By: Derek Havens
Patriots running back Stevan Ridley needs more touches moving forward.
(USA TODAY Images)
The New England Patriots return home to host the Miami Dolphins in week eight.
This is the first meeting between the division rivals this season. The Patriots have won six straight meetings against the Dolphins, sweeping Miami in 2010, 2011 and 2012. New England has not lost a regular season game at home in the month of October since October 2, 2003, when the Pats lost 41-17 to the San Diego Chargers.
Both Miami and New England lost to other division opponents in week six. The Dolphins, who started off the year with a .500 record (3-3), lost last week to the Buffalo Bills 23-21. The Pats, currently 5-2, lost to the New York Jets in overtime 30-27.
Here’s a look at how both teams can come away with a victory Sunday. —
How the Dolphins win:
Blitz Often: Miami has a solid front seven. They have been shaky in pass coverage, however, so a focus needs to be put on pressuring Tom Brady. Blitzing and challenging New England with pressure up the middle, where the team has been most vulnerable, could disrupt the Pats offense. Cameron Wake and Dion Jordan should be able to force Brady up into the pocket, so defensive tackle Randy Starks and others could push the pocket to make Brady uncomfortable.
Test New England Deep: The Dolphins should take shots downfield. Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline are both good outside threats. With the Pats defense suffering key injuries, the unit has not been as solid as it was to start the season. If they can give quarterback Ryan Tannehill enough time, he should be able to take shots down the field.
Run the Ball: Miami rarely runs the ball. They average only 78 yards-per-game on the ground. On top of that, they have only rushed for 21 first downs and had just five rushes more than 20 yards. With Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo out for the season, New England is more susceptible to the run than usual. In both games the Pats have lost this season, they have given up an average of 169.5 yards on the ground. If the Dolphins run up the middle, not only will they keep the Patriots defense honest, they could find some success.
How the Patriots Win:
Protect Tom Brady: This isn’t a secret. In fact, it’s been mentioned for the past several weeks. Protecting Brady remains the biggest key for New England. In the last three games alone, the offensive line has allowed 13 sacks and Brady has been hit 20 times. The Pats signal-caller has not had enough time to spread the ball around and keep the offense consistent. Keeping Brady upright has to be priority number one.
Feed Stevan Ridley: For whatever reason, the Patriots coaching staff has gone more with the committee backfield this season. Maybe it’s a lack of confidence in Stevan Ridley, maybe the coaches just like to mix it up based on the game plan. In any case, Ridley needs more touches. After all, he rushed for more than 1,200 yards last season and had twelve touchdowns.
Last week, he only had 13 carries and six in the second half. He is far-and-away the superior running back available and rushing opens up the play-action pass, which New England has been so good at executing the past several years. Giving Ridley more carries and staying balanced could be a deciding factor in this contest.
Win In the Trenches: In both losses this season, the Pats lost in the trenches. This week, the offensive line has to keep Brady upright and defensive line must make the most of their opportunities. Miami has given up more sacks than any team in the NFL, allowing Tannehill to be sacked 27 times in six games. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich should feast. Jones in particular could have a huge game versus newly acquired left tackle Bryant McKinnie who will be starting for the Dolphins. New England should win the game, but if the lines win on both sides of the ball it could be a blowout.
Prediction: Patriots 27, Dolphins 16.
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