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Miami’s rushing attack a concern for Bill Belichick and the Patriots

Miami Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake celebrated after scoring a touchdown against the Jets.Brad Penner/AP Images for Panini

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots have allowed at least 150 rushing yards in two of their first three games, an effort that’s landed them second to last in rushing defense.

They allowed 159 yards to the Lions in Sunday’s loss after giving up 167 in Week 1 against the Texans. The high point was holding the Jaguars to 104 rushing yards in Week 2. Instead, they let quarterback Blake Bortles have a career day.

Kerryon Johnson, the Lions rookie running back (selected No. 43 overall), made it look easy at times by beating the Patriots to the edge while the front seven struggled to get off their blocks.


“I mean, that’s my main priority and it’s annoying to see on film,” said Patriots defensive tackle Danny Shelton, who was acquired in the offseason via trade with the Cleveland Browns in large part because of his role as a run-stuffer.

Those issues have proven to be a weakness the Dolphins could expose Sunday when they visit Gillette Stadium with a 3-0 record that has them at the top of the AFC East.

“Gotten pretty good production from everybody because you got to stop the backs, stop the quarterbacks, and the receivers on the end-around reverse,” Bill Belichick said of the Dolphins Tuesday on a conference call. “They’re all part of it. They attack you outside, inside, and have plays that are run-pass reads based on the defense.”

Third-year running back Kenyan Drake and the 35-year-old Frank Gore are a unique combination out of the Dolphins backfield, combining for 202 yards in three games.

Those aren’t defense-gashing numbers, but the Dolphins utilize rushing production from other areas of the offense. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has scrambled for 74 yards on 15 carries, something the Patriots defense will have to respect.

“Everything just needs work right now,” Patriots defensive tackle Malcom Brown said. “I take it as a personal challenge every week we play the game and just got to get better and continue to improve. We can’t dwell on it.”


Miami also deploys speedy wide receiver Jakeem Grant in a variety roles, which Belichick alluded to. Last week Tannehill flicked the ball to Grant on a jet sweep and he sliced the Raiders linebackers for an 18-yard touchdown.

If the Patriots struggle to get off their blocks and contain Miami’s rushers as they did against the Lions, it could be a challenging day for a defense that’s allowed an average of 143.3 yards per game.

“Everything that you see as a person watching on TV, we see the same thing,” defensive lineman Deatrich Wise said. “It’s just not getting done.”

They’re on to . . .

There seemed to be a clear edict prohibiting the Patriots from acknowledging their 26-10 loss to the Lions – the team’s second consecutive double-digit defeat.

“Right now, really just moving on against Miami,” center David Andrews said when asked what the Patriots could do to run the ball more efficiently. “Going to be a challenging week for us. They’re a great defense, made a lot of big plays.”

Andrews’s answer reflected the mood of the locker room. Wise, prompted about what the game film looked like against the Lions, said “it looked just like how the film looked last night and the night before that. We just need to move onto the Dolphins.”

Defensive lineman Adam Butler was asked about how the Patriots could maintain better leverage to defend short crossing routes and check-down passes, an area the Lions exposed.


“Anything regarding the Lions, we’re done with,” Butler said.

As willing as the Patriots were to turn the page, the reality is that such questions about their ability will linger until results improve.

The Patriots have endured ugly early-season drubbings in the past, particularly lopsided losses to the Chiefs in 2017 and 2014, both of which came in the first four weeks of the season. Still, it’s jarring to see the Patriots struggling at 1-2 – which leaves them two games out of the AFC East lead for the first time since Week 8 of the 2002 season, according to ESPN.

“We can only control what we can control,” said Andrews, one of the Patriots captains, when asked about the team mood. “There’s a lot of outside noise. We haven’t played good enough and all we can do is come in tomorrow, have a great practice and start laying that foundation. It isn’t a quick fix. We need to do better.”

Amendola thriving

Danny Amendola hasn’t caught a touchdown yet for the Dolphins, but the former Patriots receiver is certainly getting plenty of playing time with his new team. He’s caught a team-high 11 passes for 100 yards and has been on the field for at least 70 percent of the offensive plays – a percentage he only eclipsed twice during the regular season in 2017.


“They’re primarily a three-receiver offense, so he’s on the field for a pretty good chunk of plays because that’s their primary formation,” Belichick said.

Amendola and running back Dion Lewis, who signed with Tennessee in the offseason, were key chain-movers for the Patriots last season. The Patriots rank 25th in yards per game and 29th in third-down efficiency this season. With the team thin at running back, Kenjon Barner, who was released Sept. 19, is expected to be back in the fold Wednesday.