Here we are again. Another sloppy start for New England and the sky is falling down. The wide receivers can’t get open, the defense is struggling to make tackles and Tom Brady is is starting to play like a 41 year-old. Even though there are multiple problems with this Patriots team right now, it is only September. The Patriots are a completely different team in the beginning of the season, as the 2014 and 2017 seasons are a perfect example of that.
Sitting at 1-2, this sunday at home against the Dolphins is a must win game. Since the 12-team playoff format was introduced in 1990, 23 teams have made the playoffs after starting the regular season 1-3. Coincidentally, the Patriots started 1-3 enroute to their Super Bowl 36 victory over the Rams.
The Patriots own a 72.2% chance to win according to ESPN’s matchup predictor, nonetheless the Dolphins are riding at an all time high as they are 3-0 and in first place in AFC East. Let’s take a look and see what the this Dolphins team has to offer on both sides of the ball:
Coming off another ACL tear that caused him to miss all of the 2017 season, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill hasn’t showed any signs of rust throughout the first 3 weeks of the season. In his 7th year in the NFL, this is the best start to a season he has ever had. Tannehill has thrown for 687 yards and 7 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, and has also tallied 74 yards rushing. The combination of Tannehill’s above average decision making and his sneaky speed can create agony for an opposing defense. In his last 11 games as a starter, Tannehill is 10-1 so his hot start is no ordinary fluke.
Headlining the back field for the Miami Dolphins is the up-and-coming running back Kenyan Drake and ageless wonder Frank Gore. Kenyan Drake is Miami’s featured back but has had a slow start to the 2018 season. So far, Drake has racked up 104 yards with one touchdown on 30 carries as well as 42 yards receiving with 9 receptions. In the week 11 matchup last season, Drake showed his ability to carve up a defense when he had 193 yards of total offense in Miami’s dominate win against New England.
The Dolphins added veteran Frank Gore this past offseason by signing him to a one year, $1,105,000 contract. The future hall of famer adds great depth and a veteran presence to Miami’s locker room. Gore has 98 yards on 24 carries so far this season but is still an extremely effective back given his age. Last season the 35-year-old rushed for 961 yards and 3 touchdowns with the Colts, so it is no secret that the ageless wonder still has game.
Lead by the 4-time pro bowler Josh Sitton, the Dolphins offensive line is a young, but promising group. The Dolphins were able to add Sitton this past offseason after the team striked a 2 year, $13.5 million contract with him. However, Sitton tore his rotator cuff in week 1 which landed him on injured reserve. Fellow veteran Ted Larson will fill in for Sitton’s absence. Larson has 73 starts in 111 games played including eight last year in Miami, so experience won’t be the issue for Larson.
Another familiar face on the offensive line for the Dolphins is Tackle Laremy Tunsil. Tunsil is known by many for the wrong reasons as on the day of the 2016 NFL Draft his Instagram account got hacked. Their were videos posted of him doing drugs which allowed the top offensive lineman in the draft to fall to pick #13, where the Dolphins chose him. In his 3rd season as a pro, Tunsil looks to take the next step forward in becoming a star offensive lineman.
The tight end position is the weakest spot on Miami’s offense. Former Patriot A.J. Derby has emerged as the number one tight end on the depth chart, but he barely saw any playing time during his tenure in New England. To make matters worse, Derby has been ruled out for Sunday’s game which thrusts rookie Mike Gesicki into the starting role. The Penn State product had 57 receptions for 563 yards and 9 touchdowns in his senior year, as was 5th out of all the tight ends in the Big Ten in receptions. It will be intriguing to see how productive the first year tight end can be in his first full game starting.
At wide receiver, the Dolphins took a big hit when they lost Pro Bowler Jarvis Landry to the Browns this past offseason. Landry was the go-to guy in Miami, as he averaged 100 receptions per year during his 4 years in Miami. Attempting to fill his shoes is wideout Devante Parker. The speedster only has 2 receptions for 40 yards this season but he has been sidelined with a broken finger for majority of september. Parker finished 2017 with 57 receptions for 670 yards and one touchdown, which are great numbers for a number two receiver. However, Parker is going to have to make a big leap if he wants to secure is role as the Dolphins best receiver.
Opposite of Parker on the field is wide receiver Kenny Stills. Stills has been a great number 2 receiver throughout his 5 year career. Like Parker, Stills has significant play making ability as his speed allows him to burn through opposing defenses. Stills had 58 receptions for 847 yards and 6 touchdowns. Both Parker and Stills compliment each other substantially, but both guys need to make the jump and increase their production to become a number one wide receiver.
The Dolphins added former Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola this offseason after a memorable 5 year career in New England. Amendola, who signed a 2-year, $12 million contract with Miami is prominent for his heroic plays in the playoffs. Amendola’s worth to a team is well known, as he brings leadership and a winning background to a young and talented Miami locker room.
Miami’s secondary is led by Safety Reshad Jones. The two-time pro bowler can fly all over the field and make plays that change the outcome of games. Last year, Jones had 94 tackles and assisted on another 28. He also had 2 interceptions last year. Jones has been questionable for Sunday with a shoulder injury but reports indicate he will be active. However if the shoulder creeps up on him and sidelines him for Sunday’s game, Miami’s defense will be missing a huge factor on defense.
Rookie Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick has impressed throughout his first 3 games of his NFL career. The 11th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft has a 7 tackles so far this season and has assisted on 12 tackles. The young playmaker is improving game by game, so he is a name to watch for once Sunday rolls around.
At corner, the Dolphins have Bobby McCain and Xavien Howard. McCain is entering his fourth year as a member of the Dolphins and is off to solid start in 2018. He already has 4 pass breakups, which to put into context his career high is 7 for the year. McCain is a scrappy corner who tends to get in the face of opposing wideouts. Howard is slowly transforming into a star. He is putting up stellar numbers so far this season, as he already has 4 pass deflections and 3 interceptions. Howard has the hot hand right now on the Dolphins defense, so it may be a wise move for Brady to avoid throwing his way for majority of Sunday’s game.
The defensive line for the Dolphins is a scary group, as they are lead by stars Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn. Wake is entering his 10th season as Dolphin and has produced in every year he has played. The defensive end had over 10 sacks in each of the last two years and played in every game in that time span. Wake has 93 career sacks, which ranks 3rd in the NFL out of all active players. The 5-time pro bowler and 2012 first team all-pro is still playing in the prime years of his career and can single handedly wreck a game for an opposing defense.
The Dolphins were able to acquire defensive end Robert Quinn this past offseason to via trade. The Rams got Miami’s 2018 fourth-round pick and sixth-round pick, and they sent their sixth-rounder to the Dolphins with Quinn. Over the years, Quinn has solidified himself as one of the best pass rushers in the league. However after multiple injuries, inconsistent play, and being on a contract worth $66.5 million the Rams decided it was time to move on from Quinn. If Quinn can match the production he had in his early years with the Rams, than the Dolphins should have one of the top groups of pass rushers in the NFL.
The Dolphins deploy Akeem Spence and Jordan Phillips at defensive tackle. Spence and Phillips are big body players that can make running through the trenches a challenge all game long.
The starting line backing core for Miami includes Kiko Alonso, Raekwon McMillan, and Jerome Baker. Alonso is entering his 6th year in the league and 3rd with the Dolphins. In his first two years in Miami, Alonso totaled a combined 115 tackles in each season. Alonso’s experience and high caliber play makes him the leader of the linebackers.
Raekwon McMillan is entering his second year on the Dolphins. However the 2017 second round pick suffered a season-ending knee injury last preseason, so it is still to early to declare how great of a player McMillan is.
Jerome Baker enters his first year in Miami after being selected in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Like McMillan, Baker is a young player who has yet to display what he can bring to the young linebacking core that the Dolphins obtain.
This week 4 matchup is a key week for the Patriots. After two pitiful weeks in a row, New England looks to rebound and return to their usual play against an undefeated Dolphins team. Hopefully we get to see the first glimpse of the Josh Gordon era in Foxborough on Sunday, but only time will tell as he remains questionable with a hamstring injury.
-Adam Pasquale, Jr. is a Staff Writer for Full press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @adampasqualejr