NEPD Staff Writer: Brian Delabarrera
It’s hard to believe that we’re already back here; with all the lockout drama this offseason, at times it felt like we may never see our teams hit the gridiron again.
But nevertheless, Week 1 is here and both the Patriots and the Dolphins are looking at a must-win game. The past few years, New England has seen relatively good regular-season performances sprinkled with post-season misadventures.
Tom Brady, one year off of surgery, is pumped up about the opportunity to join sides with former Cincinnati WR Chad OchoCinco and take on a league that murmurs about his possible decline.
QB Chad Henne and the Miami Dolphins feel that they are contenders, but not many currently feel the same with Henne’s arm behind center. You can bet that these AFC East rivals will look to make their mark the very first week against everyone’s favorite adversary.
The Packers v. Saints game provided the little taste of offense that we all needed, now it’s time to salivate and lick our chops until Monday… but since today isn’t Monday, here’s your Pre-Game Meal –
Brandon Marshall vs. Devin McCaptain – Only one year in and former freakishly-athletic Rutgers CB Devin McCourty has already been named captain of a secondary that is undergoing a serious facelift.
This offseason saw the departures of S Brandon Merriweather and S James Sanders; two men who were veteran leaders of the defensive unit.
Offensively, I feel that Miami is kind of shaky, however WR Brandon Marshall is a one-man SportsCenter highlight and if any one can make the Patriots pay with the ball in his hands it’s this guy. It is going to be the newly adorned Patriot captain’s job to keep Miami’s 6’4″, 230 lb wideout in his sights and away from the football.
In the beginning of last season, it took Marshall the first three games to get into his groove and catch a touchdown, add in the lack of practices this offseason and hopefully the hard working, young Patriot secondary can stay on top of his routes.
As a matter of fact, Brandon Marshall finished the 2010 season with only 3 TDs total – marking his lowest total since his rookie season in 2006 – even though he broke the 1,000-yard milestone.
McCourty, on the other hand had nothing but remarkable play in his first NFL season with impressive stats to show for it: 7 INT (with an avg. of over 15 yds per return on each INT) and 2 forced fumbles.
Throw in returning CB Leigh Bodden and 6″1″ hard-working rookie CB Ras-I Dowling and New England really may have something solid to keep Miami’s #1 wide receiver under 100 yards and also to move forward with. (The addition of veteran S Darren Sharper wouldn’t really hurt either) Can Chad Henne show more endzone love to Marshall this season?
Chad Henne vs. New England Defense – Last year Henne had his best one yet statistically speaking, throwing 331 passes for 3,301 yards, 15 TDs, and 19 INTs (also a career high). Many people don’t feel that the former Michigan QB has what it takes to remained poised throughout the entire season and lead his team into the Playoffs.
They may be right because this may be Chad’s last chance. Miami thought that the addition of Brandon Marshall would boost offense, and while it did the job of moving the sticks, it didn’t really add much scoring power to a moderately lackluster offense.
Speedster WR Davone Bess could really pose problems for defenses if his QB could correctly distribute the ball in a better fashion. TE Anthony Fasano was a favorite of Henne’s last season with almost 40 receptions and 4 TDs; it’s going to be key to remove him from the passing game. I think the defense (LB Jerod Mayo, S Pat Chung) could possibly pick off a desperation pass headed Fasano’s way.
The Patriots had a ton of moves this offseason, as I’m sure you all know by now. 6’6″, 350 lb DT Albert Haynesworth is the keystone of this offseason, acquired from the Washington Redskins for a small fraction of $100M. Lining him up side by side with Pro Bowl NT Vince Wilfork and newly-added, former-nemesis Shaun Ellis and the Patriots defensive line is one that will make any QB shake in his boots.
If these players don’t help boost the pass rush, I don’t know what will. Expect sacks. LBs Jerod Mayo, Rob Ninkovich, and Brandon Spikes will be able to scour the flat and keep the check downs from Henne to a minimum in the line performs up to expectations. Chad Henne finishes with 200 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT.
“At least last year, I didn’t think I was going to play because I was playing a lot of scout team. Now I’m in the system and I’m playing and practicing and stuff and I think it’s time for me — I guess, the sleeping giant — to awake and go back out there on the field and play football again.”
– Albert Haynesworth on beginning the season with the Patriots
#12 & The Ocho Show vs. Miami Defense – Tom Brady has looked ready to go in the preseason, I expect the reigning MVP to come out Monday Night with all guns blazing. His offense is riddled with weapons and his offensive line keeps improving.
The multi-talented, marketing guru WR Chad OchoCinco will be making his Patriot debut on primetime television as well. I suppose this is something that probably won’t hurt Brady’s passing attack. TE Rob Gronkowski is slowly becoming a staple and a favorite of the majority of NE fans. He works hard, competes harder, and plays the hardest.
In his rookie season, Gronk showered opposing defenses with 42 receptions and 10 TDs – he is a mismatch everywhere at 6’6″ and can catch like a WR should. This season will be even more of a coming-out party for him as he has become one of Brady’s top targets as well. This man will score on MNF. Believe that.
Miami CB Vonate Davis will pose some problems to the Ocho show however, the golden-cleated WR may find himself second to no. 87. While he doesn’t boast big stats, last season he did a good job of shutting down big WRs and will be playing hard against TB12.
The Dolphins will also have LB Karlos Dansby with his eyes on Brady at all times too. This veteran linebacker has been a good addition for Miami and will present his fair share of interferences with the offensive gameplan.
I don’t expect Patriot RBs BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, or Stevan Ridley to rush for anything remarkable either. I believe that most of the latter two’s contributions will be catching passes out of the backfield. Brady finishes with 290 yards, 3 scores… say what you will. One to Ocho, one to Gronk, one to Woody.
Miami – WR Brian Hartline & RB Reggie Bush – I had a tough time here because I’m not convinced that Bush is going to be able to stay up and consistently gain Miami yards. He has explosive power though, so it’d be dumb to write him off. Hartline is a big wide receiver with a knack for catching passes just when the team appears to be losing steam, keeping an eye on him won’t be first priority, but it is highly recommended.
New England – TE Aaron Hernandez – The former Gator reeled in 6 of his own touchdowns in his rookie season along side of Gronkowski. These two combined outscored all the receiving options for Miami in their first run at professional football. With the size of an end and the skills of a wide receiver, Hernandez is sure to stir things up when he takes the field, I’m sure.
Patriots 27 – Dolphins 17