With the end of the season fast approaching, the Patriots are officially in the home stretch and are seemingly playing their best football at the best time (sounds familiar, right?). After the Patriots beat the Vikings 24-10 last week New England now sits at 9-3 and on the verge of yet another AFC East title. The only thing standing in their way is something that has been a thorn in their side for years: a trip to Miami. Over the last five trips to Miami, the Patriots have managed only one win.
This week though one has to hope this trip is different, that is if the Patriots want to keep their shot at home-field advantage alive. The Patriots currently sit one game back of Kansas City, and would need to win out, while having the Chiefs lose one game to capture the top seed. Another possibility is getting the two seed, but with Houston having won nine in a row, tied with the Patriots at 9-3, and facing one of the easiest schedules in the league down the stretch, it is imperative the Patriots play their best every week. This trip to Miami is critical and with a trip to Pittsburgh up next week, the Pats must do what their best at and stay focused on this week.
Here is what to watch for as the Patriots take on the Jets:
1. Big Sony Michel/Rex Burkhead game
Back in week four when these two teams first met, the Patriots ran all over the Dolphins with Sony Michel running for 112 yards and the team rushing for 175 yards, which was three more yards than the Dolphins had total offense in the game. Weeks later, the Dolphins are now proud owners of the 30thranked rushing defense, and surrender and abysmal 144.7 rushing yards per game. This has all the makings of a Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead game between the tackles once again, especially with the Patriots fully healthy along the offensive line.
The expectation is that Michel would be the workhorse with some Burkhead mixed in to help keep Michel fresh, but as with every week no one really knows what the Patriots are thinking game plan wise.
One note about the games in Miami that can sometimes be tough is the humidity and heat in Miami can sometimes lead to cramps for players and it is something to keep an eye on with the offensive line and skill players especially.
2. Build off the run, big play action day
As I said above this is a huge opportunity for the run game to impose their will on the Dolphins as they did in the previous game. If the Patriots are able to run the ball like everyone thinks they will, that should be a huge opportunity for the Patriots passing game to take advantage with the play-action. Now play-action doesn’t always need a good run game to work, but it certainly helps when the run game is successful. Another huge opportunity is that the Dolphins best corner on the 21st ranked passing defense, Xavien Howard, will not play in the game giving Josh Gordon a huge chance to break loose for a deep ball or two.
This game could also be a huge opportunity to get Gronkinvolved down the seam on a play action pass and to build his confidence, something that probably isn’t at an all-time high considering the rough year he has been having.
Despite the play action being a solid choice and the run game looking like the likeliest option of how McDaniels and Brady will attack the Dolphins defense, the Patriots are in a position where they can attack with really anything they choose.
3. Big chance for the pass defense and pass rush
While the Patriots have the ability to attack both through the air and on the ground, the Dolphins do not share that same ability. The Dolphins rank just 28th in the NFL in passing yards per game and 24th in rushing offense, which means unless the Dolphins front seven plays the run well and pressure Tom Brady, that this could be a tough game for them.
Unfortunately the Patriots’ defense is playing their best defensive football of the year giving up a total of 23 points in the last two weeks and have four players among the top 25 in pressure percentage according to Pro-Football Focus. This is a great chance for the defense to continue their momentum, stack the box, and really pin their ears back and go get to Ryan Tannehill. One note is that the Patriots typically like to have a controlled rush even more than usual to keep Tannehill in the pocket considering how inaccurate he is with his throws. If the Patriots can follow their past game plans and execute this should be a great game for their defense, and a statement game considering their past troubles in Miami.
-David Albiani is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @david_albiani