Patriots-Dolphins matchup of the day: Thursday

Posted Dec. 22, 2011 @ 1:43 p.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

Here is a key matchup to watch in the Week 16 game between the Patriots and Dolphins:

Patriots TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez vs. Dolphins defense

Miami's weakness on defense for the past few seasons has been covering opposing tight ends. As the defense has improved in the second half of the season, that has as well, but it's not the best weakness to have when facing the league's best TE tandem.

Gronkowski is putting up ridiculous numbers this season, breaking the all-time record for most touchdown catches in a season by a tight end. In Week One against the Dolphins, he had six catches for 86 yards and a touchdown. In the season finale vs. Miami last season, Gronk went 6-102-1. The Dolphins did hold him to one catch in his first-ever game against them in Week Four last season.

Hernandez broke out last week against Denver with nine catches for a career-high 129 yards and a touchdown. He also had a 16-yard run. Hernandez dominated Miami in Week One as well, going 7-103-1.

The Dolphins do provide some good matchups, though, at linebacker, with Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett. Dansby is one of the league's best linebackers in coverage.

It's the safeties that are a concern for Miami and an area the Patriots will want to exploit. SS Yeremiah Bell has lost a step and there has been inconsistent play at the free safety spot. Reshad Jones is a playmaker, but not always in the right spot.

With Miami having good cover corners in Sean Smith and Vontae Davis, Tom Brady will likely look to target Gronkowski and Hernandez often, as he did in Week One against the Dolphins. But Dansby and Burnett have played much better football of late, and may make this matchup more difficult than it has been for New England, which puts more pressure on the wideouts and running game.

No team has really held both Gronkowski and Hernandez in check. Miami has half the personnel with talented inside linebackers, but it will be no easy task to keep the tight ends out of the Patriots' passing attack.