If the Dolphins have any hope of avoiding another season of mediocrity they’ll have to upset the visiting New England Patriots on Sunday.
A look at three areas of concern for Miami:
* Defensive backs: This actually could be the first, second and third area of concern. CB Xavien Howard is out with a knee injury and there’s no guarantee he’ll be back next weekend to face the Vikings, either. Coach Adam Gase wouldn’t say whether Howard underwent a procedure this week to repair any damage inside the knee. That could press Torry McTyer into duty. McTyer had his moments in training camp but has seen limited action this season, and there’s nothing Tom Brady loves to target more than the new guy. And there’s no hiding McTyer because of the array of targets the Patriots can throw at Miami. RB James White leads New England with 74 receptions for 659 yards, but there’s also Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon and Chris Hogan. And some guy named Gronk. That’s a load for any secondary at full strength.
* Running backs: A good way to take pressure off the defense is by letting it sit on the bench, relaxing, working on tans. Last season when the Patriots visited, Kenyan Drake amassed 193 yards from scrimmage. The Dolphins hogged the ball for 36:09 to New England’s 23:51 (and the Patriots thought they knew everything about taking the air out of the ball). Any numbers close to that Sunday will mean the Dolphins have a real chance at an upset.
* Offensive line: The Dolphins seem to get their injuries to specific positions in bunches. This week it’s the offensive line. C Jake Brendel is out with a calf injury. C Travis Swanson has an ankle problem but appears able to go. G Ted Larsen will play despite a neck injury, but he’s coming off a subpar game. G Jesse Davis is OK but gave up two sacks last weekend in a performance he’d love to forget. The shaky status of the interior of the line puts that much more pressure on tackles Laremy Tunsil and Ja’Wuan James — who, naturally, aren’t 100 percent, either. They have sore knees.