By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
It’s arguably a must-win situation for the New England Patriots. Facing a potential 1-3 start, the Patriots’ “backs against the wall” moment came a little early this season.
And considering that about two of the Patriots’ 46 active players played well against the Detroit Lions last Sunday night, pretty much everyone in a Patriots uniform is going to have close eyes on them against Miami.
After taking a long look at the opponent and what the Patriots need to do better to come out with a win in Foxborough, here are seven things to watch for when they take the field.
1. Is Josh Gordon A Factor?
Obviously, Gordon could end up a total non-factor by being inactive. He’s been limited by a hamstring injury and will test it pre-game. If he’s active, expect the Patriots to get him into one-on-one matchups and see if he can get open. Tom Brady will almost certainly feed him the ball if he’s going to the right spot. This offense can use a spark from anyone. Speaking of the quarterback…
2. How Does Tom Brady Look?
The Patriots have problems on offense across the board right now. Inconsistent blocking, injuries and lack of production on the ground, and the receivers can’t get open. But Brady hasn’t been at his best in his own right, either. Uncertainty with his weapons and general sloppiness by the offense have affected Brady’s timing and decision-making. He’s missed his share of opportunities with open receivers. Brady is simply going to need to be better when the chances to make plays are there, and he’ll have to be sharp against a sneaky-good Dolphins defense.
3. Do Adam Gase and Ryan Tannehill have what it takes to go 60 minutes?
The Patriots’ two most recent losses have a lot of unfortunate characteristics. One of them is that the opposing coach and quarterback out-performed Brady and Bill Belichick in both games. Gase has shown off a creative, explosive offense to start the season and Tannehill has been efficient (73.0 completion percentage) and productive (121.8 passer rating, fifth in the NFL). If they can execute their offense for 60 full minutes, staying on the attack and exploiting the weaknesses of the Patriots defense, it’ll be yet another tough game for the Patriots to win. But this duo’s next win in Foxboro will be their first; Tannehill is is 0-5 at Gillette Stadium in his career, Gase 0-2 as a head coach. So they certainly have something to prove in that regard.
4. Do Trey Flowers and/or Patrick Chung make an impact?
We’ll likely find out how much of a difference Flowers and Chung truly make if and when they return to the field. Both are trending toward playing against the Dolphins, which should be a significant boost for the pass rush and the re-insertion of a versatile cornerstone player in the secondary. Considering the Patriots’ linebacker situation, Chung will be especially important against the run and in coverage against tight ends.
5. Will the Patriots keep the Dolphins’ edge rushers in check?
The Dolphins have a very talented young secondary that could give New England’s receivers another week of trouble getting open. But the real defensive threat from Miami is still 36-year-old Cameron Wake, who remains as good as ever as an edge rusher. It’s going to be up to Marcus Cannon and LaAdrian Waddle to keep Wake at bay. That’s been hard to accomplish for a lot of Patriots offensive linemen for a long time. It doesn’t get much easier on the left edge for Trent Brown, who is going to have to deal with veteran Robert Quinn.
6. Can the Patriots get the run game going?
With Rex Burkhead on injured reserve and looking unlikely to return at any point this season, the Patriots are going to need to jump-start Sony Michel’s game now more than ever. The rookie has been underwhelming in his first two games, despite getting the ball at a very high rate when he’s on the field (26 touches, three targets in 36 snaps). It’s unfair to heap too much on a rookie who didn’t play in the preseason; the Patriots also need to have better run blocking up front. Everyone still needs to get on the same page and get rolling in this aspect.
7. Can the Patriots show some energy, toughness, and urgency?
That’s what they preached all week before falling shockingly flat in Detroit. So now they really need to back up what they’re saying about playing with more energy and toughness. Matthew Slater told Bob Socci that Belichick always believes the Patriots can show toughness by how they run the ball, defend the run, and cover kickoffs. All three of those things have been below-average so far, and it would be a good sign for the Pats in the big picture if all three of those things can be turned around against Miami.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.