Patriots at Dolphins
Tonight, 8:30, Channel 5, ESPN (Line: Patriots by 1)
When the Patriots runFred Taylor’s banged up. Somebody call Ripley’s! The Patriots signed Thomas Clayton to bolster a revamped rushing corps that seems to be losing a player a week. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is the de facto No. 1. A bigger-than-he looks 5 feet 11 inches, 215 pounds, Green-Ellis a straight-ahead runner who has shown good balance and speed. He is at his best when he makes one sharp cut before exploding. Injuries have taken their toll on Sammy Morris, who no longer possesses the quick first step and slashing moves that made him a productive NFLer. He has excellent vision, but lacks the speed to exploit openings. He’s a solid blocker and runs better in space, making him a threat on screens. Danny Woodhead burst onto the scene last week and showed why he was one of the stars of “Hard Knocks.’’ Woodhead (5-7, 200 pounds) shows good vision and toughness and always keeps his legs churning. He simply refuses to go down on first contact. Clayton has limited pro experience, but the 5-11, 222-pounder has shown between-the-tackles toughness and delivers a healthy blow at the end of runs. The interior of the Patriots’ line must get to the second level and disrupt active inside linebacker Karlos Dansby, who has tremendous instincts and is adept at shaking blockers and getting his hands on the ball carrier.
When the Patriots passIf you think New England’s rookie tight ends have had an impact so far, wait until you see them tonight. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez will undoubtedly be a big part of the game plan, not only because they’re oozing with talent but because the Dolphins have had trouble defending quality tight ends. Hernandez blocks like a tight end, runs patterns like a receiver, and negotiates his way through the secondary like a runaway tailback. Gronkowski is an above-average blocker and a red-zone beast. Linebackers can’t keep up with these two and safeties and corners simply get run over. Of course, Tom Brady has a lot of other weapons at his disposal. Wes Welker continues to be the key to this offense, and is particularly valuable when the running game is stalled. Randy Moss still has superb acceleration, leaping ability, and body control. Oh, and a pretty good set of hands, too. Moss will have his work cut out for him tonight, matched against talented cornerback Vontae Davis, who has a large frame (5-11, 203) and long, muscular arms. He has the strength to jam receivers at the line (Randy don’t like that) and the speed and athleticism to turn and run down the field. He’s no workaholic, and if he gets burned early he’ll pout. Fellow corner Jason Allen is a gambler, and you know how that works — sometimes he wins and sometimes he loses. Edge: Patriots
When the Dolphins runThe versatile Ronnie Brown leads this attack. The 6-foot, 230-pounder has a nifty balance of power and speed, but more importantly has tremendous vision and instincts. Brown is equally comfortable in the traditional tailback role or running the Wildcat. He’s confident with the ball in his hands, does a nice job on ball fakes, and has the strength to break through arm tackles. He can also throw the ball, so stacking the box can sometimes get you burned. Brown is injury-prone, lacks late-game stamina, and will put the ball on the ground. Thought to be on his last legs five years ago, 33-year-old Ricky Williams continues to be productive when used in a limited role. Gone are his 20-25 carry days, but the 5-10, 230-pounder still runs with power and his lateral movement allows him to exploit cutback lanes. Williams is often guilty of trying to squeeze out extra yards when he should be squeezing the football. Fullback Lousaka Polite won’t carry much, but when he does, it’s a guaranteed first down. Center Joe Berger (6-5, 315) has good size, but lacks quickness. Left guard Richie Incognito (6-3, 330) is tough and physical, but has trouble controlling his emotions. Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork (6-2, 325) has to use his girth and quickness to create space for athletic linebackers Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton to clog running lanes.
When the Dolphins passChad Henne has proven he can be an effective NFL quarterback, but fans in South Florida are restless for a dominant NFL quarterback. The 6-3, 230-pounder has excellent size and skills, including a rocket arm, above-average toughness, and a competitive spirit. Henne stands tall in the pocket, has great mechanics, and can fling it all over the field — deep outs and posts are a specialty — and he has the power to fit the ball into tight spaces. He still needs work on short passes and dump-offs, as he has a tendency to gun the ball when more touch is called for. Henne lacked threats last season but has found a new best friend in Brandon Marshall. A 6-4, 230-pound nightmare matchup, Marshall has a rare combination of speed, size, and strength. Marshall has had off-field character issues, but his performance between the lines has never been a problem. Davone Bess has developed into a reliable short-to-intermediate threat out of the slot. He has strong hands and shiftiness, but lacks strength and speed and has trouble creating separation. Brian Hartline is another possession receiver who relies on strong hands and fearlessness. Tight end Anthony Fasano is a plodder who drops too many catchable balls. New England’s athletic corners match up well with Bess and Hartline, but there’s nobody on the roster who can cover Marshall consistently.
Dolphins' key playerBrandon Marshall
This bad boy broke out in Week 3 with 10 catches for 166 yards. He’s Mr. Nice Guy when things are going his way, Mr. Surly when faced with adversity.
How he beats you: He has excellent speed, tremendous size, and long arms. If there’s a fight for the ball, he’s going to win most of the time.
How to shut him down: The corners have to jam him at the line and redirect him over the middle where they can get help from the safeties.
DOLPHINS’ KEYS TO VICTORY
1. Pocket presence: Chad Henne needs to get comfortable early. That shouldn’t be a problem against a corps of corners already shaken to its core.
2. Wildcat strikes: Ronnie Brown practically perfected how to run this gimmicky look. Might as well let him strut his stuff a little more.
3. Middle management: Karlos Dansby is a force. He needs to slip between the guards, put pressure on Tom Brady, and put rushers on their backs.
PATRIOTS’ KEYS TO VICTORY
1. Stuff the run: It’s imperative to land some big hits on Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams in order to put the game on Henne’s shoulders and see how he reacts.
2. Trip to the woodshed: Danny Woodhead has been impressive in limited doses. How about expanding his touches and see how he responds?
3. Dull the edge: Jason Taylor’s gone, but Matt Light’s job doesn’t get any easier. Light must protect Tom Brady’s blind side by keeping deceptively quick Cameron Wake off his back.