Dolphins-Patriots: Key Matchups

Kris CardellaContributor INovember 20, 2008

The NFL will see another important AFC East showdown this week, this time between the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots.

There is no love lost between these two teams; giving this game additional emotion and excitement for players, coaches, and fans.

The Dolphins (6-4) are looking to extend their four-game winning streak Sunday, as well as improve their division record to 3-1. A loss by the New York Jets to the Tennessee Titans would also give the Dolphins a share of the lead in the AFC East.

The Patriots (6-4) are coming off a tough overtime loss to the Jets last Thursday night.  Despite the disappointment, the Patriots found out that Matt Cassel can help carry the team back from a large deficit. After trailing 24-13 at halftime, Cassel forced overtime with a perfect touchdown pass to Randy Moss in the final seconds of the fourth quarter, capping a three-touchdown, 400-yard performance.

A huge difference from the struggling backup the Dolphins faced in Week Three.

If the Dolphins want a crack at the division, Sunday is their first opportunity. Here's how:

1. Special Teams, Special Teams, SPECIAL TEAMS!!!

The Dolphins faced two very poor teams in the past two weeks. While they won both games, they nearly coughed up both games for one reason only:

Poor special teams play.

Against Seattle, the Dolphins allowed the Seahawks field position at or beyond the 50-yard line, giving them the life they needed to almost tie the game near the end.

Last week, against Oakland, the Dolphins allow a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown with four minutes left in the fourth quarter, which gave the Raiders a one-point lead.

Ellis Hobbs and Wes Welker are extremely dangerous in the return game. If either player is allowed a big return, this could spell doom for the Dolphins.

2. Dolphins Offensive Line vs. Patriots Front Seven

The Dolphin's pass protection has been one of their strengths this season, allowing Chad Pennington to have one of his best seasons. Last week, however, the Dolphins offensive line allowed some big plays to occur behind the line of scrimmage, the biggest play being the safety on a sack of Pennington.

The Patriots bring one of the most dominant defensive lines in the league.  Ty Warren returns to the lineup after missing the last week's contest, joining Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork. The Patriots also possess one of the league's brightest linebacking corps, led by Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel.

If the Dolphins want to move the ball and convert third downs, they need to get back to the basics and maintain pocket integrity.

The Dolphins also have struggled to have a consistent running game, and the offensive line is responsible for getting Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, and Patrick Cobbs room to make plays.  The Patriots boast the 13th-ranked rushing and 14th-ranked passing defenses, respectively.

The big five up front for the Dolphins will have their hands full.

3. Dolphins Secondary vs. Randy Moss and Wes Welker

After a dismal start to this season, the Dolphins' secondary has made big improvements week-to-week. Cornerbacks Will Allen Andre Goodman have done an excellent job of shutting down each opponent's main receiving threats.

Yeremiah Bell has also been a bright spot on the Dolphins' defense, as he leads the team in tackles. Bell and Allen also were pivotal in the Dolphins' victory against Seattle, as both players knocked down passes in key moments, preserving a victory.

The secondary will be tested again this week.

Randy Moss and Wes Welker were both kept in check in Week Three, allowed only a combined 10 catches for 70 yards and no touchdowns. Since then, the pair have been remarkably more productive, as Matt Cassel has been given more freedom in the offense.

The Dolphins will have to eliminate the big plays from Moss, which may allow Welker to dominate the middle of the field. The best way to offset this is a relentless pass rush.

The Patriots will most likely double up on Joey Porter, so the Dolphins will need Matt Roth and the defensive line to step up and add pressure. If Roth can get in the backfield early, the pressure on Porter will ease up and allow him to create the havoc he has inflicted on many teams this season.

These teams are evenly matched, so the game will likely be decided late in the fourth quarter. The edge goes to the Dolphins, who are playing at home.

Prediction: Miami 27, New England 24


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