By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff
The Patriots travel down to play the Miami Dolphins this Sunday at 1PM. At times, this stadium has been a house of horrors for the Patriots. While the Patriots have won 2 straight down there by comfortable margins, they are just 4-5 down there in the Bill Belichick years having lost 5 of 7 between the years 2000 and 2006. This year will not be easy either. While the Dolphins are injured and perhaps not as talented as New England at the moment, they are 3-2 at home while the Patriots are 1-4 (and the one win was essentially at a neutral site in London). This will not be an easy game and with the Patriots still reeling from an embarrassing performance Monday night against the Saints, on a short week and on the road for the second week in a row at a venue they traditionally struggle a, and a division game to boot, the panic around these parts could be about to double or triple. They’ll need a good effort to show they can move on past last week’s bad performance, and if they do it, it should be considered an impressive win for them.
Ricky Williams (#34):
Rejuvenated Ricky was playing well the last two years before injuries pretty much anointed him the sole option in the Dolphins’ backfield. But now that he is the featured back again, he’s put up three consecutive hundred yard games. For the year, he’s averaging a very impressive 5.1 per carry. These days, Ricky appears slimmer than his earlier run with the Saints and Dolphins. He is still powerful, but maybe a little less so then back when he was younger. But the amazing thing is, the slimmed down Ricky appears quicker and faster these days. In any event, he’s back being a very dangerous back and one the Dolphins will want to get going to control the clock on the Patriots and keep the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands.
Jake Long (#77):
Last year the Dolphins were coming off a 2007 1-15 campaign and had the first pick in the draft. They used it on this offensive left tackle, Jake Long. Its been worth it. He has been as good as advertised, solidifying the offensive line and dominating opponents. The Patriots showed their respect for him during the last matchup on November 8th when they shifted their best defensive lineman, Vince Wilfork, from his conventional nose tackle position to right end simply so he could matchup with the dominant Long. Long, a product of the University of Michigan, has been blocking effectively for Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne for many, many years as he also went to Michigan. He is a top notch run and pass blocker, but maybe slightly better at run blocking. It’ll be interesting to see if the Patriots repeat the Wilfork maneuver to counter Long or if they try something else to keep him a bit off-balance on Sunday.
Randy Starks (#94):
Starks is a Miami defensive lineman who has had his best year rushing the quarterback with 6 sacks thru 11 games, a new career high. He had a sack against the Patriots back in November and was generally disruptive up front. The former third round pick of Tennessee seems to be in the prime of his career at age 26 this month and is playing very well. While Starks is not the pure pass rusher you have to commit 2 guys to, with Joey Porter and Jason Taylor on his outside, he is the type of guy who can generate a push inside and beat a guard to the quarterback. He’ll also hold up well in the running game. Acquired in 2008 as a free agent, you’d have to mark Starks up as a good personnel move by Dolphins President Bill Parcells.
Cameron Wake (#91):
Wake has been a very pleasant surprise and another good acquisition this season for the Dolphins. Wake, who played at Penn State, got a tryout with the Giants in 2005 after going undrafted but was let go. After being out of football for a year, he signed with the British Columbia Lions of the CFL in 2007. In two season, Wake terrorized CFL quarterbacks with 39 sacks. Both seasons he was name the Most Outstanding Defensive Player in the CFL. The Dolphins signed him this offseason and while he has been mostly a situational pass rusher, he has logged significant time at linebacker in a couple games. For the year he has 4.5 sacks and has displayed good pass rushing ability once again for a part-time role. He had one of those sacks in the earlier game against the Patriots and he is someone that could be overlooked by teams concentrating on Joey Porter or Jason Taylor, but if the Patriots ignore him he could have a big game.
Vontae Davis (#21):
The Dolphins first round pick this year is now a starter at cornerback. The first meeting against the Patriots, he had an up and down day with an interception but also getting burned several times by Randy Moss including on the game winning 71 yard go ahead touchdown for the Patriots. He is the brother of 49ers Tight End Vernon Davis and came out of college at Illinois after his junior year, so he is still young. For the season he has 35 tackles and 1 interception and is showing a lot of potential to be a shut down corner. He’ll still have his moments of struggle, but if the Dolphins can generate a good pass rush he is capable of making a big play Sunday.
Parcells, of course, is well-known to Patriots fans having coached the team between1993-1996, including an AFC Championship his last year here. For me personally, I’ll always feel Parcells made me a better fan with a better understanding of good football and championship football even though he didn’t win one here. His four years here were a very enjoyable period of watching Patriots football for me and a prelude to the Championship years we saw later when Bill Belichick, his long time colleague, took over the team in 2000. Parcells, for all his personality quirks, good and bad, has had a remarkable NFL career as a coach and front office man. He has pretty much rebuilt five NFL franchises from ground level in the Giants, Patriots, Jets, Cowboys and now Dolphins. While for a time his weakness was said to be personnel, he has shot holes in that theory with good acquisitions and decisions in Miami in all areas, including hiring, veteran acquisitions and re-signings and the draft. Some day I’d like to see him voted into the Patriots Hall of Fame for his important contributions, though brief, to the franchise.
Miami Herald Dolphins blog