Today the New England Patriots will kick off their 2014 season down in Miami, so I wanted to get a few final thoughts out there before the fun begins.
1. Watch for commitment to the run
The strength of this Dolphins defense is definitely their front four, and with the Patriots offensive line in limbo, they will look to disrupt the Pats offense by getting after Tom Brady. If the Pats want to protect Brady, and have an effective passing offense, they must run the football. Even if they aren’t efficient in doing so, they need to at least have the threat there. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen better come ready to play.
2. Rotation at cornerback?
With cornerback Brandon Browner out for the first four games of the season, we may be seeing a rotation at the second cornerback position opposite of Darrelle Revis. We know Logan Ryan and Kyle Arrington will get the most playing time in the slot, but Alfonzo Dennard and Malcolm Butler could possibly share time on the outside. I personally think Dennard is easily the better option, but you never know with Bill Belichick.
3. Duron Harmon vs. Patrick Chung
Like the second corner spot, the strong safety position is not sealed up heading into week one. However we do know that Duron Harmon and Patrick Chung will most likely be getting the most playing time next to Devin McCourty, so it will be very interesting to see who emerges as the leader to start throughout the remainder of the season.
4. Tight end playing time
Tight end Rob Gronkowski will be playing today, but we don’t know how much. Based on how the Pats handled Gronk’s return last year, I would say he will be on the field for about 40% of the offensive snaps. New England will want to make sure he is out there in the red zone, and on longer third downs, where his receiving prowess is needed. Also be on the lookout for new tight end Tim Wright, and how many snaps he will receive.
5. Dominique Easley’s debut
The rookie will be making his NFL debut today, and aside from Gronkowski, Easley is the guy I am most excited to see today. If he is indeed healthy, his explosive interior pass rush will vastly improve the Patriots defense, in a way that will help both the pass defense, and run defense. I don’t think he will get to play 100% of the snaps, so look for Belichick to utilize him in passing situations.
6. Who gets most snaps at WR next to Amendola, Edelman?
After Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, the Patriots have a bit of a dilemma at the wide receiver spot. Aaron Dobson is definitely the guy that will take over the third spot for the majority of the season, but he isn’t completely healthy yet. The Pats need Dobson healthy come postseason time, so like Gronk, they won’t be rushing him back anytime soon. I think Brandon LaFell will get more snaps than Dobson today, but again, only because Dobson isn’t quite 100% healthy. Look for LaFell to make an early impact in today’s game.