Commentary

10 things for Patriots-Dolphins

Updated: October 3, 2010, 12:21 PM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Ten areas that project to be crucial in the New England Patriots' contest against the Miami Dolphins on Monday (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET):

1. Stopping the run. For as much as the Patriots struggled against the pass last Sunday against the Bills, the primary objective on defense this week will be stopping the run, with the idea of making Miami one-dimensional and eliminating play-action possibilities. So after a game in which the Patriots were primarily in their sub defense last week, this contest should feature more 3-4 base packages. Ronnie Brown (199 yards, 37 carries) and Ricky Williams (120 yards, 35 carries) make the Dolphins' rushing attack go.

[+] EnlargeBenJarvus Green-Ellis
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesBenJarvus Green-Ellis (center) is projected to be the go-to running back Monday, now that Fred Taylor is out.

2. Tom Brady in critical situations. If the Patriots are to end their road woes -- they are 1-7 in their past eight road games -- it starts with Brady, who made a costly end zone mistake in the second half of last year's loss in Miami that contributed to a second-half collapse. Brady made the point this week that road games are situations in which it's hard to gain momentum and easy to give it away, so playing error-free football takes on added importance.

3. Defending Brandon Marshall. The Patriots are likely to start second-year man Kyle Arrington at cornerback over Darius Butler. Arrington is a stronger run-force player than Butler, and with the Dolphins' rushing attack an important part of their game, it makes sense to think Arrington will get the call again. That means he could sometimes be matched up against Marshall -- the Dolphins' leading receiver with 22 catches -- in passing situations. Otherwise, rookie Devin McCourty would be matched up against Marshall, making this a key area to watch.

4. BenJarvus Green-Ellis in a lead role. With veteran Fred Taylor out (toe), the lead duties project to fall to third-year pro Green-Ellis. He is coming off a 98-yard, 16-carry performance in the win over the Bills. One of the reasons offensive linemen like blocking for him is his decisiveness, power and few negative plays. With Green-Ellis playing more on offense, the Patriots will have to account for his absence on special teams.

5. Kevin Faulk void on the road. With the Patriots calling on the silent snap count when Brady is in the shotgun -- something they only use on the road -- this will mark the first time the team will be in that situation without Faulk as the last layer of pass protection. Danny Woodhead and Julian Edelman lined up in the backfield last week, but they weren't tested in pass protection.

6. Aaron Hernandez in the passing game. The Dolphins had a tough time with Jets tight end Dustin Keller in last Sunday's loss, as Keller had six catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns. Hernandez is a lot like Keller in that he has receiver-like skills, so this could be an area for the Patriots to exploit.

7. Matching the Dolphins' discipline. The Dolphins are the NFL's least penalized team, with just 11 accepted infractions this season. The Patriots have 16. The Patriots had breakdowns in this area in their only other road game this season.

8. Personnel shuffling and sideline management. The Dolphins' offense features a variety of formations and groupings. Combine that with a Patriots defense that matches personnel as much as any team in the NFLin terms of shuffling players on and off the field. It will test the team's sideline management to get the right players on the field. Managing timeouts takes on added importance.

9. Punt teams. The Dolphins had a punt blocked last week, while the Patriots' punt unit was uneven, as rookie Zoltan Mesko seeks more consistency. In what could be a field-position game, special teams projects as a big factor, as the Patriots will need a strong complementary game on offense, defense and special teams to record the victory.

10. Conditioning and a finishing kick. In the South Florida heat, the Patriots' conditioning will be tested. For a team that has struggled to put together 60 strong minutes on the road, this is an opportunity to reverse the trend. The Dolphins have been outscored 20-8 in the fourth quarter this season.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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