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    Patriots’ next opponent

    Dolphins have big weakness against Patriots

    Andrew Luck, the first overall pick, turned the ball over four times (one fumble) against the Patriots Nov. 18, so Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill has his work cut out for him.
    Since Andrew Luck, the first overall pick, turned the ball over four times (one fumble) against the Patriots Nov. 18, Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill, above, has his work cut out for him.

    The Dolphins are 7½-point home underdogs against the Patriots Sunday. If Miami is to pull a big upset at Sun Life Stadium, it will have to reverse recent history.

    The Dolphins (5-6) haven’t caused a turnover since Oct. 28 against the Jets, a span of four games.

    The Patriots (8-3) have turned the ball over just eight times this season, and just once in their past four games.


    And, more important, the Dolphins, minus-10 in turnover differential for the season, have turned the ball over eight times in the past three games (1-2 record).

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    The Patriots, an amazing plus-24 this season, have forced 12 turnovers in that same stretch that have resulted in nine touchdowns.

    Basically, if both teams keep doing what they’ve been in the turnover department, the Dolphins have no chance.

    It will be up to rookie Ryan Tannehill, the third quarterback taken in April’s draft, to control the ball. He has thrown seven touchdowns against 12 interceptions, including six in the past three games.

    Andrew Luck, the first overall pick, turned the ball over four times (one fumble) against the Patriots Nov. 18, so Tannehill has his work cut out for him.


    A look at the Dolphins, whom the Patriots are seeing for the first time since Dec. 24:


    Northborough native Mike Sherman, the former Packers coach, calls the plays for an offense that is heavily influenced by coach Joe Philbin’s roots as Packers offensive coordinator. The Dolphins are throwing 56 percent of the time, but have been much more balanced in their past two games.

    Tannehill (59 percent completions) is a talented quarterback with a big arm and runs very well. But he shows his inexperience (he started college as a receiver) when the protection breaks down. He’ll make poor decisions and will float passes when his feet aren’t set outside designed rollouts.

    The Dolphins prefer to run out of two-back sets with either fullback Jorvorskie Lane or H-back Charles Clay in the backfield. Clay has really come on of late and is a threat in the passing game wherever he lines up. The Dolphins also use a lot of spread techniques to balance the power looks.

    The Dolphins have a lightning and thunder backfield tandem with Reggie Bush (4.4-yard average) running hard inside and outside, and Daniel Thomas (3.7 ypg) solely an inside runner. They combined for 147 yards on 23 carries (6.4 average) against a very good Seahawks rush defense Sunday.


    Receivers Brian Hartline and Davone Bess share the team lead with 55 receptions. Hartline is strictly a boundary receiver who can make plays in the air. Bess makes a lot of plays in the middle of the field and is tough. Tight end Anthony Fasano is a very good blocker who is solid in the pass game (27 receptions) and a top red-zone target.

    Left tackle Jake Long, the first overall pick in 2008, has really taken a step back. He was arguably the top left tackle in the league two years ago, and now he’s merely good at pass blocking. Inside speed moves give him trouble. His run blocking is still top-notch.

    At right tackle, second-round pick Jonathan Martin is a bit slow of foot and susceptible to speed. The interior line is good with center Mike Pouncey playing at an All-Pro level and veteran left guard Richie Incognito and right guard John Jerry limiting mistakes.


    Longtime Bengals defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle runs the show for a 4-3 defense that likes to mix up the pressure and coverage calls. Everything starts with end Cameron Wake, who is pushing for Defensive Player of the Year with 9½ sacks, nine tackles for a loss, and 21 quarterback hits. He usually plays outside the right tackle but will move around. Wake likes to power a lineman and then close with quickness.

    Right end Jared Odrick is strong and relentless. The tackles, Paul Soliai and Randy Starks, have played terrific of late and were largely responsible for Marshawn Lynch of the Seahawks gaining just 46 yards on 19 carries Sunday. Strong-side linebacker Koa Misi also did a nice job against the run.

    Dynamic veteran middle linebacker Karlos Dansby is playing with a torn left biceps, which affects him playing the pass. Weak-side linebacker Kevin Burnett is a playmaker.

    Cornerback Sean Smith is excellent and usually will match up against the top outside receiver. Nolan Carroll and R.J. Stanford are splitting time at the other corner spot. Both have issues at times.

    Strong safety Reshad Jones and free safety Chris Clemons are both having very good seasons. Jones stands out against the run and the pass.


    Punter Brandon Fields leads the league with a 51-yard average. Kicker Dan Carpenter is hitting 87.5 percent of his kicks inside of 50; he’s 0 for 3 outside of 50. He has touchbacks on 42 percent of his kickoffs.

    Miami has allowed punt (Bills) and kickoff (Seahawks) returns for touchdowns the past two games. Returner Marcus Thigpen is averaging 29.4 yards per kickoff return and has kick- and punt-return touchdowns this season.

    Greg A. Bedard can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard.