The Patriots have had a very shaky season so far, gutting out an opening game flogging of the Cincinatti Bengals (38-24 NE) only to get smacked in the mouth by the Jets (28-14, NY), an arch nemisis of Bill Bellichick.
Speaking of Bills, only 8 points separated the Pats from the Buffalo Bills last Sunday (38-30, NE). The kinks need to be worked out before this team can be at its best again. Here are 7 ways the Patriots can improve:
1. Randy Moss (139 Yards Receiving, 3 TD) and Tom Brady (758 Yards Passing, 8 TDs) need to bring back the high lob pass where Randy just reaches out or goes for a high leap and snatches that rock right out of the air where the defender can't even hope to reach it.
2. Wes Welker (147 Yards, 3 TD) needs to get back to form by catching way more flat passes and making up for the loss of Kevin Faulk.
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3. Welker and Moss need to also help develop Julian Edelman, Aaron Hernandez, and Brandon Tate. All must be viable deep and short threats if the Pats want to go all the way again this year.
4. Fred Taylor's (98 yards rushing) workload should also be directed toward making up for the Faulk void. Right now Taylor only has two catches for 6 yards.
5. The Patriots need to engage Taylor with short passes to each side, and open up the long bombs to Randy Moss, the tight ends, and anyone else who wants to go deep and be a touchdown hero. Brady is often at his best with the play action, and Moss can catch it one handed sometimes. If the timing is off it can't work, so these guys need to get on the same wavelength and all will be right with the world.
If the Patriots go all the way this season the offense has to be firing on all cylinders. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (The Law Firm) must become an excellent running back and the perfect guy to keep Fred Taylor from having to bear too much running load too soon in the season. Green-Ellis already has the bulk of the team's rushing yardage (139 yards) and a rushing touchdown.
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6. Improve place kicking. This year the Patriots' field goal kicker is not Mr. Automatic by any means. Stephen Gostkowski is just 2 for 5 so far this season on field goal kicks. He's 12-12 on extra points, so if Brady gets in tune with Moss deep and Welker short and mid-range along with Edelman and Tate, the defense can handle keeping it close enough to win. Gostkowski will be happy to be kicking extra points rather than 50 yard field goal tries.
7. On defense, Guyton and Merriwether are doing well, and Chung picked up an interception last weekend. But the hole in the defense lies in the lack of a major leader. Bruschi is gone, and the linebacking core is strong but still young and needs time to shine.
The Dolphins made every second count against the Jets, and that game came down to the wire. The Dolphins have their own kinks to work out, but they looked impressive despite the loss. This time both teams will have a bye week to recover.
Chad Henne (659 Yards Passing, 3TD) looks to be getting better, but he's still not the big game QB Tom Brady is. The Dolphins seem to rely heavily on Brandon Marshall (290 Yards Receiving, TD) and Ronnie Brown (199 Yards Rushing, TD) on their offensive side. Their defensive side is more fearsome with Jason Allen (2 INTs) and Yeremiah Bell (29 tackles) joining team sack-stars Karlos Dansby, Cameron Wake, and Randy Starks (the three combined have 4 sacks for a loss of 28 total yards).
This Monday night should be a tight game either way. It will be sloppy but fun to watch, and the Patriots will roll if Moss and Brady can only get into long bomb timing range before the game. If they win by more than a touchdown they make a statement that the rematch with the Jets will be epic. If they lose they face an uphill battle in the division with a week to think about how they couldn't get the job done.
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