By: Russ Goldman
Before each Patriots game this season, as a preview I will be providing my five keys to the game that I hope will lead to a Patriots victory. Here’s this week’s edition.
WHERE TO WATCH: The game will be shown live on ESPN and WCVB Channel Five in Boston Monday Night at 8:30 EST. You can also listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.
GAME NOTES: The Dolphins are coming off of a 31-23 loss to the Jets last Sunday Night at home. The Dolphins are currently 2-1 and 1-1 in the division. This game is crucial for Miami. They do not want two losses in the division at home.
On defense, the Dolphins are very strong at linebacker, with Karlos Dansby at inside linebacker as one of their impact players. From the outside linebacker position, the Dolphins can put pressure on Tom Brady with Cameron Wake and Koa Misi. The weakness of this defense has to be the defensive backs. Tom Brady will need take advantage of this young secondary to get the victory.
On offense, the Dolphins are now a complete unit. The Dolphins last season were missing a real good wide receiver. With Brandon Marshall coming over from Denver, there is no longer this weakness in the Miami passing game. Chad Henne is still developing, but he certainly played well against the Pats last season. Last week Chad Henne threw for 363 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Jets. In the running game, the Dolphins have Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. Brown is still a top running back and currently has a 5.4 yards per carry average.
This game is really a “must win” for both teams. Neither team wants to lose another game in the division, and the Patriots definitely do not want to go into the bye week 2-2. I think you will see a game with two teams desperate for a victory.
Here are my “five keys” for this week that I believe could play a role in a potential victory for the Pats.
1. The Special Teams unit needs to put the Patriots in favorable field position to start drives. This unit could be very important in this game. On kick-off returns they were not exceptional last week. If the Patriots can start drives beyond the 30, it will just make it that much easier for the offense to put points on the board.
On defending kick-offs this unit failed last week, with CJ spiller running back a kick-off for a touchdown. The special teams players need to stay in their lanes and make the tackles. If they can force Miami to start drives from around the 20 yard line, it could really help the Patriots young defense by giving Miami a longer field to work with.
On punts, Zoltan Mesko has been inconsistent so far this season. In Miami the Patriots will need him to change field position dramatically with his punting. Again, if he punts well, he could put Miami in situations to make long drives to score.
2. The Patriots Outside Linebackers need to be disciplined and active. I think this position will be a major key in the game. Tully Banta-Cain, Rob Ninkovich, and Jermaine Cunningham will probably be sharing the two outside linebacker positions against Miami.
On defending the run it will be their responsibility to set the edge, and make sure Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams do not get by them. All three linebackers struggled in stopping the run against the Bills. They need to be disciplined, and force the play back inside when Miami runs the ball.
In the passing game, the outside linebackers need to get after the quarterback. In the Patriots scheme, the outside linebackers are counted on to bring the pressure. It is imperative they make Chad Henne uncomfortable in the pocket.
3. The Patriots secondary needs to contain Brandon Marshall. In three games Brandon Marshall already has 22 receptions for 290 yards. He is a serious threat in the passing game. He destroyed the Patriots last season when he played for Denver finishing with 8-catches for 64-yards along with two touchdwons.
The Patriots need to limit the amount of catches that Marshall will get on Sunday. They probably cannot completely stop him, but they need to keep his role in the game under control. Marshall has the ability to take over a game, so I expect Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington (and/or Darius Butler) to have their hands full.
4. The Patriots tight ends need to be active in the passing game. Aaron Hernandez in three games already has 13 receptions for 211 yards. Rob Gronkowski has been huge in the redzone. He already has 2 touchdown receptions.
Against Miami the tight ends could be a huge factor in the game. Dustin Keller had a field day against the Dolphins. He had 6 receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns. Tom Brady should be able to capitalize on the Dolphins weakness in covering tight ends.
5. Tom Brady needs to take control of the game in the second half. The Patriots have a terrible record on the road since the beginning of the 2009 season. The Patriots have lost many of these road games in the second half, with Brady having poor second halfs in many of these losses.
Against Miami it will be the responsibility of Brady to take control of the game in the second half. Brady needs to keep the Patriots balanced, and cannot focus totally on finding Randy Moss against the Dolphins. Last season Brady threw a late interception against the Miami when he was focusing on Moss, and hopefully we’ll see a more diverse passing attack Monday night.
I think the game can be won on the arm of Brady in the second half, and it could be very well up to Brady to who wins this game.
I think this game is going to be a huge challenge. However, I am predicting a 35-24 victory for the Patriots against Miami. I feel the game is going to be a shootout, but I think the Patriots offense can really exploit the Dolphins secondary. If Mark Sanchez can have a big game against Miami, so can Tom Brady. I also think the Patriots defense will do just enough to limit the Dolphins from keeping pace with the Patriots.
What are your predictions? Feel free to post them in the comments section and I look forward to reading them.