When the Patriots Pass the Ball:
Oct 25, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) celebrates a touchdown Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
While the Patriots emerged from a heavyweight battle with the vastly improved New York Jets, they are still at their most vulnerable on the offensive line due to injury. The offensive line is down to their third left tackle and a practice squad tackle manning the right side. A rookie starting guard was injured and still not likely to play Thursday while a veteran guard is not up to game strength.
The Patriots will have right tackle Sebastian Vollmer flipping to the left side to block Olivier Vernon while second year tackle Cameron Fleming will have the tough task of facing Cameron Wake. New England went from three solid tackles when Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon were healthy with Fleming on the practice squad to two healthy tackles.
This may be a week where the Patriots consider leaving Vollmer at his customary right tackle to deal with Wake, who leads the Dolphins with six sacks and four forced fumbles. However, Fleming was a right tackle in college and has little experience on the left side. If Cannon was able to play he could play on the left side, but he will likely not be ready to play by Thursday.
Miami does have one under-the-radar advantage going into the game and that is having prepared for and played Houston last week. Head coach Bill O’Brien was formerly the offensive coordinator in New England and his offensive philosophy is basically “Patriots Lite”. In addition, preparing for Romeo Crennel’s defense is a good warm-up for facing his mentor Bill Belichick.
However, quarterback Tom Brady has been playing at another level and is not going to be confused for Brian Hoyer anytime soon. The New England offense is first in points, second in yards, has the fewest turnovers and interceptions, are first in first downs, passing touchdowns, scoring percentage, and starting field position.
Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Miami will have to find a way to slow Rob Gronkowski initially on defense. Gronkowski has been hard to slow down and last week the Patriots made a point to get him involved early and often against New York. Linebackers Koa Misi, Kelvin Sheppard, and Jelani Jenkins are solid players, but none of them can matchup with Gronkowski. Safeties Reshad Jones and Walt Aikens are going to have to account for the gigantic tight end throughout the game.
With New England having made the running game an afterthought this season, the Dolphins will have top cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Jamar Taylor joined by third cornerback Brice McCain who should be able to play after missing time with a knee injury. Grimes was limited in practice with knee and ribs injuries but will likely play.
The Dolphins will need all hands on deck Thursday night as Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and Brandon LaFell give the Patriots a trio of receivers capable of extending drives and making big plays. Add in the potential return of Dion Lewis (or Damion Lewis as the Miami Sun Sentinel referred to him here. Apparently no one knows his name outside of New England) and the Patriots could give the new and improved Dolphins defense a run for their money.
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