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Dolphins at Patriots preview: Covering Gronk, Josh Gordon, and Steve from Accounting

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NFL: New England Patriots at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots are preparing to face off for the first time this season on Sunday as the Dolphins travel to Foxboro. Miami comes into this game looking to stay undefeated, currently sitting at 3-0 on the season and in first place in the AFC East. The Patriots have lost their last two games and are looking to avoid their first three game losing streak since 2002.

To get us as fans ready for this game, I turned to SB Nation’s Patriots team site, Pats Pulpit. Rich Hill was kind enough to answer my questions about the Patriots. You can check out my answers to his Dolphins questions here.

1. Obviously, the stories are starting to mount that we are seeing the downfall of the Patriots and that the dynasty is over. What is your perception of the Patriots right now, and why have the lost their last two? Can the Dolphins exploit those same things, or do you expect Bill Bellichick to have solved the issues for this weekend?

The Patriots have been pretty bad over the past two games and the Dolphins can definitely exploit those weaknesses- with a big caveat. Tom Brady and company have been very disappointing on offense because no one has stepped up to replace the suspended Julian Edelman and a series of injuries (RBs Rex Burkhead and Jeremy Hill are on the IR; WRs Kenny Britt, Jordan Matthews, and Malcolm Mitchell were all released because of their injuries over the offseason; TE Jacob Hollister has missed two games with weird injuries) has forced Josh McDaniels and company to scrape the bottom of the barrel. On defense, the Patriots have been atrocious tacklers against the run and they can’t cover crossing patterns.

Here’s the caveat: The Patriots defense fell apart when Trey Flowers and Patrick Chung left the Jaguars games early on with concussions and then they missed the Lions game. They’re arguably the two most important Patriots defenders because of their roles and responsibilities. It doesn’t hurt that Matt Patricia knew all of this, too.

Flowers and Chung should be back against the Dolphins, and Josh Gordon could provide a much-needed boost on offense. So there’s a chance the Patriots will have fixed, or at least slapped a band-aid on their issues.

2. What is the status of Josh Gordon as he acclimates to the Patriots?

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Gordon has been limited in practice with a hamstring injury since day one. He appeared to be a gametime decision against the Lions, so he’s not too far away from playing. New England really could have used him against Detroit, so perhaps the Patriots will err on the side of aggression with playing Gordon against the Dolphins. But honestly, no one has a clue.

3. The Lions were able to slow Rob Gronkowski and the Jaguars were fairly well able to shut him down. What did they do that was so effective?

So the Lions and the Jaguars had two different approaches to covering Gronkowski, but both were incredibly effective. The Jaguars have elite coverage linebackers and were comfortable passing coverage of the tight end from level to level without communication errors. The Lions had two safeties on the field simply jam and bother Gronkowski throughout the entire play with physical bracket coverage so he couldn’t get open. So both teams used two players to defend Gronk and did it perfectly.

Both strategies worked because no one else on the Patriots offense is capable of getting free in one-on-one situations. Chris Hogan has greatly regressed in 2018, Phillip Dorsett is inconsistent, and Cordarrelle Patterson appears to be a gadget player. The running backs have been fine but when your running back is the second-most reliable receiver, then the offense is in serious trouble.

Will this change with the introduction of Josh Gordon? Maybe. He can definitely win his one-on-ones and that would have a beneficial trickle-down effect as Hogan and Dorsett would see easier competition from their respective defensive backs. But Gordon isn’t a guarantee to play.

4. The strength of the Dolphins offense should be the one-two punch of Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore, but they were bottled up completely by the Oakland Raiders last week. The Patriots’ defense ranks 31st in the league in rush defense, allowing nearly 150 yards per game, part of which was allowing 167 yards in Week 1. Do you think the Dolphins will be able to find their running game against the Patriots this week, or should we expect another slow day for Miami on the ground?

Yeah, the Dolphins should have no problem running the football. The Patriots run defense was #NotGood in 2017 and they appear to be worse in 2018. They’re missing tackles left and right, they’re getting blown out of gaps, and they’re failing to contain the edge. There are precisely three good run defenders on the Patriots defensive front seven: Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, and Lawrence Guy. Everyone else has been a disaster. I expect that they’ll eventually figure it out, but that’s just because the talent this year is better on paper than last year. There are just a lot of new faces that need to settle down.

But until that happens, the Dolphins should have an easy enough time picking up yards on the ground.

5. Who will be the surprise star for the Patriots on Sunday?

Steve from Accounting is projected to be the third running back on the roster, so definitely keep an eye for their contributions.

Actually, keep an eye on Sony Michel on offense. The first round rookie missed the preseason and first week with an injury, but he’s had a big role the past two weeks and it will grow with Rex Burkhead on the injured reserve. He can run, catch, and block, and he’ll get plenty of opportunities to show off his skill set. The Patriots run blocking has been bad this year, too, but they’re also usually very good and should turn it around soon. If it happens against the Dolphins, Michel could have a big day.

On defense, watch for cornerback Jonathan Jones. He’s playing in the nickel, but he could have a bigger role with safety Duron Harmon making some mistakes last week. Jones is a good run defender at the second level and he’s been thisclose to getting his hands on the ball in recent weeks. He’s due for a splash play.