Dolphins vs. Patriots: 7 Keys to a Miami Upset

Scott AltmanCorrespondent IDecember 22, 2011

Dolphins vs. Patriots: 7 Keys to a Miami Upset

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    The Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots will renew one of the NFL's fiercest rivalries on Saturday afternoon. 

    Unlike years past, however, this game is meaningless for the 'Fins.  

    There are no playoff implications to worry about, no quarterback controversies to hash out and no coaches lingering on the hot seat. In fact, some will argue that Miami would be better off losing the game to boost their draft position. 

    But do not expect the Dolphins to roll over on Saturday.

    This team has relished its role as spoilers all season long, and they now have to a chance to severely hamper New England's chances of securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Plus, anything can happen in a divisional rivalry as intense as this one. 

    So how can the 'Fins upset the Pats this weekend? Here are seven guidelines they must follow. 

Get Pressure on Tom Brady All Game Long

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    Tom Brady is arguably the greatest quarterback of our generation, but he does have a kryptonite: pressure. Opposing teams always try to expose Brady's distaste for contact, but New England's impenetrable offensive line makes that a daunting obstacle. 

    However, few teams boast a better front seven than the Miami Dolphins. Between Cam Wake, Jason Taylor, Randy Starks and Jared Odrick, the 'Fins can generate a pass rush on every down from every direction. 

    It is vital that Miami get in Brady's face, or he will sit back and slice up the secondary much like he did in Week 1. 

Lock Down Gronk and Hernandez; Make New England's Other Weapons Win the Game

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    Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have taken the league by storm this season, collectively amassing 143 receptions for 1,877 yards and 21 touchdowns. 

    Both of these tight ends are matchup nightmares—too fast for linebackers and too big for defensive backs. Gronk and Hernandez are particularly nightmarish for the Dolphins because of their inability to cover opposing tight ends. 

    However, these two are Tom Brady's deadliest weapons, so the 'Fins should lock them down and make New England's scrappy wide receiver corps beat them. 

Utilize 4 and 5 Wide Receiver Sets

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    The Patriots secondary currently ranks dead last in the NFL.

    Consequently, the Dolphins will try to expose the Pats futile pass defense, much like they did in Week 1. 

    But in order to effectively capitalize on New England's porous pass coverage, Miami must utilize four and five wide receiver formations. The Patriots are extremely thin at cornerback, and by trotting out so many wideouts, their secondary will be pushed to its limits. 

Don't Turn the Ball over

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    Turnovers can demolish a team's chances of winning any game, but turning the ball over against the Patriots can almost guarantee you a loss. 

    New England's potency and efficiency is flat out scary. Giving Tom Brady and Co. favorable field position, momentum and opportunities to build multi-possession leads will erase Miami's chances of winning on Saturday. 

    Fortunately, Matt Moore has thrown only three interceptions in his last nine starts. The Patriots pass rush is dismal, so Moore shouldn't be forced to throw many bad passes. 

Control the Clock

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    The Dolphins must dominate the time of possession for many of the same reasons they must avoid turnovers. 

    New England's offense can score so quickly and so often that Miami should try to employ a similar offensive game-plan that they did against the Colts in 2009.

    The Dolphins should emphasize the rushing attack and rely on short passing routes. Ultimately, they should play the game 10 yards at a time in hopes of minimizing the Patriots' time of possession. Less T.O.P. means less opportunities for Tom Brady to rack up points, which means good things for the Dolphins. 

Keep the Patriots Defense Honest by Throwing Some Deep Balls

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    Matt Moore has played admirably this season, but he might not demand respect from opposing defenses quite yet. After all, he is averaging just 189 passing yards per game this season. 

    Reggie Bush is coming off of a 200-yard rushing performance, so New England could stack the box and make Matt Moore beat them. Even though the Patriots secondary is dreadful, Miami's wide receiver corps isn't exactly a scary group—outside of Brandon Marshall, that is. 

    In order to prevent the Patriots from stacking the box, Moore will have to target Marshall, Davone Bess, Brian Hartline and perhaps Clyde Gates on some deep passes. Moore rarely throws the deep ball, but Miami must take some risks if they expect to knock off the Pats. 

Establish the Run Game

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    Matt Moore must keep the Patriots defense honest on Saturday, but the Dolphins passing game is still relatively limited. In other words, Miami is not going to beat New England through the air—they must establish the ground game as well. 

    Reggie Bush has been unstoppable over the past few weeks, and the Dolphins have been leaning on him as their main source of offensive production. 

    Miami's passing game is too limited to topple New England alone. Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas must thrive against the Patriots 19th-ranked rushing defense to propel the 'Fins to victory.