FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots have a chance to maintain their lead in the AFC East on Sunday in a divisional battle with the Miami Dolphins.
The Patriots (1-0) and Dolphins (0-1) each played close games in Week 1, with New England topping the Arizona Cardinals 23-21 on the road and Miami losing to the Seattle Seahawks on a fourth quarter touchdown. Few expected the Dolphins, with new head coach Adam Gase, to give the Seahawks a run.
Here’s what the Patriots must do to beat the Dolphins in Week 2.
MAKESHIFT OFFENSIVE LINE MUST PROTECT JIMMY GAROPPOLO
It’s pretty much anyone’s guess who will suit up, be active and protect Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Tackles Nate Solder (hamstring) and Marcus Cannon (knee) and guards Jonathan Cooper (foot) and Shaq Mason (hand) all are banged up. RT Cannon, LT Cameron Fleming, C David Andrews and rookies RG Ted Karras and LG Joe Thuney started last week. If Solder, Cooper or Mason are healthy, Fleming and Karras could lose their starting roles.
Whoever’s out there, they’ll have their hands full with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and defensive ends Mario Williams, Cameron Wake, Jason Jones and Andre Branch, all of whom gave the Seahawks’ offensive line trouble last Sunday.
LIMIT BIG PLAYS
The Patriots’ defense let the Cardinals back into last week’s game on a 45-yard carry by running back David Johnson. The Dolphins also have big-play potential. Running back Arian Foster had a 50-yard catch and run against the Seahawks, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill should have hit on a long touchdown pass if Kenny Stills hadn’t dropped the ball — literally.
New England’s secondary, featuring cornerbacks Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Justin Coleman and safeties Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon, should prevent deep passes, but big plays out of the backfield could be an issue with linebacker Dont’a Hightower likely out of the game. Shea McClellin, Jonathan Freeny and possibly Barkevious Mingo will fill in for Hightower.
WIN THE TURNOVER BATTLE
The Patriots lost the turnover battle in Week 1 but still won the game. That was lucky.
Garoppolo and running back LeGarrette Blount both lost fumbles, and the Patriots’ defense didn’t force a single turnover.
Improved pass protection and better ball security will help on offense. On defense, New England’s secondary needs to start pulling in passes it batted away in Arizona.
The Patriots’ best bet at a turnover could come in the form of strip sacks with their pass rushers. Trey Flowers, Anthony Johnson, Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long and Jamie Collins all can get to the quarterback consistently.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images