A breakdown of key match-ups, players to watch and various ramblings on tonight's season opener at Miami
New England Offense vs. Miami Defense
The Dolphins have one of the most underrated defenses in the NFL. The front seven features two 2010 Pro Bowlers (Cameron Wake and Randy Starks), top tier MLB Karlos Dansby and an offensive line eating Nose Tackle in Paul Soliai. Given the Pats health concerns on the offensive line as well as newly acquired RG Brian Waters being thrust into action, this one goes:
Advantage - Dolphins.
While Miami boasts a strong pair of starting CB's in Vonte Davis (I'm a big fan of his aggressive D) and Sean Smith (a 6'3", 214lb beast of a Corner); this match up comes down to pass protection. We all know what Tom Brady is capable of if given adequate time to throw the ball, but the Dolphins have some tough match ups in store for New England tonight. First off - RT Sebastian Vollmer will be missing the game with a back injury, meaning rookie 1st Round draft pick Nate Solder will be forced to start. While Solder fared well in the preseason, he's yet to play in a "real" NFL game, let alone against a player the caliber of Cameron Wake. Wake led the Dolphins with 14 sacks last year, and possesses one of the best pure speed rushes in the league (although he is a bit overrated as an overall player in my opinion). This match up tops my list as the most important to watch tonight.
Some other areas to watch for the Pats in the passing game are:
- 2nd year Miami DE Jared Odrick: missed all but one game last year with a broken leg, but all reports say that he has come back in great shape and was a relentless pass rusher during training camp and the preseason.
- If Tom Brady is in fact Superman (he is, but better); Jason Taylor has most certainly been his (and Matt Light's) kryptonite. Taylor is back with the Dolphins, and while he is no longer an every down player, keep an eye on him in obvious passing situations.
In the end, I think Solder and Light will hold up and the Pats many weapons will be too much for Miami to handle. I'm expecting a huge games out of match up nightmare Aaron Hernandez; Dolphin killer Wes Welker, and always remember; we have Tom.
Advantage - Patriots
Miami Offense vs. New England Defense
The battle of the unknowns. The Patriots will showcase their new attacking 4-3 Defense and the Dolphins are sure to have a few tricks up their sleeve with newly acquired Reggie Bush and Larry Johnson. Wait...Larry Johnson is still plays football? And it's not in the CFL?
One wrinkle to note: Miami offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Daboll was once a Patriots assistant (2002-2006) and offensive coordinator for Cleveland the past two years. The Pats have struggled against former coaches in the past, and we all remember how well that Cleveland game went last year. Unfortunately.
Running Game:The Battle of the Behemoths. Look at the size that Miami's offensive line consists of - LT Jake Long (6'7", 317lbs), LG Richie Ingocnito (6'3", 324), C Mike Pouncey (6'5", 303), RG Vernon Carey (6'5", 340) and RT Marc Colombo (6'8", 320). That's almost one ton of man leading the way for...oh right; their running backs are terrible. Plus we have big Vince and Fat Albert.
Advantage - Patriots
Passing Game:How the Dolphins fare this year depends almost solely on the progress of Chad Henne. I found this to be a bit intriguing from Grantland.com's Bill Barnwell:
"If there's any obvious comparison to be made for Henne's early career path, it's Drew Brees. I know. Hear me out on this one. They're both undersized2 second-round picks from the Big Ten. They both sat out for most of their rookie season and then came in to play for most of their second year. Brees completed 60.8 percent of his passes. Henne completed 60.8 percent of his passes. Brees threw an interception on 3.0 percent of his passes and averaged 6.2 yards per attempt. Henne threw an interception on 3.1 percent of his passes and averaged 6.4 yards per attempt. In his third season, Brees tanked; in fact, to a much worse extent than Henne did. All of his numbers fell off, but what was particularly noticeable was his interception rate, which hit 4.2 percent. And unlike the Dolphins, the Chargers actually went through and pulled the trigger on replacing Brees by drafting Eli Manning and then trading him for Philip Rivers. There's no guarantee that Henne will follow that career path, but it's something to think about amidst wave after wave of hysterics about how Henne isn't an NFL starter."So maybe Henne is on the path to become the 4th best QB in the league? Naaahhhh. Although I do think he'll be serviceable, just not enough to get Miami over the hump; especially tonight. I'm excited to see the new (and hopefully MUCH improved) Pats pass rush. While Brandon Marshall is extremely talented, he's a quitter (see Patrick Chung's int in the blowout last year - Marshall completely gives up on his route) and the Dolphins receiver that worries me the most is Davone Bess, aka the black Wes Welker.
Side note: Keep an eye on certified Dolphin killer Bob Nincovich tonight. In 2 games against Miami last year, Vrabel Jr. posted 10 tackels, 3.0 sacks and 2 Int's.
In the first game between the two teams last year, Miami had the look of a team that had never before even practiced special teams. So until proven otherwise:
Advantage - Patriots. Laces out Dan.
The Patriots always seem to struggle when the travel to South Florida (save for last years game as well as 2007). A tough, primetime, divisional road game to start the year for the Pats ends closer than most are expecting: Patriots 27 - Dolphins 20