Today I will be trying something different. Instead of my normal "things to watch for" article, I am posting an article on the keys to victory for each team in Sunday's game. Let me know which game-primer article you prefer in the comments.
The Miami Dolphins (7-6) will attempt to keep their slim playoff hopes alive when they travel to Foxborough to take on the New England Patriots (10-3). The Patriots, one of four teams with double-digit wins, have only three losses on the season. But one of those losses was suffered in Miami in opening week.
The Dolphins have beat the Patriots twice in a row but will be limping into this game with multiple injuries to face an angry, vengeance-seeking New England team. These are the keys to victory for each team:
Next man up
The Dolphins, in addition to safety Louis Delmas, will be without both Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins Sunday. Those injuries are huge hits to a front seven which has been struggling. However, just as they have been able to somewhat successfully do all season, the Dolphins must be able to mask these deficient areas.
The injuries to Miami's two best linebackers will force Kelvin Sheppard and Jason Trusnik into the starting lineup. Sheppard has a reputation as a run stuffer, and he will need to be so on Sunday. Filling the correct gaps and shedding blocks will be crucial for Miami's (backup) linebackers because the Patriots are sure to follow the power running blueprint that the previous three teams to face the Dolphins have put out.
Step up from Dolphins offensive line
The Dolphins offensive line must step up in pass protection. The Dolphin offensive line also needs to be able to create some push at the line of scrimmage and create gaps for Lamar Miller to slip through.
Many had flashes of 2013 last Sunday as Ryan Tannehill was sacked six times against the Ravens and the running game flamed out in the second half. The Dolphins offensive line must step it up if the Dolphins want to return to Miami victorious.
Stop the run
The Dolphins must be able to squander the Patriots power running game, which they will undoubtedly unleash on Miami. The Patriots ran over the Dolphins for 152 yards the last time these two teams met in New England. The Dolphins run defense needs to step up, make a statement and allow less than 100 yards.
Don't beat themselves
The Dolphins nearly did this when these two teams met in Week 1, turning the ball over three times. Miami must play mistake free football against the Patriots. That means no turnovers, drive-killing penalties or game-changing sacks on offense and no missed assignments or big plays allowed on defense.
The Patriots are already a championship-caliber team. The team is impossible to defeat when you get in your own way.
Pressure on Tom Brady
This speaks for itself. In the past two games, which have both been Dolphin victories, Miami has sacked Brady five times and hit an additional thirteen times. Cameron Wake is responsible for three of those sacks and seven of those QB hits. Wake is usually at his best against the Patriots, and he will need to be so Sunday.
(Note: this key requires good initial pass coverage, so that Brady doesn't dink-and-dunk the Dolphins pass rush right out of the game and good run defense so the Patriots are forced to throw.)
The Dolphins are going to need a great gameplan to beat the Patriots, similar to the one implemented early against the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday. The Dolphins need to get Lamar Miller involved early and often on offense.
The Dolphins also need a strong defensive gameplan. The Patriots have many different ways to attack this limping Dolphins defense, so defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle will need to call an excellent game as he did when these two teams met in Week 1.
New England Patriots:
Pound the rock
The Dolphins have allowed 661 yards on the ground in the past three games. Miami will be without their top two linebackers Sunday. It doesn't take a Bill Belichick to figure this one out.
The Patriots will be hitting the Dolphins with a power running game. If the Patriots can get consistent gains on the ground to keep their drives moving and their third downs a comfortable distance then they will put a plethora of points on the board.
Home field advantage
The Patriots have lost two times in a row to the Dolphins. Both of those games were in Miami. The Dolphins have never beaten the Patriots in New England when Tom Brady played the entire game. The Patriots will have the crowd on their side and the weather on their side.
Wreck the Dolphins offensive line
The Dolphins offensive line is susceptible to being dominated up front, and if an opposing defensive line can do that it can change the tide of the game. Blow up the Dolphins offensive lineman, snuff the run and, when the Dolphins are forced into a one-dimensional gameplan, collapse the pocket around Ryan Tannehill.
Attack the middle of the field offensively
Due to backup linebackers, and Philip Wheeler, the middle of the field will be the fun zone for the Patriots Sunday. Between the mix of runs between the tackles, play-action passes to Rob Gronkowski in the seam of the defense and the short passes that are a staple of New England's offense, many yards will be gained in the middle of the field for the Patriots Sunday.