Some of you may remember my Q&A session with Mike Carlson a few months back when I first joined the guys here on patsfans.com. He is an American reporter presenting the NFL here in the UK out of Wesleyan University, just like¬†Belichick, and a massive Patriots fan. Well he’s back with some more input into some of the key matchups in Monday Night Football’s game between the Patriots and the Miami Dolphins! This is the 2nd time in 3 years the Patriots have opened up against a division rival on MNF, previously¬†against¬†the Bills, and I’m sure this matchup will¬†provide¬†just as many thrills! The Patriots have¬†appeared¬†on MNF 10 times¬†against¬†the Dolphins, and the series is split with 5 wins apiece.
Monday will mark the first time in 7 years that the Patriots have not opened the season at Gillette Stadium. The last time happened to be 2003, when we opened the season with a painful loss to the Lawyer¬†Milloy¬†led Bills. The team have won their last 7 opening day battles since then, but the¬†fact¬†that that this will be the first time in all those years we open up our¬†campaign¬†away from home might be something worth taking into account, despite the Dolphins being a pitiful 1-7 at home last season.
We saw a mixed preseason with the Patriots. A strong first two weeks quickly quietened some optimistic fans after week 3 and 4 saw big drop offs. I asked Mike if he expected a slow start or he felt Belichick had seen enough in the first two weeks. He responded, “They were probably further along offensively earlier, and their reserves are good–look how many cuts they’ve had claimed. But I suspect the latter is more the case.¬†No one cares what your preseason record was, and keeping guys healthy and evaluating and giving backups time is more important.”
The biggest matchup of all is the Miami defense against Tom Brady. This will be interesting to watch as Right Tackle Sebastian Vollmer will be out with a back problem and is going to be replaced by Rookie Nate Solder. Watch for the dolphins to exploit this right side by lining up Cameron Wake against him. Mike makes a valid point in saying, “Solder isn’t Vollmer, but it will also be interesting in the sense that we might see whether he’s a long term LT (keeping Vollmer on the right) or RT. Wake will be a challenge, but look for the Pats to throw behind him when he rushes…” The Dolphins have 10 of 11¬†starters¬†returning so expect a disciplined and tough unit.
He could¬†potentially¬†also line up alongside new¬†addition,¬†Right Guard Brian Waters. Dan Connolly was at practice this week, but with limited participation after an injury to his ankle and many see Waters as a big upgrade on that right side. This adds to the question mark hanging over the right side of our Offensive Line however. “It will be interesting to see how ready Waters is,” Mike Carlson says, adding, “He’ll fit what the Pats do very well, especially as they don’t ask their guards to pull all that much–they are a team that likes to control and redirect rushers.” Carlson pointed out that Waters is heavier than usual despite telling him he intended to lose weight when contemplating retirement. It will¬†be¬†interesting to see how he fits the system.
The next big matchup is the Patriots’ Defensive Line against the Dolphins’ O Line. Jeff¬†Darlington highlighted in our¬†Q&A session that their right side could be a problem that gets flared up on Monday night, although he feels Jake Long will solidify that left side. He added, “Center Mike Pouncey has made nice developments in his¬†rookie training camp, but going up against Wilfork and Haynesworth¬†should provide a massive gauge of where he currently stands.” On the right side of the line Darlington¬†believes, “Vernon Carey is still growing comfortable¬†with his new role at right guard, and Marc Colombo has not looked any¬†better this year than he did last year in Dallas.” Look for the Patriots to exploit this weakness.
The main thing Patriots fans will be looking for is if Vince Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth line up alongside each other, and what effect this has on the Patriots new base scheme. “A healthy and motivated Haynesworth would give the Pats a pass rush they are sorely lacking,” Carlson says, “but right now I’d consider Mayo their most explosive rusher.” He justifies this by mentioning that Belichick has passed up on some big name pass rushers in the draft, and is convinced Belichick still thinks he can ‘scheme’ sacks. Haynesworth is questionable with an unknown illness so keep an eye out for whether or not he plays. Will the Patriots be able to consistently pressure Henne and force him into making errant throws?
The biggest concern for the Patriots in my opinion is not the Dolphins’ defense but their new addition, Running Back Reggie Bush. This is a potential mismatch nightmare for the Patriots’ who’s Linebackers are not renowned for their pass coverage skills. Bush adds a dual threat at the RB position as well as a special teams concern and is not someone the Pats should be taking lightly. When I asked Mike about how the team should game plan against him he said, “You contain him if he runs, pursue so he can’t cut back. You bang him off the line so he can’t get into pass patterns. And you cover the damn punts.” It’s really that simple. Containing him and forcing him to run¬†in between¬†the tackles is a huge key to Monday night’s success. He is not a between the tackles runner. Throwing the timing off between him and QB Chad Henne is also¬†massively¬†important and¬†the¬†Patriots may chose to kick away from him on Special Teams!
There is always a position of massive concern on any team and I am sure you will all agree with me that it is currently the Safety position for us. “Josh¬†Barrett I liked a lot when he was drafted, and it’s just a question of how much he’s learned,” Mike says, “while Sergio Brown is another physically limited guy (like James Sanders); but he’s smart and played in a Patriots’ style secondary at UND. I suspect we will see more three or four corner nickle and dimes, with only 1 or 2 safeties than in the past when the Pats often went 2 corners 3 safeties in nickle and 3-3 in dime.” This would make a lot of sense. The Patriots kept Antwaun Molden over underachiever Darius Butler and drafted Ras-I Dowling; these are two big, physical but fast corners and will enable the Pats to do this and play the run at the same time whilst being more physical up front on slot receivers. Keep an eye out for how the team utilises these players, as it will be a big indication of what is to come and against a talented receiving corps. This will be an adequate first test for this new look secondary.
So we’ve gone over the key matchups and got Mike’s input but what do I think? I think the Patriots match up very well against a Dolphins defense that struggled when it came to covering TEs. They were ranked 28th in the league last season and until they can prove otherwise, ¬†Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez offer them a huge nightmare. It is important for the Pats to establish balance on the ground and protect Tom Brady which, if they do, the team will have just too much for Miami to handle. A fast start would move this game out of Miami’s reach fast and put the game to bed.
Mike¬†agrees saying, “Pats ought to be able to burn the Miami secondary,” but stresses we must, “watch to see if they can get the outside receivers open against two big physical corners…”
Score? 28-14 Patriots and we extend our opening game winning streak to 8 games in a row!
Enjoy the game!
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