The New England Patriots open their 2014 season on the road in Miami against the Dolphins, and as all divisional matchups in Week 1 go, this one will be down to the wire.
Season openers are always filled with mistakes, turnovers and general sloppiness. Teams don’t know exactly what to expect, they haven’t been tackling much, and with gameplans that have been in incubation since April, there are always some surprises.
Offensive Strategy: Picking a method of attack is even tougher this season because the Patriots have a great “inventory” (as Brady puts it) of offensive firepower… at least here in Week 1 it looks that way.
I’m going with what I think will be the bread-and-butter of 2014, 11 personnel as the primary package. Edelman is a constant but the surprise could be a combination of using both LaFell and Dobson on the outside, with Vereen in the backfield. Hooman should be the primary tight end until the red zone, when Gronk (assuming he plays) enters the game.
The key — attacking their undersized corners with the Pats’ big weapons, including Wright. Their linebackers are fast and need to be worn down using the third tackle-as-tight end package.
I’m not worried about pushing the pace of the offense at this point in the season, though I’m sure they’ll hurry up at select moments. But it’s more about execution, especially being on the road and in physically-demanding conditions.
Defensive Strategy: Expecting a hybrid 34/43 with Wilfork/Vellano in the middle and Ninkovich/Chandler on the edges. Collins/Hightower are the OLBs and should be tasked with Charles Clay, Collins especially. With Mayo in the middle he’ll have an eye on Tannehill.
Man-to-man defense is the easiest coverage to run when there might be some unexpected wrinkles from the Dolphins offense, so let’s put Revis on Wallace, Dennard on Hartline and Arrington on Gibson. Though they’ll rotate, I’d bet Harmon plays more snaps than Chung.
Miami will definitely push the pace so it will be important to keep substitutions to a minimum. Easing Siliga/Easley will be an important rotation on the DL, as will Buchanan/Moore at DE.
Rotating players to stay fresh in the heat might be challenging.
If Revis can neutralize Wallace, the Pats have a numbers advantage against Hartline, Gibson and Clay. That’s what Revis Island brings to the party.
The Dolphins should test the Patriots run defense. I would. No more Brandon Spikes, Hightower likely on the edge and Wilfork coming off an injury should tempt the Dolphins to really attack the middle of the defense with their ground game.
Keep Brady off the field. Chew clock. Hang on to the ball. It’s a good game plan vs. 12 if you can do it the entire game.
Points of Emphasis
1. Clean Football - In a tight game, the mistakes often make the difference and a season opener in tough conditions is prime territory for a sloppy game. We all know the Patriots’ reliance on winning the turnover battle — with a better defense that could change this year — but this week it doesn’t. Playing safe with the ball and being aware of the situation are paramount in a game like this.
2. Attack the Middle of the OL - The Pats finally have the makings of a team whose pass rush must be respected and this is their debut. Expect a rotating number of faces lining up and down the defensive line to attack the interior of the Phins’ OL. Dominique Easley is expected to play and could have an impressive debut even in limited action.
3. Keep Their Heads Spinning on Defense - Tom Brady has a number of unique weapons at his disposal and it will be important to never let Miami get a bead on what they’re trying to do. This will be done by a constantly rotating set of personnel at receiver, tight end and running back. Imagine the difficulty of covering Edelman one snap, Tim Wright the next, then Kenbrell Thompkins the next.
4. Hold the (middle of the) Fort - Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer will have to be at their best against Miami’s talented edge rushers, but they should be up to the task. There have been plenty of questions surrounding the interior of the Pats’ line this offseason and there are even more now after Logan Mankins was dealt. Now is the time for Josh Kline, Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly (and whoever else) to answer those questions.
And can the defense get back to stopping the run like they did before last year? Mayo moving back to middle linebacker is something to watch.
5. Win - Getting the W is all that matters, no matter how ugly, you’ll take them however you can get them at this time of year. This could be the toughest divisional game of the season and if the Pats can come out of it 1-0 it would a great (and record-tying) start to the season.