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Rushing yards per game
Miami offense: 108.9 (16th)
New England defense: 100.8 (10th)
When the Dolphins pass
Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill has battled inconsistency, but clearly the future is bright for this first-round pick who is still getting used to working under center after mainly working from shotgun sets at Texas A&M. The 6-foot-4-inch, 222-pounder has good size and a strong arm. He can zip tight spirals into small spaces and lead receivers well on screens. Because the Dolphins lack a true vertical threat, Tannehill hasn’t had many chances to show off his big arm. He works best out of the pocket, but is deceptively athletic (don’t let the gangliness fool you). He will make plays with his feet, but his accuracy suffers on the run, as his ball tends to float. Miami has some solid receivers but no real standout. Davone Bess (5-10, 193) has the versatility to work from the slot or the outside — and seems to have his best games against the Patriots. Bess has quick feet, a nice burst, and a knack for finding soft spots. He is stronger than he looks and will fight for extra yards after the catch. Brian Hartline has developed into a solid threat. Hartline (6-2, 199) has good size and strong hands and runs good routes. He is also a solid downfield blocker. Tight end Anthony Fasano is a decent receiver but has lost a step. Reggie Bush is an outstanding receiver out of the backfield and a demon in space. New England’s secondary is improving. At least you don’t close your eyes and hold your breath on every dropback.
Passing yards per game
Miami offense: 212.4 (22d)
New England defense: 289.4 (29th)
Dolphins’ key player: DE Cameron Wake
Hard to believe this guy had to prove himself in the Canadian Football League before getting a shot in the NFL. It’s probably a safe bet that he enjoys playing in the shadow of South Beach rather than, say, the shadow of Saskatoon.
How he beats you: With an explosive first step. Wake (6 feet 3 inches, 258 pounds) blasts off the edge and has some nifty shake-and-bake moves to get past blockers and onto the quarterback.
How to shut him down: By sending reinforcements. Help out your tackles by letting a tight end (hello, Daniel Fells) get in on the action by chip blocking Wake.
DOLPHINS’ KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. Thunder, lightning: Use the tailback combination of Reggie Bush’s quickness and Daniel Thomas’s power to grind out yards and grind down the clock.
2. High-pressure system: Cameron Wake is a demon off the edge, but Jared Odrick and Randy Starks can create pressure, too. They have to, or Tom Brady will burn them.
3. Tropical wave: Take some chances on offense, particularly on fourth down. Kicker Dan Carpenter doesn’t have a big leg (0 for 3 outside 50 yards), so go for it and try to score 6.
PATRIOTS’ KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. Bubble high: Screen passes are a great way to counteract a pass rush. So employ everyone — Woodhead, Welker, Edelman, and Hernandez — to keep Miami honest.
2. Muggy: Create pressure on rookie QB Ryan Tannehill. He’s still learning the ropes, so mixing up the coverages will force him to hang on to the ball too long. That translates to pain.
3. Warm front: Active linebackers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes have to be their normal destructive selves against the run. This will make the Dolphins one-dimensional. Not good for them.
Patriots 37, Dolphins 19
Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.