Patriots-Dolphins matchup of the day: Thursday

Posted Dec. 30, 2010 @ 2:05 p.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

Here's a matchup to watch in the Week 17 game between the Patriots and Dolphins:

Dolphins ILB Tim Dobbins and SS Yeremiah Bell vs. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski

The Dolphins have struggled all season covering tight ends, and don't expect it to drastically improve on Sunday as they likely will be missing ILB Karlos Dansby for the second week in a row because of turf toe.

Dobbins will start for Dansby but is more of a run stopper. Paired with Channing Crowder, the Dolphins don't have an inside linebacker starting Sunday that is good in coverage. They likely will count on Bell to help cover Gronkowski, the rookie sensation for the Patriots.

Gronkowski led the Pats in receiving last week, with four catches for 54 yards and two TDs against the Bills. He is especially lethal in the red zone, as his nine touchdown catches rank second among rookies. With the No. 1 seed locked up for the playoffs, the Patriots could rest some veteran receivers, like Deion Branch and Wes Welker. TE Aaron Hernandez also could sit out to get healthy after missing last week with an injury. Gronkowski, though, should play most of the game, and could get a lot of looks.

The Dolphins have good corners and Bell is one of the better cover safeties, so he matches up well with Gronkowski. But covering a spread offense, Dobbins may need to help on Gronkowski. Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew led his team in receiving against the Dolphins last week with four catches for 74 yards and one TD.