When: 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: SunLife Stadium, Miami
TV, radio: CBS, 98.5 FM
When the Patriots run
The emergence of a solid — sometimes spectacular — ground attack has made New England’s offense the envy of the NFL. OK, it may have been anyway. Stevan Ridley has established himself as the lead dog in this pack. Ridley (5 feet 11 inches, 220 pounds) is a big, strong, decisive runner with deceptive quickness. He identifies creases in a flash and bounces onto the second level with reckless abandon. He powers through arm tacklers and rarely goes down on first contact. Shane Vereen (5-9, 205) is a compactly built back who is both faster and stronger than he looks. Quick and instinctive Danny Woodhead (5-8, 200) has been relatively quiet the last few weeks, but overlooking him is a mistake. The backs have been getting outstanding blocking from a line that seems to change every week. Steady center Ryan Wendell is quick off the ball and uses his strong hands to temporarily redirect defenders and create holes. The Dolphins are tough up the middle. Tackles Paul Soliai (6-4, 345) and Randy Starks (6-3, 305) are consistent. Soliai has impressive strength and will occupy multiple blockers while Starks stuns linemen with a nice initial pop. Linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett put up huge tackling numbers. Dansby has exceptional lateral quickness and agility, while Burnett brings speed and toughness.
Rushing yards per game
New England offense: 143.7 (sixth)
Miami defense: 96.7 (seventh)
When the Patriots pass
Tom Brady has never been particularly fond of Miami Gardens (see Taylor, Jason), and he’ll once again be feeling the heat (and not just from the blistering South Florida sun). Defensive ends Cameron Wake and Jared Odrick are quick off the edge, and Randy Starks can wreak havoc up the middle. Lucky for Brady, he has received exceptional protection this season from towering tackles Nate Solder (6 feet 8 inches, 320 pounds) and Sebastian Vollmer (6-8, 320), and friends. Brady also has superb pre-snap recognition and a quick trigger, which also help keep defenders out of his grill. Slot man extraordinaire Wes Welker continues to play at a high level (think Miami fans are still gnashing their teeth?). Welker’s hallmarks continue to be toughness and an uncanny knack for being open. Julian Edelman has elevated his play the last few weeks. If he is recovered from his Thanksgiving concussion, he will continue to pose a threat. He has excellent instincts, runs well, and has decent hands. Brandon Lloyd has good speed, great body control, and a flair for the dramatic, but he seems to drop off the radar screen for large stretches. Aaron Hernandez is listed as a tight end but can be found virtually anywhere on the field. He is exceptionally athletic — too fast for most linebackers and too strong for most defensive backs. Rangy, hard-hitting safeties Chris Clemons and Reshad Jones are the standouts in the Miami secondary.
Passing yards per game
New England offense: 292.1 (fourth)
Miami defense: 261.7 (26th)
When the Dolphins run
Reggie Bush will get most of the totes, and he can still be an effective player if used properly. He lacks the bulk to be a workhorse but the 6-foot, 203-pounder still flashes the explosiveness that gives defensive coordinators nightmares. A very versatile player, Bush has the skills to line up everywhere from tailback to outside receiver. He has excellent vision and instincts and is tremendous in the open field. He knows how to follow his blocks and has great acceleration at the second level. He’s at his best when he attacks the edges. He’s a willing inside runner, but his lack of power limits his effectiveness here because he can’t push the pile. Bush has taken a lot of hits over the years and is seemingly always banged up. Sophomore Daniel Thomas (6-1, 233) is more of an inside banger. He has a nifty blend of power and athleticism. Thomas is a decisive runner who has a tendency to miss creases and get buried. Miami has rugged inside blockers led by left guard Richie Incognito, whose place on the all-nasty team is well-deserved. Incognito (6-3, 319) is strong, smart, swift, and surly. Center Mike Pouncey (6-5, 303) is athletic and powerful, and will need both those qualities to counteract Vince Wilfork, who is pretty athletic and powerful himself. Right guard John Jerry (6-5, 345) has size and strength but plays a little stiff. Instinctive linebackers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes lead the Patriots hit parade.Continued...