WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN
The Patriots have been moving the football primarily through the air this season, but they do have some versatility in their backfield when both LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis are healthy. Each back brings something different to the table. Blount is the team's power back, while Lewis, who missed the Week 7 victory over the Jets with an abdominal injury, has more wiggle. Regardless of who carries the ball, they will be operating behind an unsettled offensive line. The Dolphins have struggled to stop the run all season, allowing almost 130 yards per game, which puts then 30th in the league in that category. Some of that has changed under Dan Campbell, however, as Miami has allowed a total of 134 yards in the two wins since he took over, and the Patriots really haven't tried to establish much on the ground all season.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS RUN
The Dolphins have committed to the run in their two games under Campbell. Miami has run for 428 yards on 67 carries in the two games - both victories - since Campbell replaced Joe Philbin. Lamar Miller is Miami's primary threat out of the backfield and has gained a team-high 419 yards on 70 rushing attempts. No other back has gained more than 121 yards on the ground. Bolstered by Miller's recent efforts, Miami is averaging better than 117 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 14th in the league, and their average per carry is well over 5. The Patriots front seven is coming off one of its best performances in recent memory against the Jets in Week 7, when the group bottled up Chris Ivory. They will likely see plenty of Miller in this game and he presents a different type of challenge with his smaller stature and quickness. With Dont'a Hightower back in the lineup the Patriots seem to have their early-season woes stopping the run behind them.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS
Not many teams can handle New England's passing game. The Patriots are averaging 327.2 yards per game through the air and aren't afraid to go almost exclusively with the passing game if necessary (see last week's victory over the Jets). The only interception of a Tom Brady pass this season came when Julian Edelman bobbled a catchable ball and Indianapolis defensive back Mike Adams plucked it out of the air and returned it for a touchdown. Brady has passed for at least 275 yards in every game this season and has thrown for 16 TDs. The Patriots have four players with at least 25 receptions: Edelman (45), Dion Lewis (26), Rob Gronkowski (34) and Danny Amedola (25). The Dolphins have six interceptions and 11 sacks this season, but 10 of those 11 came in the two games under Campbell. Cameron Wake has six of those, and big money free agent addition Ndamukong Suh has two. They will put pressure on the makeshift offensive line, but Brady will find ways to pick apart a suspect Dolphins secondary.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS PASS
Campbell's reliance on the running game has greatly benefitted quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Operating more under center than he was under the previous regime, Tannehill is picking his spots and is operating at a very efficient level. In the two recent wins he completed an NFL-record 25 consecutive passes, finishing the Texans victory 18 of 19 with four touchdowns. Throwing less has helped him put his early-season mistakes (seven picks) in the past and Jarvis Landry and Rishard Matthews have taken advantage of their opportunities. Tight end Jordan Cameron also must be watched, as does Miller out of the backfield. If Miami is able to run the ball effectively the Dolphins can make big plays in the passing game, and the Patriots secondary has allowed its share this season.
The Dolphins rolled the dice and elected to keep a rookie punter (Matt Darr) and a rookie placekicker (Andrew Franks) this season. No team since the 2000 Oakland Raiders has made the playoffs with two rookie kickers (Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler). Miami is the sixth team to employ two rookie kickers in the same season since then, and the previous five all failed to extend their season. Darr is averaging 48.3 yards per punt. Franks has made five of his six field goal attempts but has missed two PATs. Landry is a dangerous returner. He's averaging 13.4 yards on 15 punt returns with one TD this season. New England placekicker Stephen Gostkowski is Mr. Reliable, having made each of his 15 field goal attempts and all 24 of his PATs this year, and New England's coverage remains airtight with captain Matthew Slater leading the way.
The Dolphins certainly got a jump-start when Campbell replaced Philbin as the team's head coach. Miami has outscored its opponents 82-36 in the two games Campbell has been in charge, but it remains to be seen if Miami can continue to play inspired football for the long haul against quality competition. The Patriots have an edge in the coaching matchup, where Bill Belichick and his staff will be matching wits with a Miami staff that got a makeover when Philbin was fired following the team's 1-3 start. The Patriots will also be playing at home, where they are very comfortable, and playing in a short-week while the Dolphins travel is another factor in New England's favor. The Patriots have a 69-19 record at home in regular-season games against AFC East opponents since the start of the 2001 season and are 3-0 at Gillette Stadium this season.