FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There is little mystery to Cameron Wake's game. The Dolphins defensive end lines up generally at the same spot. He has a variety of pass-rush moves, but the one he likes the most (and his best) is the speed rush.
The only mystery is how to stop him. Patriots right tackle Sebastian Vollmer has been on the case for years, and while he's found some clues, it's hard to find the proverbial case that sticks against such a slippery defensive end.
"He has a lot of different moves," Vollmer said of Wake. "Like any defensive end, they don't just do one thing, so you kind of have to be ready for all of it."
Vollmer is considerably larger than Wake, so it would stand to reason that Wake would have a hard time beating a man so much bigger than he is. It's not always that easy, though; a smaller defensive end can more easily win leverage against his opponent when he already has low ground.
"I wouldn't say he's small," Vollmer said of Wake. "He's been doing this for awhile. He's pretty excellent at what he does. I mean, he gives a lot of tackles problems. He's very explosive and strong, he knows what he's doing, he knows how to get leverage. He's an all-around good pass rusher, no doubt.
The two have gone back and forth in their battles, and according to Pro Football Focus, each one dominated a game and got dominated in the other. Wake logged three hurries, a hit and two sacks in the first meeting last year, but was held to just one hurry in the second meeting. Important context for the first meeting: Vollmer was listed as questionable with a back/knee injury, and he wasn't even sure he'd play.
I asked Bill Belichick if he could compare Wake to another player. He didn't give a specific name, but sang Wake's praises in other ways.
He's just a good football player. I don't think there's any one thing that just jumps off about him. It's just all solid and good. He plays strong, he's athletic, he's active. He can rush the edge but he can also rush with power. He's got a good variety of moves. He makes a lot of plays on effort, plays where he gets initially stalemated but just outworks the blocker at times and makes plays on the quarterback or plays in the running game. He's a good run defender. He can definitely hold the line of scrimmage. He not just a pass rush, run up the field kind of guy. It doesn't look like he makes very many mistakes on film. He's not out of position much. I think he's just got a good, solid overall game. It's all good. I wouldn't say one area is -- it's not all power rushes and no speed rushes or vice versa, that type of thing. I think he does a good job, has a well balanced game, does a pretty good job on everything. He's a good football player.
In reviewing the film, a few things stand out:
- He really is a good football player.
- His burst off the line is so rare, perhaps there's really no one that compares.
- As good as his burst is, the speed rush is not his only move.
He will often get in the backfield on speed alone. He used it to help him log a key third-quarter sack of Brady in the first meeting between the two teams last season.
Wake began in the four-point stance, which he uses to maximum efficiency. With two hands on the ground, Wake is coiled up and ready to unleash all that energy off the snap.
Vollmer was one-on-one with Wake on the offense's right with Brady in the shotgun, and could do little as Wake brushed Vollmer's arms to the side and quickly made his way around the edge for the sack.
He had so much speed off the edge, he nearly broke Brady in half on impact.
Seriously, someone might have had to call Jim Ross.
Like Belichick said, it's not all speed. He also has incredible speed-to-power. We got a good example of that later in the same game. Wake started off with his speed rush, but when he was forced to engage the block from Vollmer, he quickly switched to his bull-rush.
The idea is to get a blocker on his heels with the speed, then knock him off his feet altogether with the bull rush. Wake accomplished all that, but not in time to stop the pass from being delivered. He was still able to deliver a pretty good hit on Brady.
As mentioned above, though, Wake is not always the winner in these matchups.
Wake tried to use his speed to get around Vollmer here, but a quick jam by the tall, long-armed tackle got Wake off his preferred route to the quarterback. That extra mileage bought Brady enough time to make the read and get the ball out.
The Patriots' level of respect for Wake is clear just from watching film. In the second meeting, the Patriots were keen to helping Vollmer out with a tight end.
This wasn't an every-down thing, but on 3rd-and-1 in the first quarter of their Week 17 meeting at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots put tight end Rob Gronkowski next to Vollmer with Brady in the shotgun. Gronkowski wasn't going to release into a route; on this particular play, his sole responsibility was to help Vollmer keep Wake off of Brady.
To his credit, Wake fought like hell through that double-team, eventually getting through the block of Gronkowski and onto Vollmer, but to no avail. Forcing Wake to play in traffic bought Brady enough time to let tight end Aaron Hernandez get past the coverage of the linebacker and move the chains.
Who knows how often these two will line up against one another, or whether Wake will even be at 100 percent for this game, but if they do, and if he is, the winner of this battle has a leg-up in winning the war.
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