Commentary

Things to watch: Patriots-Dolphins

Updated: December 23, 2011, 11:36 PM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Key areas for the New England Patriots in their game against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on Saturday (CBS, 1 p.m. ET):

1. Attack the middle of the field with Welker, Gronkowski and Hernandez. Do the Dolphins have the answers for the Patriots' inside passing game? Few teams do, and this looks like an area in which Miami is vulnerable. The Patriots' offense has been firing on all cylinders, and the one-two-three punch of receiver Wes Welker and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez is one of the toughest to stop in the NFL. With quarterback Tom Brady delivering the ball to them, it's a lethal troika.

2. Limit Bush as a runner and pass-catcher. Dolphins running back Reggie Bush is coming off a 203-yard rushing performance against the Buffalo Bills that earned him AFC offensive player of the week honors. Bush also is a presence as a pass-catcher (41 receptions), and Patriots defenders talked throughout the week of how dangerous he can be in space. He's one of the focal points of the defensive game plan.

3. Protection on the edges vs. Wake, Taylor & Co. Opponents haven't had much success disrupting the rhythm of the Patriots' passing game this season, but those who have generally have pressured well up front and/or played physically against their pass-catchers. Dolphins outside linebackers Cameron Wake and Jason Taylor warrant respect and present a challenge to the big guys up front.

4. Marshall and Bess in the passing game. Receiver Brandon Marshall might drop his share of footballs, but he remains the Dolphins' most productive receiver (70 receptions). And one need only look at Patriots-Dolphins games in the past to see times when Davone Bess has hurt New England on third down on the inside part of the field. The one-two punch is a good challenge for the team's ever-evolving secondary.

5. Keep positive momentum going in running game. The Dolphins had some struggles against the Bills' running game last week, particularly with C.J. Spiller. Meanwhile, the Patriots got it going on the ground with some solid blocking up front, sparked by left guard Logan Mankins. This looks like a good opportunity to keep the forward momentum going.

6. Continue to play tight on special teams. One of the undersold reasons for the Patriots' six-game win streak is a turnaround on special teams. In back-to-back losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants in late October/early November, the Patriots weren't getting game-changing contributions from that area. That has changed over the past six games, and now the Dolphins -- who have some good speed in the return game -- will test them.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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