After an impressive win despite the odds against the Cardinals on Sunday Night Football last weekend, the Patriots return home for their first divisional match-up against the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins did not come out as the winners in their week one match-up against the Seahawks, but were a challenge for the usually dominant Seattle team. With divisional match-ups, sometimes everything can be thrown out the window with how unpredictable they can be. We'll look at the areas of the game that could affect the outcome the most.
Miami had an impressive showing, albeit a losing one, against the Seattle Seahawks. They lost by a score of 12-10 but it looked like, at times, that the Dolphins might've had a shot to upset the Seahawks. Miami's pass rush proved to be a challenge for Seattle, as they provided constant pressure throughout the entire game for Russell Wilson. He was sacked three times and also threw an interception. The Seahawks also were inefficient on third down, as they only converted five out of 16 times, good for 31.25%.The defense as a whole kept the Seahawks in check, including their run game, allowing only 3.5 yards per rushing attempt on 32 run plays by Seattle.
Despite the injuries/subtractions from the Patriots offensive line (Bryan Stork, Josh Kline, Sebastian Vollmer, Jonathan Cooper, Nate Solder) in Week One, the Patriots only gave up two sacks total against the stout Cardinals defense. Solder and Cooper have a chance to return in Week Two, but the Patriots offensive line against the Dolphins front seven will be a key match-up to watch. If the Dolphins want to win, they will have to repeat their performance last week in terms of their pass rushing success. Another underrated factor in how to achieve the victory in a game is time of possession.
Seattle controlled the football for almost 35 minutes in week one, which gave them more opportunities on offense and the chance to wear down the Dolphins defense as well. The Patriots were on offense for 34 minutes against the Cardinals and were able to come out with the victory. So one key for both teams will be trying to control the time of possession game, as that usually has a huge impact on the outcome. The Patriots will most likely plan on running the ball through LeGarrette Blount again (22 carries vs. the Cardinals), so the Dolphins will have to make sure they can contain the run game and make sure little momentum comes from it in order to keep their defense off the field as much as possible.
The Patriots were able to come away with three sacks on Carson Palmer and will look to keep pressure on Ryan Tannehill the entire night. The Dolphins gave up five sacks against Seattle and New England boasts a strong front seven, so this could be another rough day for Tannehill if the Dolphins can't adjust to protect their quarterback more. Speaking of quarterbacks, Jimmy Garoppolo is coming into only his second regular season start of his career, so the Dolphins could try to attack him with different blitz and coverage packages to throw him off with his lack of experience at the NFL level. Garoppolo's performance will obviously be key in this game for the Patriots to succeed, so if the Dolphins can throw Garoppolo off his game, they could have a solid shot at upsetting the Patriots.
Two players on the Dolphins offense that the Patriots will have to keep tabs on at all times are Jarvis Landry and Arian Foster. Landry, the Dolphins primary slot receiver and arguably their best wide receiver, has caused fits for many opposing teams. He had over 100 receptions last season as the primary chain-mover for Miami. He had seven receptions for 59 yards against Seattle and don't be surprised if the Dolphins force the ball his way a bit more on Sunday against Justin Coleman, the Patriots starting slot cornerback. Foster, in his Dolphins debut, had 100 yards from scrimmage on 13 rushing attempts and three receptions combined. Considering how the Patriots gave up 132 yards from scrimmage to David Johnson, New England will have to do a better job at stopping Miami's starting running back in both the run and receiving game.
For the Patriots, Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan will likely function as Garoppolo's primary targets on offense, along with James White as well. Garoppolo will try to replicate last week's performance (264 yards passing, one touchdown, no interceptions). In order to do so, he will likely focus again on making quick throws and taking some shots down field as well. With the Dolphins having Byron Maxwell and Xavien Howard as their primary outside cornerbacks, the Patriots will definitely be planning on attacking that weakness in Miami's defense. While the Patriots may or may not have Rob Gronkowski back, the game-plan for the Patriots will most likely remain the same. With that being said, "Gronk" appears to be a game-time decision call and would probably be welcomed back with open arms by players and coaches alike.
All in all, this will still be a game that could go either way for both teams. There are both strong and weak elements to both sides and it could come down to what team can exploit the other's weaknesses better than the other. With a new look coaching staff, the Dolphins will look to rebound after a tough loss by upsetting the division rival, the Patriots. For New England, they will look to win their second consecutive game with Garoppolo under center while Tom Brady is still serving his suspension. This will be an interesting game with both teams having new elements on their squads and has all the makings of an entertaining divisional match-up.