Dolphins-Patriots: Five Things To Watch

Posted Dec 29, 2012

Miami is looking to finish 2012 season at 8-8.

With the playoffs no longer a possibility, the Miami Dolphins have their sights set on closing out the regular season with a three-game winning streak and in the process finishing with a non-losing record for the first time since 2008.

Standing in Miami’s way are the New England Patriots, who at 11-4 are vying for a first-round bye with the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans. Led by future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots have won the last four meetings between the two AFC East rivals and five of the last six.

When the two teams take the field at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., late tomorrow afternoon there will be 17 starters for the Dolphins that will remember last year’s 27-24 loss in front of the same fans. What they will remember most is having a 17-0 lead at the half and then watching New England score 27 consecutive points.

So finding motivation tomorrow will not be a problem for the Dolphins for a variety of reasons, chief among them being that chance to close out with a .500 record. The sound of an 8-8 record has a ring to it that 7-9 simply does not have.

“It’s a big difference,” Bush said. “I think obviously 8-8 is better than 7-9, but I think, for us right now at this point in the season, it’s about finishing strong. It’s about winning that last game and obviously carrying that over hopefully into the next year.”

Five Things To Watch:

1. Will Miami’s running game be able to win the battle at the line of scrimmage and the second level against an underrated New England run defense – In the first meeting at Sun Life Stadium on December 2nd, the Patriots made life tough for Dolphins running back Reggie Bush and company, allowing just 101 rushing yards all afternoon. Bush needs 40 yards to reach 1,000 for the second straight season and his offensive line is fired up to get him there, so if that combination plus the change of pace rookie Lamar Miller brings to the field can get untracked early it could lead to positive results.

2. How much pressure can the Dolphins get on Brady in a hostile environment – Brady was sacked four times in the first game and hit even more on his way to a less than stellar day throwing the ball. Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake already has 15 sacks, a career-high, and has been gaining steam over the last month, while third-year defensive end Jared Odrick has quietly racked up five sacks from multiple positions along the defensive line. Everyone knows that getting to Brady early and often is the best chance to come out with a victory and Wake and Odrick both have chips on their shoulder.

3. What will Miami center Mike Pouncey do differently this time to neutralize Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork – The two men charged with owning the middle of the line of scrimmage have a lot of mutual respect for each other, with Pouncey consistently pointing to Wilfork as the toughest player he has faced in his young career. Wilfork marvels at Pouncey’s athleticism and his ability to pull on running plays better than many guards and tackles, but he still managed to recover a fumble in the first meeting and disrupt the pocket a few times. If Pouncey uses the anger he has from being left off the Pro Bowl roster to his advantage, he could have one of those watershed moments tomorrow.

4. Can whichever Dolphins cornerback tasked with covering New England’s dangerous wide receiver Wes Welker shut him down – Welker caught a game-high 12 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown in his team’s 23-16 win in Week 13 and has 110 receptions for 1,260 yards and five touchdowns on the season. That earned him yet another trip to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl and Miami’s secondary is very banged up, with both starting cornerbacks and both starting safeties – Sean Smith, Nolan Carroll, Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons – showing up on the injury report. Take away Brady’s favorite target and you alter the entire game plan for the Patriots, which is Miami’s goal.

5. Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman versus Patriots head coach Bill Belichick – Even though Sherman’s direct counterpart on New England’s coaching staff is defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, it’s Belichick who calls most of the shots on that side of the ball. The way Sherman utilized Bush and Tannehill in last week’s 24-10 win over Buffalo likely gave Belichick some pause during his game week preparation. Tannehill did serious damage with his legs for the second week in a row in the read option and Bush caught two touchdown passes, and newcomer Armon Binns also hauled in three passes. If Sherman can keep Belichick and New England guessing that will only help Miami’s chances of pulling off the upset.

Game Pass: Miami Dolphins