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Patriots Replay Fri Jun 05 | 12:00 AM - 11:58 PM

Scouting the Matchup: Brady set for another big day

WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN

After setting a dubious franchise record last year for most rushing yards allowed in a season, the Dolphins prioritized strengthening their run defense by trading for defensive end William Hayes and drafting Davon Godchaux. Through six games, Miami ranked fifth against the run but quickly dropped to 20th after allowing nearly 200 yards per game during a recent three-game losing streak, highlighted by a horrific performance against Carolina in which the Panthers rushed for 294 yards. New England's running game turned the corner in October. The Patriots aren't exactly lighting it up on the ground but the switch to Dion Lewis as the lead back has given that area a boost and the backs as a group have been more productive. New England could top its season high of 162 rushing yards this weekend. Advantage: Patriots

WHEN THE DOLPHINS RUN

The Dolphins have actually been better running the football since trading Jay Ajayi to Philadelphia at the end of October. Following a breakthrough 2016 in which he rushed for 1,272 yards, Ajayi struggled in 2017, failing to score a touchdown before Miami dealt him midway through the season feeling the injury-prone running back's best days were behind him. Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams are beginning to pick up the slack. Drake provided the only highlight in Miami's ugly loss to Carolina with a 66-yard touchdown run. The Patriots have been banged up defensively, playing in recent weeks without tackle Malcom Brown in the middle. After stifling the Jets in a Week 7 win, they've allowed 100 or more rushing yards in four consecutive games. Drake and Williams are starting to roll and may be tough to stop this week, even if Brown returns. Advantage: Dolphins

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS

While the deterioration of the run defense in recent weeks has gotten most of the attention in Miami, the Dolphins secondary hasn't been much better. Entering Week 12, only Oakland had allowed a higher passer rating than Miami. The return of T.J. McDonald, who was suspended for the first eight weeks of the season, alongside free safety Reshad Jones gives Miami a solid secondary capable of reversing its misfortune, but the lack of a pass rush has been the team's biggest problem. Facing a young defense allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete nearly 70 percent of their passes, Tom Brady should be able to move the ball with ease. The return of tight end Martellus Bennett takes some of the burden off Rob Gronkowski and the receiving corps, plus Rex Burkhead has been nearly unstoppable as a pass-catching running back. Brady can use a variety of weapons to dominate this weak secondary. Advantage: Patriots

WHEN THE DOLPHINS PASS

When Ryan Tannehill went down with a season-ending knee injury in August, so did Miami's hopes of a stabilized passing attack. The Dolphins replaced him with Jay Cutler, who was coaxed out of retirement by Adam Gase and whose performance has ranged from efficient to disastrous. Miami ranks near the bottom of the league in almost every passing category. The only bright spot has been receiver Jarvis Landry, who led the NFL in catches through 11 weeks. New England's secondary found its rhythm in October with Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe out of the lineup and has since maintained its remarkable turnaround. Once ranked dead last in points allowed, the Patriots have graduated to the middle of the pack and should have little trouble against either Matt Moore or the recently concussed Cutler. Advantage: Patriots

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Dolphins are among the best in the league in limiting return yards but haven't been able to impact field position offensively despite respectable numbers from Drake and Jakeem Grant in the return game. The Patriots are beginning to peak on special teams, starting with their breakthrough performance against Denver when they blocked a punt, returned a kickoff for a touchdown and recovered a fumble on a muffed punt. Lewis is a dual threat in both the running game and the return game, and the Patriots rank among the league leaders in field goal percentage allowed. Stephen Gostkowski has had a few hiccups but still ranks in or near the top 10 among all kickers. The Patriots make special teams a priority and it has paid dividends.Advantage: Patriots

OTHER FACTORS

Aside from the Eagles, the Patriots have been among the hottest teams in the NFL since their ugly Week 4 loss to Carolina. The Dolphins are heading in the opposite direction with a lame-duck quarterback who often looks uninspired. Division games are always a chore. Even in their best years, the Patriots slip up now and then against an AFC East opponent, but Miami is already starting to focus on its future, as evidenced by the Ajayi trade. New England could land the knockout blow with two games in three weeks against the Dolphins, starting with this week's showdown at Gillette Stadium, where they've won eight in a row against Miami dating back to 2008. Based solely on statistics, the Dolphins can't score or stop anyone from scoring, a bad combination with a tough upcoming schedule that includes four division games in six weeks. Advantage: Patriots

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