Dolphins coach Joe Philbin routinely emphasizes turnover margin and generating quarterback pressure, but both become more essential Sunday against an opponent that is exceptional at forcing turnovers and protecting its quarterback.
Whereas the Dolphins are a minus-10 in turnover differential (tied for 27th in the league), the Patriots are plus-24, easily the best in the league. They have committed only eight turnovers — compared with 21 by the Dolphins — largely because Tom Brady has thrown just three interceptions.
The Patriots have 32 takeaways compared with 11 for the Dolphins. The Patriots have forced 29 fumbles — by far the most in the league, where the average is 15 per team — and have recovered 18 of them.
“They must drill it, teach it, emphasize that, to get that kind of productivity,” Philbin said.
Dolphins pass rushers got to Brady four times in New England’s 27-24 Christmas Eve victory against Miami last season. But the Patriots have allowed only 15 sacks in 11 games this year — the second-fewest sacks per play in the league behind only the Giants.
The key against Brady, Dolphins defensive lineman Randy Starks said, is producing pressure up the middle. Philbin said the Dolphins have been “adequate” at doing that, but “in the last couple weeks, we’ve had difficulty keeping some of those guys contained in there. We have to do a better job of that.”
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The Patriots listed three starters as out — tight end Rob Gronkowski, linebacker Chandler Jones and guard Logan Mankins. They also listed 15 players as questionable, including receiver Julian Edelman and eight starters: tight end Aaron Hernandez, receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, linebackers Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung and offensive linemen Sebastian Vollmer and Dan Connolly.Bill Belichick Ryan Tannehill: Richard Marshall Matt Moore Paul Soliai Erik Spoelstra