Patriots - Dolphins: Game Plans & Matchups

Which areas might the Patriots offense exploit. What will the Dolphins do to slow down Tom Brady and company? Get inside for key matchups and game plans.



The Patriots made a series of roster moves this week, starting with the promotion of LB Shawn Crable to the active roster and the release of OT Steve Maneri, who had been inactive for three weeks.

Crable's call-up is noteworthy since he was cut at the end of camp and subsequently signed to the practice squad. After two injury-plagued seasons, he is back on the active roster and could have a chance to contribute if he stays healthy.

The Patriots clearly need all the help they can get generating a pass rush. They haven't gotten much from their defensive line, so the emphasis falls on the linebackers, who have been equally non-existent. Crable is incredibly athletic and could help fill that void. Only time will tell.

--The Patriots signed OG Rich Ohrnberger off the practice squad and added him to the active roster, filling the void left on their 53-man roster.
--OT Steve Maneri, who was released Monday, was signed to the practice squad Wednesday. Maneri did not appear in any games while on the active roster this season.
--The last addition to the practice squad was OL Thomas Austin, a rookie from Clemson. The Patriots have an assortment of offensive linemen in case depth issues crop up.
--RB Fred Taylor was not at practice this week and was downgraded to OUT for Monday night's game.
--OL Nick Kaczur continues to miss practice with a back injury and will be out of the lineup Monday for the fourth consecutive game.

GAME PLAN: The Patriots, as always, have to be wary of what the Dolphins will try to throw at them offensively. Miami's "Wildcat" spread is still a major part of its game plan, so it always has to be considered in the back of one's mind when dealing with the Dolphins.

On defense, the Patriots need to clamp down in the secondary, and it's imperative that some improvements start sooner rather than later. This has the potential to be a dangerous matchup for New England considering Miami moved the ball effortlessly at times against a New York defense considered among the best in football.

Special teams is always a factor, too, especially since the Patriots have seen the highs and lows this season. They scored on a kickoff return in Week 1 and then allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown in Week 3. Somewhere in the middle would be helpful.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Patriots LB Jerod Mayo vs. Dolphins RB Ronnie Brown. One of the biggest problems the Patriots are having, aside from their pass defense, is their inability to limit the damage defensively on first and second down. This is critical in helping the pass defense get its feet settled on third-down situations. Brown carries a lot on early downs, so it's important the Patriots slow his momentum to put their pass defense in favorable situations.

Miami SS Yeremiah Bell vs. Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez. No one has been able to stop the rookie Hernandez yet, but Bell is as physical as they come at the safety position and he's a sound tackler, too, so don't expect too many broken plays down the field. Bell doesn't necessarily have to keep the ball out of Hernandez's hands; he just needs to limit the number of yards following a catch, which has been a problem for opposing defensive backs.

Patriots WR Randy Moss vs. Dolphins CB Sean Smith. The Patriots have gotten some heat for their perceived obsession with the deep ball, but this would be a good week to air it out. Both of Miami's starting corners are second-year players, so inexperience is a factor, and we all know what Moss is capable of. Now's the time for Tom Brady and Moss to hook up on big plays, because it doesn't appear Miami has anyone who can make a big play on the defensive end.

INJURY IMPACT: The offensive line has held up well for the most part without OT Nick Kaczur, and while the pass defense could use some help, it's unlikely CB Terrence Wheatley would offer much assistance even if he was 100 percent healthy. The big key is keeping RB Fred Taylor fresh for Monday. Taylor has been practicing sporadically, but should be ready by kickoff; if not, Danny Woodhead might get more opportunities following his solid performance last week.


Erik Walden owned up to his mistake, but that wasn't enough to save his job. The Dolphins waived Walden, a reserve linebacker and key special teams contributor, on Wednesday in the wake of his missed assignment that led to the first regular-season blocked punt of Brandon Fields' career.

Walden, in his third year out of Middle Tennessee, was waived out of training camp but re-signed on Sept. 15 after the Dolphins' special teams struggled in Week 1 at Buffalo.

--DL Robert Rose was signed off the practice squad to take Erik Walden's place on the 53-man roster. Rose provides additional depth with reserve defensive lineman Tony McDaniel serving a one-game league suspension against the Patriots for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy.

--OLB Ikaika Alama-Francis, who sat out a third straight game Sunday after losing 15-20 pounds with an illness, was back practicing full on Wednesday and worked with the first group at strong-side linebacker.

--Former North Carolina WR Brooks Conrad, a fifth-round pick of the Rams in 2009, was signed to the practice squad. Conrad becomes the seventh WR on the Dolphins -- including fellow practice squad member Julius Pruitt -- and spent all last season on injured reserve with a leg injury. Waived by the Rams out of training camp, Conrad spent less than two weeks with the Jets before they waived him to make room for ex-Dolphins WR Patrick Turner.

--Rookie DE Jared Odrick rode the bike again as he works back from a fractured right fibula suffered in Week 1 at Buffalo. Until Odrick returns, which may not be until after the bye week in Week 5, look for NT Randy Starks to remain at his old position.

--WR Roberto Wallace may have moved past fellow undrafted rookie WR Marlon Moore with his two special teams tackles on Sunday. Wallace was at H-back for the Dolphins' final offensive play, a fourth-and-4 from the Jets 5 that resulted in a Henne interception.

GAME PLAN: With Chad Henne coming off a career-high 363 passing yards in the 31-23 loss to the Jets, the Dolphins appear likely to continue that approach against a team ranked 25th in the league against the pass.
Henne's first career 300-yard passing game came in last year's 22-21 win over the Patriots. He went 29-of-52 for 335 yards, two touchdowns and one interception that day.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Dolphins CBs Jason Allen and Vontae Davis vs. Patriots WR Randy Moss. Moss has torched the Dolphins for 45 catches, 760 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career. Only the Bills and Packers have allowed more TD catches to Moss (12 each). Moss in particular has abused fifth-year cornerback Jason Allen. However, Allen and opposite starting corner Vontae Davis switched sides during the portion of practice open to the media, raising the possibility Davis will be asked to shadow Moss throughout Monday night's game.

Dolphins C Joe Berger vs. Patriots NT Vince Wilfork. Berger will be asked to go against Wilfork for the second time in his Dolphins career. Berger started the final six games for the Dolphins last year, but his second start in that streak while filling in for the injured Jake Grove was against Wilfork. The Dolphins rushed for just 96 yards (3.8 average) that day but still managed a 22-21 win.

INJURY IMPACT: ILB Channing Crowder, who hasn't played since the first quarter of the preseason opener on Aug. 14, was back at practice and working alongside Karlos Dansby with the first-team linebacker group.

--RG John Jerry, who missed all of last week with an illness, was back at practice but limited to riding the stationary bike. Backup Pat McQuistan continued to work with the first team.

--Rookie DE Jared Odrick rode the bike again as he works back from a fractured right fibula suffered in Week 1 at Buffalo.

This report courtesy of The Sports Xchange

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