Tag Archives: Jay Ajayi

New England Patriots – Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl LII Key Matchups

Steve Balestrieri
February 2, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

And then there were two. The Patriots and the Eagles rightfully face off for the Super Bowl LII bragging rights for the final game of the 2017 NFL season. The teams are remarkably evenly matched. Each is the #1 seed in their respective conferences. Both were 13-3 in the regular season. Each had a close playoff game and a blowout.

The Eagles had a close win over Atlanta and blew out the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. The Patriots blew out Tennessee and then had a close, come-from-behind win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

During the season the Patriots scored one point more than Philadelphia offensively, 458-457, while the Eagles defense bested New England by a single point defensively 295-296. Even? I don’t know how it gets any closer.

This year’s Super Bowl will be broadcast by NBC on Sunday, February 4, at 6:30 p.m. ET and can be seen on NBC Channel 10. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michelle Tafoya will work from the sidelines... The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (15-3) came back from a 10-point 4th quarter deficit with Tom Brady firing two touchdown passes to Danny Amendola to beat Jacksonville 24-20.

The Eagles (15-3) blew out the Minnesota Vikings 38-7, by scoring 38 unanswered points. Nick Foles threw three touchdowns and the Eagles punched their ticket easily.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2017 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Eagles are meeting for just the 14th time. Philadelphia leads the all-time series 7-6. The two teams met once in the Super Bowl already with New England beating Philadelphia 24-21 in SB XXXIX where Deion Branch took home MVP honors with 11 catches for 133 yards.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Eagles Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Philadelphia
The Patriots running game has been extremely effective with Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead as a dynamic 1-2 punch that is effective in the passing game as they are in the running game. Lewis will be the main guy in the running game and he’ll have a tall order this week.

Philadelphia had the #1 rush defense in the league in 2017 allowing only 79.2 yards per game. The big men in the middle, Fletcher Cox, and Timmy Jernigan make it very hard to run inside, especially where the Patriots like to run by stuffing up everything at the point of attack.

In order for the Patriots to be successful, they are going to have to remain balanced. So play-action passing is key here. Josh McDaniels will have to get a bit creative here, mixing in some draws and Jet Sweeps to take advantage of their aggressive pass rush, but this will be some tough sledding this week.

Patriots WRs vs Eagles Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game will tremendously benefit by having Rob Gronkowski cleared for this game. Although he’s been practicing, as of right now (late Weds. night), he still hasn’t cleared concussion protocol.

Tom Brady can spread the ball around with Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and out of the backfield with James White, Lewis and Burkhead. But having Gronkowski out there and healthy makes it all go.

Philly’s pass defense is built around that terrific front four (read seven). They can freely mix things up and substitute. Their subpackage pass rush is especially effective where they move Brandon Graham inside next to Cox and have Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Derek Barnett as edge guys. Protection for Brady will be the key here as the Eagles don’t get tons of sacks but DO get tons of pressure.

One area to watch, Philly will probably play much more man coverage in this game. They played a lot of zone during the season and the Patriots, if Brady has time to throw will attack the linebackers with play action and Ronald Darby on the perimeter. Look for them to take some shots down the field early.

Next up the Philadelphia offense:

Eagles RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Philadelphia

The Eagles have two very good and varied backs in LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi in the running game. Philly is using both in a committee approach and goes with the hot hand They are very effective at running the ball averaging 132.2 yards per game.

The Patriots run defense has been terrific down the stretch and into the playoffs. With Malcom Brown and Kyle Van Noy healthy again as well as the addition of James Harrison, they slowed the running games of both Tennessee and Jacksonville.

The Eagles will want to run to take the pressure off of Nick Foles and give him the option of play action as well. While the Eagles will get their yards on the ground, I look for them to slow down the running game and force Foles to beat them.

Eagles WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England
The Eagles passing game was a question mark after Carson Wentz went down with a torn ACL. But Foles has answered his critics with a pair of playoff wins, including a blowout conference championship win where he carved up the NFC’s best defense in Minnesota. The RPO (run-pass option) we’ve all heard about is their bread and butter and Foles has Zach Ertz as the team’s leading receiver at tight end and their go-to guy. But Alshon Jeffrey, Torrey Smith, and Nelson Agholor give them plenty of weapons to throw the ball to.

The Patriots defense has been very good down the stretch and the strength is the secondary with Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler and Eric Rowe at corner. Jonathan Jones who recently went on IR may have been a better matchup with Agholor because of his speed but it will be interesting to see how they line up.

The key for New England is to keep generating pressure with their front four, where coincidentally the Patriots have had 11 sacks in their two playoff games, something no one is mentioning. And relying on their corners to remain in tight coverage. Containing the RPOs (something Jax ran) requires discipline and gap control. The chess match here should be a fascinating one. Watch for Trey Flowers here, he’s primed for a big game. 

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Special Teams continue to be among the best in the NFL. Stephen Gostkowski had a very solid season and his pooch kickoffs consistently put opponents deep in their own end. Ryan Allen was the underrated difference in the conference championship game, pinning the Jags deep in their own end ….field position here will be key.  Pro-Bowl ST player Matthew Slater on the coverage units.

The Eagles are very solid on Special Teams with kicker Jake Elliott and punter Donnie Jones. The coverage units are very good as well but no one’s STs units have been better than New England’s down the stretch.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

Well, here we go… .This one should be a Super Bowl worthy of its name. As we pointed to above, the teams are evenly matched and both, being the #1 seeds have earned the right to be here.

I look for a high scoring game, it may not begin that way, but like the 2003 game with Carolina and New England, I see things heating up. This one will be a back and forth affair. I see Agholor and Amendola having big games for each team. The key for each team will be field position and not be turning the ball over.

But in a close game like this, I don’t ever bet against Tom Brady and I think he gets it done once again with a late score to bring home Super Bowl victory number six. Cue up the Duck Boats Marty, there will be a parade next week. Patriots 31-28

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Super Bowl Sneak Peek, Eagles and Patriots Are Evenly Matched

Steve Balestrieri
January 30, 2018 at 2:10 pm ET

This is shaping up to be a Super Bowl worthy of its name as the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles are preparing for this Sunday’s championship. And in the Super Bowl, you’ll hardly find two teams more evenly matched.

The Patriots scored one more point offensively than the Eagles 458-457, and the Eagles allowed one less point defensively than the Patriots 295-296. It doesn’t get much closer than that points wise. Both are 13-3 and both are the #1 seed in their respective conference. Both have had to overcome serious injuries to get here.

Philadelphia lost MVP candidate, QB Carson Wentz late in the season, offensive tackle Jason Peters and running back Darren Sproles. The Patriots lost Julian Edelman, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and tackle Marcus Cannon amongst others.

While the teams met in the 2015 season, both are very different from the ones who played in Gillette. We’ll do a detailed break down of the key matchups later this week  But here is our quick look at the Philadelphia Eagles and what we’ve seen in watching the film of some of their games this season.

Foles Shook Off Criticism to Play Very Well in the Playoffs:
Nick Foles is in his second stint with the Eagles and they are certainly glad he’s back. After Wentz went down with a torn ACL, Foles stepped in and after some initial struggles to find his comfort level in the offense, he’s been excellent in the postseason.

Foles has completed 77 percent of his throws in the playoffs with three touchdowns and more importantly zero interceptions. The important factor for Philly has been, they didn’t have to change the offense with Foles at the helm.

With his comfort level in the pocket, the Eagles are clicking offensively. It will be the Patriots’ defense to change that comfort level early in the game by disguising looks and pressures. Otherwise, it could be a long evening.

Run-Pass Option (you’ll hear about this all week), RPO is NOT a New Star Wars Character:
One area of the Eagles offense that will be discussed a lot this week is the RPO.  Foles and the Eagles carved up Minnesota’s defense with this badly in the NFC Championship game. They took advantage of the Vikings aggressive nature and shredded them with it. The keys were the quick slants off of them, much in the manner that Jacksonville ran.

The Patriots, however, aren’t an aggressive defense, but more of a read and react group. So the key from New England’s perspective is maintaining gap integrity and setting the edge. Foles isn’t as mobile as Wentz so he’s not the threat to run that the starter was.

Linebacker play will be key here. With two good and very different styles of backs in LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi, Foles will have the option of handing it off or faking it and passing the ball in the quick open field.

The Eagles Run Defense is Excellent:
Philadelphia’s run defense is #1 in the NFL allowing just 79.2 yards per game. It begins with the big men in the middle, Fletcher Cox, and Timmy Jernigan. They are the big, immovable objects in the center of the line.

They make things very tough to run in the middle of the field, exactly where the Patriots like to run. The stretch plays and the slow developing runs to the outside are very tough on this defense because of the way they flow to the ball.

The Jaguars defense made running the ball tough last week on the Patriots offense. The opportunities will be there but Josh McDaniels will have to be creative. Which segways into our next topic…

The Patriots Need to Find Success on Early Downs:
Philadelphia’s subpackage defense is really tough. They go to a NASCAR type package in their pass rushers with Cox and moving Brandon Graham inside, then they still have Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Derek Barnett as their edge rushers.

While the Eagles don’t blitz a ton but will send safeties or corners on third and long situations and don’t rack up huge sack numbers, they do rack up a ton of QB pressure. Consistent pressure is what drives the defense and they’re very good at it.

So from a Patriots perspective, they need to be successful on first and second down. Mix things up, use play-action passes which should be very effective against their linebackers and use the hurry up once they get a first down to keep the Eagles from substituting. Of course, they’ll need to produce as well. Otherwise, it is just getting the Philly offense back on the field that much quicker.

The Eagles front four is deep and talented, arguably the best in the NFL. Getting in obvious passing situations on third down is inviting trouble and they’ll respond by bringing the pressure. In their last four games, Philly’s defense hasn’t allowed more than 10 points.

The Tight Ends for Both Teams are the Focus:
While both offenses operate quite differently, the tight end in each is a big part of what makes them go. The Eagles boast three good tight ends with Zack Ertz, Brent Celek, and Trey Burton. Ertz was their leading receiver in 2017 and was Foles’ go-to guy against the Vikings, completing first down after first down. He’ll be matched up with Pat Chung and if New England is going to be successful, Ertz can’t be allowed to become that kind of target again.

For New England, Rob Gronkowski (if he’s healthy) is the gold-standard for TEs in the NFL. While Malcolm Jenkins will probably see him a lot in this matchup. The Eagles may try to pull a page out of Jacksonville’s book and double up Gronk with Jenkins and Corey Graham. If that is the case, then the WRs will have to win one-on-one matchups.

Philly played a lot of zone coverage this year, Brady will pick those apart. Look for them to match up in man coverage. Their corners are ok but not great, they look better because of the pass rush, much like the Pittsburgh corners used to be in years past.

It is just another interesting piece of the chess match. We’ll be back later this week with the full matchups and our prediction.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Players to Watch Against the Dolphins

Steve Balestrieri
December 31, 2016 at 8:30 am ET

The Patriots head back out on the road for the 2016 regular season finale when they take on the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at 1 p.m.

The Patriots are 13-2 and could clinch the top seed in the AFC tomorrow with a win or from a loss or tie by the Raiders in Denver.  But remembering last season’s finale in Miami, the Patriots want to close the deal and finish strong with a win. The Patriots can finish the season 8-0 on the road with a victory Sunday which would mark just the seventh time it’s been done in history.

The Dolphins are 10-5 and have already clinched a playoff spot. They’re currently locked into the #6 slot but with a win and some help, could slide up to the 5th position. While not sounding like a large variation, it would be the difference between traveling to Pittsburgh on Wild Card weekend, or to Houston.

Here are our five players from a Patriots perspective to watch on Sunday:

QB Tom Brady: Brady has been hobbled by a thigh injury that he suffered weeks ago against the Seattle Seahawks. He hasn’t missed any game action and appears completely healthy from that standpoint.  But he’s missed practice time again this week, although it could just be the coaching staff wants to limit his workload heading into the postseason.

Although the Patriots have won 10 of their last 13 against the Dolphins, the last three times they’ve been in Miami they’ve come up short. And Brady hasn’t had some of his best games down there. That’s something he’d like to change this week. Facing a defense where many of their players are hurting, this could be a prime opportunity.

Unlike last season where the Patriots had a preponderance of the game plan centered around running the ball with an aging Steven Jackson, this season should show the Patriots using a much more balanced attack. Look for Brady to be on top of his game this week, facing a playoff team that doubles as a divisional rival.

DT Alan Branch: The Patriots have been very good against the run in 2016 and much of the credit has to go to the big men in the middle, Branch, and Malcom Brown. They’ve been excellent at clogging up the running lanes and stopping the forward progress at the point of attack. The Pats have allowed just 89.5 yards per game on the ground.

But this week they face a resurgent Dolphins team with Jay Ajayi who rushed for 206 yards last week against the Bills. No doubt Bill Belichick will have the team watch the tape of overtime where Ajayi burst through the defense and rolled for a 57-yard run that eventually proved to be the difference in overtime. Branch, 32, is in the final year of his contract and would like to finish off the 2016 regular season and head to the playoffs on a high note.

Belichick praised the veteran this week, as the Patriots most consistent defensive tackle. Branch will be looked to on Sunday, to slow the running of Ajayi and force the ball and ultimately the game into Matt Moore’s hands.

RB LeGarrette Blount: Blount is in the middle of a mini-slump while still having the best year of his career. Although the big man has gained over 1100 yards and scored 17 touchdowns, the past two weeks has found Blount averaging less than 2.5 yards per carry against Denver and the Jets.

A game against the porous Dolphins run defense could be just what the doctor ordered for the big man. Miami is allowing 141.8 yards per game and a whopping 4.9 yards per carry, worst in the league. Blount and Dion Lewis should see plenty of carries in this week’s matchup against the league’s 30th ranked rush defense.

Miami is banged up on defense and will be missing their top two safeties, their best corner, and a starting linebacker. The Patriots have plenty of weapons on offense and should keep the Dolphins focus on their passing game while using the running game to keep the offense balanced. Look for Blount to log another 20-carry day in the Miami heat on Sunday.

CB Logan Ryan: The Patriots veteran corner has been playing very solidly the past several weeks and is usually lined up on the opponent’s speediest wide receiver. The Patriots have settled on a trio of Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, and Ryan. And since then, the play of the secondary has improved.

The Patriots remember the second half of the Week 2 contest where Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins nearly pulled off a huge comeback. Tannehill completed 20 of 21 at one point and both DeVante Parker and Jarvis Landry went over the 100-yard mark.

Look for Ryan to match up with the speedster Kenny Stills this week. He’s been the Dolphins big play receiver and seven of his eight touchdowns have gone for 20 yards or more this season, including three of more than 50 yards. Ryan will have his hands full with this matchup and this one should be a key one to watch tomorrow.

TE Martellus Bennett: The wide receivers of the Patriots will draw the attention of Miami’s corners this week. The three running backs can stress the defense in both the running game and the passing game, and then there is Bennett.

The Patriots big tight end is a terrific blocker as well as a difference maker in the passing game. In the first matchup with the Dolphins, he caught five passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. And with Miami hurting on defense, he can be a guy that can create some mismatches for Tom Brady.

Although Bennett has been slowed lately with some injuries, he’s been able to answer the bell and has gutted his way thru the pain since Week 5 against the Browns. The Dolphins will have two backup safeties starting this week. I look for the Patriots to attack the seams of the defense, especially with Bennett who had success against them in Week 2. He will also be looked to in the running game to help spring the backs and get them to the second level.

Stay tuned to PatsFans.com as we’ll have up-to-the-minute breaking news as well as post-game analysis.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots – Dolphins II Keys, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 30, 2016 at 8:30 am ET

The New England Patriots will play their final game of the 2016 NFL regular season on the road against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at 1 p.m.

The game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ with Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts handling the play-by-play and analysis duties. Evan Washburn will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (13-2) defeated the New York Jets on Christmas Eve in Foxboro 41-3. Tom Brady threw for three first half touchdowns and LeGarrette Blount rushed for two touchdowns giving him a league-leading 17 on the season. The defense forced four more turnovers.

The Dolphins (10-5) beat the Buffalo Bills 34-31 in overtime. Jay Ajayi rushed for 206 yards and a touchdown, his third 200-yard game of the season. QB Matt Moore filling in for the injured Ryan Tannehill threw for 233 yards and two touchdowns.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:
The Patriots and Dolphins will be meeting for the 103rd time with Miami holding an all-time 53-49 edge. The Dolphins hold a big all-time edge in home games 36-15. The last three years have seen the series split along home lines with each team holding serve on their home field.

The Patriots jumped out to a big lead in Week 2 but then had to hold on for a 31-24 victory with Jimmy Garoppolo starting at QB before being injured and giving way to Jacoby Brissett.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots 2016 Opponents, A Second Look at the Dolphins

Steve Balestrieri
December 28, 2016 at 7:08 am ET

Miami Back in the Playoffs And On a Roll

The Patriots 2016 regular season finale brings them back to South Florida where they’ll take on the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at 1 p.m.

The Dolphins have seemed to have found the right man in head coach Adam Gase. After a slow start, the team has bought into Gase’s system and they’re winners of nine of their last ten games.

The Dolphins started 1-4 including a Week 2 loss to the Patriots but have been on a roll since. With their win over the Bills on Sunday, coupled with the loss of the Broncos to the Chiefs on Sunday night, Miami is playoff bound for the first time since 2008.

They scantly resemble the team that came into Foxboro early in the season and will be looking to enter the playoffs on a high note. FWIW, Miami has beaten the Patriots on their last three trips to South Beach including last year’s regular season finale where the Patriots dusted off a game plan from 1933.

The Patriots need a win or an Oakland loss or tie to secure home-field advantage for the playoffs. They remember all too well having to travel to Denver for the AFC Championship Game and want the playoffs to run thru Foxboro. Miami is currently in the 6th playoff spot, but with a win and a KC, loss could move into the 5th position.

Here are our Five Updated Impressions of the Dolphins:

Gase Was the Best Move Made in Offseason:  We wrote this in mid-September and it has been proven by the way the season has played out. When Miami landed Gase this offseason, it was perhaps the best move the franchise has made in many years and arguably one of the best that any team had done this spring.

The acquisition of the Nick Saban disciple in Gase was a much needed and smart move by Miami who has had a coaching carousel for far too long. Gase worked well with Peyton Manning and he turned things around for Ryan Tannehill who hasn’t had a stable coaching staff in his career.

Gase went to a simpler offense that plays to the strengths of his QB and his talented skill players. Instead of the deep play offense that didn’t work, but more of a methodical approach that the Patriots employ.

The youngest coach (38) in the NFL got a ringing endorsement from Manning, who called him, “the smartest man I know.”

Jay Ajayi Has Been the Biggest Surprise of 2016: When the Patriots faced the Dolphins in Week 2, Ajayi wasn’t a big part of the Miami offense. They brought in veteran Arian Foster to bolster the running game, but his injuries proved to be too much and he’s since retired. Since then, Ajayi has become an explosive weapon.

Ajayi has three games this season where’s he’s topped 200 yards rushing including back-to-back games in Weeks 6-7 against Pittsburgh (204) and Buffalo (214). He was slowed in recent weeks but exploded for another 200-yard effort against the Bills last week when he rushed for 206 yards. In overtime, he burst 57 yards to set the Dolphins up for an Andrew Franks game-winning field goal.

Ajayi suffered a shoulder injury late in the game against Buffalo but is expected to be ready to go on Sunday. This will be a big test for the Patriots run defense, who prior to Saturday’s game against the Jets have held their previous four opponents to under 64 yards rushing.

Landry, Parker, and Stills, A Big Three in the Passing Game: The Dolphins have the receivers to give the Patriots plenty of issues when the teams face off in Miami. Jarvis Landry is the most prolific receiver on the Dolphins with 85 catches for 1060 yards and three touchdowns. He’s the go-to guy in the passing game. But DeVante Parker has been effective as well. He’s caught 51 passes for 699 yards and four scores. Both Landry and Parker had over 100 yards receiving when the teams met in September.

But it has been Kenny Stills who has become the homerun hitter for the offense. Stills has 38 catches for 685 yards and eight touchdowns in 2016. His 18.0 yards per reception is second in the NFL to only Chris Hogan’s 19.2. Stills has seven touchdown receptions of 20 yards or more, including three of over 50 yards. While Landry and Parker have moved the chains, Stills, in his second season in Miami has been the big play guy in the passing game.

This should be an intriguing matchup between the Patriots secondary and a Dolphins group of receivers who really came on in the second half of the game against them in Foxboro and narrowly missed an upset win.

Resilience, Depth the Keys to This Dolphins Team: As we mentioned above, the Dolphins made a very smart move in hiring Adam Gase. He kept the team marching forward despite a 1-4 start and a slew of injuries and kept this team winning where so many other Miami teams in the past would have folded up their tents.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, since 1990, 128 teams have started 1-4. Only eight of those teams, just six percent have made the playoffs. The Dolphins join the Chiefs of 2015 as the two latest teams to accomplish that.

Miami has also lost arguably their best offensive and defensive players in safety Reshad Jones and center Mike Pouncey. They’ve had to deal with their starting QB Ryan Tannehill being out as well as the loss of linebackers Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins. This week, they’ll probably be without safety Isa Abdul- Quddus who is banged up.

Run Defense is a Huge Problem Spot: Miami’s defense takes a page from the Patriots playbook, while they’ve given up plenty of yardage, they’re not giving up a lot of points. However, the run defense has been a problem all year and continues to be an issue.

The Dolphins run defense is 30th in the league allowing a whopping 141.8 yards per game. They also allow a league worst 4.9 yards per carry. The defense has already allowed more yards than the awful 1-15 team of 2007. If the Patriots generate 335 yards of offense on Sunday, it will mark the most yards allowed by a Miami defense in their history.

But despite being #24 in yards allowed in 2016 (5726) and an average of 381.7 per game, the Dolphins are just 14 in points allowed.

Check back with us later in the week as we’ll break down the key matchups for the game right here on PatsFans.com.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots 2016 Opponents, 5 First Impressions of the Dolphins

Steve Balestrieri
September 13, 2016 at 11:50 am ET

Miami Finds the right guy to lead the team in Gase

The Patriots 2016 season returns to Foxboro for the first time in 2016 and they face their divisional rival Miami.

The Dolphins have been in turmoil for several years at the top despite being big spenders in free agency. No more. They seem to have finally found the right guy to lead the team in Adam Gase, we’ll have more on him below but they get high marks with his hiring.

The Dolphins lost a tough heartbreaker to the Seahawks on a Russell Wilson to Doug Baldwin pass with just 31 seconds left. The 12-10 loss stings because Miami felt and rightfully so, that they left some points on the board.

Miami has some talent on both sides of the ball, the question is, is it enough to compete for a playoff spot and how quickly will Gase turn things around.

Here are our Five First Impressions of the Dolphins:

Gase Was the Best Move Made in Offseason: When Miami landed Gase this offseason, it was perhaps the best move the franchise has made in many years and arguably one of the best that any team had done this spring.

The acquisition of the Nick Saban disciple in Gase, was a much needed and smart move by Miami who has had a coaching carousel for far too long. Gase worked well with Peyton Manning and now will try to turn the fortunes around for Ryan Tannehill who hasn’t had a stable coaching staff in his career.

Gase is going to a simpler offense that plays to the strengths of his QB and his talented skill players. Instead of the deep play offense that didn’t work, but more of a methodical approach that the Patriots employ.

The youngest coach (38) in the NFL got a ringing endorsement from Manning, who called him, “the smartest man I know.”

Tannehill Should Benefit from the Hiring: If there is a coach that can bring out the best in Ryan Tannehill it is Gase and while the Dolphins are paying him like a franchise QB, he’s yet to produce like one.

While his numbers were pedestrian against Seattle on Sunday, 16-29, 186 yards and no touchdowns, that isn’t exactly an uncommon result from teams that play in Seattle against the Seahawks defense. Tannehill did have a deep pass to Kenny Stills that should have went for a deep 71-yard touchdown but Stills dropped it while all alone behind the defense.

Tannehill didn’t dwell on it, determined to move on, “I don’t know what happened on his end, but that’s football. We just moved on from it and kept playing. We had other opportunities other than that to make plays,… I saw a lot of good things from our guys.”

Dolphins Defensive Line Strong, Disruptive in Opener: Miami spent a ton of money on the defensive line in recent years, and if the season opener is any judge on how the rest of the season is going to go, then they’re going to reap the benefits soon.

The Dolphins nearly pulled off a big upset on the road and the DL was a big reason why. Ndamukong Suh, Jordan Phillips, Jason Jones, Mario Williams and Cameron Wake were constantly beating their opponents off the ball and causing disruptions in the Seattle backfield. They forced Russell Wilson into a couple of mistakes and were at times dominant.

Suh had four tackles, including a 13-yard sack, and three quarterback hits. He batted down a pass on third down on Seattle’s final drive, but the Seahawks were able to convert on fourth down. Jordan Phillips was very impressive and blew up a play that caused a fumble in the Seahawks backfield.

This should be another stiff test for the Patriots offensive line this week. This group can stop the run and get after the passer. Miami’s defense goes thru this front.

Arian Foster Recovers from Injury, starts in Week 1: Miami signed the former Texans running back this summer and when asked about his comeback last week, Foster bristled, stating that he was “injured not dead.”

Showing he was all the way back from his Achilles injury, he got the starting nod of incumbent Jay Ajayi and looks like the Foster of old for the most part. He managed only 38 yards on 13 carries, but that isn’t unusual for teams playing Seattle, but he did produce 62 yards on three catches including a 50-yarder.

Foster has rushed for 1200 yards or more four times in his career and the Dolphins are hoping that he can recapture some of that magic this season.

Dolphins Linebackers Still Have Questions: Miami is banking on a return to health of Kiko Alonso in 2016, the talented but oft-injured middle linebacker is a player that roam from sideline to sideline and make plays. If he can stay on the field and healthy, a big if, he’s a big upgrade from Kelvin Sheppard from a year ago.

Jelani Jenkins is another talented player but his consistency has been beset by injuries as well. Koa Misi is an athletic player but has an annoying reputation of letting the play coming to him rather than being an aggressive down-hill type player.

The depth is an issue, with the team having STs maven Spencer Paysinger, Zac Vigil, and Mike Hull as backups. That may be the reason the team is bringing in former Packer and Bengal A.J. Hawk this week for a look.

Check back with us later in the week as we’ll break down the key matchups for the game right here on PatsFans.com.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots – Dolphins II, Key Matchups; Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 31, 2015 at 7:44 am ET

The New England Patriots travel down to South Florida for their final regular season game of the 2015 season to take on the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. The game will be broadcast on CBS with the announcing crew of Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon on the call. The game can also be heard on the Patriots flagship radio station of 98.5 the Sports Hub with the voice of the Pats Bob Socci on the call with Scott Zolak.

The Dolphins (5-10) have been one of the bigger disappointments of 2015. They were expected to not only vie for a playoff spot this season but push the Patriots for the AFC East crown. After going thru an initial burst of two wins with interim coach Dan Campbell, the Fins are floundering and in the midst of a double-digit loss season. Big changes are coming for Miami this offseason.

New England (12-3), had a tough overtime loss against the Jets 26-20 on Sunday. However, with a win on Sunday, the Patriots clinch home field advantage for the AFC playoffs. Injuries continue to haunt the Pats as the team lost LT Sebastian Vollmer on Sunday. His replacement LaAdrian Waddle later went down as well.

The team was already without their two starting safeties (Devin McCourty and Pat Chung), two top wide receivers (Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola), and top two running backs (LaGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis) among others. Chung’s replacement Jordan Richards was hurt on the first play of OT and his replacement, Tavon Wilson was victimized on the very first play for a 48-yard gain that set the Jets up for the win.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge”  column in 2015 to give a quick break down on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History: The Patriots and Dolphins will meet for the 101th time on Sunday. The series was dominated by the Dolphins in during the middle years especially in Miami but the Patriots under Bill Belichick have turned the tide in recent years.

The teams have split their matchups the last two seasons with each winning at home. Miami won the season opener last season with the Patriots taking a December matchup in Foxboro. The Patriots blew out Miami on a Thursday night game earlier this season.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense: