FOXBORO, Mass. — Jonathan Jones’ elite speed and nose for the ball have made him an asset for the New England Patriots’ defense in his second pro season. The young cornerback could face one of his toughest tests yet this weekend.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Friday he expects to see a “very heavy” dose of 11 personnel — one running back, one tight end — when his team hosts the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. That means a lot of three-wide receiver sets, and the Dolphins boast one of the top receiving trios in football.
Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills all are potential game-changers, and they all play a ton for Miami coach Adam Gase.
Landry and Stills both have played more than 90 percent of offensive snaps this season. Parker is farther down that list at 52.4 percent, but that’s only because he missed three games and most of a fourth with an ankle injury. In his six full games, he’s played 89.1 percent of snaps.
The Dolphins’ extensive use of 11 personnel means the Patriots likely will spend much of the game in nickel, creating additional opportunities for Jones, who has impressed as New England’s No. 3 cornerback with Eric Rowe sidelined.
The undrafted Auburn product ranks second among Patriots defenders in pass breakups with eight despite playing just 40.3 percent of defensive snaps, and opposing quarterbacks have an uninspiring 58.7 passer rating when throwing his way.
In last Sunday’s win over the Oakland Raiders, Jones had a pass breakup that resulted in an interception by Duron Harmon and helped force a momentum-shifting fumble in the final minute of the first half.
“He’s done a good job for us,” Belichick said earlier this week. “… He’s got good catch-up speed and does an excellent job of finishing. He has really good awareness of the receiver’s hands, the timing of the throw, when to reach for the ball, not to get interference calls, try to get into the pocket of the receiver and so forth. He’s got good speed and good quickness, and he’s a tough kid.”
There’s a good chance Jones will be matched up against Stills, though the Patriots’ coverage plans could change if Rowe, who’s missed the last six games with a groin injury, is healthy enough to play. Stills leads Miami in both receiving yards (588) and yards per catch (14.7) this season, and he had one of the best games of his career last week, catching seven passes on eight targets for 180 yards and a touchdown in a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Landry, meanwhile, has recorded at least 70 receiving yards in five of his six career meetings with the Patriots, and Parker has surpassed 100 yards twice in three games against the Pats.
Belichick has spent the week hyping up the Dolphins’ skill players, a group that also includes tight end Julius Thomas and running backs Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake. He even has been complimentary of Miami’s two quarterbacks, calling Jay Cutler and Matt Moore “outstanding” on multiple occasions.
“They have really good skill players,” Belichick said. “I mean, they’re all good. The backs are good. The tight ends are good. The receivers are good. And they’ve got good quarterbacks. They can get the ball to any of those guys, and the backs are very productive — productive in the running game and productive in the passing game. And they’re big-play guys. They can hit the long ball on you, make 50, 60, 70 yards.
“It’s a very good skill group. They’re all a problem. If you don’t do a good job on any of them, then any of them can kill you.”
Despite these weapons, the Dolphins’ offense ranks near the bottom of the NFL in almost every statistical category, including 30th in points per game.
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