Outlook: Miami Dolphins-New England Patriots

The New England Patriots (2-0) host the Miami Dolphins (0-2) in this division rivalry. See how the teams stack up in this game preview.



--FS Renaldo Hill will start over a slumping and injured Chris Crocker (neck) Sunday against the Patriots' potent passing attack, which was ranked sixth last year but has slipped to 15th this season with Matt Cassel behind center instead of Tom Brady.
--FS Chris Crocker had a horrible game, getting caught out of position on the game-opening 79-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin. He then whiffed on a tackle of Larry Fitzgerald that turned a 15-yarder into 75 yards to set up another touchdown. On top of that, he sustained a neck stinger and will probably be replaced this week.
--FS Jason Allen was dropped to third string with Renaldo Hill filling in for Chris Crocker after his stinger knocked him out for a few series. Hill later got beat on Anquan Boldin's eight-yard touchdown catch, along with CB Michael Lehan. Hill had five tackles.
--CB Michael Lehan's ankle still isn't 100 percent or he would probably be replacing a slumping Andre' Goodman as one of the starting cornerbacks.
--WR Ted Ginn Jr., who has been replaced as the team's primary kick returner by rookie Davone Bess and by Derek Hagan in three-receiver sets (along with Greg Camarillo and Bess), is slipping down the depth chart.
--RG Ike Ndukwe impressed coach Tony Sparano with his effort in his first NFL start last Sunday but he clearly was unable to generate much push in running situations. He could split snaps with newcomer Evan Mathis.
-- OLB Joey Porter, never known for his diplomacy, said the Dolphins should have an edge with QB Matt Cassel in for Tom Brady. "It's not the MVP we're going against. They won last week, but it's not like they were putting up the crazy 40 points like they were doing when they had Tom Brady. It's a different offense, a different team without Tom Brady in there. I don't care what anybody says. ... This is a whole different game, a totally different league. [Cassel] only had one start in this NFL. Take that for what it's worth. He won it, but if you compare them two, him and Brady, there's no comparison."


--RB Laurence Maroney missed practice for the second day in row Thursday with a shoulder injury. Maroney's absence would leave the Patriots thin at running back despite their overall depth at that position.
--RB LaMont Jordan also missed practice Thursday for the second day in a row with a foot injury. Jordan would be the primary option in the running game if Laurence Maroney is unable to play.
--LB Eric Alexander missed practice Thursday with a calf injury and is in danger of missing his second consecutive game. Alexander is a key contributor on special teams in the Patriots' kickoff and punt return coverage.
--WR Kelley Washington missed practice Thursday for the second day in a row and continues to nurse an ankle injury. With Washington and Eric Alexander possibly out for Sunday's game, the Patriots may need to plug some holes on their coverage units.
--NT Vince Wilfork was listed under the "limited participation" category for Thursday's practice with a back injury. Wilfork may have hurt himself during Wednesday's practice. His status is unknown at the time.
--TE Ben Watson practiced Wednesday and appears poised to make his season debut Sunday after missing the first two games with a knee injury. Watson's presence would add an additional blocker on pass protection and another weapon in the red zone for quarterback Matt Cassel.



The Dolphins secondary has been torched in the first two games, and are ranked 30th in pass defense. They've allowed opposing quarterbacks -- granted they're Brett Favre and Kurt Warner, who have five league MVPs between them -- a combined passer rating of 147.0, including Warner's perfect 158.3.

They've given up five passes of 27 yards or more, including a 79-yard TD to Anquan Boldin and a 75-yard pass to Larry Fitzgerald. Free safety Chris Crocker whiffed on Fitzgerald on the play. Conversely, the Dolphins are only one of six teams in the league not to have a pass play for more than 25 yards.

Crocker and CB Andre' Goodman have had two forgettable games, both getting burned on a 56-yard TD pass from Brett Favre to Jerricho Cotchery in the season opener. The secondary also gave up a ridiculous 22-yard Hail Mary TD pass that Favre chucked to Chansi Stuckey.

Crocker sustained a neck injury Sunday but returned to the game. He was replaced by Renaldo Hill, who started all 16 games in 2006 and the first seven games last year before sustaining a season-ending knee injury after unsuccessfully trying to defend a 35-yard TD pass to Randy Moss in the Oct. 21 loss to the Patriots.

Although Tony Sparano won't tip his hand, it's quite possible that Hill will take back the starting job from Crocker against the Patriots, and their stellar receiving duo of Moss and former Dolphin Wes Welker. The Dolphins DBs, Will Allen and Goodman, gave up several inches to the 6-4 Moss last season, the same height as Fitzgerald, who had six catches for 153 yards Sunday. Moss had nine catches for 172 yards and four touchdowns in two games against Miami last season.


--This won't be Matt Cassel's first game against Miami. The former backup quarterback played against the Dolphins in the 2005 season finale, throwing two touchdown passes and posting a 116.2 passer rating in a 28-26 loss. This will, however, be his first start against New England's long-time division rival.
--Sunday's victory extended the Patriots' NFL-record regular-season winning streak to 21 games. They have not lost since the Dolphins shut them out in December 2006. The Patriots also own the second-longest winning streak in NFL history -- a stretch of 18 games from Oct. 5, 2003 to Oct. 24, 2004.
--Defensive end Richard Seymour is off to a great start after missing seven games last year due to a knee injury. Seymour's absence in 2007 kept him from brushing up on his fundamentals, which has not been the case this season.
"Having missed all those fundamental and individual periods in training camp and in the early part of the season, coming in halfway through the year and trying to get assignments and game plans, you just don't have as good of a fundamental base," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "That's one of the things that training camp is the best for. That's why pitchers and catchers go to training camp early. It's the same thing with football."
--Safety Rodney Harrison credits New England's improved front seven with creating opportunities for the secondary, which has totaled three interceptions through the first two games. The play of rookie linebacker Jerod Mayo and outside linebacker Adalius Thomas, who is back at his natural position, has allowed the Patriots to win the battles at the line of scrimmage.
"We play off each other," Harrison said. "If we hold the coverage down and we're holding guys back there, that gives them the opportunity -- our front guys as well as our outside guys -- to rush the quarterback and get pressure. In turn, if they're putting pressure on the quarterback, that gives us the chance to put our hands on some balls and really disguise some coverages and do some things in the back end. Defense is about 11 guys. It's not just about a front section or a middle section, which is our linebackers, or the defensive backfield. It's about all 11 guys doing their job to be successful."
--Cornerback Ellis Hobbs has carried over his strong play from the end of the 2007 season into 2008. Finally healthy after suffering groin and shoulder injuries last year, Hobbs has two interceptions in two games thus far and four interceptions in his last five games dating back to last year.
"The real Ellis Hobbs is the real Ellis Hobbs whether he's in pain or whatever. You're getting 100 percent of him -- whatever he can give you," Hobbs said. "I feel healthy and I'm able to make plays on the ball.
"I definitely changed some practice habits, my mentality as far as approaching the game and just trying to focus on the little things. The reason I'm having this opportunity to make plays is because I'm focusing on the little things. I think to continue on, I have to continue to do what I'm doing and focusing on the little things and continue to have good practice habits."
--Head coach Bill Belichick has already noticed Bill Parcells' influence on Miami's roster. The newly hired executive vice president of football operations spent the offseason acquiring "bigger and more physical" players, according to Belichick. The transformation included moving defensive end Matt Roth to outside linebacker and drafting offensive lineman Jake Long.
"They have a lot of young players who will develop and grow into the big, physical, tough type players that they want to play with," Belichick said.
--The Patriots have allowed only 20 points through two games, which is the lowest total allowed by the team through the first two games under Belichick's direction. The last time this occurred was in 1998 when the Patriots allowed only 13 points in their first two games.



GAME PLAN: It's no secret that the Dolphins must establish a running game with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, who have both had plenty of success against the Patriots before. Williams has gained 629 yards on 173 attempts with four TDs in seven games against New England, while Brown has 200 yards and a TD in four games against the Pats.

However, in the first two games this season, Brown and Williams have gained just 100 yards on 38 carries, less than 3.0 yards per tote. The Patriots have allowed 103 yards per game so far and are vulnerable despite just giving up 10 points in each of their first two games. Still, because Chad Pennington has had trouble getting the ball to his wideouts, the Patriots will most certainly bring eight players in the box and force Pennington to beat them over the top.

Defensively, the Dolphins' petite cornerbacks, Andre' Goodman and Will Allen, to a lesser extent, have been abused by tall receivers thus far, including the Jets' Jerricho Cotchery and Arizona's dynamic duo of Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. They were unable to deal with the 6-4 Randy Moss last season as he torched them for nine catches for 172 yards and four TDs in two games. Expect double coverage, with some help on Moss coming from FS Renaldo Hill or Chris Crocker.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Dolphins CB Andre' Goodman vs. Patriots WR Randy Moss is a mismatch on height, on paper and usually on the field. The 6-4 Moss tortured whoever was on him last year as he and QB Tom Brady seemed to be having a catch against Pee-Wee DBs. Brady would just throw it up in the air and Moss would jump up and get it. In fact, FS Renaldo Hill sustained a season-ending knee injury while trying to defend the six-time Pro Bowler on the aforementioned 35-yard TD jump ball in the Oct. 21 49-29 Pats' win. He had nine catches for 192 yards with four TDs in two easy wins over Miami last season. At 5-10, Goodman struggled mightily against 6-4 WR Larry Fitzgerald and 6-1 Anquan Boldin last week as the Arizona duo combined to catch 12 passes for 293 yards and three TDs, all by Boldin. Moss set an NFL record with 23 TDs last year, but with Brady done for the season he has to adjust to a first-time starter in Matt Cassel. So far, Moss has had eight catches for 138 yards and one TD. Hill will help Goodman, leaving slot receiver Wes Welker going one-on-one with Will Allen, a matchup that Welker exploited last year for 14 catches for 187 yards and two TDs.

Dolphins C Samson Satele vs. Patriots NT Vince Wilfork is another difficult match for Miami as Wilfork outweighs the athletic 6-3 Hawaiian by at least 30 pounds and is clearly stronger. It will be difficult for Satele to hold Wilfork up at the point of attack. Wilfork, who earned his first Pro Bowl berth last season, will be disruptive to the Dolphins' struggling running game, which is averaging 3.0 yards per carry. Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown have a combined 100 yards in the first two games. He already has 10 tackles, but the Patriots have allowed a lofty 4.3 yards per carry for 103 yards per game against two good running teams in the Chiefs and Jets. Satele admitted that Wilfork is the toughest nose tackle he's faced, but practicing against Jason Ferguson in practice has helped his confidence. The Dolphins will be running early and often after abandoning their ground game far too early in each of the first two games.

INJURY IMPACT: CB Michael Lehan isn't on the injury report but he clearly isn't 100 percent, not a good thing when the Patriots are coming to town. Rookie RG Shawn Murphy has been hampered by an ankle injury since preseason, and isn't expected to be activated. FS Chris Crocker sustained a neck stinger Sunday against the Cardinals, a convenient excuse for coach Tony Sparano to promote Renaldo Hill over the slumping Crocker this week.


The Patriots have already made several roster moves this week, re-signing fullback Kyle Eckel to the active roster, releasing punter Tom Malone and tight end Stephen Spach from the practice squad and replacing them with tight end Tyson DeVree and safety Mark Dillard.

Eckel is in his third stint with the Patriots and could be used as an insurance policy if injured running backs Laurence Maroney and LaMont Jordan are unable to play against Miami. Malone's release is somewhat curious considering Chris Hanson's struggles in the kicking game.

GAME PLAN: The Patriots need to stop the rushing attack of Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown, which is Miami's only hope for success. Quarterback Chad Pennington has won games against the Patriots in the past, but the cupboard is bare at wide receiver and he has limited talent at tight end too. Offensively, Matt Cassel needs to continue to be an efficient game manager and not make any mistakes. The only chance the Dolphins have to move the ball is to play on a short field, which is only possible via special teams or turnovers.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Patriots LT Matt Light vs. Dolphins DE Vonnie Holliday. Light no longer has to worry about Jason Taylor, but Holliday is no slouch either. The 11-year veteran may not be able to single-handedly disrupt games the way Taylor once did, but he can wreak havoc if Light is not at his best on Sunday.

Patriots DE Richard Seymour vs. Dolphins LT Jake Long. On the flipside, this matchup features Seymour at his peak against a rookie making just his third NFL start. Seymour should be able to exploit Long and get after Chad Pennington, which will make this a long afternoon for Miami.

Patriots LB Jerod Mayo vs. Dolphins RB Ricky Williams. Miami's only chance is to run the ball, but the Patriots' front seven has been dominant thus far thanks to Mayo's presence at inside linebacker. The rookie first-round pick has played on every down so far and will play a major role Sunday in slowing down Miami's rushing attack.

INJURY IMPACT: RB Sammy Morris will be the first in line for more carries Sunday if Laurence Maroney or LaMont Jordan cannot play due to injury. Morris carved a niche for himself last year in a backup role before suffering a season-ending clavicle injury. His experience makes him the logical choice in an emergency situation.

--TE David Thomas may suffer from a drop in playing time if Ben Watson returns to the fold Sunday. Thomas played the entire game last week, primarily as a blocker, and will see even fewer opportunities in the passing game once the Patriots are at full strength.

Dolphins News
Dolphins Message Boards

Patriots News
Patriots Message Boards
Official Game 3 thread: Patriots vs. Dolphins

Hot Topic: Porter's Comments May Backfire

Insiders: From the Other Side: Part 1 -- Part 2 -- Part 3
Behind Enemy Lines: Dolphins Part 1 -- Part 2
Matt Cassel debate continues in the Insiders Lounge

Patriots Insider Top Stories