Although we’re still roughly a week away from the Patriots’ season-opener in Miami next Monday night, it’s not too early to try and analyze how this one will play out.
Considering how badly New England squished the fish in both meetings last season, there’s probably not much analysis needed here; in the end, it’s just another easy Pats win, right?
Well, not so fast. The Dolphins do have a few players capable of giving the Patriots fits if not accounted for—some of which may surprise you. Here are five Dolphins the Patriots should be preparing for if they want to leave Miami with a season-opening victory.
During the entire preseason the main question that constantly arose in the secondary was who was going to step into the role of slot cornerback for the Patriots. Leigh Bodden? Ras-I Dowling? Darius Butler?
Whoever does assume the role is going to have an early test in trying to stop Davone Bess, one of the better slot receivers in the league. Bess has shown flashes of brilliance in past matchups against New England, and he has the potential to cause some damage on Monday night, depending on how Bill Belichick decides to handle Miami’s other backs and receivers.
If Brandon Marshall and Reggie Bush garner too much attention from New England’s defenders, that could open the door for Bess to compile some back-breaking catches. Patriots fans already know the impact a slot receiver can have on the field, thanks to Wes Welker. New England had better prepare to negate that impact on defense.
Bush wanted the opportunity to become a full-time back somewhere, and he now has his chance. He may see a lot of action Monday night, especially given Chad Henne’s history of checking the ball down to his backs in the passing game.
Yes, Bush has had a disappointing pro career thus far, certainly not one worthy of the second overall pick the Saints wasted on him in the 2006 draft, but make no mistake; he’s an athletic running back who’s entering the prime of his career with a chip on his shoulder after leaving New Orleans.
Add those three variables together, and you have a dangerous equation for the Patriots to solve.
Wake had a humbling journey into the NFL by way of Penn State and the Canadian Football League, but the journey has paid off, as today he’s one of the more dominant—if not underrated—pass rushers in the league.
Wake got to the quarterback a staggering 14 times last season, and if tackles Matt Light, Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer aren’t ready, he could get really intimate with Tom Brady on Monday evening.
The last time New England’s offensive line faced a dominant pass rusher (Ndamukong Suh in the preseason), they didn’t fare too well in keeping the pocket clean for Brady. Obviously Brady remains arguably the greatest quarterback in the game today, but even he needs time in the pocket to do his thing.
If Wake gets going and Brady is harassed often, there could be an upset in the making.
While it will be interesting to see how the Patriots handle Cameron Wake and the Dolphins’ pass rush, it will be even more interesting to see how much of a pass rush this revamped Patriots front-seven will be able to generate on Chad Henne.
Given that the Dolphins potentially have a future Hall of Famer at left tackle in Jake Long, it’s doubtful New England will be able to put a lot of heat on Henne’s blindside. The pressure will have to come from the right side, meaning a lot of pressure—literally and figuratively—will be on new Dolphins right tackle Marc Colombo.
Colombo had a solid run with the Cowboys, but Dallas found him expendable this offseason. If he really is that expendable, then Andre Carter, Mark Anderson, Shaun Ellis and other Patriot ends will have little trouble getting to the quarterback from the right side.
If he’s not, then the Patriots may have trouble harassing the last Dolphin they need to account for.
In case you don’t yet realize, Chad Henne has some good weapons around him.
He has an athletic back who can make plays in the running and passing games (Reggie Bush), a stud left tackle protecting his blindside (Jake Long), an underrated slot receiver (Davone Bess), and one of the best playmakers in the league (Brandon Marshall) at his disposal.
Henne’s supporting ensemble is why he could make a major opening statement against the Patriots defense, a defense he did have some success against during last year’s Monday night meeting in Miami. Although the Dolphins were crushed in that game (41-14), Henne played decent, throwing for 300 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Of course, if the Patriots can pressure Henne, we’re likely to see the same Dolphins quarterback that has left the Dade County football masses clamoring for Kyle Orton. If Henne has another 300-yard, 2-TD performance, the Patriots may be asking to be on the wrong end of a major Week 1 upset.