As the Patriots gear up to take on the Miami Dolphins this Sunday, us bloggers gear up to analyze and dissect this matchup. Yesterday, I detailed a big key for the Pats offense, which includes airing it out versus Miami. Today I bring you five players that could decide this game, for better, or for worse.
1. Tom Brady
Everything revolves around Mr. Brady in New England. If he plays well, more often than not, the Pats will win the ball game. However if he slips up a little bit (as has been the case for the majority of 2013), the Patriots will struggle. You can talk all you want about the mishaps of the rookie receivers, or the brutally bad play of the offensive line, but if Brady doesn’t step up, their passing offense will be down in the dumps once again. Brady has completed a mere 55% of his passes, and his total QBR (one of the biggest stats you can use to judge a quarterback’s play) ranks 19th in the NFL, as he currently sits at a 48.5 rating. His accuracy is off, his trademark decision making is questionable, and his hair-style has just gone totally off the map…just kidding. But seriously, Brady has struggled here in 2013, and it is about time that he snapped out of this mini-funk of his.
2. Nate Solder
The Pats offensive line has given up an incredible eleven sacks over the last three games. At times it hasn’t been their fault, as the Pats receivers struggled to get open in Cincinnati, and Brady failed to make some key adjustments at the line against the Saints, but overall it has just been a bad couple of weeks for the five guys up front. If New England wants to get their struggling offense on track against the Dolphins, Nate Solder’s matchup with defensive end Cameron Wake will be a big thing to keep an eye on. Wake only has 2.5 sacks on the year, but he still has that game-changing talent, and if Solder (who has struggled as of late) can’t corral him, Tom Brady and company could be on for another long day.
3. Aqib Talib
We are still unsure of the status of the Patriots top defensive back, as he suffered a hip injury two weeks ago in Foxboro, but he has returned to practice, which is always a positive sign. If Talib does play, he will have a tough matchup in one Mike Wallace. Now I am not a huge fan of Wallace, and I find the people that say he is a top five receiver in this league despicable. He is really a one trick pony, as the only route he seems to be able to run effectively, is a “go” route. Unfortunately, this is the one trick that always seems to befuddle Talib. He is a big corner, as he stands at 6’1, which usually works to his advantage, but it also inhibits his straight-line speed. Talib’s game is getting physical with the opposition, and using his size and length to his advantage. We have seen Talib get beat by smaller guys with speed before (DeSean Jackson in the preseason), and I fear that Talib could struggle against Wallace, who has a similar skill-set to Jackson.
4. Chandler Jones
Much like the New England offensive line, those fellas down in Miami haven’t been protecting their signal caller very well either. In fact, they have performed even worse than the Pats, as they are third worst in the league in sacks given up (Patriots are only ninth). This opens up a solid opportunity for second year man Chandler Jones. Jones has shown a significant amount of growth this season, already amassing more sacks this year, than he had in all of 2012. His explosiveness off of the edge can be frightening, and he has also done some damage when he has moved to a three-technique on the inside. Look for the Patriots to utilize Jones’ talent on Sunday, in an effort to disrupt the Miami offense, and come away with some big plays.
5. Bill Belichick
Now I know that this was supposed to be ‘players list’, but Belichick has an opportunity to really make a big impact on this game (as if he doesn’t do that every single Sunday). Ryan Tannehill is an extremely young quarterback, and he is struggling. He has thrown seven interceptions thus far in 2013, to go along with seven fumbles. He just doesn’t seem to be comfortable with the game right now, as his offense is in shambles, and their defense is doing them no favors. As I mentioned before, the Dolphin’s offensive line struggles in protecting their leader, so if you’re Belichick, why not devise some blitz schemes to send at Tannehill? He definitely struggles when faced with some heat, so coming after him would probably benefit the Patriots more than it would hurt them. Whatever Belichick decides to do, his decisions on the defensive side of the ball will bear watching as these two teams prepare to go to battle.