1) Control the Tempo
Playing with the lead early in a game is something all good teams try and achieve. Great teams know how to play no matter what the score is or who scores first. Those teams always feel like they can overcome any deficit or turn a seven-point lead into a two-score game. The Dolphins are a young team that is starting to figure out that they will execute and play loose no matter the situation. They're starting to get comfortable in uncomfortable situations with the expectation that they will find a way to come out on top! I believe that rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is starting to settle into a rhythm as well, especially in the pass offense, getting everyone involved and using an uptempo pace to his advantage. That doesn't mean this offense needs to go no-huddle all of the time, or solely use empty offensive sets. I feel that offensive coordinator Chan Gailey will start to give more responsibility and freedom to Tagovailoa at the line of scrimmage and continue to add a few new wrinkles in the offense. It will be important this week for the Dolphins offense to start fast against New England, making them chase the lead all afternoon. The Dolphins have been able to score in multiple ways early in games this season, and hopefully that will continue this Sunday. If it does, it may make the Patriots offense feel a little bit uncomfortable, chasing the lead without the ability to create explosive plays on offense with any consistency. That scenario will create a game tempo that favors the Dolphins and give the New England offense more passing situations to convert, where Miami's defense should hold the upper hand.
2) Make Patriots One Dimensional
This game on paper looks fairly simple and straightforward for the Miami Dolphins on defense. Load up at the line of scrimmage and stop the New England rushing attack at all costs. The Patriots make little effort to disguise how their going to find success on offense and it's that singular approach that dominated the Dolphins way back in September. But the Dolphins defense has changed quite a bit since that matchup, and have turned into a group that can slow down the run, and take the football away from opposing offenses. Miami must take advantage of their matchup advantage, using cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Byron Jones in man coverage. That should allow safeties Brandon Jones and Eric Rowe to play the role of the extra defender needed to assist in slowing down the Patriots ground game. Also, hopefully getting Elandon Roberts back at middle linebacker and Kyle Van Noy on the edge should bolster the run defense. New England leads the league in rushing attempts, and is tied with the Ravens in rushing touchdowns with 19. Quarterback Cam Newton has had an up and down season trying to create balance and rhythm when pushing the ball down field, or converting third down attempts with the passing game. There are more teams in the NFL with over 500 passing attempts (8) and just two (Baltimore and New England) that haven't even eclipsed the 365 mark. Newton will rely on his ability to use his legs on called quarterback runs and his ability to escape the pocket and create chain moving plays. If the Dolphins are going to win this Sunday, it's imperative they can shut down Newton, and slow down running backs Damien Harris and James White. Harris is difficult to bring down between the tackles and the check down, screen game from White is just an extension of the Patriots rushing attack.
3) Squeeze the Pocket
This doesn't only apply to making the game more difficult for Newton and the New England passing game, but to also tighten the gaps when facing the Patriots running attack. The Pats have relied heavily on the run, leading the league in rushing attempts and averaging four-and-a-half yards per carry. Miami's defense must find a way to limit positive yards on first down, taking away the short conversion attempts on second and third down. New England controlled the game in the first meeting with Miami because of their ability to convert on second and third down. They were able to push the pile with the traditional running game or use Newton's running ability to create pressure on the edge of the Dolphins defense. This resulted in limited offensive possessions for the Miami offense, especially in the second half of that week one loss, where the Dolphins only touched the football four times! Miami must take better control of the line of scrimmage, not allowing penetration in the Dolphins backfield, but more importantly, getting some push up front against the north/south running game of the Patriots.