Dolphins vs Patriots: Key Matchups

I said it last week, I'll say it again: Chad Henne is going to have a big night.

The Dolphins got back to work yesterday as they prepare for their big Monday night game against the Patriots. This team is looking to bounce back and you really couldn't ask for a better way to recover from their tough loss last week then to host Tom Brady and company on the Monday night national stage.

While this game presents the Dolphins with an excellent opportunity to bounce back from their disappointment a week ago, it's certainly not going to be easy. So with that said, allow me to highlight three critical matchups for Monday night's game.

Dolphins receivers vs Patriots secondary
For the second week in a row, I'm expecting the Dolphins to let Chad Henne throw it early and often. The Dolphins matchup well offensively against this New England defense. And I'm most excited about the mismatch Brandon Marshall is going to create against whichever unlucky corner has to attempt to cover him. Darius Butler? Devin McCourty? Jonathan Wilhite? Doesn't matter to me.

Look for the Pats to shade their coverage towards Marshall all game. They likely will not let any one of their corners try defending him one-on-one. What that means for Brian Hartline and Davone Bess, of course, is many more opportunities to make plays down the field - like we saw against the Jets last week.

If you ask me, I'm expecting another 300+ yard game against New England's 25th ranked pass defense - a unit allowing 260 yards through the air so far in 2010 and one in which Henne put up 335 yards in their last meeting of 2009.

Randy Moss/Wes Welker vs Dolphins secondary
Notice that I didn't highlight any particular Dolphins player here - and that's on purpose. It's going to be very interesting to see how the Dolphins defend New England's receiving corps. In their second meeting last year, the Dolphins allowed Vontae Davis to shadow Randy Moss everywhere he went. That strategy worked pretty well, holding Moss to just two receptions - though one was a touchdown. Still, Davis had some success - including his huge endzone interception on a fade pass intended for Moss.

Though Vontae has been as close to a shutdown corner as this team has had in a while through these first three games, the Dolphins seem reluctant to flip Vontae and Jason Allen on the field. They'd rather each consistently play their own side rather than play the matchups.

But Moss has also been a Dolphins killer throughout his career. In just his last three games against Miami, Moss has 338 yards receiving and five touchdowns. If ever there was a time to let Vontae flip sides and shadow a receiver, this might be the game.

But we can't forget about that pesky Wes Welker. Ever since his trade to New England, he's been another Dolphin killer. In six career games against his former team, Wes has 47 catches for 613 yards and two touchdowns. Wow. The Dolphins don't have a guy like Will Allen anymore to defend Welker when he moves into the slot - meaning this could be a matchup nightmare for the Fins.

Aaron Hernandez vs Dolphins defense
Surprised to see this matchup listed? You shouldn't be. The rookie tight end out of Florida has been outstanding - leading the Pats in receiving yards through three games. That's right - he's got more receiving yards than Moss and Welker. His 16.2 yards per reception average is also tops on the team. He's a matchup nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators thanks to his 245 pound frame and good speed. He reminds me a lot of Dustin Keller, who really hurt the Dolphins last week - at least in the first half.

How will the Dolphins defend him? That's the million dollar question. You can't set up your defense around stopping Hernandez because of their weapons at receiver. I'm expecting a combination of Karlos Dansby, Sean Smith, and Chris Clemons to be assigned to the athletic tight end on most plays.

We also can't forget about New England's other rookie tight end, Rob Gronkowski - the only player not named Moss or Welker to have a touchdown reception this year. He's got two and seems to be a go-to guy in the red zone for Tom Brady this year.

There is one thing I do know for sure: Mike Nolan isn't getting much sleep this week.

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