to win this football game.
Game Prediction: Patriots 33, Dolphins 30
The Patriots enter the game as it sits now as 6.5 point favorites at home. A 3-0 team that’s been on fire is a 6.5 point dog? I will take the cover especially with the challenges New England will have on the defensive side of the ball to stop the Dolphins offense. This is all going to be on the shoulders of Tom Brady to perform. Fall to 1-3 and the sky is falling in New England. Talk radio will go crazy on Monday and the national talking heads will hold a eulogy for the end of the Patriots Dynasty. Even with the weapons at his disposal, or lack thereof, Brady is going to go out there and get it done in front of the home crowd. Survive the back-to-back tough road losses and come out with a newfound life on the offensive side of the ball. Beat Miami then get the Indianapolis Colts at home on a short week. All of a sudden it goes from end of an era to business as usual. I’m expecting this to come down to the last drive and a game-winning touchdown pass from Brady in the fourth quarter as well.
We’re in for a massive September football game in Foxboro on Sunday. Backs against the wall, the Patriots cannot lose this game at home to the Dolphins.
Follow Frank Pimentel on Twitter: @FrankBostonTank