NEPD Staff Writer: Doug Kyed
With the Dolphins spending their Christmas Eve in Foxboro, the Patriots seem to be surging at the perfect time to make a playoff run.
Of course, with two in division games left, the Patriots do have to beware of the let-down game. The Dolphins defense has much improved since the first game of the season, a 38-24 loss where Tom Brady threw for 517 yards.
Still, it’s a Christmas Eve game with weather expected in the 30s against Miami. This should be an easy victory for our New England Patriots. Here are some things I’m looking for:
THE RETURN OF CHUNG?
I feel like a broken record over the last few weeks awaiting the return of one of my favorite Patriots players. This SHOULD be the week. He’s not in a walking boot anymore, he’s practicing fully… It would be huge for the Patriots to have Patrick Chung and Brandon Spikes back for the playoffs. Chung should be back this week and Spikes could be back next week.
With the way this Chung injury has been progressing, there’s really no way of knowing when he’ll be back. He’s been out since the Giants game and it looked like a possibility he was going to be back the next week. It’s seven weeks later now and we’re still waiting for him to come back.
Chung is by far the best Patriots safety. He’s the best safety in man coverage, in zone coverage, against the run and he’s got the best instincts. Granted, none of those things are saying much, but it does go to show how important he is. Chung would have helped stop a lot of the Redskins 170 rushing yards two weeks ago as a last line of defense. He’s a great open field tackler, and he’s good at preventing big yard plays from running backs. That’s another reason it’s so important to get him back against Miami. Reggie Bush really relies on those kinds of plays to have a big game.
LOOK FOR SOME NEW FACES
This is pretty odd in the NFL, but the Patriots as of when I’m writing this actually have an open spot on their 53 man roster (two if you include the fact that Ross Ventrone is currently up from the Practice Squad). Vincent Fuller, a veteran defensive back who was actually on the Detroit Lions injured reserve until this week, took one of the spots vacated by Eric Moore’s release and Andre Carter being placed on injured reserve. I’d look for one or more defensive end/outside linebacker types to be signed before Saturday’s game. A couple possibilities are Markell Carter and Alex Silvestro (both currently on the practice squad), Tully Banta-Cain or even bringing Moore back already (we’ve seen crazier things in New England).
If the Patriots expect Chung to be playing on Saturday, I would look for either Fuller or Ventrone to be released tomorrow. I see no reason to be carrying eleven defensive backs (including Edelman and Slater) when the only outside rushers the Patriots currently have on their… 52 man roster are Mark Anderson, Shaun Ellis and Rob Ninkovich. Seriously. That’s it.
It seems the way Belichick has been doing things this year is literally trying out players in game action… in games. I’d expect the same this week with Vincent Fuller and the DE(s) they sign.
OTHER PASS RUSH POSSIBILITIES
With so few natural pass rushers left on the team now, I’d expect Belichick to try some new things out this week. Look to see Dane Fletcher get some looks at OLB in a 3-4 or even putting his hand down in a 4-3 or sub packages. Fletcher mostly played OLB for the Patriots last year in limited snaps and did a decent job at getting to the QB.
Also look for Kyle Arrington to get some snaps at DE like he did last year and a couple times this year. The Pats might have WRs playing DB and DBs playing DE. Sure signs that the Patriots are having a good season.
Ready for a serious wild card? Dorin Dickerson is a TE/WR on the Patriots practice squad right now. He played LB for a season in college, so he has it in him. It would be AWESOME to see him rushing the passer in a no. 80 jersey. He’s big and he’s fast.
Really, I wouldn’t be surprised to see any Patriots linebackers lining up outside to rush the passer whether it’s Jerod Mayo, Gary Guyton, Tracy White. Someone’s going to have to do it.
Whoever is rushing at Marc Colombo has no excuse not to get to Matt Moore. Colombo has been dreadful allowing eight sacks, nine QB hits and 32 QB pressures according to Pro Football Focus.
PAGING DEVIN MCCOURTY
Do you remember when you first started thinking, “Oh crap, that doesn’t look like the same Devin McCourty we saw last year.” I do, it was 16 weeks ago in Miami. That game, McCourty let up 151 yards through the air, 114 on six receptions and eleven targets to Brandon Marshall and 37 yards on three receptions and four targets to Brian Hartline (thanks PFF).
I’d like to see McCourty shut down Marshall this time, because he doesn’t have Ras-I Dowling to bail him out again.
Call me naïve, but this might be an even bigger breakout game for Ochocinco. Deion Branch might be back, but the Dolphins secondary is the weakest part of their defense. If Brady is going to throw for anywhere near the 517 yards he put up in week one against Miami, I’d expect Ocho to see some of those throws coming his way. I liked a lot of what I saw from Ocho last week, and I hope it continues. Maybe all he needed was a starting role.
KEEP CAMERON WAKE AT BAY
According to Pro Football Focus, Wake had his second to work game overall against the Patriots in week one, in large part thanks to Nate Solder. This week, if the Pats hope to stop Wake again, it will be on both rookies Solder and Marcus Cannon. Solder’s going to be asked to help out a lot again as a 3rd TE, and if he’s playing that role, it moves Cannon in as the RT. This should be a huge test for both players.
I’m predicting another decisive victory for the Patriots on Saturday. I think New England matches up well with the Dolphins, especially if Chung is back.
If you want to follow along with my in-game thoughts, make sure to follow me on twitter: @dougkyed.