The Patriots don’t often lose two games in a row, and they’ll be looking to keep that notion alive with the Dolphins in town for a visit.
Tom Brady hasn’t exactly been spectacular this season, and he struggled against the Jets again last Sunday. A meeting with the Dolphins, who Brady tends to torch, should be all the quarterback needs to sort out some of his issues, though. Another week with Rob Gronkowski and the potential return of Danny Amendola from a concussion should only help that development as well.
Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly will miss a third straight game, and cornerback Aqib Talib is still uncertain to play, but the Patriot did get one playmaker back on defense this week. Defensive end Andre Carter, who enjoyed a 10-sack season with the Patriots in 2011, re-signed with the team this week. He may need a little time to get reacclimated to the speed of the game, as he’s been sitting at home all season, but his availability allows the Patriots to be more versatile with Chandler Jones and create more looks with the rest of the defensive line.
The Dolphins still have a ton of weapons to work with, including Pro Bowl receiver Mike Wallace as well as another emerging threat in Brian Hartline. Ryan Tannehill is developing into one of the best young quarterbacks in football, and he should test the Patriots’ secondary, especially if Talib is unable to go.
There’s lots to look out for in this one, so let’s jump in and see what some of the keys are in this week’s Patriots Three and Out.
1. Brady’s Accuracy — Brady failed to complete more than 50 percent of his passes for the third time this season in last Sunday’s loss. You’ve probably already seen that stat all over the place over the past six days, but it’s still mesmerizing enough to mention.
Brady was placed on the injury report this week, although the “right shoulder” designation is likely just another way of saying that throwing the ball 46 times is tiring. With Gronkowski on the field for a second straight week, and Amendola potentially making his return, too, Brady should be more at ease making his reads and be able to rely more on his passing game over the middle.
The presence of his reliable targets as well as an underwhelming Dolphins secondary (25th in pass defense), Brady should have more than enough opportunities to rediscover his form and improve his accuracy.
Keep an eye on the middle and ring fingers on his throwing hand, though. He had the two fingers taped together during an event on Saturday, and he could be dealing with some discomfort which may be causing his inaccuracy.
2. Striking a balance — In each of their two losses this season, the Patriots have thrown the ball more than twice as many times as they’ve run it. That excessive focus on the passing game has been their downfall this season, too.
Stevan Ridley rushed for 50 yards last week and averaged better than 4.5 yards per carry, but he was only handed the ball 11 times on the day. The Patriots have been too reliant on Brady so far this season, which is especially concerning given his accuracy issues. The return of Shane Vereen in a few weeks should help the offense balance off even more, but, in the meantime, Ridley, Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount need to shoulder more of the load.
While Blount and Bolden have had their moments at times this season, Ridley is still the most reliable back they have. He needs to see more action and take more carries if the Patriots hope to establish a consistent running game and open up passing lanes for Brady.
3. Pressure Tannehill — Tannehill (26) has been sacked more than any other quarterback in the NFL this year. So, the Patriots defensive line should be salivating at the thought of him coming to Foxboro this weekend.
Chandler Jones is tied for seventh in the NFL with 6 1/2 sacks on the season — more than the six he recorded in his entire rookie campaign — and Rob Ninkovich, while he only has one sack on the year, has been menace off the edge all season. Meanwhile, undrafted rookie Chris Jones — aside from that unfortunate penalty against the Jets — has been stellar in the pass rush as well, piling up 3 1/2 sacks of his own through just four games with the team.
Nink and the Joneses need to put constant pressure on Tannehill, forcing force him to try and get rid of the ball quicker. That should also force him into a few mistakes, which Alfzono Dennard, Kyle Arrington and even Logan Ryan, who had a pick-six last week, will be openly awaiting.