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Patriots Playbook Thu Dec 03 | 02:00 PM - 04:00 PM

Game Matchups: Miami's offensive line struggling in pass protection

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WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN


If the Dolphins have a weakness on defense, it's stopping the run. When Denver rushed for 201 yards on Nov. 23, and the Jets ran for 277 two weeks ago, it was the first time the Dolphins had allowed opponents to rush for more than 200 yards in consecutive weeks since 1990. The Jets rushing total was the most a Miami team had allowed in a game since 2007. Things weren't much better last week, when Miami surrendered 187 yards on the ground in a 28-13 loss to Baltimore. New England has a pair of between-the-tackles runners in LeGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray. Blount has gained 202 yards on 42 carries since rejoining the Patriots. Stopping the run could be Miami's No. 1 problem Sunday. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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WHEN THE DOLPHINS RUN


The Dolphins lost running back Knowshon Moreno to a season-ending knee injury during a 27-24 loss to Green Bay on Oct. 12, but Miami's running game has remained productive thanks in large part to third-year back Lamar Miller, who has rushed for 782 yards in 13 games this season. He's averaging 4.8 yards per carry and attempting to become the first Miami player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since Reggie Bush in 2011. Only five running backs who have carried the ball at least 70 times this season - Justin Forsett, C.J. Anderson, DeMarco Murray, Jamaal Charles and Arian Foster - are averaging more yards per carry than Miller. The New England defense is allowing 4.2 yards per carry, although the performance in that department has improved lately. Still, this is a way the Dolphins might stay competitive on Sunday. ADVANTAGE: DOLPHINS

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WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS


The Patriots have three players ­- Rob Gronkowski, Brandon LaFell and Tim Wright - with at least six touchdown receptions this season. Denver and Indianapolis are the only NFL teams that can say the same. Quarterback Tom Brady is having an outstanding season with 30 touchdown passes and seven interceptions, but he'll be facing a Miami defense that was ranked No. 2 in passing yards per game, No. 1 in passing yards per play and No. 6 in sacks per pass attempt through Week 13. The Miami defenders to keep an eye on in this matchup are defensive end Cameron Wake (team-high 9.5 sacks), outside linebacker Jelani Jenkins (3.5 sacks) and defensive back Brent Grimes (team-high five interceptions). Safety Reshad Jones has also been solid since returning from a season-opening suspension. The key will be pass protection, and in the opener that was a major problem. ADVANTAGE: DOLPHINS

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WHEN THE DOLPHINS PASS


The Miami offense features a conservative passing game. In other words, the Dolphins like to throw short. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has completed at least 70 percent of his passes in five of his last six games, but the Dolphins rank last in the NFL with one touchdown pass of 20 yards or more and 27th in pass completions of that distance. Jarvis Landry, a rookie out of LSU, has emerged as the team's top pass-catching threat. Through 12 games the Patriots ranked 22nd against the pass, but that number is misleading since so many of the team's opponents have been playing from behind. Miami's offensive line, particularly right tackle Dallas Thomas, has struggled in pass protection this season, and with Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner locking down things on the outside the Patriots get the edge. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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SPECIAL TEAMS


New England should have an edge in the kicking game. Miami's Caleb Sturgis has been inconsistent this season - he's missed five of his 31 field goal attempts - and the Dolphins were ranked 23rd in net punting through their first 12 games. The Dolphins are also near the bottom of the league in kickoff return average. New England's Stephen Gostkowski has connected on 29 of his 31 field goal attempts this season, including 12 of 13 kicks from 40 yards or beyond. The Patriots ranked seventh among NFL teams in both kickoff return average and punt return average entering last week's game against San Diego. Julian Edelman is averaging 12.6 yards per punt return and has returned one punt for a TD this season. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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OTHER FACTORS


New England continues to be one of the NFL's best teams in terms of turnover differential at plus-10. Brady has been responsible for nine of the Patriots 10 turnovers: six interceptions and three fumbles. Miami is plus-3 in turnover differential. In addition, New England has played some of its best football in December. Brady has a 46-7 record in December games. Four of those seven losses came against the Dolphins, but all four came in Miami. The Dolphins will also by trying to do something no team has done since San Francisco in 2012, and that's beat the Patriots in Foxborough in the regular season. The Patriots have won their last 15 home games since that 41-34 loss to the 49ers. New England is 6-0 at home this season ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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