AFC East Game Day – Week 2

AFC East Game Day – Week 2
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Miami Dolphins (0-1) at New England Patriots (1-0)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass. — TV: CBS, Greg GumbelTrent Green, Jamie Erdahl.
SERIES HISTORY: 99th regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead all-time series, 52-46. While Miami has the overall edge in the series that dates back to the AFC in the mid-’60s, New England has had the advantage in modern times, especially in Foxborough. Miami has not won at Gillette Stadium since 2008, a victory over fill-in Patriots starter Matt Cassel. The Patriots have a 13-2 mark at home against Miami since 2001. New England has won easily at home in recent years, with three of the last four decided by 28 points or more.
GAMEDATE: 9/18/16
KEYS TO THE GAME: Miami must do better on third downs offensively. The Dolphins were just 3 for 14 (21.4 percent) against Seattle, and clearly that’s not good enough. If the Dolphins can convert life-giving third downs the next step becomes scoring more points. Miami was 1 of 2 in the red zone in the opener, but the one it missed was the fourth and inches from Seattle’s 17-yard line.
Defensively, the Dolphins must continue forcing turnovers and winning that battle. The defense had an interception and a recovered fumble and won the turnover battle, 2-0, against the Seahawks. It didn’t ensure victory but they led to three points, and it should have been six points except Miami had a 27-yard field goal attempt blocked.
Patriots QB Jimmy Garoppolo is still young and learning, this time going against an impressive defensive line that will be looking to batter him into mistakes. He will continue to look to make quick throws and balance out the offense just enough with LeGarrette Blount. But don’t be expected if there are a few more “shot” plays against Miami, which has a questionable veteran cornerback Byron Maxwell and rookie starter Xavien Howard on the outside.
The Pats defense was impressive against a very good, balanced Cardinals team. Now it must deal with is the athleticism of QB Ryan Tannehill. Against Seattle he completed only 55 percent while getting sacked five times. New England will focus on new Dolphins running back Arian Foster, both as a runner and a receiver.
–New England QB Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Miami pass defense: Garoppolo is inexperienced, and his offensive line is injury-shortened, so expect Miami to test the Patriots with different looks. The pass rush is Miami’s best asset, even if DE Mario Williams (concussion) is missing, so this must be a difference-maker for the Dolphins. If Garoppolo and the pass protection make a good showing it becomes a huge test for the Dolphins’ so-so secondary.
–Miami RB Arian Foster vs. New England run defense: The Dolphins have struggled running the ball since training camp, and Foster’s showing last week (13 carries, 38 yards) did nothing to ease concerns. Miami should have backup RB Jay Ajayi back in the mix this week. He was left home last week. But this challenge mostly belongs on Miami’s offensive line, which hasn’t opened many holes. The Patriots allowed Arizona 92 rushing yards last week at a robust 4.8 yards per carry.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Patriots RG Marcus Cannon. He was easily the most experienced member of a makeshift offensive line on opening night. But he didn’t perform that way, struggling at times. The front should get better when OT Nate Solder returns from a hamstring injury on the left side and as rookie guards Joe Thuney and Ted Karras gain experience. But Cannon needs to be better immediately and he faces a strong challenge against Dolphins pass rusher Cameron Wake this week.
FAST FACTS: Miami coach Adam Gase said his defense’s third-down failures – Seattle converted at 5 for 16 (31 percent) – led to the Seahawks having 29 more plays than the Dolphins. . . .Miami is plus-2 in the takeaway/giveaway department, which is good considering the Dolphins were minus-3 last season. . . . Four Dolphins kneeled down during national anthem last week in Seattle. Those same four – RB Arian Foster, LB Jelani Jenkins, FS Michael Thomas and WR Kenny Stills – plan to do it again this week in New England. . . . .Patriots K Stephen Gostkowski was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his impressive work in the opening night win in Arizona. The reigning All-Pro hit field goals from 47, 53 and 32 yards against the Cardinals, the last serving as the game-winner in the fourth quarter. It was the eighth game-winning kick of his career. . . . The Pats lost one pf their last 14 regular season home openers at Gillette Stadium.
PREDICTION: This could get interesting if Miami’s talented defensive front makes life miserable for the Patriots’ iffy offensive line and young QB Jimmy Garoppolo. The Pats at home should be an easy pick, but sometimes stuff happens.
OUR PICK: Dolphins, 24-21.


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