The Patriots might have to shuffle their lineup to account for Miami's Wildcat offense, which caught them by surprise early last season in a devastating loss at home.
The Patriots will have to decide which linebackers to deploy to sniff out these plays, where the opposing running back takes the direct snap and usually runs the ball, and who to put on running back Ronnie Brown to avoid getting caught in bad match-ups.
Likewise, the secondary will have to be on its toes to defend what happens behind the linebackers. Some of these Wildcat plays result in trickery in the passing game, which means only the most athletic safeties and corners who can react quickly should be in the game. Expect to see a lot of Tully Banta-Cain at linebacker and Brandon McGowan in the secondary. They are two of the more athletic players on the roster and can catch up quickly when a play breaks down.
--WR Julian Edelman (broken arm) was not on the field during media availability at practice Wednesday, which is not a good sign. Don't expect to see him on the field Sunday, either.
--DL Jarvis Green also was unavailable during the media portion of practice Wednesday. Green underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a meniscus injury in his knee, so his status this weekend is in question.
--LB Adalius Thomas returned to practice Wednesday after missing portions of the team's sessions earlier this week. Thomas should be in the lineup Sunday, though his role is uncertain.
--RB Sammy Morris is still recovering from a knee injury and was not on the field Wednesday during media availability at practice. There's a good chance Morris will not be ready in time for Sunday.
--CB Jonathan Wilhite was not on the field during media availability at practice Wednesday, though he should be available Sunday against Miami.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Patriots LB Jerod Mayo vs. Dolphins RB Ronnie Brown. This is a tough matchup because Brown is often deployed as a decoy in the Wildcat offense. Mayo is the team's most athletic linebacker and likely the only capable of chasing Brown all over the field to make sure he doesn't break free for a big run.
--Dolphins TE Anthony Fasano vs. Patriots S Brandon Meriweather. While Meriweather's ball-hawking skills have been noted in recent weeks, the Patriots need him to adopt Rodney Harrison's hard-hitting persona Sunday. Fasano hasn't had a great year, but he's given the Patriots trouble in the past. A few early hits from Meriweather can make a difference.
--Dolphins CB Jason Allen vs. Patriots WR Wes Welker. No one knows for sure who the Dolphins will use in the slot to defend Welker, but Allen is a decent sub-defender in nickel coverage and may be asked to shadow Welker at some point. This is easier said than done; Welker has been one of the league's most prolific receivers and could be in line for another big game.
INJURY IMPACT: The Dolphins are fairly stout defensively, so it would be in the Patriots' best interest to stay balanced offensively. That will be difficult to do with Fred Taylor and perhaps Sammy Morris out of the lineup at running back. Expect to see more passing, which has been the case lately, though it remains to be seen whether the team's injury woes at running back will cause a problem.
After two subpar games for the Wildcat package, look for offensive coordinator Dan Henning to add a new wrinkle to the gimmick, perhaps with more of rookie quarterback Pat White behind center. The Dolphins will look to re-establish their fourth-ranked running attack after a season-low 52 yards on 23 attempts against the Jets. Expect large doses of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams against a team that has allowed an average of 109.4 yards per game.
GAME PLAN: It's no secret coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady will look to attack Miami's starting rookie cornerbacks Sean Smith and Vontae Davis as much as possible with shots downfield to Randy Moss and Wes Welker. The Patriots are ranked second in passing (291 yards per game) while the Dolphins are ranked 21st in pass defense, allowing an average of 236 passing yards per game.
The Dolphins must respond by getting lots of pressure on Brady with continued use of Gibril Wilson on safety blitzes, as well as sending in OLBs Jason Taylor and Joey Porter. The Dolphins have intercepted Brady 13 times, the most of any of his opponents. Miami has 19 sacks this season, but Brady has been sacked just eight times, fourth fewest in the NFL.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Dolphins LG Justin Smiley and C Jake Grove vs. Patriots DE Mike Wright. Starter Jarvis Green is out after undergoing knee surgery, and with incumbent Richard Seymour traded to Oakland before the season, Wright will make just his eighth start in four pro seasons. Wright, who has started one game at defensive end and two at defensive tackle, has a team-high four sacks this season, matching the total in his first four seasons. Green has 27 career sacks and the Dolphins have allowed 21 sacks, including six last week. QB Chad Henne has held onto the ball too long and has been instructed to throw the ball away more often.
--Dolphins CBs Sean Smith and Vontae Davis vs. Patriots QB Tom Brady. Facing the Dolphins for the first time since blowing out his knee at the start of last season, Brady won't be seeing veterans Will Allen or Andre' Goodman on the corners. Instead, he'll see talented but inexperienced rookies in Smith and Davis, who made his share of plays and mistakes in his first career start Sunday at the Jets. Davis is a sure tackler but takes too many chances. Patriots WRs Randy Moss and Wes Welker have combined to catch 89 balls for 1,049 yards and eight touchdowns. After missing two out of the first three games with an injury, Welker has 10 catches in each of his last two games for 257 yards and three TDs. As a comparison, all four Dolphins receivers have a combined 78 catches for 763 yards and two TDs.
--Dolphins SS Yeremiah Bell and FS Chris Clemons vs. Patriots TEs Benjamin Watson and Chris Baker. The Dolphins have struggled against tight ends all season, from Tony Gonzalez to Antonio Gates to Dallas Clark and last week Dustin Keller. The Patriots' tight end duo has combined to catch 22 balls for 300 yards and five touchdowns. Watson is averaging 14.8 yards per catch, tops on the team among receivers with more than seven catches. Clemons took over the starting job from struggling FS Gibril Wilson last week, so look for the Dolphins to exploit his inexperience.
INJURY IMPACT: MLB Channing Crowder, who missed last week's game against the Jets with a shoulder injury, was back at practice Wednesday but on a limited basis. If he can't go, ILB Reggie Torbor will step in without much of a drop-off. Crowder isn't known for game-turning plays, but he is solid against the run. NT Jason Ferguson is nursing foot and elbow injuries, but is expected to play with increased support from blossoming NT Paul Soliai and DE Randy Starks.
Hot Topic: Official Game 8 Thread: Dolphins vs Patriots