New England Patriots Week 1 Key Questions


Dec 15, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) is sacked by New England Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich (50) and Sealver Siliga (71) in the second half of the game at Sun Life Stadium. Miami defeated New England 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

You’ve matched all your socks, stained your deck, waxed the car a few hundred times, built your kids a dangerous tree house, and finished all those other “it’s not football season” tasks your wife meticulously planned out for you. But have no fear – the summer of domestication is nearly over – New England Patriots football returns on Sunday and with it your excuse for ignoring the rest of the world.

The Patriots start off the season with a big divisional matchup against the Miami Dolphins, a team that many analysts see improving in 2014. While the Dolphins only managed eight wins last year, if there’s any team in the AFC East that can challenge the Patriots for the division it’s definitely Miami. The Dolphins have a lot of talent on both sides of the football and are a well coached team, so expect them to be the Patriots main competition in the east this year. So as we continue to get ready for week one, let’s take a look at the key questions for the Patriots season opener against Miami.

1. Will the Patriots defense make the leap some expect it to?

The Patriots made some big additions on defense this offseason, bringing in both Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner at corner. While Revis will make his Patriots debut on Sunday, Browner will begin to serve a four game suspension for violating the league’s performance enhancing drug policy. While having Revis should help the Patriots lock down one side of the field, it’s really the players the Patriots are getting back from injury that will help this unit improve. Both defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo – mainstays on the Patriots defense for years – will make their returns from season ending injuries last year. Both Wilfork and Mayo each play among the best at their positions, so the defense should benefit greatly from having them back on the field.

Regardless of the improvements on defense, the question mark for this unit is likely to be the same as it was a year ago: the front seven. The Patriots struggled to stop the run at times last year and getting Wilfork and Mayo back should help shore up that deficiency, but whether this unit can consistently pressure the quarterback may determine just how far this team will go. The Dolphins completely re-tooled their offensive line this offseason with only one starter returning, so this is an important area to watch for both teams.

There’s been a lot of hype about this Patriots defense and the Dolphins pose a great early test for defensive coordinator Matt Patricia’s unit. Miami’s got a lot of weapons on offense, including versatile tight end Charles Clay who is capable of lining up at essentially any offensive skill position. Clay is likely to garner a lot of attention from the Patriots defense on Sunday, but he’s certainly not the only weapon Bill Belichick will have to scheme for. The Dolphins have an excellent slot receiver in Brian Hartline and a legitimate outside threat in Mike Wallace. They also have some talented running backs, including newcomer Knowshown Moreno who will be looking to build off a strong preseason. If the Dolphins offense is clicking on Sunday, the Patriots defense will definitely have its hands full.

2. Will Ryan Tannehill take his game to the next level?

If you’re a Dolphins fan, the success of your team rests on the shoulders of third year starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill showed a lot of improvement in 2013 and has a chance to make a big leap this season. Two things to watch on Sunday are Tannehill’s offensive line – which is basically a brand new unit – and his release time. The Dolphins quarterback has struggled at times to make his reads and get the ball out quickly and he’s paid the price for it. Last season, Tannehill was sacked 58 times, more than any other quarterback in the league. For comparison’s sake, Peyton Manning was sacked only 18 times last year. You think protection helps? I’m sure Tannehill does and he’ll be looking for his line to improve its play this season, but will also be looking to help himself more by releasing the ball more quickly. If both of those things happen consistently this year, the Dolphins will likely be challenging the Patriots for the AFC East crown well into the second half of the season.

3. Can the Dolphins exploit the Patriots offensive line?

Miami’s not the only team with some new pieces on its offensive line. The play of the Patriots offensive line is a real area of interest on Sunday after the unexpected trade of guard and team captain Logan Mankins. It’s still unclear who will be stepping in for Mankins and, in a shocking turn of events, Bill Belichick hasn’t tipped his hand about his starting linemen yet. Regardless of who steps in on Sunday, it will be interesting to see if Mankins’ absence has any noticeable effect,whether it be in pass protection or in the running game which was his real bread and butter.

Mankins isn’t the only one who will be missing from the Patriots offensive line on Sunday. This will be the first game in fifteen years in which Dante Scarnecchia won’t be coaching the Patriots offensive line and, notably, the first time in Tom Brady’s career. That’s some serious coaching continuity and let’s hope it doesn’t affect the Patriots’ ability to keep their quarterback clean in the pocket.

4. Will Tom Brady and his receivers be on the same page?

The early season story for the Patriots last year was whether or not Tom Brady and his new, young receivers would be on the same page out of the gate. The answer to that question was a resounding no and it was apparent given Brady’s noticeable frustration on the field. It turned out to be a tough season for Brady and his pass catchers as they never seemed to fully gain the quarterback’s trust. But with another year under their belt and a few new weapons, many analysts believe the Patriots receiving corp could come to be a strength for this team. Of course, it remains to be seen how healthy tight end Rob Gronkowski is and whether or not newly acquired tight end Tim Wright has had enough time to study the playbook to be effective at this point.

Given those concerns, it’s very likely that the Patriots will be focused more consistently on targeting their receivers, including Brady’s favorite target, Julian Edelman, and the Patriots other returning veteran receiver, Danny Amendola. But most people will be watching whether or not Brady’s developed good chemistry with newcomer Brandon LaFell and second year receiver Aaron Dobson, who missed most of the preseason. One thing is certain: the Patriots must have more diversity in the passing game this year if they want to make a serious playoff run, because the 2013 production just won’t cut it.


Expect a close game with both teams kicking the rust off after a long offseason. The Dolphins will be much better offensively this year so the Patriots defense will have to be sharp if they want to exact revenge for last year’s late season loss. It’s not impossible to think that if the Pats had won that game they would have been playing in the AFC Championship Game in Foxboro and not a mile high. This game will come down to the ability of the Patriots’ defensive line to generate pressure off the edge with Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich and inside with Vince Wilfork and rookie tackle Dominique Easley. Look for a big game from this unit and a Patriots victory.

Patriots 27 – Dolphins 20