Saturday, November 7, 2009
Dolphins defense gets softer for Patriots
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
The New England Patriots' chances of victory over the Miami Dolphins have improved even more.
The Dolphins have downgraded underrated nose tackle Jason Ferguson and inside linebacker Channing Crowder from doubtful to out for Sunday's game Gillette Stadium.
A battered, inexperienced defense generally isn't the blueprint to beat Tom Brady.
A significant amount of experience has vanished from Miami's defense the past two weeks. Top cornerback Will Allen went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 7, forcing the Dolphins to start two rookie cornerbacks (Sean Smith and Vontae Davis).
In last week's victory over the New York Jets, the Dolphins took it a step further and granted safety Chris Clemons his first NFL start in place of Gibril Wilson. That gave the Dolphins a secondary comprised of three-quarters rookies.
Miami will miss Ferguson the most. He's not a star nose tackle like Kris Jenkins for the Jets or Vince Wilfork for the Patriots, but he's in their mold. Ferguson anchors the Dolphins' 3-4 defense and is a solid run-stopper who can occupy multiple blockers.
Backup defensive tackle Paul Soliai, who was in coach Tony Sparano's doghouse over weight issues and a general lack of commitment last year, is coming off the best game of his career. Soliai was credited with six tackles, a pass deflection and the forced fumble Jason Taylor returned for a touchdown against the Jets.
Soliai will need to be a force again to compensate for Ferguson.
Crowder will miss his second straight game with a shoulder injury. Reggie Torbor should start again.
Crowder's absence doesn't mean as much to the Dolphins as the casual fan might think. His mouth has made him more relevant than his play this season. He's a decent tackler but has zero sacks, zero passes defensed and zero forced fumbles.
Plus, the dropoff to Torbor isn't that considerable. The season the New York Giants won the Super Bowl, Torbor started their final five regular-season games and all four in the postseason, including that gargantuan upset to deny the Patriots a perfect season.
The Patriots, however, have their share of injuries. They've already ruled out left tackle Matt Light, running backs Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor, receiver Julian Edelman and defensive end Jarvis Green.