Tom Brady is looking to lead the Patriots to another AFC East crown in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)
The New England Patriots take on the Miami Dolphins in Miami to open the 2014 season. Game time is slated for 1 p.m. and will be televised locally on CBS.
The Patriots (12-4) won the AFC East but lost to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game in 2013. With their injured players back plus the addition of Darrelle Revis, they feel theyâre primed for a deep run in the playoffs.
The Dolphins (8-8) opened the season winning three in a row but suffered from inconsistent play especially along the offensive line and missed the playoffs after dropping their last two games. With a revamped OL and their trademark tough defense they are primed to make a playoff run.
We here atÂ PatsFans.comÂ are continuing our Â âRazorâs EdgeâÂ column in 2014 to give a quick break down on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.
The Patriots and Dolphins have met 97 times all-time and the series has been remarkably close with the Dolphins holding a 51-46 edge. The series has been marked also with long winning streaks on each side. The teams split the series in 2013 with the Patriots holding serve at home with a 27-17 win and Miami holding on for a thriller 24-20 win intercepting a Tom Brady pass in the end zone with under a minute remaining.
Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razorâs Edge.
Patriots RBs vs Dolphins Front Seven- Razorâs Edge Patriots
Miami has a very stout defensive line and their middle is stacked with Jared Odrick and Randy Starks. Coupled with a new interior offensive line for the Patriots it should be a matchup to watch. They lost their dedicated run-stuffer in Paul Solai who signed with Atlanta.
The main weakness of the Dolphins run defense in 2013 (24th in the NFL) was the play of the linebackers, most notably Phillip Wheeler and Daniel Ellerbe. If teams got to the second level, they were successful. Look for the Patriots to do the same thing. In two games the Pats rushed for 248 yards. One player to watch is new safety Louis Delmas who brings a degree of physicality in the box to support the running game. Delmas came over from the Lions this season.
Something else the Patriots have taken advantage of in the past is running right at Miamiâs Cameron Wake when heâs teeing off trying to get to the quarterback. With a running back by committee again with Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, James White and Brandon Bolden, theyâll find some tough sledding in the early going as the Pats offense looks to remain balanced. But if they remain patient with, the running game should be able to grind out some yardage.
Patriots WRs vs Dolphins Secondary-Razorâs Edge Patriots
This matchup all comes down to protection as Tom Brady will need time to throw his timing routes to make the Patriots offense go. Miami counters with two outstanding edge rushers in Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon. Look for the Dolphins to test the interior of the Patriots OL and try to bring pressure up the middle.
The biggest takeaway from the second meeting in 2013 was the Patriots inability to score in the red-zone. Tom Brady threw for over 350 yards utilizing Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman in the middle of the field, but with no big red area targets, the Pats stalled. With a healthy Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Dobson along with the additions of WR Brandon LaFell and TE Tim Wright, these issues should be alleviated.
Miami has two good corners in Brent Grimes and the newly signed Cortland Finnegan so this should be a nice matchup to watch as well. Rob Gronkowski is slated to play although exactly how much remains to be seen. But the one thing Gronkowski does do is elevate those around him. With the Dolphins LBs the point of focus, look for Brady to attack Wheeler and Ellerbe by matching up Gronk or Wright with either of them.
That should open things up for the âpygmiesâ, Edelman and Amendola underneath. Dobson and LaFell will be the targets outside the numbers. But it all comes down to Bradyâs protection. Look for New England to keep RBs Shane Vereen and James White, who are big targets in the passing game, in more to block this week to help with protection.
Dolphins RBs vs NE Front Seven-Â Razorâs Edge Dolphins
The Dolphins got decent production from Lamar Miller last season but he wasnât consistently good enough to keep the offense balanced. On the surface his 709 yards rushing and 4.0 average seems good, but 140 of those yards, nearly 20 percent came on just four carries. The rest of the season he averaged around 3.3 yards per carry.
The Dolphins brass brought in Knowshon Moreno this off-season and Moreno seems toÂ have supplanted Miller as the starter and Morenoâs game against Dallas in the pre-season dress rehearsal looks like good justification.
The Dolphins have an entirely new offensive line and things may take a while to gel for this new unit but in this game it just remains a case of remaining patient with the running game. With the new up-tempo offense of Bill Lazor pushing the speed of the game and the heat and humidity of the South Florida weather, the plan is to keep grinding.
With that patience, late in the game it should bear fruit for Moreno to find better yardage as the game wears on.
Dolphins WRs vs NE Secondary- Razorâs Edge Patriots
The Dolphins definitely have some weapons that they can bring to bear on offense in the passing game. Their plan under Lazor is to emulate the Chip Kelly Eagles offense and attack the middle of the field and take their shots downfield all while speeding up the tempo of the game.
Look for Mike Wallace to be matched up with Darrelle Revis but Ryan Tannehill also has Brandon Gibson, Brian Hartline, newcomer Jarvis Landry and Rishard Matthews outside at wide receiver. Last season the Patriots tried to take away TE Charles Clay by devoting a lot of resources to stopping him. Heâs a big, target and attack the seams who provides mismatches for Tannehill. Look for Jamie Collins to be matchup with Clay a lot.
Tannehill has had his own protection problems in the past, the matchup with Albert and Chandler Jones should be one to watch.With the up-tempo it again just remains a question of getting comfortable in the new offense. How quickly Tannehill and his receivers get on the same page with Lazorâs system will ultimately decide how quickly this offense will click.
In the Dallas game, Tannehill made some poor decisions and poor throws as all the kinks havenât been worked out. And this against one of the worst defenses in the NFL, the offense is going to work but with a new system and a new offensive line, it may take them some time getting it going.
Special Teams- Razorâs Edge Dolphins
The Dolphins have a solid pair of kickers in punter Brandon Fields and kicker Caleb Sturgis. Sturgis has been bothered by a groin problem all summer but has declared himself ready to go and should handle all the duties on Sunday against the Pats.
Miami also has Jarvis Landry as the primary returner on both punts and kickoffs. Landry brings a nice level of explosiveness to the field and did well enough during camp to force Marcus Thigpen off the roster, Thigpen was released on Saturday and picked up by New England.
New England has two good kickers as well in punter Ryan Allen and Stephen Gostkowski handling all the kicking duties. Gostkowski has been solid for years and nailed a 60 yard field goal against Philadelphia during the pre-season.
Julian Edelman remains the excellent option at punt returner but the team still has questions at kick returner and long snapper. Right now, the only long snapper the team has is DE Rob Ninkovich and kick returns have been an issue since Ellis Hobbs left town. The team did pick up Thigpen who was signed to the practice squad.
The team cut two rookie defensive linemen on Weds. and perhaps opens the door for the team to re-sign LS Danny Aiken and activate Thigpen to the active roster for Sunday.
Games in Miami have always held a special place in Patriots fansâ nightmares since Miami entered the league in 1966. The combination of the heat and teal seem to be Kryptonite for the Pats. Tom Brady owns a stellar 11-1 record against Miami at home. But in South Florida, it falls to .500 at a middling 6-6.
Being a divisional game, both teams know each other well, but also being the first game of the season and with a new offense in place for Miami there is a degree of the unexpected in place. But like all the games in Florida this will be a tightly contested matchup.
I expect a fairly low-scoring affair here as the new offense in place for the Dolphins will find some growing pains before they find their comfort level. In Sundayâs matchup having a healthy Gronkowski, even if a limited one makes all the difference for Tom Brady. Miami has always done a good job of limiting Gronkowski but he elevates the game of those around him and having some bigger weapons in the red zone should help Brady find the open seams as they attack the Dolphins linebackers in the middle of the field.
Miami will have a final chance as this one goes right to the wire but in a game that could easily go in either way, New England holds on for 24-20 win.
Patriots Player to Watch-Â Rob Gronkowski
There are plenty of players to watch from a Pats perspective, Dobson coming back from his off-season surgery, Wilfork in his first meaningful game since blowing out an Achilles, even Dominique Easley who may see his first action in a Patriots uniform. But the guy to watch is Gronkowski. Since blowing out his ACL nine months ago, weâve heard about the rehab, and watched him slowly work his way back into shape.
Throughout training camp, the Patriots brought him along slowly although he exhibited little in the way of setbacks, he was held out of all three pre-season games. Now heâs supposedly ready to go and weâll be watching him on Sunday as he slowly gets worked into game action.
While we donât expect a full workload for Gronk for the first few weeks, just having him on the field should elevate the games of the wide receivers as well as Tom Brady. With him on the field, the Patriots offense has been a Top 5 unit, without him theyâve struggled, particularly in the red zone. Thatâs how big a mismatch he presents to opposing defensive coordinators.
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