FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots are looking to close out the 2012 season with a win over the Dolphins and a 12-4 record. They’re still in a mix for a bye as the Texans trail the Colts by a five points heading into the fourth quarter, and the Broncos to play later against the Chiefs.
To end the season with a win, the Patriots need to hit on these five keys:
- Hold the edge against the run: With the cold winds whipping here, the Dolphins know they won’t be able to ride quarterback Ryan Tannehill to a victory. So the Dolphins are going to try to run the ball well. They have the talent in Reggie Bush and Lamar Miller. Look for them to take a different approach than last game when they couldn’t get anything going between the tackles. The Dolphins will hit the edges, which means ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich will need to play disciplined.
- Make Tannehill air it out: Again, with the weather conditions, the Patriots will aim to increase Tannehill’s degree of difficulty. That means the Patriots will have to be heads-up on screens, play the short stuff well, and be physical with TE Anthony Fasano. Make Tannehill throw deep to beat you, which he had trouble doing down in Miami in perfect weather conditions.
- Protect beyond the whistle: Tom Brady has been knocked to the turf 45 times in the past five games. In the first 10 games, Brady was knocked down 37 times. That’s way, way, way too many at the end of the season. The Patriots will need to hold their blocks a shade longer against the Dolphins because defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle does a great job of changing up his looks. That means Brady needs a little more time after the snap to figure things out. The line has to give it to him.
- Help Vollmer: RT Sebastian Vollmer had a rough time against Dolphins OLB Cameron Wake in the last matchup, and Vollmer’s not playing his best ball of the season. The Patriots are going to need to give him a little help at the start of each half, when Wake seems to play his best ball.
- Get back to running the ball and play action: The Patriots threw the ball way too much last week against the Jaguars, though I do think they were working on a few things and playing it like a preseason game. There’s no reason to do that again. Running the ball well this week will help Brady stay healthy, and to pepper a depleted Dolphins secondary with some good play-action shots to Brandon Lloyd and Rob Gronkowski.
A lot depends on whether the Patriots have anything to play for after the Texans-Colts game, but expect the Patriots to want to start quickly in any event. Their starts the previous two games have not nearly been good enough. I like this Dolphins team a lot, but can see Ryan Tannehill having a tough time spinning it on a cold and windy day.
Patriots 27, Dolphins 20