Patriots - Dolphins: Game Plans & Matchups

Game Plans, Matchups to watch and keys to the game between the Patriots and the Miami Dolphins in Foxboro. Week 17 season finale.

PATRIOTS

The Patriots made one minor move this week, adding WR Buddy Farnham to their practice squad. Farnham was with the team during training camp, but got cut before final rosters were announced. Farnham figures to stay on the practice squad and likely won't be activated barring a late injury this week.

As for the rest of the lineup, there's still some uncertainty as to who will play in Sunday's season finale. The Patriots have wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the AFC, so the game will have no bearing on their postseason future.

The team could use this opportunity to rest some key players, but it's unlikely they will utilize any mass roster changes given the fact they'll have a first-round bye when the playoffs begin. Head coach Bill Belichick has always prioritized keeping his players in rhythm, and there are still some concerns with the pass defense, so this would be a great time for the Patriots to do some experimentation against a Miami team that's coming to Foxborough intending to compete.


GAME PLAN: The Dolphins are a tough team to gauge. They'll be coming to Foxborough to win this weekend, especially since they have a chance to finish the season at 8-8.

The biggest thing to watch for is their defensive scheme. Miami is ranked third in the league in total defense and is equally solid against the run and the pass. The characters have changed, but the results have been similar to what New England has grown accustomed to over the years in regards to the Dolphins.

Offensively, this team is above average at its best. The Patriots should be able to keep the points to a minimum, but it'll be interesting to see how they respond to Miami's rushing attack. The Patriots have had some trouble stopping the run in recent weeks, so this game should be a great opportunity for them to shore up any holes they might foresee being a problem in the postseason.

As far as the offense is concerned, there's no reason to change what they've been doing. They've racked up points against better defenses than this one, so expect more of the same, which is a steady diet of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, and a slew of play-action passes from Tom Brady.

Even though this game won't count toward playoff seeding, it'll be a good test for the Patriots with the postseason on the horizon. The Dolphins have been exceptional on the road this year, so the Patriots should expect a battle similar to what they'll face when the games count for even more in two weeks.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Patriots DE Gerard Warren vs. Dolphins LT Jake Long. The Patriots don't generate a ton of pressure from their defensive line, but their ends have the unenviable task of locking horns with some of the game's best tackles in an attempt to free up opportunities for their linebackers. Warren will have his hands full with Long, who is one of the best in the league at his position. The Patriots' pass rush has been spotty this year, so it'd be nice for them to go out on a high note this weekend.

Dolphins TE Anthony Fasano vs. Patriots S Patrick Chung. We'll see how the Patriots approach this one. Chung may be asked to help out in coverage against an elite tight end in the playoffs, so this would be a good test moving forward. Fasano is durable and is a threat in the red zone, where the Patriots have been exceptional in recent weeks.

Patriots RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis vs. Dolphins ILB Channing Crowder. No one seems to have an answer for the Patriots' running game, particularly Green-Ellis, who finds the end zone on a weekly basis. Crowder is a phenomenal run-stopping linebacker, so this will be a battle of wills. Whatever the Dolphins do could be duplicated by a future playoff opponent if Miami happens to have success against New England's rushing attack.

INJURY IMPACT: The injuries in the trenches have certainly had an impact on both sides of the ball. The Patriots' depth has been put to the test with defensive linemen Mike Wright and Ron Brace both suffering from concussions. The same goes for OL Dan Connolly, who missed last week's game. The Patriots will have to be cautious regarding the condition of TE Aaron Hernandez, who has been suffering from flu-like symptoms in addition to a hip injury. Whether or not he plays this weekend remains to be seen, but his long-term absence could be a problem since the Patriots rely so much on their tight ends offensively.

DOLPHINS

The decision to release veteran WR Kevin Curtis wasn't merely related to the fact he produced just one catch for six yards in two games since signing after Brian Hartline's season-ending hand injury.

Curtis also stood in the way of additional playing time for young receivers Marlon Moore and Roberto Wallace and possibly even Julius Pruitt, who has been on the practice squad the past two years.

PLAYER NOTES
--CB Nolan Carroll was among four regulars who did not practice Wednesday. Carroll suffered a concussion on Sunday while returning the second-half kickoff and must be cleared by outside doctors if he wants to play in Sunday's season finale.

--QB Tom Brandstater, who has been running the scout team since signing on Nov. 15, didn't sound optimistic about being activated off the practice squad for a look in the season finale.

--TE Anthony Fasano (knee) missed practice Wednesday with a knee injury suffered against the Lions. If Fasano can't make it back by Sunday, perhaps Mickey Shuler and the other backups will do some damage against the Patriots.

--OL Pat McQuistan continues to fill in at RT for Lydon Murtha (concussion). McQuistan is essentially the Dolphins' third-stringer at the position after Vernon Carey suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Browns on Dec. 5.

--QB Chad Henne, who received just six "minus" grades for Sunday's game, surprised some in his audience when he said his game-ending checkdown pass to Ronnie Brown with 19 seconds remaining was not one of his minuses.

GAME PLAN: With the forecast calling for sub-freezing temperatures with a 40-percent chance of rain, look for the Dolphins to use an approach similar to the one that helped them beat the Jets 10-6 at the Meadowlands on Dec. 12.
That means few risky passes for Chad Henne and a reliance on punter Brandon Fields, who almost single-footedly helped them win that battle of field position.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Patriots QB Tom Brady has been sacked just 25 times this season, but NFL sacks leader Cameron Wake, coming off his first Pro Bowl selection, will be gunning for him as he tries to clinch the title. LT Matt Light might have something to say about that. Brady's interception-free streak has reached 319 attempts, which even Dolphins coach Tony Sparano admitted "blows my mind a little bit." The Dolphins' defense has dropped 19 potential interceptions this season, including a team-high six by second-year CB Sean Smith.

INJURY IMPACT: The signing of OT Allen Barbre, a former starter for seven games with the Packers in recent years, could be a sign that rookie RT Lydon Murtha isn't a sure bet to be cleared for Sunday's game at New England. Murtha suffered a concussion, the first of his career (including college), on Sunday against Detroit.


This report courtesy of the Sports Xchange.


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