The New England Patriots head into an AFC East battle for the third straight week, this time facing the Miami Dolphins on the road.
The question on everyone's mind this week is when their defense is finally going to show up. They can't really be as bad as they've shown, can they?
Yes, they can.
They just allowed Ryan Fitzpatrick to revive an impotent Bills offense. The week before that Mark Sanchez carved them up like a Halloween Jack O' Lantern. The week before that they made Carson Palmer look better than he has at any point in the past three seasons.
That's just the regular season.
You get the idea. They can't stop the pass. Look for that to continue in Miami.
Chad Henne is no All-Pro, but he's better than Fitzpatrick, and in my opinion, Sanchez and Palmer as well. He's the first quarterback the Patriots will face this season who throws a legit deep ball. He's a rocket-armed pocket passer who is quickly changing the Dolphins offense from wildcat to cool cat.
He can make throws under pressure, not that New England can generate any, and keeps his composure. He finished last season with over 300 yards passing in three of his final five games last season and just torched the Jets for 363 yards and two TD's in a losing effort.
The Dolphins can't afford to lose back to back division games so early. You can bet they'll give Henne a chance to make plays downfield.
Especially considering the Patriots don't have anyone in the secondary to cover Brandon Marshall.
Look for Henne and Marshall to hook up a dozen or so times Monday night. They should find plenty of success along the sidelines as McCourty, Butler, Arrington and crew give him plenty of cushion at the line of scrimmage. Marshall is a very physical receiver and will embarrass those guys if they try to play in his face at the snap.
He's also much bigger than any of the Patriots' safeties, so he could easily snag a deep pass or two. He won't run by them because he lacks blazing speed but his size will allow him to come down with pretty much any jump ball in his direction. Henne may very well just chuck a couple bombs up there to see what happens. More often that not, Marshall turns those into TD's.
Devone Bess and Brian Hartline compliment him nicely as possession receivers in the middle of the field. They fill the Wes Welker role for Miami and could give New England's young linebackers and cornerbacks fits, along with tight end Anthony Fasano.
Don't forget Miami's runningbacks either. This is the team wants so badly to run well that they implemented the NFL's first wildcat offense. Ronnie Brown would be a superstar if he could stay healthy. His blend of strength, speed, and vision is almost impossible to defend. The Patriots will have their hands full slowing him down.
Toss in the occasional Ricky Williams pot smoker special and the Patriots hopes of a victory could go up in smoke.
Their offense should be as productive as usual. Miami doesn't have the stifling front seven of the Jets or even the swarming secondary of the Bengals, but they do everything well. Somewhere between 20 and 30 points is reasonable.
The question is whether that will be enough.
Devin McCourty will need to step up in a big way against Marshall. He is the Patriots most physical cover corner and they should give him the green light to give Marshall the business. That will require keeping a safety over the top to help him out though, so Chung and Meriweather need to be on their game as well. Blown assignments will spell doom.
Considering Meriweather was recently benched for freelancing and gave up a touchdown to C.J. Spiller by blowing his outside contain assignment, that's not a comforting thought.
The Patriots need to generate some type of pass rush, otherwise Henne will pick them apart. Banta-Cain needs to get himself a few hits on the quarterback early to try and force him out of his comfort zone.
The key for New England this week will be stopping the pass early. If the Dolphins are allowed to throw all game, they have too many weapons for the Patriots to account for.
If they can avoid big plays early on, the Dolphins will turn to the running game to chew up clock and keep the Patriots offense off the field. New England's defense is much better suited to shut down the run than the pass, and I expect Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes to both rack up big tackle totals. Ricky "Stoned Hands" Williams also has a penchant for fumbling, which is another reason to hope the Dolphins keep it on the ground.
The Patriots will need to strike quickly to offset that clock-killing style. If they can jump to an early lead and force the Dolphins to the air out of desperation rather than by design, then Chung and Meriweather can use their playmaking ability to cause some turnovers. Otherwise it will be a long day.
It's up to the defense to hook the fish.