By Jim McBride December 6, 2009
Patriots at Dolphins
1 p.m., Ch. 4 (Line: Patriots by 4 1/2)
When the Patriots runLaurence Maroney continues to take steps in the right direction - literally. The big back is running less upright and more compact and may have had more of an impact in New Orleans had the Patriots not fallen behind so quickly. Maroney is quick and will run bigger than his 5-foot-11-inch, 220-pound frame. He is at his explosive best when he makes one cut and bolts through open creases. He can also use his thick legs and big shoulders to create his own lanes. He gets in trouble when he hesitates or stutter-steps his way to the line of scrimmage. Maroney thrives on work and gets better as the game goes along, but he’s lost fumbles in three straight games. Sammy Morris will provide a boost because of his ability to play multiple positions: tailback, fullback, and receiver. Durability is an issue for Morris, who has missed a lot of time over the last three seasons. Kevin Faulk still has excellent instincts and vision but has lost some of his burst and can’t be counted on for more than five carries per game. Center Dan Koppen (excellent balance and quick feet) and guard Logan Mankins (strong and surly) are New England’s best run blockers. They shed their initial blocks quickly and are adept at hitting moving targets. For Miami, inside linebackers Channing Crowder (good speed and athleticism but lacks strength) and Akin Ayodele (hits hard but lacks speed) make plays early but wear down late.
When the Patriots passTom Brady struggled with his accuracy in New Orleans as the Saints brought pressure from every direction and did an admirable job taking Brady’s security blanket, Wes Welker, out of the game. Look for the Patriots to come out throwing a lot of screens and quick hitters to get Brady into an early rhythm and keep pass-rushing specialists Jason Taylor and Joey Porter from getting to Brady. Taylor is explosive and has traditionally given left tackle Matt Light fits. Porter, who is hampered by a sore knee and is listed as questionable, has a high-end motor and a reckless attitude. A fiery player, Porter is often a victim of his own emotions. Screens have long been a hallmark of the Patriot attack, and backs Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris are exceptional receivers. Welker is exceptional underneath. He combines good burst, quick feet, and toughness to move the chains. Look for the Dolphins to get physical at the line with Welker. Missing from the vertical attack have been tight ends Chris Baker and Ben Watson, who have been used as blockers. They could be targeted more if Welker can’t get free quickly. If Brady is successful in the short game, it will open things up downfield for Randy Moss and the surprisingly productive Sam Aiken. Moss will match up with tall and rangy rookie corner Sean Smith.
When the Dolphins runYou would be hard-pressed to find many who penciled in Ricky Williams for a 1,000-yard season, but that’s exactly what he’s on track for. A bruising runner who still has surprising quickness, Williams has taken on a larger role with Ronnie Brown out for the season. Williams has excellent vision and solid recognition skills. He seemingly glides through creases and explodes into the second level before lowering his shoulder and delivering a nice pop. Backup tailback Lex Hilliard is built like a fullback (5 feet 11 inches, 240 pounds) and has deceptive speed. He thrives on pounding the ball between the tackles and will break arm tackles. Pat White could be the wild card in this attack. A quarterback by trade, White is an excellent athlete. He’s smart, slippery, and speedy. He rushed for 45 yards in the teams’ earlier matchup and seems like an ideal candidate to run the Wildcat because he can throw the ball. The Dolphins do a good job blocking up front, though center Jake Grove missed three days of practice with a sore ankle and is doubful. At guard, Justin Smiley has strong hands and quickness and Donald Thomas is quick and mobile but lacks consistency. Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork is explosive off the ball, especially considering his exceptional girth. Inside linebackers Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton are quick and physical but have a tendency to overpursue.
When the Dolphins passChad Henne went from apprentice quarterback to starter in Week 3, and so far the results have been mixed. The 6-foot-3-inch, 230-pound Henne has a strong arm and a nice touch but has yet to show the ability to break defenses down quickly. He completes just over 50 percent of his passes and has as many interceptions (seven) as touchdowns. He relies too much on his arm strength and too often tries to fit balls into tiny spaces. He lacks mobility and won’t make many plays outside the pocket. He gets decent protection thanks to standout tackles Jake Long (a relentless worker with great strength) and Vernon Carey (tremendous lower body strength). Miami’s receiving corps lacks consistent playmakers. Davone Bess has the best hands of the crew. He lacks speed, however. Greg Camarillo has excellent instincts, good hands, and is fearless over the middle. Brian Hartline has decent speed, runs precise routes, and has good hands. The receiver with the most raw talent is Ted Ginn, but he disappears so often even Henne forgets about him. The Patriots secondary is better than it showed last week. Leigh Bodden and Jonathan Wilhite are good cover corners while safeties Brandon McGowan and Brandon Meriweather are solid in coverage and provide thundering run support.
Dolphins' key playerRicky Williams
Gone are the days of the dreadlocks, marijuana use, and early retirements. Williams began the season thriving in a two-back system and looks ready to end it as Miami's biggest offensive threat.
How he beats you: With strength and power. Williams is always churning his thick, powerful legs. He's more comfortable running over people than around them.
How to shut him down: By beating him back. Age isn't on his side, so the more physical you can get, the quicker you can wear him down. A late hit is better than no hit.
Dolphins' keys to victory1. Attack mode: Drew Brees tore apart New England's secondary last week, particularly targeting cornerback Jonathan Wilhite. Keep throwing at him until he proves he can stop you.
2. White out: Pat White is oozing with talent; why let him waste away on the sideline? Get the ball into his hands and let him keep the defense guessing.
3. Blitzkrieg: Pass rushers Jason Taylor and Joey Porter have to rush and rush hard. Keep Tom Brady out of his comfort zone and his accuracy suffers.
Patriots' keys to victory1. Mix it up: Disguising the defenses will keep QB Chad Henne guessing. He is inexperienced and lacks confidence. Confusing him today prevents him from advancing.
2. Early strikes: Take some chances in the first quarter and try to bury the Dolphins quickly. The longer Tony Sparano's troops think they can hang in, the longer they will.
3. Bounce back: Bill Belichick's boys bounced back from their last loss with a big division win. They need to do it again to stay in the AFC East's catbird seat.
PredictionPatriots 24, Dolphins 22
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