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Keys To The Dolphins, Patriots Game

The (7-6) Miami Dolphins will be fighting for their playoff lives on Sunday as they visit Foxboro, Mass. to take on the (10-3) New England Patriots. Last week, the Dolphins lost to the Baltimore Ravens 28-13. Because of this loss, the Dolphins are no longer control of its playoff hopes.

The Dolphins currently sit ninth in the AFC and a game back in the chase for the final wild-card spot. Not only do the Dolphins have a lot to play for on Sunday, but so do the Patriots.

New England can clinch their sixth straight AFC East Division title with a win against the Dolphins. The Patriots will also be looking to snap their two-game losing streak against Miami. The Patriots are also looking to stay ahead of the Denver Broncos in the battle for the number one seed in the AFC.

Here are the keys to the game for both teams.

Miami has to stop the run

If you want to know what’s been the reason for Miami’s recent downslide, all you have to do is look at their rushing defense. In their last three games, the Dolphins’ defense has given up a total of 661 yards on the ground. You’re not going to beat many teams in the NFL when you’re giving up over an average of 200 rushing yards per game.

The Patriots don’t always run the football, but everyone knows they have the ability to do so with LeGarrette Blount. No one knows what’s going on in Patriots Coach Bill Belchick’s brain, but I’m thinking he will attempt to run the ball a lot in the second half in order to wear down the Miami defensive line.

Look for Patriots to get Gronk involved early and often 

The Dolphins could be without linebackers Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi on Sunday. Jenkins is the Dolphins best linebacker in coverage, so this injury will really hurt especially since they are going up against the best tight end in football in Rob Gronkowski.

Gronkowski was a shell of himself in the season opener against Miami. He didn’t play one preseason snap as he was recovering from ACL surgery. Gronkowski played just 38 snaps against the Dolphins, but still managed to catch four passes and a touchdown.

Now with the Dolphins hit with the injury bug on defense and Gronkowski fully healthy, look for quarterback Tom Brady to exploit the weakness of the Miami defense.

Dolphins have to run the football 

A lot has been made about Miami offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and his lack of confident in quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s deep ball. Since the Dolphins don’t throw down the field a lot, the team has to be able to establish the running game on Sunday. The problem is, the Patriots have improved their rushing defense during the five weeks.

New England is only allowing opponents an average of 54 rushing yards per game in their last five games. Teams are also only averaging 3.1 yards per carry against the Patriots over that same span.

Dolphins have to be able to run the football so they can stay out of 3rd and long situations. If Miami is facing 3rd and 9, 3rd and 8 a lot on Sunday, that will benefit the Patriots since Tannehill throws a lot of five and six yard passes.

Patriots’ offense needs to keep the Dolphins defensive line off balance

One of the strength of the Dolphins is their superb front four. Miami is 12th in the NFL is sacks and they have Cameron Wake, who is one of the best at his position. To offset this, the Patriots will probably mix up their play-calling throughout the game.

The best recipe against a good pass rush is throwing quick screens to your receivers and running backs. If New England does throw a lot of screens throughout the game, expect the ball to get into Shane Vereen and Julian Edelman’s hands a lot on Sunday.

If the Patriots can have success with screens early in the game, they can then look for the big homerun plays to Gronkowski.

New England comes into this game as -7.5 favorites as they should be. They have been the best team in the AFC this season and are playing at home. Despite the fact that the Dolphins are 1-11 against Tom Brady in Foxboro, stranger things have happened in rivalry games.

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