Once again there is drama in New England and as usual, there are people saying that this
is the end of the Patriots as we know them. After being beaten soundly the last two weeks by the Jaguars and Lions, the Patriots desperately need to beat the Dolphins who have
unexpectedly started 3-0. Should the Dolphins win again, the Patriots would be three games back and would be a real danger at that point.
Unfortunately sometimes when it rains, it pours as the Patriots not only lost to the
Lions, but also lost some key members of their team in Rex Burkhead and their only really
athleticism at linebacker in rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley. Despite back-to-back losses, a struggling offense, and some injuries, there is a good chance the Patriots can turn a corner this week if they clean up their execution.
Here are some things to watch for against Miami:
1.) Will we see any drastic lineup changes or benchings?
One thing that has to be considered any time a team underachieves or struggles is
making changes to try getting a spark or improving performances in certain areas.
Unfortunately, as of now, the Patriots have a lot of areas they need improvement from including but not limited to pass rush, linebackers ability to detach from blocks and attack gaps on rush attempts, wide receivers ability to separate, accuracy and decision-making on throws, and run blocking. That is a long list and one that cannot be changed with one move and just needs overall improvement in execution from everyone.
That being said there could be some moves and changes in playing time that could help
things. Josh Gordon will be active most likely this week and could help the passing game. Dont’a Hightower could be moved to the edge. Nicholas Grigsby or Brandon King could be sprinkled in to improve athleticism at linebacker. We also could see changes as far as playing time at cornerback. There are some options, but unfortunately not a lot of them. We will see how John Simon’s signing alters the depth chart and if he can give a spark to the pass rush, but overall I think there will only be minor changes.
2.) Patriots Passing Game
With Josh Gordon likely into the lineup for the first time, everything is lined up for the
Patriots passing game to break through in a big way on Sunday. Along with the Patriots having Josh Gordon to play on the outside, they are also playing at home against the Dolphins who currently rank 29th in the league in passing yards allowed giving up 288.3 yards per game, a number that Tom Brady hasn’t reach yet this year (his season-high is 277 yards week one vs Houston).
One other passing game specific thing to look for is James White’s role in the offense,
especially after Tom Brady mentioned how he has to be more involved in the offense going
forward. White has shown to be one of the only players who can create separation, yards after the catch and has proven to be dependable. Look for McDaniels to get him involved in some screens and in open space to use his elite feet and quickness.
3.) Who plays linebacker?
After showing out in the preseason, Ja’Whaun Bentley’s rookie season has hit a bump in
the road. There is a chance he comes back in eight games (games not weeks) if the Patriots designate him as a player to return, but at the very least it will be a while before he can come back and help the team if at all. The question now becomes who plays linebacker for a team that lost the only player that had speed, youth, and athleticism and is desperate for it.
Unfortunately, there are limited options on this roster to help the problem. Nicholas
Grigsby is the best athlete they have at linebacker, but he is mostly a special teamer. Brandon King is listed at linebacker and in the past has had very, very limited snaps at the money role (6th DB on defense in an LB type position) in the defense, but is similar to Slater in that he is very rarely used in a non-special teams role. Two other out of the box options are trying out Derek Rivers or Geneo Grissom at linebacker, both of whom are very good athletes but are not necessarily fit for the role. Grissom seems like the likelier option of the two, but again it isn’t likely.
No matter what the solutions are, it seems likely changes are coming at this position
unless Hightower regains his previous form and lateral movement.
4.) Not a week to run the ball
The Patriots have really struggled to run the ball effectively with the offensive line
playing a huge part in that. Unfortunately, this is not a week to try and get it back on track as the Dolphins rank seventh in the NFL in rush defense allowing just 89 rush yards per game. The Patriots obviously will run the ball some to keep the defense honest, but without a big power back in their stable, I am not sure this will be the week they get back on track.
-David Albiani is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @david_albiani