Six Points: Dolphins vs. Patriots
Three weeks ago, it seemed as though the Miami Dolphins were done in the AFC East after starting 1-3 under Joe Philbin. Interim head coach Dan Campbell has quickly transformed this team in just two games and given the Dolphins hope for the rest of the season.
However, their biggest test comes Thursday night in the form of the New England Patriots. The Patriots are looking to stay undefeated, while the Dolphins hope to get above .500 for the first time since starting 1-0.
Here are three keys to the game for both the Dolphins and the Patriots.
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1. Keep feeding Lamar Miller the ball
Since Campbell took over as interim head coach, the Dolphins have done plenty of things well. However, the most important change has been the consistent number of touches for Miller. Last week against the Houston Texans, Miller had 17 touches for 236 yards from scrimmage in the Dolphins' record-setting first half before being rested after halftime. He's eclipsed 100 yards rushing in the past two weeks, and there's no reason to stop feeding him the ball now.
2. Get hits on Tom Brady
Not much has proven to be effective in stopping Brady this season, as he's in the midst of one of the best seasons of his career. If there is one thing that the Dolphins can do to slow the future Hall of Famer, though, it's getting hits on him early. The Dallas Cowboys were able to do it in their meeting with Brady, and Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake, and Olivier Vernon need to do the same.
3. Chip Rob Gronkowski at the line of scrimmage
After having two relatively pedestrian games by his standards, Gronkowski erupted against the New York Jets for 11 catches, 108 yards, and one touchdown. The Jets have one of the best defenses in the NFL and were unable to slow him down, which shows just how tough it will be for Miami's secondary and linebacker corps. The Dolphins need to chip him at the line of scrimmage to knock him off his route in order to disrupt his timing with Brady.
1. Run the ball more than last week
Against the Jets, Patriots running backs ran the ball just five times for one yard. Incredibly, Brady led the team in rushing (15 yards) for the first time in his career, but the Patriots can't let that happen again. LeGarrette Blount had topped 70 yards in each of the previous three games, but he and James White were essentially nonexistent against the Jets. The Dolphins' 30th-ranked run defense shouldn't be much of a problem for the Patriots' rushing attack, if they choose to run the ball.
2. Shadow Jarvis Landry with Malcolm Butler
Butler is the team's best cornerback and should line up against Landry throughout the game, given his track record of being a consistent playmaker for the Dolphins. Butler struggled against the bigger Eric Decker last week, but Landry's skill set should prove to be less of an issue for the second-year cornerback. Landry is the most dangerous wideout for the Dolphins and has the ability to change the game every time he touches the ball.
3. Slow down the run game
Miller is on a tear of late and has changed the Dolphins' offense with his ability to run the ball successfully. In the two games since Campbell took over, Miller has 354 yards from scrimmage, and he didn't even touch the ball in the second half last week. The Patriots need to slow down Miller and not allow him to beat them on the ground, which is where they've struggled on defense this season.