Preview: Patriots may be at historic crossroad against undefeated Dolphins

The Best and Most Detailed Preview in the Business

INSIDE SLANT: The Pats matchup with the Miami Dolphins might be the the Pats most important early season match-up in some time with a division opponent. If the Pats should lose they would fall to 1-3, three games behind the Miami Dolphins, with a game to a play in Miami in December a place that the Pats have historically struggled.  Miami has not won in Foxboro since 2008 when Matt Cassel started for the injured Tom Brady and the Dolphins unveiled their Wildcat Offense when Ronnie Brown had four rushing touchdowns and one throwing touchdown. The Dolphins won 38-13. It was the Pats first regular season loss since 2006 where they also lost  to the Miami Dolphins - a 21-0 shutdown in Miami. The coach of the 2006 Miami Dolphins was Bill Belichick protege Nick Saban. It was Saban's last win as Miami Dolphins coach. He left for Alabama in the offseason where he has won six national championships. 

The Dolphins tried Cam Cameron in 2007 who went to 1-15. The Dolphins then hired the late Tony Sparano who beat the Pats in 2008 after the Dolphins started 0-2. The Dolphins won the division in 2008 when they beat the New York Jets in the last game to finish 11-5 and win the three way tie breaker over the Pats and Jets. Sparano lasted four seasons, then came Joe Philbin for another four seasons and coach Adam Gase is now in his third season.  The Dolphins have not won a playoff game since 2000 and have been stuck finishing between 7-9 and 9-7 for many seasons. Improvement has been difficult because of mid-level draft picks. Some might say its early, some might say it's just a regular season game, but this is a big game for the Dolphins. To show they are an elite team, they need a big win on the road. The Dolphins have beaten the Oakland Raiders, New York Jets and Tennessee Titans - not exactly the class of the AFC. 

"We’ve spent some time here on the Dolphins, and they’re certainly off to an impressive start. This is a really good football team. They’re good in all three areas of the game. They lead the league in special teams field position, or in field position. A lot of that’s created by special teams, obviously, and their turnover differential. So, done a really good job there, very good in the kicking game, explosive return game, good rushing team, they cover well. 

"And offensively, this is a well-balanced team that’s very explosive, has a lot of big plays, run the ball, have a lot of play-makers on the offensive side, including the quarterback throwing and running. And defensively, they’re aggressive, they play fast, turn the ball over, really good pursuit team, well-coached, good fundamental team. It’s easy to see why they’re 3-0. They’re playing well, well-coached," Bill Belichick said. 

Patriots captain and special teams ace Matthew Slater said it is important to have tunnel vision.

"It really does not matter what happened two weeks ago, last week and this has no bearing on what happens Sunday. Our whole focus is on Sunday," Slater said. 

SERIES HISTORY: 106th meeting, Dolphins lead series 54-51. The last time these two teams played was last December in Miami on Monday Night Football when the Dolphins won 27-20. The Pats did not lose again until the Super Bowl against Philadelphia. The Pats beat the Dolphins 35-17 at Gillette in late November last year. The teams have met three times in the playoffs with the Pats beating the Miami Dolphins in the Orange Bowl in 1986 to clinch their first Super Bowl berth. It was the first time the Pats had won at Miami since 1966, which ended a string of 18 consecutive losses. The Pats lost to the Chicago Bears 46-10 two weeks later. For any Pats fan, under 30, that can name two players on this team (without a google search) should win a prize. The Pats are 2-1 against Miami in the playoffs. 

NOTES, QUOTES: 

Dolphins WR Danny Amendola played in New England from 2013-2017. He will  be best remembered for his performances in the playoffs in 2014 and 2017 where he caught 26 passes for 348 yards.  In the AFC Championship game against Jacksonville he caught two touchdown passes. Overall, Danny Amendola had 57 catches in the playoffs. Rob Gronkowski is excited to see Amendola Sunday.

"He’s quick, he’s feisty. Definitely miss that guy but he’s doing what he’s got to do and it’s going to be good to see him," Gronkowski said. 

Dolphins RB Brandon Bolden who the Pats released at the end of training camp, is a strong special teams player and Slater called Bolden one of the best players he has ever worked with on special teams. 

Bill Belichick worked with Dolphins Executive Vice President of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum in Cleveland and when Bill Belichick was the New York Jets.

"I have a lot of respect for Mike. Mike’s a smart guy, very well-educated, law degree. He’s been in the league a long time. He’s very good with people, has a lot of good relationships, easy to work with. I enjoyed working with him during the time he was in Cleveland and then in New York. So, I have a lot of respect for Mike," Belichick said Wednesday.

Cameron Wake has given the Pats tremendous problems. Other than Jason Taylor - there is probably no pass rusher that has given the Pats more problems than Wake who has 10.5 sacks against the Pats. 

BY THE NUMBERS: 300 - Owner Robert Kraft looks for his 300th win as owner of the team on Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Kraft would reach the milestone in his 25th season - the earliest an NFL owner will have reached the milestone. Broncos Owner Pat Bowlen reached the feat in 30 seasons while Al Davis accomplished the feat in 31 seasons. This is the third straight week that Kraft will hope for 300th win. 

2 - the number of Pats draft picks on the 53-man roster with LB Ja'Whaun Bentley being placed on injured reserve Wednesday. First round tackle Isaiah Wynn, Second round CB Duke Dawson is also on the injured reserve. Only RB Sony Michel and CB Keion Crossen are on the 53-man roster. Crossen was active for the first time Sunday Night. 

220/336 -  Pats receivers have a combined 220 receiving yards in the first three games.  Brandin Cooks has 336 receiving yards. 

6 - the amount of catches that Rob Gronkowski has combined in the last two games. Every defense knows stop Gronkowski, with the Pats deficiency at receiver, and a team has a strong chance to win.

895 - the amount of yards the defense has given up the past two games. 

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL: Trey Flowers: The fourth-year defensive lineman practiced Wednesday and the Pats need him desperately to return against the Miami Dolphins.  Flowers is the team's best pass rusher and he is a free agent at the end of the year. Flowers, who left the Jacksonville game in the first quarter and has not played since, has shown his value with his absence. The Pats need him and should think about giving him a new contract before he gets to free agency.

Dont'a Hightower: To quote Shakespeare, O Hightower O Hightower, where art though Hightower. The Pats best linebacker needs to make some plays. In the real Shakespeare, the name Hightower can be replaced with Romeo.  The same can be said for Adrian Clayborn. 

James White: The great Phil Perry of Comcast New England said no one on the Pats beat loves James White more than yours truly. He is right and Tom Brady agreed that the Pats need to get White more involved Sunday Night after the game -- calling him a great player. White had a touchdown catch Sunday against the Detroit Lions. 

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Ja'Whaun Bentley, who was put on injured reserve Wednesday with an undisclosed injury, had been playing better than any of the Pats linebackers and had a nice interception against the Detroit Lions. It was the type of interception that could have turned the game around. The Pats will miss Bentley. 

GAME PLAN: Offensively, the Pats will need to block the top notch pass rushers Robert Quinn and Cameron Wake who has given the Pats a lot of trouble over the years. One way to beat a strong pass rusher is throw the ball quickly.

"You’ve got to definitely get the ball out quick. I would say that definitely disturbs the defenses pretty well, if you can get the ball out quick and make yards. So definitely that’s what you want to do when you’ve got good pass-rushers on the other side of the ball," Gronkowski said. 

The Pats will also need Sony Michel to have a good game in order to combat the Dolphins passing game. Michel needs to improve in short yardage situations as Pats fans are already calling him a bust because he lost yards on a third and one carry Sunday Night. Michel did not care after the game that he received 14 carries - he only cares about the loss. 

"I am out here to help the team win football games," Michel said. "I don't care about individual contributions."

Defensively, the Pats defensive backs will need to have a good game in coverage against a good Miami wide receiving tandem of Kenny Stills, Devante Parker and former Pats WR Danny "playoff" Amendola. The Dolphins will test the Pats ability to cover a strong receiving core - something the Pats have struggled to do in the past two games. The Pats need to find a reliable second corner whether it is Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty or J.C. Jackson. Stephon Gilmore must improve his play from last week after he gave up two touchdowns.

QUOTES ON GAME: Rob Gronkowski on how Josh Gordon has been spending his time

"He’s just studying his playbook every time I see him. He’s in the playbook, just studying and just trying to get better" Gronkowski said. 

He also downplayed his brother Chris's comments on a radio show that he (Rob) is frustrated about being double teamed and the lack of help at receiver.

"No, I didn’t talk to him at all and to tell you the truth, I mean I feel like he probably was going on for a promotion thing for his ice shaker because if you’ve ever seen – no lie. I mean, because he’s been on Shark Tank with it, he’s teamed up with A-Rod [Alex Rodriguez] so it’s actually a pretty big deal. So I guess buy his ice shaker is what he was trying to get to and then he probably got caught up in all that nonsense. But I mean, he doesn’t speak for myself and he knows he doesn’t. But he probably just got caught up a little bit. Just got to move on, buy his ice shaker I guess and that’s all," Gronkowski said. 

Rob does hope his brother gives him a few free ice shakers.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: WR Kenny Stills  v. CB Stephon Gilmore (Gilmore, who gave up two touchdowns to the Lions Sunday Night, must rebound and stop the Dolphins lead wide receiver. Gilmore playing well would inspire the rest of the defense).

LT Trent Brown v. DE Robert Quinn (Brown must show he can handle the speed of a good pass rusher like Quinn and prevent him from being disruptive because the Pats will have their hands full with Wake on the other side on the line). 

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