Oct 13, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola (80) runs after a reception against the New Orleans Saints during the third quarter at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Saints 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots: Week 8 Key Questions

The New England Patriots will try to avoid consecutive losses on Sunday when they take on the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots enter this game  game with a lot of question marks following a disappointing outing against the New York Jets. The Dolphins have even more to worry about it. After starting out 3-0, Miami has dropped three consecutive games and are coming off a tough loss to the Buffalo Bills. Both teams will be looking to rebound in an important divisional game on Sunday in Foxboro. Let’s take a look at some of the key questions for the Patriots and the Dolphins as they get set to face off on Sunday.

1. Can Miami’s rushing attack improve

Get used to teams trying to test New England’s rush defense. With Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo sidelined with season ending injuries, the New York Jets ran the ball 52 times against the Patriots and at times showed an ability to pick up critical yardage on the ground at key times. Thankfully for New England, Miami has struggled to produce with its running game thus far in 2013. Miami ranks 25th in the league averaging only 78 yards per game on the ground. Miami’s offense has been extremely imbalanced, though, as they’ve only attempted 120 carries this season, 31st in the league, compared to 219 passing attempts. Regardless, Miami is well aware of the injuries the Patriots are dealing with on defense. With Wilfork and Mayo out for the year and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly still trying to get healthy, the Patriots don’t pack the punch they did just a few weeks ago against the run. Look for Miami to establish more balance on offense by trying to get Lamar Miller more consistent carries. Miller has actually averaged 4.3 yards per carry (more than Marshawn Lynch or Jamaal Charles) so the potential is there. Miami’s ability to run the ball effectively against the New England defense could go a long way to determining the outcome of this one.

2. Can Ryan Tannehill avoid the big mistake?

The Dolphins young quarterback is your classic double-edged sword. At times, Tannehill is razor sharp, but its his inconsistency that has plagued him and the Dolphins in 2013. While Tannehill leads an offense that is converting 72 percent of its opportunities in the red zone into touchdowns, he has a penchant for turning the ball over at critical times. If Tannehill can avoid the big mistake, the Dolphins will have a good chance at upsetting the Patriots at home, but that’s easier said than done. The Patriots secondary is much improved and if Aqib Talib plays on Sunday he will certainly be a challenge for the Dolphins young quarterback. The Patriots will do their best to take Brian Hartline out of the game and make Tannehill beat them deep with Mike Wallace. If Tannehill and Wallace are on the same page on Sunday it could be a long day for the Patriots secondary.

3. Will Aqib Talib and Danny Amendola play?

The Patriots are hoping to get some key players back on Sunday, both on the offensive and defensive sides of the football. Both Danny Amendola and Aqib Talib have practiced all week and are listed as questionable. If healthy, both players could have a big impact on this game. Amendola hasn’t been healthy on a consistent enough basis to establish the rapport offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels hopes he can with Tom Brady. The Patriots need Amendola to play consistently if he’s going to be a key weapon in their offense and thus far that has not been able to stay on the field. When cornerback Aqib Talib is on the field he is the Patriots best defender. His ability to shut down whoever he’s covering frees up the rest of the defense to focus on their assignments. The entire defense plays better when Talib is healthy. If Talib is able to play on Sunday, he is most likely to focus on Ryan Tannehill’s favorite target, Brian Hartline, as opposed to the dynamic Mike Wallace. Talib, however,  has the ability to make life difficult for either player on Sunday.

4. Will the Patriots stay committed to the run? 

The Patriots were not able to maintain offensive balance against the Jets. New England attempted only 20 rushes against the Jets compared to 46 passes. Miami’s run defense has been pretty good this season, but that should not deter the Patriots from relying more on the running game. Stevan Ridley is a talented back who deserves to receive the lion’s share of the carries for this team. With the passing attack struggling, the Patriots must stay committed to the run on Sunday to take some pressure off Tom Brady and his receivers.

5. Can Brady’s chemistry improve?

Tom Brady has struggled all season to establish chemistry with his receivers. He has not found a way thus far in 2013 to click with his pass catchers and it is showing both in the overall performance of the offense and in his stat line. Sunday might be the first time all season that Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola play at the same time. Having two reliable veteran receivers on the field might be just the medicine Brady needs to break out of his funk. If healthy, they could help Brady and the Patriots offense where they’ve struggled most this season: the red zone. If Amendola and Gronkowski can find a way to be effective in the red zone and Tom Brady can establish a rhythm with his two veteran receivers, the Patriots would be well on their way to breaking out of the offensive funk that’s plagued them all season.

Prediction:

The Patriots will improve on offense as Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski will have worked out some of the kinks apparent last Sunday against the Jets. Stevan Ridley will grind out some tough yardage and excel in the red zone and the Patriots will frustrate Ryan Tannehill enough to come out on top.

Patriots 31 – Dolphins 17 

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Tags: Aqib Talib Danny Amendola New England Patriots Tom Brady

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