Patriots’ Focus Against Dolphins Shifts From Wildcat to Passing Game

Patriots' Focus Against Dolphins Shifts From Wildcat to Passing Game The Patriots probably won't spend as much time preparing for the Wildcat this week as they have prior to past meetings with the Dolphins, who have shifted more toward a conventional offense.

Miami has had very little success in the Wildcat this season, and it's been snuffed out by the Patriots in their last three matchups. For a more complete breakdown of the Wildcat, check out a post from last season. In terms of Wildcat defense, not much has changed.

The Patriots' defense needs to be more concerned with quarterback Chad Henne and Miami's passing game. Henne has a big arm and a beast of a downfield target in Brandon Marshall, who is going to be a menace for the Patriots' secondary — notably right cornerbacks Kyle Arrington and Darius Butler. He can spread the field, and he's also a challenging player to tackle because of his strength, so the Dolphins can use him in all levels of the defense. He'll get his catches, but it's of the utmost importance for the Pats to improve on the missed-tackling epidemic that plagued them at times against Buffalo.

Marshall isn’t the only guy they've got to focus on, though. Davone Bess is one of the best slot receivers in the league, and he's a pest on third downs. When the Dolphins need yards in clutch situations, Henne will often look in Bess' direction, much like Tom Brady looks at Wes Welker. And then there is Brian Hartline, who will work on the opposite side as Marshall and is also a three-level wide receiver.

There's little doubt that Marshall's presence has greatly enhanced the development of his younger teammates, Bess and Hartline.

While the Dolphins probably won't run much Wildcat, they'll still pose a challenge for the Patriots, who are 19th in the NFL in run defense (119.0 yards per game). The Dolphins average 112.0 rushing yards per game, which is actually 11.3 yards less than the Patriots, but they've got Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, who are as effective running inside as they are to the outside.

New England's run defense hasn’t shown much this season, and the Patriots have had their greatest difficulties in all three of their games when opposing offenses have been able to run the ball. Yet, when the Pats did their part to limit the Miami running game last year in Week 13, Henne diced the defense for 335 passing yards. This is going to be the Patriots' toughest defensive balancing act to this point in the young season.

On the other side of the ball, the Patriots should have some success against the Miami defense, which is still very much a work in progress at linebacker. Inside linebacker Karlos Dansby has already proven to be a quality signing, but he's going to need some help around him.

Inside linebacker Channing Crowder has been dealing with an injury, which has left Bobby Carpenter with more playing time than the Dolphins probably bargained for, and outside linebackers Cameron Wake and rookie Koa Misi are still coming along. They can generate a pass rush, but they lack in coverage skills, which could again yield a big day for the Patriots' tight ends and slot receivers.

The Dolphins play a 3-4 and don’t use a wide variety of sub packages, although they do have three capable cornerbacks who could see the field Monday. Vontae Davis starts at left corner, and Jason Allen has won the job on the right side, where he replaced Sean Smith. Miami's cornerbacks are pretty good, so the Patriots will likely want to attack the middle of the field first and then work to the outside when things open up.

The Dolphins can also be susceptible to the run, as they're ranked 18th in run defense this season, so the Patriots don’t have to be one-dimensional to get through this defense. Miami has some talent up front with defensive linemen Paul Soliai, Randy Starks and Kendall Langford. Starks can play the interior and at end, but he's moved to end recently due to the injury to Jared Odrick. The key to New England's running game — and this is hardly breaking news — will be freeing up a lineman to neutralize Dansby.

It's likely that both teams will score in the 20s Monday night, with each offense holding the advantage over the opposing defense. In terms of X's and O's, the Patriots' most important mission will be to keep Marshall at bay, but the X-factor will be in the Patriots' ability to handle the pressure of another road game, as well as their fluidity with second-half adjustments.

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