After a stunning last-second victory and an equally stunning overtime loss in the last two weeks, Patriots fans would love to see a blowout win against division-rival Miami this weekend.
Unfortunately, the Dolphins—despite losing three-straight games—are anything but pushovers. Ryan Tannehill is more than capable when protected, and the Dolphins defense has given Tom Brady fits over the last decade.
Here is how the two teams stack up in Week 8 of the season.
Patriots Offense vs. Dolphins Defense
Look for the Patriots to test the middle of the field early with Rob Gronkowski. Brady looked his way 17 times last week, and I doubt that number will be much lower this week.
If Gronkowski finds some success, that will open things up on the edges for Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson. Dobson, especially, got open early and often against the Jets, but Brady wasn't able to connect down the field.
Don't expect the passing game to get going unless the Patriots can successfully run the football. Ideally, Brady will keep his pitch count under 40, and Stevan Ridley will get himself acquainted with some linebackers and defensive backs.
Patriots Defense vs. Dolphins Offense
The Dolphins haven't been able to protect Ryan Tannehill this season, giving up 26 sacks in just six games. Expect the Patriots to try and get home by rushing only four at the onset of the game.
Chandler Jones—who has already eclipsed his 6.5-sack mark from his rookie season—has been difficult to handle, and Chris Jones leads all rookies with 3.5 sacks from the defensive tackle position. New addition Andre Carter, who signed with the team on Wednesday (via Michael Whitmer of The Boston Globe), could also split some snaps with Rob Ninkovich and Michael Buchanan.
Rushing only four will allow the Patriots to play with two deep safeties, which is important when facing Mike Wallace, also known as the "Human 9-Route."
What They're Saying
I wrote earlier this week about Tom Brady's lack of accuracy at times this season, and Tom Brady addressed the topic today in his Wednesday press conference. Karen Guregian of The Boston Herald had this to say about his remarks.
Brady didn't appear too worried or concerned about past numbers or statistics. He was then given a basketball analogy by CSNNE's Tom Curran where great shooters don't care if they miss the first 10 shots, they still want the ball because they know they'll score. Brady seemed to relate.
"Well, you have a lot of confidence every week that as a player you are going to be able to get the job done and do what the team asks you to do,'' he said. ''I think it’s important not to ride the ups and downs of the season and the emotion of, we won, we lost, everyone tells you you’re great, you suck. If you do, you’re going to have a hard time. You just try to believe in your process and believe that what you’re doing is the right way to prepare."
Tale of the Tape
Ryan Tannehill is a fine quarterback when his offensive line allows him to remain upright. However, despite some cracks in his armor, Tom Brady is still Tom Brady.
Lamar Miller has flashed some talent this year, but he can't match up with what Stevan Ridley can offer running between the tackles. Brandon Bolden has been a pleasant surprise as well this year, despite some ill-timed drops.
Mike Wallace (deep speed) and Brian Hartline (moving the chains) each have their niche. The Patriots receivers are starting to find theirs as well, with Julian Edelman running routes underneath and a combination of Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins pushing the defensive backs beyond the sticks.
The Patriots have Rob Gronkowski and the Dolphins don't. Charles Clay, Dion Sims and Michael Egnew all have talent, but there isn't a more complete tight end in the league—even with 1.5 arms—than Gronkowski.
The Dolphins offensive line play has been brutal. Newly acquired Bryant McKinnie is a large man, but even he can't replace both Jonathan Martin and Tyson Clabo. The Patriots line has had its lapses—Brady has been sacked 13 times over the last three games—but they are still a solid group.
The Dolphins have the depth along the defensive line that the Patriots are craving right now, in light of injuries to Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. The Dolphins may have the advantage on the interior, but Chandler Jones has out-performed any edge-rusher on the Dolphins roster.
Dont'a Hightower, despite some troubles in coverage, did a pretty good Jerod Mayo impersonation last week. Also, rookie Jamie Collins is starting to get comfortable, and Brandon Spikes is still doing his thing. Koa Misi, Phillip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe are part of a very stout front seven for the Dolphins.
Even if Aqib Talib isn't able to go, Alfonzo Dennard and Devin McCourty are having Pro Bowl-caliber seasons. Brent Grimes has played well for Miami, and I also really like Reshad Jones as a player, but the depth just isn't there for Miami.
Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen are playing like All-Pro candidates at their respective positions. Caleb Sturgis has a monster leg, but he hasn't had his mettle tested as much as Gostkowski in tough divisional games.
Overall: Patriots 6-1-2
The tale of the tape heavily favors the Patriots, but that doesn't tell the whole story. At most positions, the Patriots hold a razor-thin edge. An injury or two to an already depleted defense could really spell trouble for New England.
Wednesday's Injury Report Analysis
Did Not Participate: Tommy Kelly, Leon Washington
Limited Participation: Danny Amendola, Brandon Bolden, Marcus Cannon, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui, Matthew Slater, Aqib Talib, Tavon Wilson
Full Participation: Kyle Arrington, Rob Ninkovich, Devin McCourty
Tommy Kelly is the big story here. He has missed the last two games after sustaining an injury to his leg in Cincinnati. If he is unable to go, Chris Jones is going to have fill in on run-downs again, where he isn't nearly as comfortable.
Of the limited participants, Aqib Talib and Danny Amendola are the two to watch. I'd assume that both will be questionable for the Dolphins game this weekend.
Nate Solder and Dan Connolly were both removed from last week's injury report.
All statistics are courtesy of NFL.com and the Patriots Media Relations Department.