The Boston Globe breaks down the X’s and O’s for the Patriots’ Week 16 matchup with the Dolphins and offers a prediction for who will win:
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS
Tom Brady’s ability to get rid of the ball quickly will be a key because the Dolphins have the personnel to bring pressure. Brady has tremendous presnap recognition and adjusts his weapons to exploit favorable matchups.
The Dolphins will send outside linebackers Cameron Wake (he has a tremendous first step) and wily veteran Jason Taylor (he has lost a little off his fastball) off the edge. Jared Odrick will pressure up the middle.
Wes Welker continues to put up tremendous numbers as he works the slot to perfection. If Welker isn’t pressed at the line he will destroy and demoralize the defense with his quick feet, strong hands, and fearless attitude. Welker has never been more important because the rest of the receiving corps is a mess: Deion Branch (he’s ailing), Chad Ochocinco (he still looks clueless), and Tiquan Underwood (is he Kid or Play?) are contributing little to nothing right now.
The tight ends have been nothing short of spectacular. Rob Gronkowski is a physical specimen. The 6-6, 265-pounder excels in all areas. He gets a clean break, catches the ball in stride, and breaks tackles with ease. He is an absolute beast on seam routes and in the red zone. Aaron Hernandez has excellent athleticism and hands. He runs clean patterns and will fight for yards after the catch.
Cornerbacks Vontae Davis (he’s strong and instinctive) and Sean Smith (ditto) are solid. Safety Yeremiah Bell (his hits leave welts) is always in the middle of the action.
Passing yards per game:
New England offense: 318.6 (Second)
Miami defense: 247.6 (25th)
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN
Finally some signs of life from the ground game last week. With no bell cow on the farm, a running back by committee is the best option for the Patriots. Last week’s performance proved that. Keep the legs fresh and the chains will move.
Mighty-mite Danny Woodhead has the quickness to dart through the slimmest of seams and will get to the second level quickly. His lack of size allows him to hide amid the big uglies and his low center of gravity allows him to avoid big hits.
Lately, BenJarvus Green-Ellis looks more like a plodder than the tailback who showed nifty quickness and speed last season. He still runs hard but doesn’t hit the hole with the same authority he has shown. He’s still Option A if you have to kill the clock, however.
Stevan Ridley has boundless energy and you can practically see the rookie’s confidence grow as he becomes more involved in this offense. He’s a competitive runner who flashes speed, quickness, and toughness. He needs consistent carries to develop a rhythm.
The Dolphins have been rather stingy vs. the run. It all starts with behemoth tackle Paul Soliai. The 6-4, 355-pounder has great strength and uses it to tie up blockers (often more than one) and clear paths for the linebackers to go after the backs. Ends Randy Starks (he has the quickness to stunt and shoot gaps) and Kendall Langford (he’s strong and athletic) are battlers. Inside linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett are dandy. Dansby (6-4, 250 pounds) is a big, fast explosive tackler. Burnett is athletic and relentless.
Rushing yards per game:
New England offense: 107.6 (20th)
Miami defense: 91.6 (Third)
WHEN THE DOLPHINS PASS
Matt Moore has surprised many with his leadership skills and toughness. Previously looked at as a pure pocket passer with a decent arm, Moore has shown this season he can extend plays with his feet and is a pretty accurate on the run. He has taken a physical beating (30 sacks and many more hits) but he’s proven to be a gamer and it’s clear he has his teammates’ respect. Pass rushers Mark Anderson (he’s quick off the ball) and Rob Ninkovich (he is strong and never takes a play off) must make Moore uncomfortable.
Moore has some solid horses in his stable. Brandon Marshall (6-4, 230 pounds) is a big, physical receiver with good speed and a flair for acrobatic catches. Marshall is prone to lapses in concentration, however, and will drop catchable balls. When focused, Marshall is among the NFL’s elite. Brian Hartline is a possession receiver who runs precise routes and has deceptive speed. Slot receiver Davone Bess is one of the league’s hidden gems. Blessed with quick feet, good hands, and a fearless attitude, Bess will go all out over the middle for his quarterback. Anthony Fasano is a good blocking tight end who will surprise defenses with his ability to get open and soft hands.
Reggie Bush is outstanding on screens and short routes. He does his best work in space and has bailed out Moore on many occasions. New England’s porous secondary will struggle again. Patrick Chung, where are you?
Passing yards per game:
Miami offense: 193.6 (24th)
New England defense: 296.7 (32d)
WHEN THE DOLPHINS RUN
Six years into his NFL career Reggie Bush is finally putting up the numbers expected of a first-round draft pick. The 6-foot, 203-pound tailback has exceptional burst and outstanding open-field acceleration. He has great vision, changes directions seamlessly, and can stop on a dime. Bush has a nice stutter-step move and he has the quickness and speed to bounce outside and take it the distance. Bush lacks strength and toughness, however. He rarely breaks tackles (he won’t make many yards after first contact) and won’t finish his runs with authority. Bush is more apt to head for the sideline rather than lower his shoulder and deliver a blow. He’s on the fragile side and has been dinged up a lot in his career.
Rookie Daniel Thomas (6-1, 228 pounds) has collected 550 yards despite several nagging injuries. Thomas has good vision, quickness, and balance. He lacks speed, however, and like Bush, isn’t a big fan of contact.
Center Mike Pouncey has had very solid rookie season. Pouncey has excellent size (6-5, 303 pounds) and lower-body strength. He will have some entertaining heavyweight battles with massive Patriots tackle Vince Wilfork. Wilfork (listed at 6-2 and a comical 325 pounds) has rare athleticism and quickness for a man of his girth. Left guard Richie Incognito is strong and just plain mean. He will let his emotions get the best of him, however. Right guard Vernon Carey looks slow. Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo is instinctive, fast, and always around the ball carrier.
Rushing yards per game:
Miami offense: 127.4 (Seventh)
New England offense: 117.6 (19th)
DOLPHINS’ KEY PLAYER: Brandon Marshall
One of the league’s most temperamental players, Marshall can at times be the most dominant personality on the field. Other times you’ll wonder if he’s even in the stadium.
How he beats you: With impressive physical skills. Built like a tight end, Marshall has the size and strength to pummel most corners. He also has reliable hands and when interested, is a devastating blocker.
How to shut him down: By matching his physicality. Marshall can give it but he can’t always take it. Punish him at every opportunity and bark back every time he opens his mouth.
DOLPHINS’ KEYS TO VICTORY:
1.) Control freaks: To control the Patriots you have to control the clock. Pound the rock with Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas and keep the Patriots’ offense off the field.
2.) Sack lunch: The Dolphins must get their licks on Tom Brady. The more he gets hit the quicker he will get rid of the ball and that leads to incompletions and interceptions.
3.) Line items: It’s imperative to whack Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski at the snap to disrupt their rhythm and prevent New England from going on long, sustained drives.
PATRIOTS’ KEYS TO VICTORY:
1.) Gap control: Wide bodies Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love, and Brandon Deadrick have to clog the lanes and prevent the Dolphins’ backs from running away with it.
2.) Bubble boys: Tom Brady has to dump the ball to Danny Woodhead, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and Kevin Faulk on screens to keep the pass rushers honest.
3.) Stay focused: The AFC’s top seed is there for the taking. Don’t overlook an inferior opponent and don’t let the holiday be a distraction.
Patriots 31, Dolphins 27