September 12, 2011

Patriots-Dolphins Preview


It's seemed like an eternity. But FINALLY...the Pats are back in action tonight. Primetime, with a 7 o'clock kickoff down in Miami. Preview after the jump.

THE INJURY LIST

For New England

QUESTIONABLE:
DE Mark Anderson, Knee
CB Kyle Arrington, Hip
OL Dan Connolly, Foot
LB Dane Fletcher, Thumb
DL Albert Haynesworth, Illness
RB Stevan Ridley, Ankle
LB Jeff Tarpinian, Knee

PROBABLE:
CB Leigh Bodden, Hand
WR Julian Edelman, Hand

OUT:
OL Sebastian Vollmer, Back
WR Taylor Price, Hamstring
LB Jermaine Cunningham, Groin
LB Brandon Spikes, Ankle
RB Shane Vereen, Hamstring
OL Ryan Wendell, Calf

For Miami

QUESTIONABLE:
RB Daniel Thomas - Hamstring

OUT:
RB Charles Clay - Hamstring

DOLPHINS OFFENSE = TERRIBLE

They have weapons. Brandon Marshall is a beast, Reggie Bush can bust 2-3 big plays in any given game, and Davone Bess is dangerous out of the slot. But in today's NFL, you're only as good as your quarterback. Bad news for the 'Phins...because Chad Henne SUCKS. Why Sergeant Slaughter Tony Sparano made no effort whatsoever to upgrade the position in the off-season is beyond me, especially when there were plenty of QBs to pick from in the draft AND free agency.

They've relied on their running game in years past. But Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are gone. Basically, Miami is relying on Reggie Bush to be an every down back this season, something he didn't even do in college. Given his track record for injury and inability to make plays between the tackles, I can safely say that was an idiotic idea. He won't be able to do anything up the middle against the Patriots revamped interior. And with backups Charles Clay out and Daniel Thomas questionable, Lex Hilliard and his 89 career rushing yards could be all they have to spell with.

All in all, don't expect a lot of points out of the Phins. I'm thinking about 6-9.

BUT THE DEFENSE = PRETTY DAMN GOOD

They return 10 starters from last years 6th ranked unit, and upgraded the one missing piece by replacing Channing Crowder with Nick Burnett. Veteran pass rushing specialist (and Brady-Killer) Jason Taylor is back after a year with the Jets. They have two good young corners who could be a pain in the ass in Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. And the crown jewel is outside linebacker Cameron Wake, who had 14 sacks last season.

AND THAT COULD SPELL TROUBLE FOR THE PATS

Miami has always been able to get after Tom Brady. But it could potentially be a very long night for Brady and company. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer is out with a back injury, so rookie Nate Solder will get the start in his place. Solder has first round talent, but is VERY raw. Expect the Fish to go right after him every down with either Wake or Taylor.

The other problem? The Pats will have another guy making his New England debut on the right side of the line: right guard Brian Waters. Waters was signed just last weekend, and its very unlikely he knows the Patriot offense very well. If the Dolphins overload the right side of the Patriots line and come at it with tricky stunts and blitzes all night, they could wreak serious havoc.

The final problem with the Pats protection? Not a lot of depth. With Ryan Wendell listed out, Dan Connolly remains the only active reserve lineman. Any injuries or cramps could further hurt New England.

X FACTORS

PHINS - CAMERON WAKE, AND REST OF PASS RUSH

If we've learned anything over the past few years, its that the Patriots go as Tom Brady goes. And when teams get consistent pressure on Brady, he doesn't tend to fare very well. With two newcomers on the right side of the Pats line, I have a feeling that the Dolphins will be able to get after Brady. If Wake or Taylor can force a couple of turnovers, the Dolphins have a chance to win it. But they must keep it a low scoring game. The offense doesn't have the guns.

PATS - AARON HERNANDEZ

Expect the Patriots to run a lot of two and even three tight end sets with a green right side of the O-Line. Hernandez has had a beast training camp and pre-season, and is literally an impossible match-up for the Dolphins. Too big for the corners. Way too fast for their linebackers (the majority of which are one trick pony pass rushing specialists). Aaron will be open early and often in the middle and flats of the Miami defense. Expect a big day from the former Gator.

PREDICTION

Patriots 23 Dolphins 6

It'll be a sloppy game. Miami will be able to get pressure on Brady and keep the Pats offense out of sync. But with Chad Henne at QB, the Phins don't stand a chance.

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