Football is a matchup game these days.
It's about your center versus their nose tackle. It's your cover corner against their No. 1 wideout, your punter against their returner, your tight end versus their safeties, your running back must break a linebacker's tackle or make him miss to get into the secondary.
Mano a mano.
And, of course, it is about your offensive tackles against their best outside rushers. That is why Dolphins fans this week greeted the news of Jake Long going down with a torn left triceps as terrible news because now NFL sack leader Aldon Smith comes at the Dolphins when they face the San Francisco 49ers.
And the matchup that was supposed to be Smith vs. Long -- a fracas in 'Frisco, so to speak -- now is looking like Smith vs. Martin. And that seems more like a blowout by the bay.
Well, I have two nuggets of news for you -- one good news, one bad news.
I believe when the now expected Martin vs. Smith matchup does occur, the Dolphins new rookie left tackle will be able to hold his own. I do not expect that Smith will be able to work Martin for 5.5 sacks as he did against Chicago on Nov. 19.
Martin has spent much of his rookie season holding his own at right tackle. He played left tackle quite well at Stanford. And during his time with the Dolphins, no less than Cameron Wake has come to respect his work ethic.
"I know from literally watching him from the day he got here mature and grow in the game," Wake said. "He’s playing like a veteran. We don’t have any rookies anymore. That’s what we always talk about in this facility; there are no more rookies. You’ve been playing, you’ve got to go out there and step up, and even guys who “aren’t starting,” I mean you’re one shoelace away from being in there and (facing) live bullets.
"So him, like I said, from the day he got down here I been watching him mature and get out there and playing the game the way he's been playing, working hard, staying extra. Even him and I after practice kind of working on things. ‘Hey you know what this week I’ve got a guy who likes to give the spin move. Why don’t we work on that?’ And maybe I would say, ‘hey I’ve got a guy who is an outside puncher, help me out with that.’ We’re kind of working off each other so that, come Sunday, both of our jobs are a little easier.”
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin has shown confidence in Martin. San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh, who coached Martin at Stanford, admires the kid and knows he's solid.
Good news, right?
Well, here's the downside of that.
While everyone else is worrying about Martin vs. Smith, the Dolphins are more worried about Nate Garner vs. Smith. That's right. The moving of Martin from right to left has forced the Dolphins to install Garner as your starting right tackle.
And that's the matchup the 49ers are more likely to try to exploit. And the Dolphins know it.
"I think it’s a little bit different than it used to be," Philbin said. "Again, I go back to when I started coaching in the National Football League, it was always the premier rusher was always over here (on the right side, the offense's left side). Those days are over, so there’s good rushers everywhere.
"A, a lot of teams have good rushers off of both edges. B, there’s more matchup consideration I think defensive coaches give to pass rush than maybe they did 10 years ago."
In other words, defenses move their permier rushers to either side. So Smith is just as likely to rush from the left side (against the Miami right tackle) as from the right side (against the Miami left tackle). And given the matchup consideration, it will be as much about Garner vs. Smith than any Dolphins fan would want to consider.
So basically, the Dolphins will have downs on Sunday where they will match a backup right tackle, their sixth best offensive lineman, versus the NFL's sack leader.
Let that marinate a moment.
Yeah, not a great matchup for Miami.
Now, Garner is not without experience. He started eight games -- some at guard, some at right tackle, in 2009. And he was in line for consideration as a starter in the 2010 offseason before he injured a foot and spent the whole season on injured reserve.
“You love his versatility," Philbin said. "That was my main thing. When you’re a sixth or seventh offensive linemen on an NFL team, you’ve got to have versatility. You’ve got to be able to do more than one job and, fortunately for us, he’s able to function in a variety of different positions and we’re counting on him to play well."
Against Aldon Smith.
Yeah, that's not a matchup that favors the Dolphins.