By: Russ Goldman
It is the beginning of a new season, and it happens on Monday Night Football as the Patriots are on the road to face the Miami Dolphins. Here’s a preview with my five keys to the game that I hope will lead to a Patriots victory.
WHERE TO WATCH: The game will be shown live Monday Night on ESPN at 7:00 PM EST. You can also listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.
GAME NOTES: The Dolphins had a disappointing 2010 season going 7-9, and the Patriots beat them twice. However, the Dolphins are not a team to take lightly, and especially at home this could be a tougher game than most experts believe.
On defense, this team last season was ranked very high in many categories. In rushing defense they were ranked 7th, and in passing defense they were 8th in the NFL. In total defense they ranked 6th in the entire league. Their front seven is rock solid led by talented linebackers. On the outside, the Patriots are going to have their hands full with Cameron Wake. He had 14 sacks last season, and was tough to handle when the teams last played in Miami. On the other side Koa Misi can also bring it, and he had 4.5 sacks. In the inside, Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett control the middle of the defense.
Where the Dolphins could be weaker is their defense backfield. However, Vontae Davis is on his way to becoming shutdown corner. The Patriots might be able to take advantage of their safeties.
On offense, the question is how much has Chad Henne improved at quarterback? He did not have a great season last year. He has the talent, but for the Dolphins to really contend this season, he will be needed to raise his game. He does have a great wide receiver in Brandon Marshall, who went over 1,000 receiving yards while having 86 receptions. He is a definite deep threat. Henne also has a tight end that could cause problems for the Patriots in Anthony Fasano.
The X-Factor to this unit could be running back Reggie Bush. In open space Bush could be very dangerous. The question surrounding him is can he be an every down back? If he can be durable, he brings a home run threat that the Dolphins have not had in a long time.
The Dolphins could be a factor in the AFC East this season, and if their offense catches up to their defense they could threaten for a playoff berth. However, I do like the Patriots in this match-up as I feel they are the better overall team.
Here are my “five keys” which I believe could play a role in a potential victory for the Pats.
1. The Patriots will need to make coaching adjustments on the fly. I actually think this could be a huge factor in this game. In a first game you never know what to expect, and you better be ready to adjust your offense and defense accordingly.
With Brian Daboll being the new offensive coordinator for the Dolphins, the Patriots defense will be facing a very different Dolphins offense than the one they played against last season. Daboll as the offensive coordinator last season for the Browns completely owned the Patriots defense. Coach Belichick and his defensive coaches will really need to react quickly to what the Dolphins are doing.
2. The offensive line will have to do an exceptional job of protecting Tom Brady. I know this is an obvious key, but it needs to be addressed. If the Patriots cannot protect Brady, this top 10 defense could take over the game, and help their developing offense.
You have outside linebackers that can really get after the quarterback. If Nate Solder is forced to play he will be counted on to protect Brady.
3. The Patriots tight ends need to take advantage of the middle of the field. A place where I think the Patriots offense can take advantage of the Dolphins is the middle of the field. Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski could be match-up nightmares for the Dolphins defense. If these two players are seeing the ball a great deal Monday night, the Patriots could be scoring a ton of points.
4. Jerod Mayo needs to become a play-maker against the Dolphins. I am expecting a huge season from Mayo. With the change of the defense, Mayo will now have the ability to shoot gaps, and get after the quarterback.
I think you are going to see a different player this season, as in this defense he could really wreak havoc on an offense. He needs to be a play-maker this season, and it all begins in Miami.
5. The Patriots defense needs to cover the middle of the field. One of the reasons the Patriots were so bad on third down on defense was their coverage in the middle of the field. A tight end like Fasano could have a field day against the Patriots.
Whether it is linebackers or defensive backs, the Patriots need to do a much better job in the middle of the field on defense. Patrick Chung could be key in this part of the field.
I do feel confident that the Patriots will come away with a victory. In the end I think Brady will be able to take advantage of the middle of the field, and I think the defense will unleash the aggressive style that Patriots fans have been waiting for. I see the Patriots pulling away in the second half, and I am predicting a Patriots 28-17 victory.
What are your predictions? Feel free to post them in the comments section below.