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AFC East Debate: Dolphins LBs or Patriots LBs?

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I told you on Monday that I was going to do a brief series comparing the Dolphins with their AFC East rivals at a few positions. Today we're going to turn our attention to defense.

When I was examining the other AFC East rosters, I thought that comparing Miami's group of linebackers with that of New England would be interesting because of how similar I think they are. Both have a very good player at one of their inside spots but have question marks everywhere else - particularly outside.

Below I will state my case for the Dolphins having the better group. I've enlisted the help of "SlotMachinePlayer" - a contributing writer over at Pats Pulpit, SBN's Patriots blog - to make his case for New England.

Why the Dolphins have the better linebackers
Let's start on the inside. While I respect Jarod Mayo, he isn't nearly the impact play-maker that Karlos Dansby is and will be in Miami. Dansby can do it all, is particularly good in coverage for a linebacker, and always seems to be around the ball. Mayo, meanwhile, seems like more of a run-stopping thumper in the middle of that defense.

When I see Mayo play, I think of Channing Crowder - a run stopper who doesn't do much else. But now with Dansby in the fold, Channing won't be asked to do much else other than make plays against the run. And we know he can do that. We've seen him do that and we've seen what happens when Channing isn't able to play - teams run the ball down Miami's throat. Crowder is also still a guy who has two 100 tackle seasons under his belt. Whoever wins the starting job next to Mayo in New England - whether it's Gary Guyton or rookie Brandon Spikes - is not as proven as Channing. In fact, Spikes might essentially be a Crowder clone (good against the run but slow). Edge to Miami.

On the outside, both teams have question marks. But Miami's upside with Cameron Wake and Koa Misi is far superior to the guys New England has on the roster. No, potential doesn't mean anything once the pads go on. But you can't sit here and tell me that you'd rather have Tully Banta-Cain, Derrick Burgess, and company over Wake, Misi, and Miami's group of no-names.

Why the Pats have the better linebackers
Jerod Mayo heads the Patriots linebacker squad. With Tedy Bruschi gone, and Tyrone McKenzie on IR, Mayo slid over to the strong side last year and called the defensive plays. It was a new role for him. Add in his three game injury, and he wasn't as effective as his DROY year: only 103 tackles (70 solo) vs 128 (100 solo). Tyrone McKenzie spent his year on IR studying the playbook and bulking up. With the addition of tackling machine Brandon Spikes from Florida, Jerod should be able to slide back over to his home ground of read and react on the weak side. Gary Guyton is back, and has the speed to drop into coverage against the best Tight Ends in the business as well as pressure from the OLB position.

Tully Banta-Cain is back after getting 9.5 sacks from the right side last year. Past him, the OLB position is a little more uncertain. Derrick Burgess was a little slow to pick up the system, but came along nicely at the end, picking up 3 of his 5 sacks in the last three games. He was a situational DE most of the year, but has been practicing dropping into coverage this preseason and it looks like he has some proficiency there. Look for him to be more of a three down OLB. Shawn Crable is lightning fast, and if he can stay healthy, he will be tough to contain. I look for a lot of offensive penalties as linemen jump before the snap to try to grab him. Hoodie had a chance to grab Carlos Dunlap, but drafted his teammate, Jermaine Cunningham from Florida, instead. Looking at some film, Cunningham was the guy drawing double teams, while Dunlap was left one on one, so I think Belichick knew what he was doing there. Of course, Pierre Woods is still on the squad if someone needs a break.

A lot of people talk about the OLB's in a 3-4 as the pass rushers, and quite often they are, but the pass rush can come from inside just as easily. It's been a few years since the Pats could successfully disguise their pass rush scheme, but with the personnel they have in place, pressure can come from anywhere. Personally, I prefer inside pressure because the QB can't just cozy up into the pocket and complete the pass. With a linebacker in his face, the pocket collapses, throwing lanes shrink, and the QB finds himself scrambling - hopefully into the waiting arms of the OLB. The season can't possibly come soon enough.


Thanks again to"SlotMachinePlayer" for helping us out. Your thoughts, as always, are encouraged below...