Patriots vs. Dolphins: 10 Keys to the Game for Miami

Devin Noonan@@devinnoonanCorrespondent IIINovember 30, 2012

Patriots vs. Dolphins: 10 Keys to the Game for Miami

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    The New England Patriots have yet to feel the pressure from their AFC East counterparts as they now head to Miami and look to clinch the division title.

    Tom Brady and company will venture to Sun Life Stadium this weekend hoping to further assert their dominance over the field while adding to their red-hot five-game win streak.

    Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the 'Phins look to carry the momentum from their most recent victory and give the pressure on the Pats as both teams head down into the season's homestretch.

    Can the Dolphins possibly put a stop to the offensive powerhouse that is the New England Patriots?

    Well, if they plan on winning this game and keeping their playoff hopes alive, there are a number of things that must fall into place this Sunday.

Minimize Turnovers

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    Ryan Tannehill and the Miami offense did a relatively nice job of holding onto the ball last week while moving the offense down the field.

    In order to compete with this high-scoring Patriots team, however, we'll need to see an even better performance from the 'Phins on Sunday.

    Turnovers have killed the Dolphins all season long, with their 27th-ranked turnover margin of -0.9 per game costing them at least a win or two thus far.

    It's tough to ask a rookie quarterback to not make any mistakes, but that's just what it will take for the Dolphins to beat the Pats.

Eliminate the Run

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    The Dolphins' defense has done an excellent job at stopping the run this season for the most part.

    In order to take down the Patriots, they'll need to continue to do what they do best.

    The emergence of young running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen in recent weeks has brought a whole other dimension to this already dangerous Patriots offense.

    Stopping Tom Brady and the passing game will prove to be difficult, but it would be a huge mistake for the Dolphins to direct all of their attention to the air and sleep on the recently discovered run game of the New England Patriots.

    The Dolphins' weak secondary will be done for if the Patriots' run game gets going early in this one, so look to Randy Starks and Paul Soliai to stuff Vereen and Ridley.

Offensive Strategy

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    The offensive game plan for the Miami Dolphins has left me puzzled at times this season.

    Despite Joe Philbin and Mike Sherman's desire to work their West Coast style offense, the key to the Dolphins' success must start with developing their running game.

    With the talented trio of backs in Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller, the Dolphins' offensive approach needs to focus around a well-executed rushing attack.

    Establishing the run early and often will open up the passing game for Tannehill, keeping the Patriots off balance and allowing the 'Phins to take some chances down field.

    Ideally this will create some big play opportunities, which the Dolphins will desperately need to compete with the Patriots high-scoring offense.

Dolphins' Linebackers in Coverage

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    It's no surprise that the Patriots love to abuse teams across the middle.

    With the speed of Wes Welker working out of the slot and the proven talent of their tight ends, the Dolphins' linebackers in pass coverage will play a major role in the outcome of this game.

    Karlos DansbyKevin Burnett and Koa Misi have put together a solid season for the 'Phins, but they have yet to face the Brady-led receiving corps of Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker.

    Luckily for the Dolphins' D, Rob Gronkowski's injury gives them one less threat to worry about.

    Although that isn't to say that the 'Phins won't still have their hands full.

Put the Pressure on Brady

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    Tom Brady has emerged as one of the most lethal passing threats in recent NFL memory.

    Over the past decade, there haven't been many quarterbacks who have been able to put up as impressive and consistent numbers as the Patriot's QB.

    This Sunday, the Dolphins defense needs make priority No. 1 putting the pressure on Brady.

    If their first order of business isn't seeing Tom Brady on his back, then their mediocre secondary is bound to get shredded.

Protect Ryan Tannehill

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    Tannehill needs time to survey the field and make smart throws as he continues to develop as an NFL quarterback.

    That means the Dolphins offensive line needs to do a better job of buying him enough time to move through his progressions and make better passes.

    He handles the blitz extremely well and we know he can throw on the run, but he needs a trustworthy O-line to give him more time in the pocket.

    That means better protection from second-round pick Jonathan Martin and Pro Bowl tackle Jake Long.

    It's been night and day for the Dolphins pass protection so far this season, so let's hope the offensive line shows up on Sunday.

Better Execution on Special Teams

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    The Miami Dolphins have allowed a touchdown on special teams in each of their last two games.

    The Bills' Leodis McKelvin ran a punt back 79 yards for a score in Week 11, while the Seahawks' Leon Washington beat them for 98 yards on a kickoff last Sunday.

    Mistakes like these will certainly bury the 'Phins before they ever even have to worry about Brady and the Patriots offense.

    Perhaps the Dolphins' can create a little magic of their own this week with their always dangerous return man, Marcus Thigpen.

Cornerback Performance

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    The Dolphins' cornerback situation has been a thorn in the side of this defense all season.

    Sean Smith has stepped up and proven his worth in the secondary, but he still has his moments of doubt and has yet to prove his capabilities as a lockdown corner.

    With Richard Marshall still out with an injured back, the Dolphins continue to hope for one of their other corners to step up to the table.

    Between Nolan Carrol, R.J. Stanford and Jimmy Wilson, someone is going to have to elevate their level of play if they hope to compete with Tom Brady and his numerous outlets through the air.

Keep Brady off the Field

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    When Tom Brady is on the field, opposition beware.

    The Dolphins need to do all that they can to keep the ball out of Brady's hands and control the tempo of the game.

    A lot of that will come down to how well they execute on offense, especially when it comes to running the ball.

    The other major factor?

    The Dolphins' ability to force turnovers.

    Brady has turned the ball over just three times in over 400 passing attempts this season, while Ridley has fumbled on just two of his 206 carries.

    That means it's going to be a tall order for the 'Phins defense on Sunday, but it may be their only chance of emerging victorious.

Play Perfect Football

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    I hate to say it, but the Patriots shouldn't have any problem taking down the Dolphins in Miami this weekend.

    The Dolphins still have a glimmer of playoff hope, and if they were to ever pick a time to play up to their potential, then by all means that time is now.

    Bill Belichick and the Pats don't leave much room for error, so Philbin and the 'Phins are going to have to play lights-out, near-perfect football on Sunday to earn the W.

    But hey, they didn't coin the phrase "Any Given Sunday" for nothing.