When the Dolphins pass
Rookie QB Ryan Tannehill continues to improve and impress as he gets more comfortable running a pro set offense (he spent his college days living out of the shotgun at Texas A&M). The lanky, 6-foot-4-inch, 222-pounder is more athletic than he looks; he will use his legs to extend plays and rush the ball. Tannehill is making better decisions and is taking better care of the football lately (he has 12 picks this year, but zero in December). He has taken some big hits (28 sacks) but appears resilient, and he generally bounces right back up. Tannehill has a big arm but hasn’t been able to show it off because Miami lacks a legitimate deep guy. Brian Hartline (6-2, 199) is a classic possession receiver. He has good size and strong hands but he won’t give you a lot after the catch and is dinged up a lot. Top target Davone Bess is out with a back injury, so that will hurt. Tight end Anthony Fasano (6-4, 255) has good size and reliable hands. He is at his best in the red zone. Reggie Bush might just be the best receiver on the roster. He has the versatility to line up everywhere (backfield, slot, perimeter), runs solid routes, catches passes without breaking stride, and will give defenders fits in space. New England’s secondary continues to give up far too many plays and yards but this group also has a knack for making big plays at big moments.
Passing yards per game
Miami offense: 198.2 (26th)
New England defense: 275.5 (29th)
Dolphins’ key player: Ryan Tannehill
The first-round pick has had a decent December and played pretty well against the Patriots earlier this month in balmy Miami Gardens. But a late-season game in cold and raw Foxborough can be quite a different story.
How he beats you: With a strong arm and surprising athleticism. At 6 feet 4 inches, 222 pounds, Tannehill looks the part of the prototypical pocket passer, but the former college gunslinger has quick feet and deceptive speed and will make yards with his legs.
How to shut him down: By confusing him. His recognition skills have improved but he’s still young and hasn’t seen it all yet. Disguise the coverages and throw in a few new wrinkles, and this defense is bound to force a mistake or two.
DOLPHINS’ KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. His Reggie-ness: This might be Reggie Bush’s final game as a Dolphin. So give him many, many touches and let him move the ball and keep it away from Tom Brady.
2. Let my Cameron go: Send Cameron Wake on every snap. He’s at his best moving forward, so let him stunt, spin, and bull his way into the pocket and wreak havoc.
3. Rough stuff: Wes Welker is Tom Brady’s safety blanket. So belt him at the line and force the Patriots QB to go to his other weapons — all of whom appear banged up.
PATRIOTS’ KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. Bubble boy: Danny Woodhead has been on fire lately. He is at his best in space, so line him up outside and hit him with quick screens so he can slip and slide his way through the defense.
2. Block party: The protection was horrendous last week. It’s time to get back to basics, put helmets on helmets, and make sure The Franchise isn’t battered.
3. Pressure cooker: Pass rushers Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones were very good against the Jaguars. They have to continue to bring the heat against upstart Ryan Tannehill.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Dolphins 16
Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.