WHEN THE DOLPHINS RUN THE BALL
The strong running game the Dolphins displayed early in the season and seemed destined to be part of their 2012 identity disappeared for seven weeks in the middle of the year. Well, it’s back lately. The Dolphins have gained 180 rushing yards or more each of the past two games. Miami has rushed for more than 100 yards in four of the past five games and they averaged 4.3 yards per rush and gained 94 yards in the game they didn’t surpass 100 yards. The Dolphins have done this despite moving Jonathan Martin from right tackle to left and starting perennial backup Nate Garner at right tackle. The Patriots are a good-but-not-great run defense. They rank 12th in the NFL. By the way, that game in which Miami didn’t surpass 100 yards in the past five weeks? It was against New England. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS PASS THE BALL
The Dolphins have given Ryan Tannehill greater latitude within the offense the past few weeks and that includes spread-option runs that have him gashing defenses for first downs with his legs. Well, the spread-option pass might be on the agenda this week. It is the next logical progression. The Dolphins are also using Reggie Bush in the passing game more. That hasn’t exactly numbed the loss of Davone Bess the past few games but it has given the Dolphins another option that didn’t exists earlier in the year. The Patriots are the most dangerous defense in the AFC at taking the football away. They not only have 19 interceptions, which leads the conference, but many of their NFL-leading 20 fumble recoveries also come on strip-sacks of opposing quarterbacks. So the Dolphins will have to pass but must do so understanding the troubles that can cause them. Tannehill has not thrown an interception in four games. ADVANTAGE: Even.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL
The Patriots running game rightfully takes a backseat to the passing attack. But the Pats are definitely a balanced offense, as Stevan Ridley has 1,189 yards this season and is averaging a healthy 4.4 yards per rush. The running game is most dangerous catching the opposition in pass-defense mode and in the four-minute drill. The Patriots like to put passing personnel into the game and when the defense counters, they run the football against extra defensive backs. The club also has had success closing out games and halves running the football and running out the clock. The Dolphins continue to have a reputation as a good run-stopping unit, but when one considers they’ve given up at least 154 rushing yards in two of the past three games and 5.5 yards per carry in the two games they were gashed, it begs the questions whether something isn’t amiss with the unit as the year comes to a close. ADVANTAGE: New England.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL
Tom Brady had a long day against Miami the first meeting. He threw one touchdown pass. He had an interception and was a penalty flag away from throwing a pick-six as well. And, yes, he was sacked four times. Brady’s 238 passing yards against Miami was his third-lowest total of the season. And, it must be said that although Brady had a great start to the season — throwing only three interceptions his first 11 games — he has misfired lately. He has four interceptions the past two games. The Dolphins haven’t exactly been larcenous in taking the ball away this season: Safety Reshad Jones is their interception leader with four. This game will be cornerback Dimitri Patterson’s biggest test as a Dolphin. He will start his second consecutive game after joining the team 11 days ago. ADVANTAGE: New England.
Coach Joe Philbin was borderline apologetic to Nate Kaeding last week when the new kicker’s first attempt with the Dolphins was so poorly protected that the kick was blocked. “I told him we usually block better than that,” Philbin said. Indeed, the Dolphins are every bit the equal of the Patriots’ special teams even with Dan Carpenter out. One issue is whether Kaeding can kick in inclement weather as well as Carpenter. That has yet to be seen from the former San Diego kicker. ADVANTAGE: Even.
Both coaches are asking their teams to keep their focus on this one game. The Patriots need that focus because they could be looking ahead to the playoffs. The Dolphins need that focus because they’re out of the playoffs, have nothing to play for beyond this week and could be looking ahead to being off. That doesn’t suggest an advantage for either staff, but it does seem to be an easier task to keep a playoff team interested. ADVANTAGE: New England.