Tale Of The Tape: New England Patriots At Miami Dolphins
- QuarterbackThe Patriots go into the season with full confidence that they can go to the Super Bowl. The key to that is the combination of head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. That head coach-QB alliance ranks with the best the game has ever seen. Brady is smart, tough and accurate, and he is at his best when the game is on the line in the fourth quarter.The Dolphins are hoping that talented Ryan Tannehill can play with consistency this season. He has flashed his talent in his first two years in the league, but he seems to have a hard time stringing good games together. Tannehill has size, mobility and the ability to throw the ball on the run. He has plus arm strength and is well-liked by his teammates, but he has thrown 30 interceptions in two years.
- OffenseThe Patriots got a big lift during the preseason when tight end Rob Gronkowski stayed healthy and that means he will be in the lineup in Week One. He has the ability to get deep downfield and dominate the Miami defense with his athleticism and strength. Stevan Ridley gives the Pats a credible running game, but he must avoid fumbling if he wants to hold on to his job.The Dolphins are confident that Lamar Miller can give them at least a decent running game after gaining 709 yards last year. Tight end Charles Clay showed signs of becoming an impact player after catching 69 passes for 759 yards. Brian Hartline is a dependable wideout who will catch anything he gets his hands on, but Mike Wallace needs to deliver a big season after disappointing in 2013.
- DefenseThe Pats ranked 22nd in yards allowed last year, so there is plenty of room for improvement. The return of NT Vince Wilfork should allow them to be much tougher against the interior running game. Middle linebacker Jerod Mayo suffered a season-ending pectoral muscle tear last year, but he is healthy again. Darrelle Revis is the game’s premier cover corner, and he will upgrade the secondary.The Dolphins have plenty of impressive talent on defense, and they have a chance to grow into a top-10 defense this season. Defensive end Cameron Wake had 8.5 sacks last year, while Olivier Vernon was even more productive with 11.5 sacks. Outside linebacker Philip Wheeler had 118 tackles last year to lead the team, but he needs to contribute more big plays.
- Special TeamsThe Patriots have done a consistent job on special teams over the years, and placekicker Stephen Gostkowski is one of the team’s biggest assets. He made 38-of-41 FG attempts last year, while Ryan Allen had an impressive season as he averaged 45.9 yards per punt.The Dolphins can’t match the Patriots at the PK slot because Caleb Sturgis is not as consistent as Gostkowski, but the Dolphin kicker made 26-of-34 FG attempts last year and four of his misses were from 50 yards or longer. Punter Brandon Fields had a net average of 42.4 yards last season.
The Patriots have major edges at the quarterback and head coaching positions, and it’s difficult to see Joe Philbin getting the best of Belichick in the season opener. The Patriots also get a huge lift with the return of Gronkowski to the lineup. -Steve Silverman, CBS Local Sports