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Dolphins at Patriots: 3 Must-Watch Matchups

Dolphins SS Reshad Jones will likely be assigned with covering Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski.

With a great challenge comes a great opportunity. For the Miami Dolphins, losers of their last three games, beating the New England Patriots in Foxboro will be a tall order.

The Patriots rarely lose at home. They also rarely lose two consecutive games. Their loss to the Jets in Week 7 suggests the Dolphins will get New England’s best effort on Sunday afternoon.

But a win for the Dolphins would give every AFC East team at least three losses on the season and put Joe Philbin’s club in great position to make a run at the division crown.

Let’s take a look at three matchups that could decide Sunday’s game:

Reshad Jones vs. Rob Gronkowski

The return of Rob Gronkowski means quarterback Tom Brady finally has a reliable go-to weapon. Despite sitting out the first six games of the season, Gronkowski found instant success against the Jets this past Sunday by catching eight balls for 114 yards.

This won’t be the first time these Dolphins have faced one of the league’s premier tight ends, though. Back in Week 4, Miami was forced to deal with Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, who burned them for two touchdowns.

But unlike Graham, who also lines up split out wide as a receiver, Gronkowski is more of a traditional tight end, which means strong safety Reshad Jones will likely get the assignment of covering him throughout most of Sunday’s game.

After an up-and-down first five games of the season, Jones played well against the Bills as mostly an in-the-box run run defender. Against New England, however, his coverage ability will put to the test.

He’s struggled at times in coverage this season, as opposing quarterbacks currently own a 108.8 quarterback rating throwing his way. It’s time for Jones to earn the $30 million extension he signed back in August.

Jonathan Martin vs. Chandler Jones

Five of the Dolphins’ first six opponents rank in the top 10 in sacks produced. The Patriots do not. They currently rank 16th with 18.0 sacks on the season.

That could mean quarterback Ryan Tannehill will have more time to scan the defense this Sunday. Or it could mean that New England is set to join the majority of Miami’s other opponents in the top 10 after feasting on a porous offensive line.

To give Tannehill time in the pocket on Sunday, the first priority should be containing Chandler Jones, who has 6.5 sacks on the season and ranks 16th among all 4-3 defensive ends in pass-rush productivity, according to Pro Football Focus.

Jones will likely line up against left tackle Jonathan Martin on Sunday, as newly acquired left tackle Bryant McKinnie probably won’t be ready to play after practicing with his new team for only a week.

On the other side of the line, Rob Ninkovich only has one sack so far this season. Right tackle Tyson Clabo, who could be making his final start as a pro, seemingly can’t block anyone at the moment, but there’s hope that he’ll be able to at least contain Ninkovich on passing downs.

It’s Chandler Jones who poses the biggest threat to Miami’s offensive line.

Mike Wallace vs. Aqib Talib

There is a possibility that star cornerback Aqib Talib will miss his second consecutive game on Sunday with a hip injury. But being that he practiced on Friday last week and is working, albeit on a limited basis, this week, I would be surprised if he’s inactive.

If he plays, there’s no doubt who he’ll be matched up with. And that would be Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace.

Wallace struggled early on this season with his new team, but he’s quietly beginning to produce as of late. In his last two games, Wallace has caught 12 passes for 181 yards, as his chemistry with quarterback Ryan Tannehill seems to be progressing at least marginally.

It will be difficult for the two to connect often on Sunday versus a healthy Talib, however. Talib’s performance in the first six games of the year positioned him the top five among all cornerbacks in coverage efficiency, according to Pro Football Focus.

He has virtually shut down explosive pass catchers such as Roddy White, Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Jimmy Graham so far this season. Doing the same to Mike Wallace appears to be a manageable task to say the least.

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2 Responses to “Dolphins at Patriots: 3 Must-Watch Matchups”

  1. Fins_Swag says:

    I have a really bad feeling about this game. Gronk in his second game back could destroy our secondary! Really thinking this could be a blowout which would really suck to see.

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