Week 4 sees the Patriots going to Miami to take on the Dolphins. The Patriots have not performed up to the standards that we, the fans, have set for the team. Still, the team stands 2-1 and are entering a divisional game that could give them a big leg up as the season continues. So what's there to watch for going into this game?
5. Road Game - The Patriots have been awful on the road over the past couple seasons, for no real reason. Mike Reiss of ESPN breaks down some numbers that aren't very flattering. The team has been outscored 116-41 in the 2nd half of their past 8 road games. Quarterback Tom Brady has been the worst 4th Quarter quarterback on the road in the NFL since 2009- bar none. There's a lot of past history pointing against the Patriots in this game- can they overcome? The last road game they won against a team not named the Buffalo Bills was Week 15 of 2008, against the Oakland Raiders, with Matt Cassel at quarterback. The Patriots need to bury the past if they want to win this game against a team that always gives them fits. The Patriots need to score in the 2nd half and they need to stop the Dolphins. Sounds obvious, but it's extremely true for the Patriots.
4. Secondary Starters - Does Darius Butler get his starting spot back? Will Kyle Arrington stay a starter? How does Devin McCourty match up against WR Brandon Marshall? Where does Jonathan Wilhite fit in? Who starts at safety? Will Pat Chung help out against the run, or will he drop into coverage? Has Brandon Meriweather re-earned his starting spot? Will James Sanders see the field? Does Jarrad Page see a bigger role? Does UDFA Sergio Brown make the game day roster? This is a young secondary that has very little experience playing together- so who gets to see the field?
Other Things to Watch After the Jump!
3. Tight Ends - Visanthe Shiancoe - 6 Receptions, 86 Yards. Dustin Keller - 6 Receptions, 98 Yards, 2 TDs. Can Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski and Alge Crumpler add their names to the list of tight ends with successful games against the Dolphins? The Patriots need to go to their tight ends, who should have the advantage in terms of match-ups all day, early and often. If the offense can set a tempo with their tight ends, that will open up lanes for the wide receivers and running backs and the offense can be more versatile. Also, the team needs to continue to throw to the tight ends in the second half, especially if it was working in the first half. That seems obvious, but with how often the offense abandons what's working in the 2nd half, I feel the need to say it.
2. Running Backs - BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Sammy Morris. Danny Woodhead. Thomas Clayton. Those are the running backs for this Monday. They have 17 starts, between them, for the Patriots. 14 are Morris', 3 are BJGE's. This is not an experienced group of players, but they're all players who can have an impact. BJGE will get most of the halfback snaps, Morris will get a lot of the fullback snaps and Woodhead will get some looks on third down. Clayton should find his spot when BJGE needs a break in order to keep everyone fresh for the second half. Can this inexperienced group perform tomorrow night?
1. Outside Linebackers - Last week against the Buffalo Bills, the Patriots outside linebackers were unable to generate consistent pressure and were also unable to set an edge against the running game. The crew of Jermaine Cunningham, Tully Banta-Cain, Ron Ninkovich and Shawn Crable need to shape up against the potentially potent offense of the Dolphins. If the running backs of the Dolphins are able to run at will, like Marshawn Lynch, then QB Chad Henne will have plenty of time to pick apart the secondary and find Brandon Marshall. If the OLBs can stop the run by setting the edge and forcing them inside to the ILBs and defensive linemen, then that slows a big facet of the Dolphins' offense. The OLBs need to step up in order for this defense to have success.