Patriots Aim to Tame Wildcat When Miami Comes to Town

Patriots Aim to Tame Wildcat When Miami Comes to Town FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots get back to work after their bye week, as they host the Miami Dolphins in a highly important divisional game. The Dolphins lead the all-time series 49-38, but the Patriots are 26-17 against the Dolphins in Foxborough, including a 5-2 record at Gillette Stadium and a 1-0 playoff mark.

New England won the last meeting 48-28 in Miami, which served as the Dolphins’ only loss in their last 10 regular-season games in 2008. The Dolphins took the teams’ last meeting at Gillette 38-13, a game that signified the birth of the Wildcat offense and also marked the end of the Patriots’ NFL-record 21-game regular-season winning streak.

When and Where

Sunday, Nov. 8, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.

Records

Patriots 5-2 (1-1 AFC East)
Dolphins 3-4 (3-0 AFC East)

Skinny

While the defending AFC East champion Dolphins have gotten off to a perfect start in the division, the Patriots have struggled in their first two games against divisional foes. After starting the season with a victory against the Buffalo Bills and a loss to the New York Jets, the Patriots have played five consecutive games outside of the AFC East, and Sunday’s showdown with the Dolphins gives New England a chance to put a stranglehold on the division with eight games remaining.

The Pats have two fewer losses than the Dolphins and Jets, and three of the Patriots’ next five games are against those two teams. New England, which claimed five consecutive AFC East titles from 2003-07, is 40-12 in regular-season games against its division since 2001, the best mark in the NFL over that span.

“To win a division, you have to play good in the division,” said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. “You’re not going to win the division and be 3-3 every year. We’re 1-1 in the division right now, and we have four key division games coming up and this one is right at the top of the list. You’ve got to play well in these games.”

The Patriots were happy to get their bye week during a relative midpoint of the season, and they got an assist from the schedule makers after the bye, too. It will be much easier for them to come out of the bye with a clear focus because Miami is such a key opponent.

“We’re back in the division here after a couple games out of it,” said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. “We know we’re going to have to play a good football game on Sunday. There is no doubt about it. Hopefully, we’ll be ready to do that. That’s what we’re working toward.”

Projected Starters

Patriots
Offense
Quarterback: Tom Brady
Wide receiver: Randy Moss
Wide receiver: Wes Welker
Running back: Laurence Maroney
Tight end: Ben Watson
Tight end: Chris Baker
Left tackle: Sebastian Vollmer
Left guard: Logan Mankins
Center: Dan Koppen
Right guard: Stephen Neal
Right tackle: Nick Kaczur

Defense
Left defensive end: Ty Warren
Defensive tackle: Vince Wilfork
Right defensive end: Mike Wright
Left outside linebacker: Pierre Woods
Middle linebacker: Jerod Mayo
Middle linebacker: Gary Guyton
Right outside Linebacker: Adalius Thomas
Left cornerback: Shawn Springs
Right cornerback: Leigh Bodden
Strong safety: Brandon Meriweather
Free safety: Brandon McGowan

Specialists
Kicker: Stephen Gostkowski
Punter: Chris Hanson
Long snapper: Jake Ingram
Holder: Chris Hanson
Kick returner: Laurence Maroney
Punt returner: Wes Welker

Dolphins

Offense
Quarterback: Chad Henne
Wide receiver: Brian Hartline
Wide receiver: Davone Bess
Running back: Ronnie Brown
Fullback: Lousaka Polite
Tight end: Anthony Fasano
Left tackle: Jake Long
Left guard: Justin Smiley
Center: Jake Grove
Right guard: Donald Thomas
Right tackle: Vernon Carey

Defense
Left defensive end: Kendall Langford
Defensive tackle: Jason Ferguson
Right defensive end: Randy Starks
Left outside linebacker: Jason Taylor
Left inside linebacker: Reggie Torbor
Right inside linebacker: Akin Ayodele
Right outside linebacker: Joey Porter
Cornerback: Vontae Davis
Cornerback: Sean Smith
Strong safety: Yeremiah Bell
Free safety: Gibril Wilson

Specialists
Kicker: Dan Carpenter
Punter: Brandon Fields
Long snapper: John Denney
Holder: Brandon Fields
Kick returner: Ted Ginn Jr.
Punt returner: Davone Bess

Stat Sheet

Patriots
Half of the Patriots’ 12 division losses since 2001 have come against the Dolphins.

Wide receiver Wes Welker has caught 28 passes for 362 yards and two touchdowns in four career games against the Dolphins. He is averaging seven receptions and 90.5 yards per game against his former team, the highest averages against any team he has faced more than once.

Quarterback Tom Brady is 9-5 against the Dolphins. He only has three regular-season losses against the rest of the AFC East in his career. Against the Dolphins, Brady has completed 221 of 387 passes (57.1 percent) for 2,447 yards, 25 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

The Patriots are third in the NFL with 406.0 offensive yards per game and second with 291.0 passing yards per game.

Stephen Gostkowski needs four field goals to take over fourth place on the Patriots’ all-time list.

Wide receiver Randy Moss needs 14 receptions to become the 10th player in league history with 900 career catches. Moss needs 234 receiving yards to become the seventh player in NFL history with 1,400 yards.

Moss averages one touchdown per every 6.37 receptions, which is the best mark of all time, just ahead of Lance Alworth (6.38). Moss has 886 career receptions and 139 touchdowns.

Moss has caught 37 passes for 547 yards (14.8 average) and eight touchdowns in seven career games against the Dolphins.

Running back Kevin Faulk has a Patriots-high 5,365 total yards from scrimmage since 2001.

The Patriots are the fourth team in NFL history to start a season with a 25,000-yard passer (Brady), 10,000-yard receiver (Moss) and 10,000-yard rusher (Fred Taylor). The others are the 1998 and 1999 Cowboys (Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin) and 2004 St. Louis Rams (Chris Chandler, Marshall Faulk and Isaac Bruce).

Linebacker Junior Seau can break an NFL record with his 25th consecutive regular-season victory Sunday. He is currently tied with former Dolphins defensive tackle Maulty Moore (1972-73). Seau has not lost a game since 2006.

Six players in NFL history have led their team in both sacks and interceptions in the same season, and five of them are playing in Sunday’s game — Seau (Chargers, 1997), Shawn Springs (Redskins, 2004), Adalius Thomas (2004, Ravens), Joey Porter (Steelers, 2002) and Jason Taylor (Dolphins, 2006).

Dolphins

The Dolphins are one of just six teams that have defeated the Patriots more than once since 2001. The others are the Denver Broncos (six), New York Jets (five), Indianapolis Colts (three), San Diego Chargers (three) and Pittsburgh Steelers (two).

The Dolphins have run 460 offensive plays this season, and 66 of those plays (14.3 percent) have come out of the Wildcat formation. Those 66 plays have resulted in 357 yards (5.4 yards per play) and four touchdowns.

Wildcat plays amount to 16.7 percent of the Dolphins’ total yardage and 23.5 percent of their touchdowns. Conversely, Miami is gaining 4.5 yards per play — nearly one full yard less — out of conventional offensive formations.

Rookie wide receiver Brian Hartline leads the team with 15.7 yards per reception. He has caught 10 passes for 157 yards.

Wide receiver Davone Bess leads the team with 30 receptions and is second on the Dolphins with 206 receiving yards.

Quarterback Chad Henne has completed 74 of 124 passes (59.7 percent) this season for 771 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.

Running back Ronnie Brown has 83 rushes for 350 yards (4.2 average) and five touchdowns in six career games against the Patriots. He has also caught 14 passes for 90 yards and thrown a 19-yard touchdown pass.

Running back Ricky Williams has rushed 195 times for 748 yards (3.8 average) and four touchdowns in nine career games against New England. He has also caught 14 passes for 121 yards and one score.

Defensive tackle Jason Ferguson has 54 total tackles and 1.5 sacks in 16 career games against the Patriots.

Linebacker Jason Taylor has 20 tackles, 5.5 sacks, two passes defensed and two forced fumbles this season. In 22 career games against the Patriots, Taylor has 84 total tackles, 12 sacks, three interceptions, 11 passes defensed, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Linebacker Joey Porter has 32 total tackles, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles in seven career games against New England.

Black and Blue

(From Thursday’s practice report)

Patriots
Wide receiver Julian Edelman (forearm) did not practice and is not expected to play.
Defensive end Jarvis Green (knee surgery) did not practice and will not play.
Left tackle Matt Light (knee) did not practice and is not expected to play.
Running back Sammy Morris (knee) did not practice and is not expected to play.
Running back Fred Taylor (ankle) did not practice and is not expected to play.
Cornerback Jonathan Wilhite (illness) did not practice.
Defensive end Ty Warren (ankle) had limited participation and said he expects to play.
Tight end Ben Watson (back) had limited participation.
Quarterback Tom Brady (right shoulder) fully participated.
Wide receiver Randy Moss (shoulder) fully participated.

Dolphins
Linebacker Channing Crowder (shoulder) had limited participation.
Defensive tackle Jason Ferguson (elbow) had limited participation.

This Date in Patriots History

In 1981, the Dolphins beat the Patriots 30-27 in overtime at Schaefer Stadium. The Patriots hold a 17-3 advantage in the second quarter before the Dolphins come storming back. There are three lead changes in the second half, and New England’s John Smith kicks a 30-yard field goal to force overtime. The Patriots have five turnovers to the Dolphins’ four, and New England quarterback Steve Grogan completes 23 of 40 passes for 355 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions, and he also runs for a score. Miami controls the game on the ground with 41 rushes for 203 yards and three touchdowns, and Uwe von Schamann kicks the game-winning field goal in overtime.

This date hasn’t been kind to the Patriots, who have lost all five games — being outscored a total of 150-61 — they’ve played Nov. 8.

Overheard

“It was shocking. The first game, it was shocking because we didn’t know what they were doing. We tried to make adjustments, but it didn’t happen. The second time around, we had it under control.”
—Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork on facing Miami’s Wildcat offense last season

Press Box

Patriots
Here is a great look at Tom Brady’s rehab and rejuvenation of his former self.

The unsung stars of the midweek play a big part in Sunday’s outcome.

Ty Warren is ready for Miami.

Dolphins
There’s some Tuna in town.

Yeremiah Bell embraces the role of mentor, even if it’s new territory.

Pat White still has some work to do.

NFL
Terrell Owens will root for one of his teams in the Cowboys-Eagles game this weekend. Find out who here.

Could this be Jeff Fisher’s last season in Tennessee?

Sack totals are getting sacked.

Outlook

When facing a team with a great running attack, it becomes vitally important to jump out to an early lead, and that will be a primary focus for the Patriots against the Dolphins. The Patriots have chosen to kick off to start each game they’ve won the coin toss this season, but they might want the ball first if that scenario occurs this time around.

If the Patriots can put the ball in the end zone right away and then hold the Dolphins off the board, New England will be in a position to completely alter how the Dolphins want to play. Clearly, Miami’s Wildcat attack is a force unlike anything in the NFL these days, and you can read a complete scouting report here. By putting Miami in, say, a two-possession hole, the Patriots would force second-year quarterback Chad Henne — who, because of Chad Pennington’s injury, is a starter for the first time — to throw the ball more often. The Dolphins’ ball-control offense (they possessed the ball for 45:07 in a loss to the Colts in Week 2) would be ineffective.

True, the Dolphins smacked the Patriots at Gillette last season, but that was a perfect storm of events. It was quarterback Matt Cassel’s second career start, and the Patriots were also trying to control the ball and protect Cassel from airing it out. Once he and the New England offense were made uncomfortable, the Patriots were put in an impossible position.

Cassel was much better in the second meeting, throwing for 415 yards and three touchdowns as the Patriots played their style in a 20-point victory. Since the two teams still win using opposite philosophies in 2009, the victor will likely be the team that establishes itself first.

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