The Miami Dolphins may be an average team at 5-6, but their defense—in most respects—is well above average.
That being said, they are not without their flaws.
The Patriots are very game-plan oriented on both offense and defense, and while they have relied on a balanced attack for much of the season, they shouldn't shy away from airing it out against an average secondary.
The first step in exposing that secondary is to shut down Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake.
Wake has been one of the league's best pass-rushers this year, but nobody in the Dolphins' front seven is getting consistent pressure. They've relied heavily on blitzes, and they send extra rushers on 40.6 percent of opponent's drop-backs according to ProFootballFocus.com.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, however, has been exemplary against the blitz all season. In fact, he has even higher efficiency numbers when teams send five or more defenders at him.
Not only has he handled the blitz well, but the Dolphins haven't been able to get consistent pressure with a standard four-man rush.
It's because Wake is the most consistent presence on the defensive line; both around the league and the Patriots specifically.
Wake has played well against New England in the past. He had six pressures, three QB hits and two sacks in two games against the Patriots last year, according to ProFootballFocus.com. The Patriots left then-rookie tackle Nate Solder on an island against Wake, and the star pass-rusher logged a sack of Tom Brady at the end of the first half.
They quickly learned from that mistake, putting tight end Rob Gronkowski next to Solder to chip the pass-rusher at the line of scrimmage.
Gronkowski did a great job of pushing Wake into traffic.
That bought Brady enough time to hang in the pocket and deliver a nice throw to Wes Welker on the sideline.
The Patriots will be without Gronkowski again on Sunday, and we will likely see more of tight end Daniel Fells as a result. He filled in well for Gronkowski last week, and may be asked to lend a hand in pass protection if things get out of hand with Wake.
It's not all about one guy, though.
Miami's linebackers aren't the fastest group, and rank 26th in Football Outsiders' DVOA at covering running backs. The Patriots could call on running back Shane Vereen to catch passes out of the backfield, as they have done over the past few weeks. He has at least one reception in each of the past five games.
We likely won't see anything like the 83-yard touchdown catch he had on Thanksgiving against the Jets, but the concept is a familiar one for the Patriots and one that could be beneficial against the Dolphins.
With the Jets in man coverage, Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker ran a slant pattern over the middle of the field with Vereen running a wheel route on the outside.
This play works nearly every time in Madden, but here it works here because Jets linebacker Bart Scott got lost in some traffic while trying to keep up in coverage.
The result was a wide-open running back down the sideline. Vereen put his 4.49-second 40-yard dash speed on display as he scampered untouched, all the way for the touchdown.
Passes to the running backs out of the backfield will not only take advantage of the Dolphins' lack of speed at linebacker, but will also take advantage of the aggressive play of Wake, who loves to charge upfield after the quarterback.
He may think twice about charging so hard after a screen pass or two in his direction, especially if the linebackers are out of position at the second level.
Beyond the X's and O's, though, this will be a showdown of statistical juggernauts on third downs and in the red zone.
The Dolphins may struggle at times to get stops against the pass, but they get more than their share of stops on third down and in the red zone, ranking in the top 10 in both categories. The Patriots offense, meanwhile, rank first and second on third down and in the red zone respectively.
As usual, there are a lot of games within the game, and we've only scratched the surface here, but the Patriots have enough tools at their disposal to expose the Dolphins defense.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained via team press releases.
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