Patriots at Dolphins | 1 p.m. Sunday, CBS

Breaking down the game: Dolphins vs. Patriots

 

asalguero@miamiherald.com

Breaking down the game | By Armando Salguero

When the Dolphins pass the football

In three career games against the Patriots, Ryan Tannehill has not been very good. He has completed only 51.8 percent of his passes, has thrown three interceptions, fumbled twice and thrown two touchdowns. He also has been sacked 16 times, which is not solely his fault. The point is if the Dolphins are going to overcome the Beast in the AFC East, Tannehill has to step up his game. The Dolphins expect the Patriots to match Aqib Talib against Brian Hartline and then double and roll coverages with Alfonzo Dennard (if available) and others to Mike Wallace. The problem for New England, the NFL’s No. 16 team against the pass, is that tight end Charles Clay has come into his own and is now a primary weapon in the passing game. Clay had two touchdown catches last week against Pittsburgh. ADVANTAGE: Even.

When the Dolphins run the football

The Dolphins plowed both the Jets and Steelers running the ball the past two weeks and they are much better against the run than the Patriots. Truth is, practically everyone is better against the run than the Patriots because they lost run-stuffer Vince Wilfork, who is out for the season, and they also are ranked 31st in the category among all NFL teams. The question for the Dolphins is not whether they will be able to run the football, but rather if they have the patience and will to stick with the running game. The answer to that question this season has been sometimes yes, sometimes no, so there’s no telling which version of offensive coordinator Mike Sherman will show up to Sun Life Stadium on Sunday. ADVANTAGE: Dolphins.

When the Patriots run the football

If Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniel are smart, and they are, they will try to resolve their team’s 2013 penchant for sleepwalking through the first half of games by playing smash-mouth football against Miami. The Patriots are a good running team — a fact that gets lost in the giant shadow cast by quarterback Tom Brady. The offensive line is good and well-coached. The stable of running backs is deep, assuming a couple don’t fumble and get benched for the whole game. And that is why the Pats are No. 13 in the NFL running the ball. The Dolphins are, shall we say, challenged in their run-stopping consistency. Teams have been able to find a soft middle often this season despite the fact Randy Starks, Paul Soliai and Jared Odrick all are having solid seasons. ADVANTAGE: New England.

When the Patriots pass the football

The truth of the matter is the Patriots are weakened by the loss of Rob Gronkowski. Without Gronkowski in the lineup, they score fewer points, throw for fewer yards, and have less success on third down and in the red zone. And Gronk isn’t getting back in uniform anytime soon after blowing out a knee last week. Aaron Dobson also isn’t going to factor into this game so Brady will have to get by with mighty mites Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. Kenbrell Thompkins, a South Floridian, is coming home but because he’s a rookie he does rookie things — which means he’s inconsistent. This group is not to be confused with the 2007 Patriots pass offense. The Dolphins are coming off a game where Ben Roethlisberger carved them up with 328 passing yards and three touchdowns. But Brady doesn’t have the Steelers‘ receivers. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Special teams

Rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis has missed a field goal in six of the Dolphins’ past eight games. The Dolphins are a better kickoff-return team, the Patriots are a better punt-return team. Brandon Fields has the advantage at punter, but the Patriots do a better job on kickoffs and punt coverage. ADVANTAGE: Even.

Coaching

Joe Philbin has yet to beat Bill Belichick, so that is a problem at the moment for the Dolphins. Interestingly, both men handle the media more or less in the same manner, which is to say they hate it. But that’s where the comparisons end. Belichick has a lot more experience, regular-season success and championships. ADVANTAGE: New England.

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