Patriots / Dolphins - Three Keys to Tonight's Game

Ian Logue
September 12, 2011 at 01:01pm ET

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New Patriots DL Danny Shelton preps to hit the hill
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With the Patriots and Dolphins finally set to battle on Monday night football, here are a few thoughts on what could end up being a tough battle down in Miami.

Nate Solder will get his first real NFL test tonight against the Dolphins. (FILE:Icon/SMI)

1) How will the right side of New England's offensive line fare against the Dolphins pass rush?  - With Jason Taylor and Cameron Wake, Miami has two guys that will likely challenge newly acquired right guard Brian Waters, along with rookie right tackle Nate Solder.   Waters has only been with the team since September 4th, and with Solder getting the start after Sebastian Vollmer was downgraded to "Out" last night, it's the one side of the line that really doesn't have a lot of continuity.  Neither player has worked together for a full 60-minutes, and they'll have to try and settle in on the fly against a pretty good Dolphins defense.

Conditioning for both guys is going to be a big key, and both guys are probably in for quite a workout.  It's in the 90's today, and the forecast is potentially calling for thunderstorms tonight (it's already rained this morning) with temperatures still expected to be in the 80's.  Needless to say it's probably going to be hot and humid at game time - which is going to obviously make it tough on those guys to stay fresh and keep Tom Brady upright.

How will the defensive rotation up front work out for guys like Albert Haynesworth and the rest of the Patriots defensive line? - According to what we've seen and heard so far, Haynesworth didn't exactly show up in "game shape" when they acquired him earlier in camp, and he's still trying to improve his conditioning, as well as working to get acclimated to this defense.  

With the conditions being what they are tonight, this game should be a good first test for him.   One area to watch is going to be seeing how they handle rotating different guys in, along with the personnel groupings as they try to keep each group fresh.  That was obviously the point of bringing in so many defensive lineman this offseason, and we'll finally get a chance tonight to see how having this deeper group translates on the field.

How will Leigh Bodden fare in his first start in over a year? - Tonight's game marks Bodden's first start since the 2009 season, and it should be a good test for the veteran.  He'll likely battle Dolphins receiver Devon Bess, who should provide a good match-up considering how the last one went in their previous meeting in Miami back on December 6th, 2009.

Bodden had his hands full with Bess during that game - with Bess getting the best of him and Darius Butler in a 22-21 loss.  In that game the Dolphins receiver caught 10 balls for 117 yards and a touchdown.  Hopefully this one goes a little better this time around.

PREDICTION: Patriots 24, Miami 17

As for a prediction for tonight, I'm staying with my earlier prediction of 24-17.  I think this one will be tougher than most people anticipated, but I do think they'll do enough to leave Miami with a win.

One guy I'm curious to see emerge tonight will be Shaun Ellis, and it's going to be interesting to see how Belichick uses him tonight to put pressure on Chad Henne in hopes of keeping him from making any big plays to Bess and fellow receiver Brandon Marshall. They obviously have plenty of confidence in him, and if the preseason was any indication, it should be a lot of fun to see him in action later this evening.

Don't forget, tonight's kickoff is scheduled earlier than normal for 7pm ET, due to the west coast game that follows at 10:15pm ET between Oakland and Denver.