Patriots-Dolphins matchup of the day: Sunday

Posted Sept. 11, 2011 @ 11:04 a.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

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

Patriots' third-down defense vs. Dolphins' third-down offense

It's no secret that the Patriots' biggest Achilles' heel last season was getting their defense off the field on third down. They finished dead last in the league in third-down defense. The young defense struggled to put pressure on the quarterback and gave up too many first downs.

The moves made in the offseason by New England on defense are expected to improve the third-down defense. DEs Shaun Ellis and Andre Carter bring pass-rushing skills that the team lacked last season, and DT Albert Haynesworth should spark the interior pass rush. The season opener provides fans (and the team) the first chance to see if the Patriots' third-down defense will, in fact, be improved.

The Dolphins, as bad as their offense was last season, weren't terrible on third downs. They finished 12th in the league, converting 40 percent of third downs. Chad Henne will have an extra option this season in Reggie Bush, who provides an electric check-down option. Dolphins WR Davone Bess is one of the league leaders in third-down receptions, and the Patriots' corners will have to keep him in check.

Patriots LB Dane Fletcher made his mark last season by covering backs in the flat, and he may be asked to do that against Bush. Rookie CB Ras-I Dowling could also contribute on third downs in the secondary, thanks to his physicality.