Tag Archives: Xavien Howard

Patriots-Dolphins Week 14, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 7, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

The New England Patriots head out for the first of their final two road games of the 2018 regular season. They play in Miami this week and Pittsburgh next week in games that will go a long way in determining where they stand in terms of AFC Playoff seeding.

The Patriots can clinch their 10th straight AFC East title with a win or a tie and would set a record for making the playoffs in10 straight years. They are currently tied with the Dallas Cowboys (1975-83) and the Indianapolis Colts (2002- 10) as the only teams to play in the postseason for nine straight seasons.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn 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 (9-3) beat the Minnesota Vikings 24-10 in Foxboro as the defense was outstanding limiting the Vikings offense to just 278 yards while rolling up 471 of their own.

The Dolphins (6-6) beat the Buffalo Bills 21-17 as Ryan Tannehill threw for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter come-from-behind win.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game.

Series History:

The Patriots and the Dolphins are meeting for the 107th time in their history. Miami holds the overall edge 54-52 with each team holding big advantages at home. Against the Dolphins in Miami, the Patriots are 4-15 in the month of December.

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 Dolphins Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game is nearly back to full strength with Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead as the three main backs in the backfield. But Julian Edelman and Cordarrelle Patterson both will see some carries on Jet Sweeps. James Develin, their big blocking fullback is now a short-yardage option. He scored a pair of touchdowns last week against Minnesota.

The Dolphins run defense was first gashed by the Patriots to the tune of 175 yards this season after Miami began 3-0. Since then they allowed 164 to the Bears, 248 vs the Lions, 188 to Houston, 195 to Green Bay, and 198 to the Bills. Miami is allowing an average of 144.7 yards per game and 5.0 yards per rush, which is 30th in the league.

Look for the Patriots to try to pound the rock all day between the tackles. Miami’s defensive tackles Davon Godchaux and Akeem Spence have not played well against the run and neither have linebackers, Raekwon McMillan and Kiko Alonso. If DC Matt Burke tries to bring the safeties up into the box in run support or blitz the linebackers, it will open up play-action passing.

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

The Patriots passing game has been playing their cards close to their vest lately as their being fairly conservative in the passing game. But in Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan at wide receiver, Rob Gronkowski at tight end and James White, Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel out of the backfield, Tom Brady has a plethora of weapons. Add it Patterson and Phillip Dorsett and the depth is there for them to mix it up.

Miami may be without their best defensive player in Xavien Howard who has a knee injury. He’s an All-Pro talent who leads the team with seven interceptions this year. With him injured they’ve been forced to play Minkah Fitzpatrick at the other corner with Bobby McCain in the slot. If Howard can’t go, 2nd-year corner Torry McTyer will get the start. Miami has two very talented edge rushers in Robert Quinn and Cameron Wake but they’ll need to get pressure up the middle if they want to be successful there.

Look for Brady to utilize the “Pony” backfield with White and Burkhead on third down a lot in this one, they’ll try to isolate the linebackers in coverage and keep the sticks moving. If Howard is indeed out, look for Brady and Gordon to test McTyer. Chris Hogan could be an “X-Factor” this week.  

Next up the Miami offense:

Miami RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Dolphins running game is averaging 102.7 yards per game (24th) this season with a 4.3 average yards per carry. They have two very good backs in the ageless Frank Gore who leads the team with 616 yards and the dangerous Kenyan Drake. Their problem has been the offensive line hasn’t been on the field enough because of injuries.

The Patriots rush defense is currently 13th allowing 106.7 yards per game. They’ve been trending up in that regard and this week, they’ll have their hands full as the Dolphins will try to mix things up by using both Gore and Drake. They’ll have to get a big game out of their linebackers, especially Kyle Van Noy who Adam Gase was talking about this week.

Look for the Patriots to go to a bigger front this week with Gore in the lineup and try to get Miami into the 3rd and long passing situations. They’ll have to set the edge this week as the Dolphins should be much more patient with their running game than the Vikings were.

Dolphins WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England

The Miami passing game is 28th in the league averaging just 199.4 yards per game. But getting Ryan Tannehill back from injury has helped and in the last two games, he’s had a passer rating of over 100 against the Colts and Bills defenses. He has DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, and Danny Amendola as wide receivers with Nick O’Leary and Mike Gesicki at tight end with Drake out of the backfield. The team was much more explosive before Jakim Grant and Albert Wilson went on IR.

The Patriots defense had their best game of the year last week against the Vikings. The secondary stuck like glue to the receivers and they had constant pressure on QB Kirk Cousins. Can they do that again in South Florida?

I would expect they will try to match Stephon Gilmore on Stills which should be a great matchup to watch. And I’d expect either Jason McCourty or J.C. Jackson on Parker with either McCourty or Jonathan Jones on Amendola in the slot. The key is getting pressure on Tannehill and look for the Patriots to attack the middle/right side where the Dolphins OL is banged up and RG Jesse Davis has not played well.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Miami

Both teams have gotten solid play in the kicking game from punter Matt Haack and kicker Jason Sanders for Miami and Ryan Allen and Stephen Gostkowski for New England. But Sanders gives the Dolphins the edge in the kicking game, especially at home. While Patterson in the return game is always a threat to return a big one. But although Miami misses Grant in the return game, the Pats coverage units have been uncharacteristically very inconsistent.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one is a playoff game for both teams. Unlike 2013 and 2015 when the Patriots came limping into Miami beat up, this year it is the Dolphins who are all banged up with injuries while the Patriots are as healthy as one can expect at this time of year.

Last year the Pats got caught looking ahead to Pittsburgh and got their butts handed to them. But last year they afford that loss and keep the #1 seed as long as they beat Pittsburgh the next week. This year they don’t have that luxury and they know Miami still has a shot for a playoff berth.

Three keys from a Pats perspective:

Run the Ball Between the Tackles:
Miami isn’t good against the run and they’re ranked 30th for a reason. Spread the wealth between the three RBs and keep their defense on their heels. Plus it will open up play action and slow down their edge rushers.

Win the Turnover Battle:
Miami isn’t an offense that scores a lot of points, they can’t afford to get into a shootout situation. Their 29th in offense and 29th in defense. They are still in the hunt because they force a lot of turnovers. Make them go the length of the field with no easy scoring drives is a win-win situation.

Get After Tannehill:
Dolphins QBs have been sacked 31 times this year, the offensive line is suspect. Especially in the center and on the right. The Patriots don’t have a lot of sacks this year but they are among the top teams at creating pressure. They need to do that and force Tannehill into making mistakes. When they’ve lost to Miami down there, he was standing flat-footed in the pocket for much of those games.

Look for the Pats to play much better this time around. Belichick will harp on the way they looked past them last December and they should be ready to play. Look for Michel, Burkhead, and White to all have big games for the Patriots as the defense clamps down this time in South Beach. The East goes thru New England again.   Patriots 27-13

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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 Week 4, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
September 27, 2018 at 7:47 am ET

The New England Patriots return home after a 0-2 road trip and having been soundly defeated in both contests by Jacksonville and Detroit. While it early, since we’re still in September to call anything a “must-win” game, but it is rapidly sh

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Kevin Harlan will handle play-by-play duties with Rich Gannon as the color analyst. Steve Tasker 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 (1-2) lost to the Detroit Lions 26-10 on Sunday Night Football as they couldn’t get anything going offensively or defensively. Tom Brady threw for just 133 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

The Dolphins (3-0) had a late big comeback to defeat the Oakland Raiders 28-20.  Ryan Tannehill passed for 289 yards and 3 TDs while Albert Wilson also threw for a 52-yard score.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game.

Series History:

The Patriots and the Dolphins are meeting for the 106th time in their history. Miami holds the overall edge 54-51 with each team holding big advantages at home. Against the Dolphins in Foxboro, Tom Brady is 14-1 with the only loss coming in 2005 when he was pulled in the first quarter of the regular season finale.

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 Dolphins Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Miami

The Patriots running game has taken two big hits in the injury department losing both Jeremy Hill and Rex Burkhead to IR. That leaves only Sony Michel, James White, and the recently signed Kenjon Barner. What was looked upon as a deep position just a few weeks ago is now thin.

The Dolphins run defense has been much improved in 2018. They’ve done a great job of keeping opponents from running the ball effectively and the front seven has been very solid. Last week, they did a very solid job of bottling up the Raiders Marshawn Lynch which was particularly important when the Raiders were trying to run the clock in the second half.

The Patriots run blocking has not been up to their usual standards and they’ve struggled to consistently run the ball. The team has made a concerted effort to get Michel going after he missed nearly a month of practice. Look for the Pats to just try to mix things up this week and keep Miami honest. But not a lot of room to run this week.

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

The Patriots passing game has been mired in neutral the past two weeks. The wide receivers haven’t been getting open and teams are doubling down on Rob Gronkowski. Losing Burkhead really hurts in the passing game, which means that even more will be put on James White’s plate. Could we see some Josh Gordon this week?

Miami’s pass defense has been generating a lot of turnovers thru three weeks and the pass rush with Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn is a daunting task this week. The secondary has been very good, the Dolphins have invested a lot of draft and free agent capital into improving it. Xavien Howard had two interceptions last week vs Oakland.

Look for Josh McDaniels to switch up the conservative game planning and put the ball where it belongs this week, in Tom Brady’s hands. Yes, they’ve struggled to throw the ball but an offense that is run based and throwing on second and third and long isn’t conducive to winning. Look for much more James White this week. Jacob Hollister probably won’t play this week, (they could use him to take some heat off of Gronkowski) but with Gordon getting into the game, it should open things up for the other wide receivers. Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett are under the microscope this week.  

Next up the Miami offense:

Miami RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Push

The Dolphins running game hasn’t been setting the world on fire (like Detroit) and their running back by committee has not been where they envisioned it yet so far this season. Kenyon Drake and Frank Gore present different challenges and are a good 1-2 punch once they work out the kinks. Last week the duo ran just 11 times for 15 yards against the Raiders.

The Patriots run defense, especially to the opponent’s left side has been awful so far this season. This was supposed to be much improved this year but it hasn’t panned out that way. Things should be improved this week with the team getting Trey Flowers and Pat Chung back from concussion protocol. Flowers is the team’s best defensive lineman and Chung is a very effective tackler in the running game.

Look for the Dolphins to attack the left side, as we’ve seen all three opponents do this season. If they consistently get in those second and three yards or fewer scenarios, then it will be another long afternoon for the Patriots defense. Maybe this week it would bode well for Brian Flores to eschew most of the two-gap responsibilities and allow the DL to attack a bit more looking for some penetration and disruption up front. We’ll see.

Dolphins WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Miami

The Miami passing offense boasts a number of very good pass receivers in Kenny Stills, Danny Amendola, Jakeem Grant, DeVante Parker and Albert Wilson who also threw a 52-yard touchdown on a trick play last week. Ryan Tannehill has been incredibly accurate (73% completion rate) while amassing a 121.8 passer rating. They also have Drake out of the backfield and rookie TE Mike Gesicki.

The Patriots pass defense has suffered from a lack of pressure the past two weeks as both Matthew Stafford and Blake Bortles had all day to throw, frequently in very manageable situations. That has to change this week. Getting back three starters on defense (Flowers, Chung, Eric Rowe) would help.

I’d look for Tannehill to target Amendola a lot in this one. He knows the Patriots defense as well as anyone, he practiced against them every day for several years. They’ll try to move the ball down the field while taking the occasional deep shot with Stills. The matchup with Amendola with Jonathan Jones will be one to watch. Stills will probably be matched up with Stephon Gilmore while Rowe will draw either Wilson or Grant which will the other big matchup to watch.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Push

The Patriots’ Special Teams have yet to find their groove in 2018. The coverage units haven’t been anywhere near where they need to be and the return game has largely been stuck. However, last week, Cordarrelle Patterson opened the game with a 42-yard kickoff return, which is exactly what the team is looking for. Cyrus Jones is back and will be returning punts now and the team could use a boost by him.

Miami boasts the speedy and dangerous Grant in their return units. He had a 102-yard return for a touchdown against the Titans. However, the Dolphins have also given up a 94-yard touchdown return as well. Both teams have gotten solid play in the kicking game from punter Matt Haack and kicker Jason Sanders for Miami and Ryan Allen and Stephen Gostkowski for New England.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one is a much bigger game for both teams than a normal September divisional game. Miami leads the Patriots by two games, going up by three with a tiebreaker would put them far ahead in the divisional standings.

Tom Brady has been nearly unbeatable at home against Miami and on the flip side, much like Miami has been Brady’s kryptonite, Foxboro has been that for Ryan Tannehill. Miami’s QB is 0-5 in Gillette Stadium and has thrown 5 TDs and 9 INTs in those games where the Dolphins have been outscored 163-61.

While New England has been struggling, we’ve seen this before in the early season. Are we going to fall for the “banana in the tailpipe” again? This is the 2018 Patriots “We’re on to Cincinnati” game. We’ll learn something about each team after Sunday’s game.

We’re looking for Brady to get it done enough on offense this week as they begin to get things figured out. One “X-Factor” for New England may be John Simon, the ex-Colts LB/DE is best suited as a 3-4 OLB than a 4-3 DE, so could we see some 3-4 looks or the other 5-2 fronts we’ve seen in the past to try to confuse Tannehill? Possibly.

Our feeling here is that the Brady/Belichick combination in New England isn’t quite done just yet.    Patriots 24-23

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Patriots  Week 14  Report Card, Dolphins Dump Patriots 27-20

Steve Balestrieri
December 13, 2017 at 10:36 am ET

First things first, and we’ve said this many times in the past, however this time the script was flipped. The score is far from indicative of how the game played out on the field. Miami dominated this one from start to finish in all three phases of the game. That the Patriots were still within striking distance late in the game to attempt an onside kick was a testament to their resiliency because they really had no business winning this game.

It was a very disappointing effort on all accounts as they had an opportunity to wrap up the division with a win and played their worst game in the past two months.

So we’ll go thru the positions after rewatching the tape and see what the grades say this week.

Quarterback: C-

Tom Brady had what he characterized as his worst game of the season, which is pretty accurate. The Dolphins switched up their defense, took away the middle of the field,  and were getting constant pressure on him while their corners completely shut down the Patriots wide receivers on the perimeter. Brady was forced into forcing low percentage passes down the field. He was picked off twice and nearly had a third.

He was forced to throw to the backs time and again because he had nowhere else to go.It was a very frustrating night for the team and its quarterback. It didn’t help matters that the offensive line wasn’t having a good night either. The Patriots were 0-11 on third down and Brady’s ability to slide and move in the pocket was the only reason the Dolphins didn’t have half a dozen sacks.

Running Backs: C

The Patriots didn’t run the ball effectively enough and then abandoned the idea way too soon in the second half. Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead had just 10 carries between them, James White had one. When the offense, which has been so balanced falls into that kind of ratio, bad things can happen and on a night where their top two receivers (Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski) weren’t in the lineup…bad things abounded.

Lewis had a fantastic one-handed stab of a pass Brady floated out when the Dolphins blitzed and Lewis, running a wheel route turned it into a 20-yard gain.

Burkhead turned one screen into a 23-yard play and had a nice run behind a block from James Develin into the first touchdown of the game.

James White made a really nice catch on a low throw from Brady and was able to keep his balance and dove for the pylon for a touchdown.

Wide Receivers: D

The wide receivers probably didn’t get the memo that the game started at 8:30 because they didn’t show up and then barely at that until the second half. Xavien Howard completely shut down Brandin Cooks, he wasn’t able to do anything on the Dolphins corner who picked off two passes. He had no catches until late in the game when he snagged a 38-yard pass when Miami had gone to a zone and blew the coverage and left him all alone. Chris Hogan caught one pass for one yard on five targets, being much less a factor in his return than was thought.

Danny Amendola had six catches including a nice 23-yard grab where he just came up short of falling into the end zone with just under two minutes to go in the game. Had the onside kick worked, it would have been a much bigger play.

Tight Ends: D

No Rob Gronkowski this week equated to zero production from the tight end position. With Gronk out, the Dolphins left a safety in the middle and Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister were not able to make any production at all where it was needed most.

Allen was targeted five times although not all of Brady’s throws were on the mark. He ended up with two catches for 10 yards. Not nearly enough.

Offensive Line: D

The offensive line had a night that they’d rather forget although, with Dante Scarnecchia as their coach, they’ll hear about it this week. The running game rushed for 25 yards, Brady has hit hard all night and the Dolphins blitzes weren’t being picked up nearly as sharply as they should have. The fact that Brady was sacked only twice speaks much more about his ability to move and slide in the pocket and unload the ball than it did about their ability to protect him.

The bad night was shared equally. All of the members were getting beat at different times on Monday night. Ndamukong Suh had a very strong game, he overmatched them inside all night long.

Defensive Line: C-

The defensive line was thin, missing Trey Flowers and Kyle Van Noy who plays both on the edge and as a linebacker. Then Alan Branch went down with a knee injury, tried to come back and left for good. That left Deatrich Wise, Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy and Eric Lee playing a lot of snaps with little rest. That is an awful lot of inexperience there. Only Guy has played in the league longer than this season. And he had a terrific game and really stepped up his play. He had two run stuffs and nearly had a pick-six when Jay Cutler literally threw the ball right to him on a botched screen.

Butler had a few flashes, especially late in the game when the defense stiffened in the fourth quarter, but the run defense was gashed by Kenyan Drake and their inability to set the edge hurt. Lee was caught a few time not doing that, and for a guy with three games of experience in the NFL, that is what happens when the next man up mantra gets overused. No pass rush to speak of, Cutler was way too comfortable for most of the night. This unit needs to get healthy quickly this week.

Linebackers: D+

Elandon Roberts had arguably his best game as a Patriot two weeks ago against Miami but the script was flipped on him this time around and he had one of his worst. Due to injuries and David Harris being a healthy scratch, it was just Roberts and Marquis Flowers for the majority of the night. The run support wasn’t great, (Roberts’ specialty). Matt Patricia called a run blitz and instead of stuffing it behind the line, Roberts whiffed (a common occurrence all night) and Drake ran for 26 yards. Miami isolated him with Drake split wide and the results were what one would expect. That isn’t Roberts fault, the Patriots often do the exact same thing. It is up to the coaches to get him some help. Letting the speedy Drake run a 47-yard fly on Roberts is a win for Miami. Marquis Flowers had a forgettable night but did have one nice stop on Drake for a loss. Trevor Reilly made a cameo.

Secondary: C

The secondary had its weakest game in the last two months. Malcolm Butler had a very rough night. He was burned by 5’6 wide receiver Jakeem Grant for a 25-yard touchdown and should have given up another. Grant flew by him and was wide open. Cutler put the ball perfectly in his hands and Grant dropped it.

Stephon Gilmore and Jonathan Jones were simply okay and not playing anywhere near the level they had been in the past month plus. The players looked like the dreaded communication issues were resurfacing with all of the crosses and bunch formations Miami was running. Pat Chung got faked out completely on a beauty of a spin move by Drake…that is one you just tip your hat to the foe.

Devin McCourty was solid and came unblocked on a blitz where he made a big sack of Cutler keeping the Patriots close. Jordan Richards came on another similar play and whiffed completely, resulting in a first down and later a Miami touchdown.

Special Teams: B-

The star here was Ryan Allen, who had his best game in quite awhile. He had a strong 46.4 net punting average with incredible hang time which really limited Miami’s ability to return the ball. He dropped several inside the 20. That fact alone kept the Patriots hanging around late in the game. Stephen Gostkowski hit both field goals and his kickoffs once again were outstanding, Miami’s kick return game was stifled by excellent coverage. The Patriots return game was stuffed completely as Miami’s coverage units were likewise outstanding.

What in the world was up with that onside kick? That had to be one of the uglier attempts I’ve seen, rivaling the Colts fake punt. Ugly design, uglier execution.

Coaches: C-

Bill Belichick was outcoached by Adam Gase, something that doesn’t happen all too often. The team came out flat and seemed unprepared. They usually have one of these type of games every year but this was the worst of all possible times to have that happen.

Josh McDaniels had some curious play calls and abandoned the run far too soon which seemed a bit of a panic move especially with the team down only three at the half. Matt Patricia’s MASH unit on defense was gashed both on the ground and in the air. But he did what he had to do, got creative with some blitzes and the defense made five straight stops late in the game to give them a chance to come back.

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Ugly MNF Loss As Miami Dominates the Flat Patriots 27-20

Steve Balestrieri
December 12, 2017 at 8:30 am ET

Yes, we know how short-handed the Patriots were on Monday night, missing several key players and losing another in the first half, but that wasn’t the story on Monday night in Miami. The Dolphins were the team ready to play on Monday night and it showed. They dominated in all three phases of the game and the final 27-20 score doesn’t do justice to how much they pressured and stymied the Patriots offense.

Monday night was the Patriots worst game since their early season struggles. They were sluggish from the opening snap and Miami’s offense set the tone early. The Dolphins were running short crossing routes and the Patriots defenders were having trouble with their communication and the crossers and rub routes were very effective. Jay Cutler didn’t resemble anything close to the aging QB who has struggled all season in South Beach and had arguably his best game of the season. Cutler, scraggly neck beard and all, even showed some fire on the field as he beat New England for the first time in his career.

On the opposite side, Tom Brady was flustered and off-balance all night. The Patriots offense had to rely on their running backs as their wide receivers were MIA in Miami all game long and were a complete non-factor. The Patriots also ended their streak of allowing 17 points or less as well as their 14-game road winning streak. Other observations from tonight’s game include:

Play Calling Curious: Josh McDaniels abandoned the running game far too early in this one. Despite being dominated in the first half, the team was down only 13-10 at halftime. The last time the two teams met, New England rushed for nearly 200 yards. To only give your running backs 10 carries? Curious.

Late in the game, needing two scores, Danny Amendola was tackled right near the goal line giving the team first and goal at the one-foot line. Rather than attempting to run it in, they passed, steadily moving backward until they faced a 3rd and goal from the 15-yard line. They kicked a field goal but the onside kick was comically bad and Miami recovered and killed the clock.

But had they scored a touchdown there, a field goal would have been all that was needed to tie the score. Very un-Patriot like.

Offensive Line Issues Abound: With the running game an after-thought, the Patriots offensive line was not up to the task of protecting Brady. Miami was blitzing all night, normally a sign that New England would be eating them up offensively, but not tonight.

Brady was under duress from all points of the compass and pointing the finger at just Cameron Fleming is wrong. They were beat all along the line and the communication there wasn’t the best.

The worst part is, the pressure Miami was bringing was right up the middle, not allowing Brady to step up enough and throw in the pocket.

Dolphins Secondary Dominates: Miami did a great job of taking away the middle of the field. Granted, that is a spot where Gronkowski normally dominates, but other than passes to the running backs, Brady and the wide receivers were never able to get anything going in the middle of the field until very late in the game.

Xavien Howard erased Brandin Cooks tonight, and intercepted Brady twice. Cooks was shut out until the fourth quarter when the Dolphins dropped into a zone and had a bad bust in coverage. But holding Cooks and Hogan to one catch a piece is a big win for their secondary.

Danny Amendola ended up with six catches with all of them coming in the second half. Miami forced Brady into his first two-interception game in the regular season since 2015 against Philadelphia. And the Patriots were an astounding 0-11 on third down.

Brady Battered and Flustered: Tom Brady was hit hard again and this time, the effects were shown. He finished 24-43 for 233 yards with one touchdown and two picks. His QB rating of 59.5 was his lowest since 2013.

Unable to convert a single third down and a combined 2-12 when targeting Cooks and Hogan, Brady was unloading those low percentage deep balls time and again. In the first quarter, the Patriots got two (2) yards of offense. Two, that is not the way you want to start.  In the second half, they got away from targeting the running backs as they were forced to stay in and help with pass protection.

Kenyan Drake Shreds the Defense: The former Alabama third down specialist is now an every-down back and he’s electric. The Dolphins wanted to get him the ball more as he’s got tremendous speed. And his array of moves was on full display tonight. He faked Pat Chung with a spin move leaving Chung holding air that was amazing. And once he hits the hole, if the defense doesn’t lay a hand on him, he has the speed to take it to the house.

Drake finished with 25 carries for 114 yards and five catches for 79 more in the passing game. They split him out wide and isolated him on Elandon Roberts which is a total mismatch. While Roberts has issues in coverage, asking him to cover Drake deep is a win-win for Miami. He burned Roberts for a 47-yard gain deep down the right sideline.

If Drake can hold up physically, he’s going to be an intriguing member of the Fins to watch next year.

Butler Has Rough Game: Malcolm Butler had one of his least memorable games in Miami tonight. He was constantly behind in coverage and was beaten badly by Jakeem Grant a couple of times, one for a 25-yard touchdown and on another on a deep pass by Cutler that was perfectly thrown and the wide-open Grant dropped it.

Butler is going to have to have a very short memory this week as he’ll be facing Antonio Brown this week in Pittsburgh. And judging from the game Brown had on Sunday and Butler had last night, the Steelers will be going to the well early and often against Butler this Sunday afternoon.

Branch Injury Leaves Defense More Depleted: The Patriots defensive line took another shot as Alan Branch injured his knee in the first half, tried to return but left for good leaving an already depleted defense even thinner. Facing the Steelers offensive line and Le’Veon Bell on a short week, if Branch is unable to go, that will be a huge loss.

Right now they have Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, and Adam Butler inside, with Guy playing some on the edge as well with Trey Flowers and Kyle Van Noy out. Vincent Valentine hasn’t even begun practicing yet so expecting help from him this week is not going to happen.

The Patriots simply were outplayed from start to finish in this one. Miami was hungrier, more motivated and came out with a purpose. This is what we expected from New England. So the Dolphins are alive for one more week and the Patriots still hold their destiny in their hands. With a win over the Steelers, they’d still own the #1 seed.  We’ll have more on this game later in the week.

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

Steve Balestrieri
September 16, 2016 at 6:37 am ET

The New England Patriots will play their home opener of the 2016 NFL season at Gillette Stadium against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at 1 p.m.

The game will be televised by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ with Greg Gumble and Trent Green handling the play-by-play and analysis duties. Jamie Erdahl will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The SportsHub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (1-0) defeated the Arizona Cardinals 23-21 on Sunday Night Football as Jimmy Garoppolo was impressive in his first NFL start throwing for 264 yards and a touchdown. LeGarrette Blount ran for 70 yards and a touchdown. Arizona’s Chandler Catanzaro missed a 47-yard field goal with under a minute to go.

The Dolphins (0-1) lost to the Seattle Seahawks 12-6 when Russell Wilson connected with Doug Baldwin for a game-winning touchdown pass with less than a minute to go. Miami had chances to win with a field goal being blocked, a fourth and inches attempt failing from the Seattle 17-yard line and Kenny Stills dropping a sure-fire 71-yard score.

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 102nd time with Miami holding an all-time 53-48 edge. The Patriots hold the all-time edge in home games 33-18 and hold a sizable advantage at Gillette Stadium where they are 12-2. The last three years have seen the series split along home lines with each team holding serve on their home field.

The Patriots crushed Miami 36-7 in Gillette and Miami dominated in a 20-10 win in the final regular season game of 2015.

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

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots WRs Will Have Interesting Matchups With Miami’s Corners

Steve Balestrieri
September 15, 2016 at 8:57 am ET

When the Patriots take on the Miami Dolphins on Sunday afternoon at Foxboro, they’ll be looking for their offense to build off of a good game against Arizona a week ago. This week, they’ll face a similar situation, in that they’ll be looking for a way to target an uncertain cornerback situation with Miami.

The Dolphins brought Byron Maxwell down to South Beach after a disastrous season in Philly. Misused in a system that didn’t play to his talents, the coaches are looking for him to provide a physical, top cornerback role this season after they jettisoned Brent Grimes this spring.

Xavien Howard is the Dolphins rookie starting corner and was the team’s 2nd round pick with the 38th overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft. He has good size at 6’0, 201-pounds and is physical with very good ball skills. In his first NFL start against Seattle, the Seahawks didn’t try to pick on the rookie as was generally thought and he tied for the team lead in tackles with six.

Bobby McCain was a 2015 draft selection for Miami and he started four games for the Dolphins a year ago. He’ll play in the slot. He’s an undersized (5’9),  feisty corner with good ball skills. The interesting thing was a week ago, with the game on the line, the Seahawks, targeted him rather than the rookie, Howard.

Reshad Jones is one of the better safeties in the league, and depending on Gronk’s availability, will determine how he’s used.

Patriots Weapons Match Up: The Patriots have plenty of weapons in the passing game, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola look healthy and were productive a week ago. Newcomers Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell both had their moments and should see their roles increase as the season wears on. Tight end Martellus Bennett, was used primarily as a blocker a week ago but can be moved around the formation depending on the matchups and RB James White is very effective coming out of the backfield.

The big question will be if Rob Gronkowski is able to play this week. If he can go, the mismatches he creates with the safeties and linebackers has a domino effect down the corners. Gronkowski, like Bennett, can line up inside, in the slot or split wide outside.

The matchups favor the Patriots offense here, but the Miami defensive line will definitely have an effect on whether Jimmy Garoppolo has the time to throw.

Miami DL the “X” Factor: The Miami DL sacked Russell Wilson three times and got a lot of pressure on the mobile QB so the Patriots know that they’ll have to bring their A-game on the offensive line. Mario Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Earl Mitchell, and Cameron Wake were all disruptive.

The plan was to use Wake this season as a situational pass rusher as the edge rusher was coming off of an Achilles injury, but with Mario Williams suffering a concussion last week and unlikely to play, he’ll be pressed into starting on Sunday.

Miami held the powerful Seahawks offense to just 12 points on Sunday, but at the end of each half gave up long scoring drives. The first half drive resulted in a field goal, the one at the end of the game was a game-winning touchdown drive with Wilson finding Doug Baldwin in the end zone.

It was interesting to note, that Wilson got effective thru the air on that final drive and it just so happened that both Williams and Wake were on the bench at the time.

How Will They Choose to Match? The decision on how the Patriots choose to mix and match their receivers will be an interesting choice to watch on Sunday. Will they opt to go smaller on the outside with the quicker Edelman and Amendola to counter the bigger corners of Miami, with the bigger Hogan in the slot? By giving up the size advantage, they gain the quickness outside and may opt to give the bigger Hogan an advantage of working on the smaller McCain inside.

Or Josh McDaniels can opt to use the bigger Hogan and rookie Malcolm Mitchell outside and slide Edelman into the slot where he’ll be a handful for McCain and gain the Patriots the edge that they like for those short, moving the chains passes and mix Amendola in liberally both inside and out.

I think we’ll see a mixture of both, they’ll be trying to find a weakness to exploit and will try out a variety of different looks to see what works. I think we’ll see Bennett, at least initially being utilized as mainly a blocker again.

Edelman is the key for both teams here, in the past four games against the Dolphins, Edelman has 33 catches for 403 yards and 4 touchdowns. That’s an average of 8 catches, 100+ yards and a touchdown per game. If Miami wants to turn the tables and upset the Patriots on Sunday, they’ll have to stop or slow him down.

The versatility of the Patriots offense will come into play here as they can use any of their WRs in a mix and match role so the Dolphins will have their hands full in the secondary.

Like so many other games with Tom Brady at QB, this one too will ultimately come down to time. The Dolphins will try to force Jimmy G. into holding the ball so that their pass rush will wreak havoc on the young QB. If Garoppolo finds the time to throw, then the vast array of weapons he has (especially if Gronkowski plays), will prove to be a mismatch for New England.

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