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BOSTON (CBS) – When the New England Patriots open their season against the Miami Dolphins on Monday night, there are several key matchups they have to worry about.
Luckily for them, they have a few guys that will give the Dolphins problems as well.
Tom Brady vs. Miami’s Defense
The Patriots quarterback has enjoyed success recently against Miami, winning five of his last six against the Dolphins. Last season Brady completed 29 of his 40 passes against Miami, throwing for three touchdowns and no picks. He admitted the offense did not play as well as he would have liked in New England’s 41-14 Monday night win at Sun Life Stadium in 2010, saying earlier this week his special teams bailed them out with two touchdowns.
Brady will look to extend his streak of passes without an interception as he enters 2011 with 335 straight regular season attempts without a pick. Not to jinx it, but Brady has thrown 16 career INTs to the Dolphins, the most by any opposing team.
Miami touts a very young and effective secondary with Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. They allowed just over 200 yards passing per game last season, ranking in the top ten.
“They’re very good and I think we’ve played them plenty of times to understand that,” Brady said of the secondary that accounted for two interceptions and 21 pass deflections in 2010. “Vontae is really a ball hawk. He’s made some great interceptions against us, especially. He’s very talented. He has all the tools of a great player. And Sean Smith’s another – both of those guys are the same age – he’s long, he’s tall, he’s physical, [and] he covers well. For a big guy, he moves very well. So they do; they have two very good corners.”
In his two year career, Davis has two interceptions on Brady. He even boasted him and Smith as the best cornerback duo in the NFL, much to the chagrin of the Jets Darelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie.
Brady will also have to worry about one of his biggest nemesis’ in the NFL: Jason Taylor. The future Hall of Famer leads all active players with 132.5 sacks, 10.5 of them coming against Brady.
Wes Welker vs. Miami
Welker has put up some great numbers against his former team. In seven games against the Dolphins, the Patriots receiver has 55 receptions, 683 yards and two touchdowns. His 98 receiving yards per game average is the best against any team he has faced more than once.
Welker also has three 100-yard games against Miami; a 138 yard performance in 2007, a 120-yard game in 2008, and a 10 receptions, 167 yard afternoon in 2009.
Brandon Marshall vs. Patriots Secondary
The Patriots will have receivers Devon Bess and Brian Hartline along with tight end Anthony Fasano to worry about, but the main target of the Miami Offense is Brandon Marshall. After a disappointing first season with the Dolphins, Marshall will be looking to get his 2011 campaign off to a big start. At 6-4, 230 pounds Marshall is a big body that can make big plays. In two games against New England in 2010, Marshall had 10 receptions for 147 yards. Career against the Patriots, he has 24 receptions for 288 yards and two touchdowns.
The numbers aren’t great, but he will be a threat to take it to the house on Monday night.
“He’s a very big target,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “He had a big play against somebody down the sideline, went up, took the ball away from the defender, broke a couple of tackles [and] went in the end zone.”
“He doesn’t just make great catches 50-60 yards down the field. He turns catches that are maybe 5-10 yards into a 70-yard touchdown,” corner Devin McCourty said earlier in the week. “As a defense you have to be prepared and ready to get him on the ground when he catches the ball.”
“There are times that it looks like he’s covered and then not only does he end up with the ball but he ends up with a lot of yards after that because he’s a hard guy to bring down,” said Belichick. “We’ve had a tough time with him before and he’s looked good in the preseason. He can definitely go up and get the ball and he’s very physical guy that’s hard to tackle.”
Marshall finished with seven receptions for 136 yards and a touchdown in the preseason.
They played well against him last season, but the Patriots secondary will likely have some issues with him as they scrape off some rust.
Reggie Bush vs. Patriots Defense
Believe it or not, Monday night will be Reggie Bush’s first career game against the Patriots. Now he is on the Dolphins, and will get that shot twice a year.
The Patriots may have never seen the dynamic back before, but they know what he can bring to a game.
“It’s like having a receiver in the backfield. He’s a very dynamic player,” said Belichick of Bush. “There are a lot of things he can do that not many other players can do so he’s a tough guy to defend.”
“He can take a three-yard check down to the house,” said linebacker Jerod Mayo. “You have to stay on him; he adds a whole other dynamic to the offense.”
“Reggie does it from a bunch of different angles; not just getting handoffs (but) also in the passing game,” said McCourty. “He’s a fast explosive player. You can’t give him much room out there; he’s a guy that can make a lot of plays.”
Bush never lived up to the hype after being drafted second overall by the Saints. But can still score at any time, if not in the run game, in the return game. Bush has returned four punts for touchdowns in his career.
Tune in to the Patriots season opener at 7pm Monday night on 98.5 The Sports Hub with pregame coverage beginning at 4pm. After the game, tune in to the Postgame show on 98.5, and to Patriots Fifth Quarter on TV38.