The Miami Dolphins are looking to try and upset the New England Patriots on Sunday, but it’s going to take a huge effort from the home side in order to stop the Pats from clinching the AFC East. Below are five players who can help spurn the upset for Miami and knock the Pats down a size.
RB Reggie Bush
It’s been an up-and-down year for Reggie Bush, but he’s the player who scares me the most coming into this game. It’s because the Pats defense struggles more often against shiftier backs like Bush, because players like Ray Rice, Fred Jackson, and C.J. Spiller have had success against New England’s staunch run D this year. All-purpose backs like Bush are always tough matchups for the Patriots, and things will get even harder if top run-stopping DE Chandler Jones cannot play against the Dolphins. The Pats are already missing Jermaine Cunningham, and his play against the run is solid and very underrated.
Bush has averaged 4.4 yards per carry this season, but he has been very inconsistent and hasn’t had nearly the same impact as he usually does as a receiver. Part of that is because the Dolphins have- for some reason- been using Daniel Thomas significantly on passing downs. I just don’t understand why the Dolphins keep using Thomas so much in the first place, because he’s been averaging a measly 3.7 yards per carry.
QB Ryan Tannehill
His completion percentage is under 60%, but that doesn’t mean Tannehill is somebody to ignore in this game. The past were able to deal with Andrew Luck after some trouble with Russell Wilson early in the year, and Tannehill’s arm strength is something the Pats will need to watch for. He’s a solid rookie QB with a lot of promise, and his athleticism is also something the Pats will have to account for when rushing him. Without Cunningham and, possibly, Jones, the Pats could find it tough to make life difficult on Tannehill without blitzing.
But with Devin McCourty back there, the Pats feel safer bringing in Dont’a Hightower or Jerod Mayo on a complex 4-3 OLB blitz as they did last week against the New York Jets. I have a feeling we see Hightower notch his second straight game with a sack whilst also welcoming a fellow rookie.
WR Brian Hartline
Tannehill’s new favorite target, I touted Brian Hartline has a legitimate receiver in the offseason and have been right to this point. He has averaged nearly 15 yards per reception with a terrific 8.7 yards per target total overall. Hartline is the most reliable vertical threat in the game, even though he isn’t a true vertical threat. Aqib Talib could match up against him, and he will need to be at his best against Hartline.
WR Davone Bess
Bess is a different story despite the equal reception total (55), because he has proved me wrong after I said Bess wasn’t a legitimate slot receiver this offseason. He has been a reliable target for Tannehill this season as well with an average of nearly eight yards per attempt, and Kyle Arrington will need to play a third straight great game. Arrington finally broke out of his slump with two passes defended and some great coverage against the Indianapolis Colts, and he followed it up with an even better game against the Jets. His tight coverage helped lead to Steve Gregory’s pick in that game, but he will have a much tougher challenge against one of the game’s better route-runners.
C Mike Pouncey
Jake Long’s play has really dropped off since last season, so it looks like Pouncey is the Dolphins best offensive lineman. It’s close between them, but you can’t go wrong with picking Pouncey given his dominance in both pass and run blocking. He’s such an incredible, young talent, and his rookie season last year was a clinic in coming into the league and dominating right off the bat as a run blocker. The former Florida Gators standout has terrific athleticism and the perfect build at 6’5″, 303 pounds. Pouncey is going to have his hands full against Vince Wilfork and an on-rushing Brandon Spikes, and it’s scary to think that Pouncey has been even better this season. His pass protection has been as good as any center’s this season, and he’s clearly better than his brother Maurkice.
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