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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Wed Jul 28 | 12:00 AM - 09:25 AM

Keys to the Starting Lineups presented by CarMax: New England's consistency vs. Miami's emotion

It seems like just yesterday the Patriots (6-0) were dispatching the upstart Jets. Actually, though, it was a couple days ago.

Four days after remaining undefeated and separating itself from the AFC East pack, New England returns to the Gillette Stadium turf to host the reenergized Dolphins (3-3) in another divisional battle.

Normally the familiar foe would make the quick Sunday-to-Thursday turnaround a bit easier, but Miami comes to town on an explosive two-game winning streak since Dan Campbell took over as the team's interim head coach following the firing of Joe Philbin.

Campbell is a former NFL tight end and tight end coach who has brought old school energy and style - read Oklahoma drills -- to the job. His team has responded with impressive wins against the overmatched Titans and Texans.

But Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the rest of the Patriots will rarely, heck never be described as overmatched. Short week or long, road trip or home game, the New England squad virtually always has the upper hand on the opposition.

What was once a lackluster Dolphins team that was losing to lesser competition and failing to play up to its collective talent level is now making big plays on both sides of the ball.

Is it a short-term boost thanks to the coaching change and dramatic style shift to Campbell's passion? Or is it a new mix of coaching and freed up talent that's sustainable?

Miami's performance on Sunday may go long a way toward answering that debate. For the Patriots it's another game against a challenger that's a heavy underdog on paper looking to prove its mettle against the best, most consistent measuring stick in football.

Ready or not, Thursday night is just about here. Another game is about to kickoff. The Patriots are seemingly always ready. Can the new-look Dolphins say the same?

Here are a few key factors to keep an eye on in this battle between the Belichickian brains of New England and the Campbell-led emotion of Miami:

Tackle - It sounds simple. Along with running and blocking it's the foundation of football that's been played for 100 years. And yet, it's often easier said than done. Just ask a Texans team that gave up endless big plays last week in the blowout loss to the Dolphins. Miami had three 50-plus yard pass plays and an 85-yard run. Those types of plays ignite an offense, deflate a defense and light up the scoreboard in a hurry. The Patriots tackling has been inconsistent at times this year. On a Thursday night when energy and soreness could be an issue for all players on both teams, ensuring that multiple hats get to the ball on defense is a major goal for New England. Can't assume the other guy has him. Such a thought could allow Miami to continue to hit the energetic, energizing big plays that the team has used of late in their new incarnation.

No Miller time - Lamar Miller, like many Dolphins, has been juiced up the last couple weeks. He was an issue in both the running and passing game against the Texans. He notched his second straight 100-yard game, including an 85-yard touchdown. He added a 50-plus-yard catch-and-run touchdown. He's averaging 6.0 yards a carry as a more explosive runner than the physical challenge that Chris Ivory presented last Sunday. If Miller gets going, it opens up the entire offense for Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins. The Patriots run defense, on the other hand, is coming off its best performance of the year. It held Ivory, even if he was dinged up, very much in check. Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins seem to get better each week. Collins, in particular, might be called on to deal with the athletic run/pass option Miller presents. Regardless of who does the job, New England's first goal will be to keep Miller bottled up and not allow him to get things flowing.

Pass protection - Ndamukong Suh openly aired his displeasure early this season with how he was being used in the first games of his $100 million career in Miami. He and Pro Bowl veteran Dolphin Cameron Wake were without a sack through the first four games. The last two weeks, Wake has combined for six sacks and Suh tallied his first two of the year against the Texans. Add in Olivier Vernon and the trio is a formidable challenge for New England's banged up, work-in-progress offensive line. Cameron Fleming will likely start again at right tackle and have to deal with Wake, although he'll surely get some blocking help from the tight ends. The interior line of undrafted center David Andrews and the young, inexperienced crew of guards will face a unique battle with the big, athletic, unpredictable Suh. The Patriots offensive line has met every challenge thrown its way this season and turned away weekly questions. It will need to do that again to give Brady time to continue to make plays in the passing game and put up the 30-plus points that are now expected each week in Foxborough.

Turnovers needed - The Patriots aren't turning the ball over on offense, which is great. But they aren't forcing a ton of turnovers, either. Part of that is the fact that the pass defense just hasn't had enough tight coverage at various points this fall. The Dolphins have talented weapons at receiver (Jarvis Landry, Rishard Matthews) and tight end (Jordan Cameron), as well as Miller at running back. Ryan Tannehill can obviously make plays at times. Heck, he set a record with 25 straight completions against the Titans and Texans. He's also athletic. There is a lot of playmaking potential in the passing game. But Tannehill has also thrown seven interceptions this season, although he cleaned that up last week. The Patriots need to avoid giving up big plays on defense and getting a few big plays of their own via the turnover will go a long way toward swinging this contest. 

Be Blount - The Dolphins aren't overly stout up front on run defense. They rank 30th in the NFL in run defense, allowing 129 yards per game. Opponents have averaged more than 30 attempts per game. That's what faces a Patriots team that basically ignored the running game against the Jets, allowing Brady to lead the team on the ground with just four attempts for 15 yards. LeGarrette Blount had just three runs for minus-3 yards against New York. But with Dion Lewis still dealing with an abdomen issue and the Dolphins suspect front this could be a week for Blount to exert his skills and balance out the offense. Brady himself talked on Tuesday about the need to stay balance on offense in this battle to keep the Dolphins from teeing off in the passing game. It will likely be up to Blount to get the job done in the running game and help Brady out.

Scheme vs. emotion - Belichick's Patriots are as game-plan heavy and schematically based as any team. They target opponents' weaknesses and play a cerebral brand of football. But there is little time and tape to prepare for this game with Campbell's Dolphins. The team has just two games, against questionable teams, to go on. Campbell's staff has simplified their schemes to try to get the players to play faster, freer and better. It's worked. The young coach will likely dial up another emotional start from his team. If the Patriots can stagnate that, their skill and scheme advantages will likely take over. These coaches are clearly very different. Their styles and teams are very different at this point. Will that create an outcome different than what is very much expected? Stay tuned.

Prediction - Thursday night football games generally favor the home team, which doesn't have to waste time on a short week to travel. The Dolphins are rolling over the last two weeks. That's good news for Miami. But the Patriots have been rolling all season, and have done so against better overall competition. Brady and his line haven't been intimidated by defensive fronts. Why should they be at this point? Blount should find room to run a bit. Brady will get Brandon LaFell involved and that only adds to his arsenal. Miami may have a few more big plays in its bag, probably on both sides of the ball. But it just doesn't seem likely they can come into Foxborough, get off the field on third down and make enough of those plays to upset Brady and Co. Plays will be made and points will be scored for both sides, but in the end look for New England to pull away for something in the range of a 42-24 victory to stay undefeated.

What other things will you be watching for in this latest Thursday night prime time battle in Foxborough? Let us know with a comment below!

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