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Ten things you have to know about Patriots-Dolphins

12.01.12 at 9:51 am ET
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Reggie Bush is the Dolphins' No. 1 offensive option. (AP)

The four matchups we’re looking forward to this week:

1. Linebacker Brandon Spikes against running back Reggie Bush: Spikes is easily the Patriots No. 1 run stopper, and Bush is the Dolphins best threat on the ground. But Bush presents a different set of challenges than other backs the Patriots have faced this season in that he likes to bounce outside and try and reach the edge. While Spikes has shown an ability to play horizontally — that is, do a good job penetrating gaps and getting into the backfield — he hasn’t really had to do all that much work when it comes to tracking running backs sideline-to-sideline.

2. Defensive end Rob Ninkovich against left tackle Jake Long: With Chandler Jones on the shelf for a second consecutive week because of an ankle injury he suffered early in the win over the Colts, Ninkovich — who has flipped from one side to another — will be the one on Ryan Tannehill’s blind side. The job of going against Ninkovich will fall to Long, who has done a really good job this season working on the edge. According to Pro Football Focus, Long has only allowed four sacks in 734 total snaps this season.

3. Quarterback Tom Brady against the Dolphins secondary: After struggling on South Beach earlier in his career (including his 2001 performance in Miami, which was arguably his worst ever — 12-for-24 for 86 yards and four sacks), Brady had made it a habit of crushing the Dolphins in Miami. In his last two games against the Dolphins, he’s thrown for 821 yards and five touchdowns. Miami was signing street free agent defensive backs this week in hopes of adding depth to the secondary, and could go into the game with as many as ten active DBs.

4. Wide receiver Wes Welker against defensive back Jimmy Wilson: The Dolphins initially went after Richard Marshall to try and fill the role of nickel corner, but he’s on the shelf because of a back injury. In his place, Miami will turn to Wilson, who is regarded by PFF as Miami’s worst pass defender — in 359 defensive snaps this season, they have him rated at a -5.3. Meanwhile, in nine career games against his old team, Welker has 75 catches (on 100 targets) for 981 yards and four touchdowns. (His averages of 8.3 receptions and 109 yards are the best against any team that Welker has faced more than once in his career.) Even if Wilson gets help — and he should, on a fairly regular basis — this should be a winnable matchup for New England.

(One Welker stat that I can’t get enough of — through 11 games, Welker has exactly as many targets as he had last season, 115. So much for the idea of him being phased out of the offense.)

5. Under the radar opponent who Patriots’ fans need to know: Not sure how under-the-radar this guy is, but wide receiver Davone Bess has always given New England a really hard time. In eight career games against the Patriots, he has 41 catches on 71 targets for 526 yards and four touchdowns. (Those numbers are the best against any opponent for the 5-foot-10, 193-pounder, who is in his fifth season out of Hawaii.) A tough cover for anyone, he’ll likely be one of the priorities for the New England pass defense this time around.

(As an aside, it wouldn’t be ridiculous to see the Patriots make a run at the 27-year-old Bess the next time he’s a free agent. He’s a versatile threat — he also works as a punt returner — who is signed through next year, but Belichick has taken note of Bess’ abilities on several previous occasions, and it wouldn’t be the first time he went after a guy who killed his club on a regular basis. Bottom line is that he’s an undrafted slot receiver who is smart, and has also shown an ability to gash opponents on special teams. Sound like anyone else you know?)



6. By the numbers: It’s my firm belief that we should be talking more about the work of the New England offensive line more often, so here you go: The Patriots’ offensive line hasn’t allowed a sack since the third quarter of a Nov. 11 win over the Bills. That’s a stretch of nine-plus quarters, a total of 146:18 of action.

7. Quote: “I’m open for anybody’s suggestions. They just do such a great job of executing their offense. They’re not a team that uses a lot of trickery. They are a team that does a great job of working matchups, and they’re built that way. Honestly, we didn’t have great success against them in Cincinnati and I hope that we can do a better job here.”
—Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle on how to slow down the Patriots’ passing game.

8. Patriots fans should be worried about….. Bush. He could be the most multidimensional back the Patriots have faced this season. The 27-year-old has found a home in Miami — after reaching 1,000 yards for the first time last year (actually, 1,086), he’s just about on pace to duplicate it this season. (He can hit 963 yards if he stays on his current pace.) But it’s not just his between the tackles ability that should scare New England. He has a real ability to bounce outside, and with the Patriots struggling to keep healthy defensive ends on the field, containment could be an issue. (Bush is also a threat in the passing game, having come away with 189 receiving yards on 24 catches this season.) Bottom line is that he’s a look like Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller, only that the Dolphins, you know, use Bush on a regular basis.

9. Dolphins fans should be worried about…. turnovers and takeaways. The Patriots have been able to get them in bunches this season, and a young and sometimes overly aggressive Miami offense has been careless with the ball. New England is +24 when it comes to takeaways, the best total in the league. Meanwhile, the Dolphins are -10, tied for 13th in the AFC. However, as our DJ Bean pointed out, turnovers are telling when it comes to the Dolphins and Tannehill. Bottom line is that when Tannehill doesn’t turn the ball over, the Dolphins win. Only one of his 12 picks on the year has come in a loss, and in the five Dolphins wins, Tannehill has four passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown to go with the lone interception. He has not lost a fumble in any of the five Dolphins’ wins either.

(One more thing about Tannehill: Try and force him to throw to the middle of the field. Per our pals at Pro Football Focus, in his rookie season, the Dolphins’ QB has only attempted 33 of his 304 “aimed” passes beyond 10 yards down the middle of the field.)

10. Prediction:

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