The¬†Patriots open the season against the¬†Dolphins on the road¬†at Sun Life Stadium. Here are Five Things for you to look for in this match-up.
1. Can the Patriots offensive line protect Tom Brady in this game? The biggest question mark heading into the new season for me is the offensive line, as we don’t know who the five will be in front of Brady, and what positions they will be playing.
I think the tackles will be Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer, but there has been speculation in the press that Vollmer might be moved to left guard to replace Logan Mankins. With so much uncertainty with who will be making up this unit to protect Brady, I feel there is a reason for concern.
The Dolphins have two defensive ends that can get pressure on the quarterback with Cameron Wake on one side and Olivier Vernon on the other. However, defensive tackle Randy Starks is a player who can get pressure on Brady up the middle. Controlling the line of scrimmage for the Pats offense is a major key in this game. If the offensive line can keep Brady protected, there should be opportunities for him to take advantage of the Dolphins linebackers in coverage.
2. Can Tom Brady take advantage of the Dolphins linebackers?¬†The weakness of the Dolphins on defense I feel are the linebackers, and if Brady has time to throw the ball, the middle of the field could be open for mismatches. You could see a player like running back Shane Vereen get isolated on a linebacker that could be extremely problematic for the Dolphins defense.
Also, if Rob Gronkowski plays, he could cause serious damage in the middle of the field catching the ball, and also opening up opportunities for tight end Tim Wright to take advantage of the linebackers.
Lastly, if the passing game is opened up in the middle of the field, the running game could really expose the linebackers as they can be run on as well. Brady really has an opportunity in this game to take advantage of this defensive unit of the Dolphins.
3. Can the Patriots defense get an interior pass rush going against the Dolphins offensive line? We know what defensive ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich can bring, but in this game, getting pressure up the middle could be vital.
The Dolphins have a completely brand new offensive line so their play might not be at its best in the first game, and you could really affect them by pushing that pocket right back in the face of ¬†quarterback Ryan Tannehill. ¬†If defensive tackle Vince Wilfork can get control of his opponent, it could be a long day for the Dolphins.
Tannehill is running a new offense that could be in the style of the Philadelphia Eagles which is this quick paced offense. Wilfork could force Tannehill into mistakes if he can push the pocket back, and throw off the timing of the quarterback.
4. Can the Patriots contain tight end Charles Clay?¬†The Patriots over the past few seasons have continued to struggle in covering the tight end, so it is important to defend well against Clay.
Clay had 69 receptions for 759 yards last season, and was a weapon in the passing game for the Dolphins. He could very well be the security blanket for Tannehill this season. If the Pats defense can force Tannehill away from Clay, they could have a very successful day in the heat of Miami.
5. Can the Patriots defense stop the run? The Patriots defense really struggled last season stopping the run when Wilfork went down with a season ending injury. With Wilfork back, the defense should be much better in this area, and they are going to need to be. Running back Knowshon Moreno ran for 224 yards against the Patriots when he played for the Broncos in their regular season match-up last season.
With the Dolphins running a new offense, stopping the run is very important, because you do want to put the ball more in the hands of Tannehill to beat you with his arm. If the Pats defense can make the Dolphins one-dimensional on offense, they could really be in business on Sunday.
In conclusion, I expect this to be a tight game as it is a divisional foe and the opening game of the season. The Patriots usually have a hard time in Miami, and I expect this game to be the same. However, I do expect them to have just enough to win a close game on the road so I am predicting a 24-21 Patriots victory.
If you are looking for more of an extensive preview of this game, please take a listen below to Patriots Fourth And Two.