Patriots-Dolphins: Game Plans & Matchups

The Dolphins Patriots games are always hard-fought battles between division rivals. With the AFC East almost sealed, expect the Patriots to put an extra effort to secure the win Sunday in Miami. Get inside for players news, game plans for each team and Matchups to keep an eye on.

Dolphins:

The waiting game continues for Ronnie Brown as the Dolphins running back will miss his second consecutive game Sunday because of a fractured left hand.

Brown, who had surgery the day after getting injured during Miami's 27-10 victory over Detroit on Thanksgiving Day, said he was hopeful of playing against New England. But after meeting Monday with a hand specialist, Brown has now targeted a Dec. 17 game at Buffalo for his return.

"It's a medical decision," said Brown, who had five screws inserted in his hand to repair a fracture near his thumb and index finger. "You try to look at the best interest of myself and make sure that I don't put myself in a bad predicament."

Sammy Morris will make his second start in place of Brown with Travis Minor serving as his backup.

Player News:
--RB Ronnie Brown will miss his second consecutive game Sunday against New England because of a fractured left hand. Brown, who will be replaced in the starting lineup by Sammy Morris, has now targeted a Dec. 17 game at Buffalo for his return.
--RB Sammy Morris will make his second consecutive start Sunday against New England in place of the injured Ronnie Brown (hand). Morris had 47 yards on 12 carries in last Sunday's 24-10 loss to Jacksonville.
--QB Daunte Culpepper will resume his rehabilitation program with the Dolphins on Friday, coach Nick Saban said. Culpepper, who isn't expected to play again this season, underwent surgery last week to remove loose bodies from his problematic right knee.
--LG Jeno James will miss his third consecutive start Sunday against New England while he continues recovering from knee surgery. Kendyl Jacox will start in James' place.
--DE Jason Taylor practiced Wednesday and will start Sunday against New England. Taylor suffered a bruised forearm that limited his effectiveness in the second half of last Sunday's 24-10 loss to Jacksonville.

Game Plan:
By getting rid of the football quickly, Harrington was only sacked once in 42 pass attempts against the Patriots. Harrington, though, has 13 interceptions in his eight starts and threw two against Jacksonville that the Jaguars converted into 14 points. If the Dolphins can't mount an effective rushing game with Sammy Morris and Travis Minor replacing the injured Ronnie Brown (hand), Miami will have to hope that Harrington can make sound decisions on all his throws while carrying the offense.
Defensively, the Dolphins are one of the few teams to play well against Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady on a consistent basis. Brady passed for just 140 yards in October's game with a long completion of 15 yards as New England could only covert on five of 15 third-down opportunities. The Dolphins, though, could only cause one turnover while committing three and generally lose when having a negative turnover ratio.

Matchups To Watch:
Dolphins QB Joey Harrington, who made his first start of the season against New England in October, vs. Patriots CB Asante Samuel, who is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with seven -- Harrington knows Samuel all too well, getting intercepted by him twice in Miami's last game against New England. Samuel has four interceptions in the past two games and is playing at a Pro Bowl level, which bodes well when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.

Patriots LDE Ty Warren vs. Dolphins RT Vernon Carey -- Warren is having a breakthrough season with an amazingly high tackle total (84) for a defensive lineman. He also has 5.5 sacks and 11 quarterback hurries. Carey, too, has shown tremendous improvement in 2006 and is generally considered Miami's best offensive lineman.

Patriots:

The Dolphins have a very good pass defense, although Jaguars quarterback David Garrard was able to have some success getting the ball downfield last week on the Miami secondary. The Patriots haven't completed a lot of deep balls this season but Reche Caldwell and Ben Watson should have an opportunity to make some big plays in this game.

One of the major reasons Miami has steadily improved against the pass this year is the resurgence of defensive end Jason Taylor. The perennial Pro Bowler was fighting through pain early in the season while dealing with a back injury. However, he's come on like gangbusters over the Dolphins over the last five games. He's reached the double-digit sack total after his slow start and he'll be a much tougher test for Matt Light this time around. Light will need to do a good job when he's matched up on Taylor so Tom Brady has time to find his receivers downfield. One of the reasons Brady has struggled against Miami in the past is because they put a lot of heat on him.

Another reason the Miami defense has improved is because its young defensive backfield has started to gel. Safeties Yeremiah Bell and Renaldo Hill, along with cornerback Andre' Goodman are playing much better now than they were when the teams last met. If the Dolphins can control Watson and Caldwell, it will be another long day for Brady in Miami. However, Jacksonville receiver Matt   Jones torched the Dolphins secondary last week, catching six passes for 128 yards, something you can bet the Patriots coaching staff is well ware of.

In their first meeting, Brady and his receivers hadn't gelled yet. The Patriots were forced to throw a lot of underneath routes and that plays right into the hands of the Dolphins defense because its strength is its fast, athletic linebackers. Now that Brady and his receivers have had time to work together, expect New England to take some shots down the field in this game to take advantage of the Dolphins young secondary. It could be a big afternoon for Watson, who has an edge when matched up on the Miami safeties.

Player News:
--S Rodney Harrison was the lone player not present for the media-access portion of Wednesday's practice. Harrison is out for this week's game.
--S Rashad Baker wore a black jersey, signifying that he was named the team's practice player of the week leading up to the Lions game.
--TE Daniel Graham is listed as questionable (ankle) for Sunday. Graham was on the Patriots injury report last week as well but started against the Lions.
--WR Chad Jackson is questionable (groin) for Sunday. Jackson missed last week's game with a groin injury and has also battled a bad hamstring for most of the season.
--OT Ryan O'Callaghan is listed as questionable (neck) on the Patriots' injury report. O'Callaghan was inactive last week for the Lions game.

Game Plan:
The Dolphins have a tough defense but its one weakness is allowing big plays downfield. In their first meeting, the Patriots didn't have one big play. Their longest gain of the day was only 15 yards -- both on the ground and through the air -- as the Dolphins defense held Tom Brady and Co. to just 213 yards of total offense. If that happens again this Sunday, the Patriots will be playing right into Miami's hands. The Dolphins offense has improved with Joey Harrington at the helm but it's still not going to score a ton of points against a strong defense. Getting up early and making Harrington play from behind gives New England a big advantage. Creating some big plays on offense will help the Pats accomplish that goal.

Matchups To Watch:
Patriots CB Ellis Hobbs vs. Dolphins WR Chris Chambers -- There's no question that the Dolphins coaching staff likes to pick on Hobbs. Last year Marty Booker had a big game against him and this season Wes Welker torched Hobbs by hauling in 9 passes for 77 yards. If Hobbs is on Chambers this Sunday it would be a big advantage for the Dolphins and a matchup they're sure to exploit.

--Patriots OT Matt Light vs. Dolphins DE Jason Taylor -- Light has traditionally had trouble with Taylor but he really controlled him in the first meeting. However, Taylor was battling back problems then and has since returned to his old self now that he's healthy. It's no coincidence that the Dolphins defense improved once Taylor started playing better. Light and the New England offensive line are going to see the disruptive Jason Taylor that's tortured the Patriots over the years this Sunday.

Injury Impact:
Laurence Maroney was injured in the first quarter against the Lions and never returned to the game. The injury isn't believed to be serious but if the rookie can't go for some reason, the New England offense will suffer. Even though he's been somewhat inconsistent this season, the Patriots ground game just isn't the same without Maroney on the field. He brings explosiveness and big-play ability to the running back position, something Corey Dillon lacks at this stage in his career. Maroney is also dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield and a kick returner. So, if he's not on the field, the Patriots lose a key contributor in three areas. Maroney should be able to play this week in Miami but if he can't go, it would be a big blow to the Patriots running game and help the 5-7 Dolphins spoil their rivals' chances for a postseason bye.

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