There’s no quarterback Cameron Wake has met face-to-face — or maybe more often shoulder-to-chest or palm-to-ankle — than maybe the best quarterback in the history of the NFL. Wake has faced the New England Patriots 18 times in his career, which means nearly 20 meetings with Tom Brady.
The frequency of those meetings means Wake has brought down the future Hall of Famer more than any other quarterbacks. The linebacker has sacked Brady 10 1/2 times in his career, 4 1/2 more times than he has dragged down any other quarterback, but facing the reigning MVP, Wake said, isn’t extra meaningful compared to any other matchup.
“If there’s extra that means last week I was sandbagging,” Wake said in the locker room after practice Friday in Davie. “There can’t be one without the other. There’s never any extra. I always give 100 percent.”
On Sunday, Wake will square off against the Patriots for the 19th time, matching the New York Jets for the opponent he has most frequently faced in his 10-year career. To beat New England for the fifth time in six games at Hard Rock Stadium, Wake and Co. will need to put pressure on Brady. In the four wins against the Patriots in Miami Gardens, the Dolphins (6-6) are averaging 2.25 sacks per game. In the lone loss in 2016, they failed to sack Brady and let the quarterback complete 25 of 33 passes in a 21-point win.
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The challenge of dragging down Brady is much different than what Miami faced Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. Rookie quarterback Josh Allen has proven to be surprisingly mobile early in his career and ran wild for 135 yards on just nine carries in the Dolphins’ 21-17 win.
Brady, on the other hand, is more statuesque than ever in his 19th season, yet his sack percentage is at only 3.6 — his third-best mark in the last nine years.
“All quarterbacks are tough,” Wake said. “If a guy takes off and runs, and you don’t get him, you don’t get him. If a guy throws the ball and you don’t get him, you don’t get him. It’s two sides of the same coin, so whether you’re taking off and running or handing the ball off or throwing, you’re not going to get the play.”
For Brady, it’s all about how quickly he throws. Brady is averaging only 7.8 yards per attempt this season, down from 8.4 yards last season and 9.3 yards the year before. This season, Brady’s longest pass has gone for 55 yards, which would be the shortest long pass for him since 2004, excluding the 2008 season, when he sustained a season-ending injury in the opener.
So it’s the New England system — and how effectively Brady runs it — which makes this weekend a particular challenge for Wake. The five-time Pro Bowler has 96 1/2 sacks in 142 career games — an average of 0.68 sacks per game. Against the Patriots, Wake’s average dips to 0.58 per game.
“He knows where to be and when to be there and as a front you have to do the same, know where to be and when to be there, as well,” Wake said. “Obviously, he’s getting the ball out, getting to playmakers, trying to do his best not to take a hit and it’s our task to do the complete opposite, so every week it’s a different challenge. One week it might be a guy who doesn’t want to get hit, so he’s taking off running or this week it can be a guy who’s getting the ball out of his hands.”