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Patriots keys to victory against Miami

The Patriots are coming off a too-close-for-comfort win against the Lions, and the Dolphins had their first loss in five games last week against the Jaguars. Included are five key things the Patriots need to do to win this game as well as Patriots-Dolphins connections.

The Patriots travel to Miami this weekend to take on the Dolphins. New England won in Miami last year, but the fish bowl is always a tough place for the Patriots to swim. New England's record there is 10-31. Tom Brady is 2-3 overall when starting against the Dolphins, and the last meeting between these two teams was a turnover battle won by the Pats. Here are five key things the Patriots will need to do to improve Brady's record against the Phins to an even .500:

Play tough against the pass
The Patriots locker room has been buzzing with talk of the Dolphins improved passing game all week. Quarterback Joey Harrington seems to be fitting into the Dolphins system, and wideout Marty Booker is currently on the rise. The two connected seven times for 115 yards on Thanksgiving and five times for 61 yards last week. However, Booker, Wes Welker, Randy McMichael, and Chris Chambers have been all been getting a fair share of passes, with Harrington spreading it around. "[Harrington]'s played very well lately. I think everything that Detroit obviously saw with him coming out of college is what he's showing now: his poise, his leadership, his athletic ability, and his ability to deliver the football to the playmakers," said Pats linebacker Mike Vrabel on Wednesday. "I mean they've got four receivers with over 45 catches." The Patriots secondary is still hurting, with Eugene Wilson being placed on IR this week. They picked up veteran Ray Mickens to bolster the group, and Rodney Harrison recently said he's planning to return this season. But the secondary is going to have to play tough this week, with each cover man taking care of his responsibilities or Harrington will find the open receiver. Also, pressuring Harrington up front, so he doesn't have time to survey the field will be crucial.

Restore the run
Running back Laurence Maroney left the field less than five minutes into the Lions game and did not return. Reviewing the game film, it looked as though he took a solid shot to the head on his fourth and final carry of the game. He's been listed as "Questionable" with a sore back on this week's injury report, but was at every practice this week during the portion available to media-types. He appears to be his usual, jovial self in the locker room and certainly isn't visibly hobbling around. The Pats need to make a push to re-establish their running game whether he's able to play this week or not. After Maroney and Corey Dillon combined for 192 yards against Cincy earlier this year, the Pats running game was ranked third into the league. Since then, however, the two have only combined for more than 100 yards on three occasions. The rushing attack has been on the decline and bottomed out at No. 12 in the league this week. Granted, the passing game has seen a steady rise since being a concern earlier in the year, and there are only so many plays in each game. The Pats will need to bring every iron in their postseason golf bag, and be as balanced as possible on offense if they want to maintain drives in January. The clock is ticking, and now is as good a time as any to bring the running attack back into the mix.

Win the turnover battle
The Patriots have given the football up eight times in the last two weeks. CoachBill Belichick and the players stressed the importance of ball security last week heading into the Lions game. Despite the win, they still lost the ball three times in that game. "You're not going to prove Bill wrong too many times. We understand that," said Vrabel addressing the importance of hanging on to the ball. "Gotta take care of the ball, and we've been doing a good job of getting the turnovers. We just, as a team, need to understand that there's nothing more important than having possession of the football." The Patriots improved their turnover ratio to plus-3 by the end of the Lions game, making up for their turnovers by notching five takeaways. The Pats will want to iron out turnover problems before the playoffs arrive, but luckily the Dolphins aren't dominating in this statistical region either. Miami is tied for 13th with 22 giveaways, including at least two in eight of their 12 games. They are tied for 18th with 20 takeaways, in spite of their high-talent defense. The Patriots have more takeaways and more giveaways than Miami so far this season, but if they want to win this game, they'll likely need the football to tumble their way.

Stop Jason Taylor's reign of terror
This season, Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor has 10.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles, eight passes defensed and two interceptions returned for touchdowns. He's sacked countless quarterbacks during his 10-year career, but none more than Brady. Of his 103 career sacks, he's sacked Brady 8.5 times, including one earlier this season. He's been Kryptonite for NFL linemen since entering the league, and left tackle Matt Light will be matched up against him again this week. Light wouldn't comment Friday in the locker room, though Belichick said Friday, "I think experience is a great teacher and Matt has played against Jason a number of times and I'm sure that he's learned from every one of those games and individually some of those plays. It's not just how to block a guy, but how to block them on a particular play. … I really can't think of a player that Jason Taylor hasn't given problems to. I think he's one of the hardest guys to block in the league." Taylor will certainly be hoping to get to Brady this week, and Belichick also explained that teams have no choice but to try to scheme against Taylor. Hopefully the Patriots can deal with him this weekend. He's only one player, but he can really disrupt an offense.

Keep rising to the occasion on crucial downs
Defensively, they're very good on third down, said Belichick of the Phins early this week. "You definitely don't want to be in long yardage against the Dolphins. They're by far the best in the league in real long-yardage situations." However, the Patriots have the best fourth-down conversion rate in the NFL (82.4 percent) right now. "[That] has certainly been encouraging. It's given us the confidence to do it more frequently. You start missing a couple of those and it's hard to keep coming back to them, but I think offensively as a team, we've had some of our best executed plays in those situations," said Belichick, also admitting that confidence on fourth downs affects third down play calling for the Patriots. They've converted 42.1 percent of their third downs, which isn't bad, but they'll need to keep playing tough in those crucial situations when facing the well-touted Miami defense.

Patriots-Dolphins connections
Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick hired Nick Saban as Cleveland's defensive coordinator when Belichick was the head coach of the Cleveland Browns in 1991. The pair worked together with the Browns for four seasons from 1991-94, and the 1994 Browns allowed an average of 12.8 points per game. … While serving as the head coach at Louisiana State University from 2000-04, Dolphins Head Coach Nick Saban coached three players on the Patriots active roster: defensive lineman Jarvis Green, defensive end Marquise Hill and linebacker Eric Alexander. Dolphins assistants who were members of that LSU staff include offensive assistant James Coley, tight ends coach Derek Dooley, outside linebackers coach Travis Jones and safeties coach Kirby Smart. Dolphins who played at LSU during that time are cornerback Travis Daniels, safety Norman LeJeune and punter Donnie Jones. … Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, defensive coordinator Dean Pees and wide receivers coach Brian Daboll were all on Dolphins head coach Nick Saban's staff at Michigan State. Pees was the defensive coordinator at Michigan State from 1995-97, Daboll was a graduate assistant from 1998-99 and McDaniels was a graduate assistant in 1999. Dolphins running backs coach Bobby Williams and wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett were also on the Spartans staff during that time. … Patriots defensive coordinator Dean Pees was Miami head coach Nick Saban's defensive coordinator at Toledo in 1990. … Patriots linebacker Larry Izzo was originally signed by the Miami Dolphins as a rookie free agent. In his five seasons with the team he appeared in 61 games and recorded 95 special teams tackles. … Dolphins defensive tackle Keith Traylor played for the Patriots in 2004, starting 10 of 16 games at nose tackle. … Patriots secondary coach Joel Collier was a member of the Dolphins coaching staff for 11 seasons prior to joining the Patriots in 2005. Collier served as Miami's defensive staff assistant from 1994-97 and then was the team's running backs coach from 1998-2004. … Patriots fullback Heath Evans played in the first six games of the 2005 season for the Dolphins and earned two starts. He was signed by the Patriots on Nov. 1, 2005. Evans is a native of West Palm Beach, Fla. … Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork was a standout defensive tackle at the University of Miami, where he recorded 148 tackles and 14 sacks from 2001-2003. Wilfork attended Santaluces High School in his hometown of Boynton Beach, Florida. … Patriots wide receiver Doug Gabriel was born in Miami and attended the University of Central Florida. … Patriots defensive lineman Richard Seymour was a teammate of Dolphins tight end Randy McMichael at the University of Georgia from 1997-2000, while Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson was at Georgia with McMichael in 2001. … Patriots linebacker Rosevelt Colvin and Dolphins wide receiver Marty Booker were teammates with the Chicago Bears from 1999-2002. Dolphins special teams coach Keith Armstrong served in the same capacity with the Bears from 1997-2000, while Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears was with the Bears from 1997-98. … Dolphins defensive quality control coach Glenn Pires was at Syracuse University along with Patriots assistant secondary coach Joel Collier (1989), running backs coach Ivan Fears (1983-84, 1989-90) and strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik (1983-84, 1989-90). … Patriots strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik served in that role with the Dallas Cowboys from 1990-96 while Dolphins offensive line coach Hudson Houck was an assistant. Dolphins quarterbacks coach Jason Garrett played for the Cowboys from 1992-96. … Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork and Dolphins offensive tackle Vernon Carey played together at the University of Miami from 2000-03. … Patriots wide receiver Chad Jackson and Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder were teammates at the University of Florida from 2003-04. … Patriots cornerback Artrell Hawkins and Dolphins cornerback Eddie Jackson were teammates on the Carolina Panthers in 2004. That year, Dolphins coordinator of football operations Scott O'Brien was the Panthers' special teams coach. … Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel a teammate of Dolphins defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson at the Ohio State University from 1993-1994.

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