FOXBORO — It’s among the areas of biggest need for improvement for the New England Patriots this season.
Play better on the road.
Coach Bill Belichick had referenced that fact before the Patriots traveled to Detroit for joint practices and it was the key reason why the team had consecutive weeks on the road during the preseason.
“It was an area we weren’t very good in last year,” Belichick previously said in reference to the team going 3-5 away from Gillette Stadium last season. “I think there’s a lot of components to that, but the bottom line was we weren’t a very good road team at all, and that’s important in this league.”
The Patriots will have their first chance to improve on it this weekend as they travel to Hard Rock Stadium to face the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
The Dolphins are coming off an embarrassing 59-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens during Week One while the Patriots were on the winning side of a one-sided 33-3 verdict against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It would likely take a miracle for the Patriots to be upset by the Dolphins, whose defense allowed 643 yards of offense and 42 first-half points last week. But we’ve seen miracles before.
Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson had a perfect passer rating against the Miami secondary. Ravens rookie receiver Marquise Brown (four rec., 147 yards, two TDS), the cousin of Patriots newly-acquired receiver Antonio Brown, and rookie tight end Mark Andrews (eight rec., 108 yards, TD) each shredded the defensive backfield in their first-ever NFL game. And to complement that, the Dolphins also allowed a 100-yard rusher in Mark Ingram (14 carries, 107 yards, two TDs) as the Ravens totaled 265 yards 46 carries on the day.
On the other side of the ball, the Ravens intercepted a pair of passes and allowed the Dolphins just 12 first downs on 10 total drives. However, among the playmakers the Patriots’ secondary will have to watch out for is receiver DeVante Parker, who had three catches for 75 yards in the opener and running back Kenyon Drake (four carries, 12 yards).
“Offensively, this is a very talented, skilled group of players — backs, tight ends, certainly receivers. They have a lot of weapons,” Belichick said. “They have a lot of ways that they can make big plays and score a lot of points. So,we’ll have to do a real good job of defending this group, and trying to play a complementary game on offense, defense, special teams.”
New England is favored by more than two touchdowns.
Among the biggest questions entering the game is in regards to receiver Antonio Brown, and specifically, if he will be on the 46-man game day roster or not. Belichick would not say whether Brown would play this week when asked Friday, but according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, he will not be placed on the commissioner’s exempt list at this time., meaning the decision will be left up to the Patriots.
“We’ll do what’s best for the team,” Belichick said. “We’re determining that. I’m not going to hand out a copy of the game plan here.”
Brown did have what looked to be a travel bag at his locker at Gillette Stadium on Friday.
Brown’s uncertainty largely stems from the legal situation he finds himself in with former trainer, Britney Taylor. Taylor accused Brown of sexual assault and rape in a civil lawsuit filed Tuesday, one day after he signed with the Patriots.
In addition to the off-the-field questions, the Patriots could still keep Brown inactive as he continues to integrate with the team. Last season, when the Patriots acquired Josh Gordon in a trade, the team sat Gordon out for his first game.
Belichick said Friday that Brown still has a long way to go.
“Obviously, he’s not familiar with our offense,” Belichick said. “The systems that he’s been in have been quite different. Jon (Gruden) does the West Coast offense (in Oakland), which there’s very little carryover from their system to our system.
“We try to get him caught up to speed as quickly as you can,” Belichick added. “It’s too much ground to make up in a few days, but we do the best we can and we’ll see how it goes.”