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Scouting the Matchups: Patriots vs. Dolphins

Patriots Football Weekly's Paul Perillo looks at the matchups in the Patriots home opener against the Miami Dolphins.

When the Patriots Run

The Dolphins were one of six teams in the NFL to give up more than 2,000 rushing yards last year, even with the addition of veteran defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Miami is hoping Suh can rebound from a subpar 2015 while banking on a resurgent performance from newly signed linebacker Kiko Alonso, a dynamic playmaker as a rookie in Buffalo in 2013 who has been derailed by knee injuries the past two seasons. The Patriots have their own issues to sort out in the running game with Dion Lewis on PUP. The offensive line is down to only a handful of healthy tackles, and there is still transition at the guard position. LeGarrette Blount could get some opportunities if the Patriots can play with the lead against a Miami defense that played very well in the opener in Seattle. The Dolphins might be vulnerable against the run, but the Patriots don't have the resources to average more than the 4.02 yards per carry Miami allowed a year ago. Advantage: Dolphins

When the Dolphins Run

After losing Lamar Miller, who many figure will have a breakout year in Houston, the Dolphins are now relying on the injury-prone Arian Foster, a once dynamic running back who has missed 23 games over the last three years due to injuries. Of the 91 NFL players who had at least 40 carries last year, Foster ranked 90th in yards per carry, ahead of only Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. Even with an improved offensive line, anchored by the addition of rookie Laremy Tunsil, Miami has too many question marks in the running game and not nearly enough depth to provide balance offensively, although second-year back Jay Ajayi could return to the lineup after missing the opener to add some. New England's defense is its strength, and playmaking linebacker Jamie Collins is a force against the run, not to mention the defensive line, which is deep on the interior with Anthony Johnson joining vets Alan Branch and Malcom Brown. Advantage: Patriots

When the Patriots Pass

The Dolphins surrendered more than 4,000 passing yards last season and 31 passing touchdowns, among the worst in the league in both categories. They also lost defensive ends Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby to free agency, putting more pressure on four-time Pro Bowler Cameron Wake, who missed most of last season with an Achilles injury. Miami is hoping former Seahawk and Eagle Byron Maxwell can blossom in a system more tailored to his physical style and serve as the No. 1 cornerback with Brent Grimes now in Tampa Bay. New England has its own problems with Tom Brady still serving his suspension and tight end Rob Gronkowski less than 100 percent, but there's enough in the tank to move the ball against a Miami defense that might be even more susceptible through the air than it was a year ago. Advantage: Patriots

When the Dolphins Pass

New head coach Adam Gase has emphasized more intricate route running this year for Miami, which could lead to more production for receivers Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker, but the success of Miami's passing game still rests on the shoulders of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. They also need more out of tight end Jordan Cameron, who was terrible last year in his first season in Miami. Tannehill is now in his fifth year and has yet to throw more than 27 touchdowns in a single season. Even with the loss of pass-rushing specialist Chandler Jones, the Patriots remain deep defensively and are coming off an impressive preseason in which they forced 10 turnovers. Tannehill has had his moments against New England, but the Patriots have also forced him into eight interceptions in eight career starts, most of those coming at Gillette Stadium. Advantage: Patriots

Special Teams

The Patriots are hoping rookie defense back Cyrus Jones can boost the return game, which ranked next to last in the NFL last season in kick-return yards. His presence should take some pressure off Julian Edelman, who might need a break on special teams after his offseason foot surgery. The biggest disparity in this matchup might be between the two kickers. Stephen Gostkowski is as solid as they come, both on kickoffs, where he tied for the league lead in touchbacks last season, and field-goal accuracy. Despite uncharacteristically missing twice in the preseason, Gostkowski is a more solid bet than Miami's Andrew Franks, who only attempted 16 field goals a year ago, missing three of them in addition to three extra points, and had to fight for his job this summer. He also had a 25-yarder blocked in the opener. In a close game, Gostkowski's stability is a difference-maker.  Advantage: Patriots

Other Factors

For what it's worth, the Dolphins have won three of their last five against New England dating back to December of 2013, but the Patriots have lost only one home opener at Gillette Stadium since it opened in 2002. They've historically struggled against the Dolphins in September and October in Miami, but not so much at home, where they've won their last seven and are 12-2 against Miami at Gillette. This is the second game of a tough September slate for Miami, which began in Seattle a week ago and continues on the road again in two weeks against Cincinnati. This is also the first trial run for Gase, who has been with several different teams in various roles but never as a head coach until now. New England's track record at home and perennial AFC East dominance is too much for this patchwork Miami team to handle. Advantage: Patriots

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