Patriots vs. Dolphins: Analyzing the Week 8 Match-Up

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Oct 25, 2015; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Lamar Miller, Running Back

For most of us, gaining 10 pounds between winter and summer means it’s time to hit the gym before beach season.  For running back Lamar Miller, it means he’s already hit the gym and it’s go time.

According to ESPN, Miller packed on 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason to help him get through the season in better shape.  All it’s done is rack up the league-best 6.0 yards-per-carry average among rushers with at least 20 carries.  Oh, and 419 rushing yards on the season with a tidy average of 69.8 yards per game.

Like freakin’ EVERYONE on this team, Miller’s had a great last two weeks.  He ran for 113 yards against Tennessee and a ludicrous 175 yards against Houston, both of whom suck at defending the run, but still.  Miller’s also a receiving threat, having caught 15 receptions on the season and at least one in every game.  More impressive is that when he does get a pass, Miller can make something out of it, like his 10-yard catch against the Jets in Week 4.

He’s on pace to post a virtually exact duplicate of his 2014 season (1,099 yards, 8 TD) – at the rate he’s going, 2015 will end with 1,117 rush yards.

Who Can Stop Him?

The Patriots’ effectiveness in stopping the run game seems to be largely determined this season by whether they decide to try to force their opponents to run or pass.  File that under “No kidding, John Madden” if you want, but that strategy dictates a lot of which defenders are on the field at any given time.

Last week against the Jets, New England used Patrick Chung in a similar way to his old top-of-the-box run-stuffing role from last season on some plays, and it seemed to work – Jets running back Chris Ivory was held to 41 yards on 17 carries, and while it’s come out since then that Ivory was at least somewhat injured, it still speaks to the effectiveness of the extra-man-in-the-box game plan.

The tricky part is that the Dolphins not only are packing the two receivers we’ve looked at already, but also have a legitimate deep threat in Kenny Stills.  Loading up on the run with extra men doesn’t seem like a reliable game plan with receiving threats like the Dolphins have.

The upside?  Linebacker Dont’a Hightower has been playing like his hair is on fire this year.  According to MassLive, it took Chris Ivory 13 carries to get a run that went more than three yards.  And against New York last week, he spent a significant amount of time playing off the line, only occasionally rushing off the edge like he has.  Seems pretty straightforward: let Hightower and Collins see the play develop, and then let them stuff it.

Alan Branch has also been the Patriots de facto run-stuffing defensive tackle this year.  If the front seven can keep clicking against Miami, it gives the defense exponentially more flexibility.

Next: Next Up: The Deep Threat That...Isn't