Patriots-Dolphins matchup of the day: Friday

Posted Dec. 23, 2011 @ 2:25 p.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

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

Dolphins WR Brandon Marshall vs. Patriots CB Devin McCourty

Quietly, Marshall has put up another very productive season. With Matt Moore at quarterback, Marshall has been the recipient of more big plays. He is gaining 14.6 yards per catch, his highest average since his rookie season, and nearly three yards more per catch than he produced last season with Chad Henne at QB.

Marshall has 70 catches for 1,021 yards and five touchdowns this season. It's his fifth consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season.

McCourty has experienced quite a sophomore slump. He has battled injury but is still second on the team with 73 tackles, though he has zero interceptions and only seven passes defensed. As a rookie, McCourty had seven picks and 17 passes defensed.

What has been a concern this season is that it's not like McCourty hasn't had his opportunities — teams are targeting him often, and finding success. McCourty has the speed and physicality to keep up with Marshall down the sideline, but McCourty's ball skills aren't what they were last season, and that could give Marshall an edge near the goal line.

The Patriots have given up more passing yards than any team this season, and Moore will look to throw the ball often on them. If McCourty can put it together and shut down Marshall, that gives the Patriots a huge advantage. Dolphins WRs Davone Bess and Brian Hartline are talented but nowhere near the threat that Marshall is.

It also would be a big confidence boost for McCourty, who will be counted on come playoff time if the Patriots are to get back to the Super Bowl. Last season, having McCourty shutting down one half of the field, the Patriots could make up for some of the yards they gave up. But this season, it hasn't gone that way, and Sunday is an opportunity for McCourty to show that his rookie season was no fluke.