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Pats’ Brady respects South Beach upstarts

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Many have tried, but few succeed.

Opposing defenses enter matchups with Tom Brady’s New England Patriots thinking they have a chance to at least slow down the quarterback and his pass-happy offense.

Through each of the first six games this season, those plans fell flat in the face of eventual defeat.

Next on the agenda for a New England team that just put up 30 points and 355 passing yards against the New York Jets’ No. 1 scoring defense is a reinvigorated Miami Dolphins unit that clearly stepped it up the last two weeks under interim coach Dan Campbell.

With just two games to look at in the Campbell era in South Beach — wins over the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans — Brady sees a team that is rolling with its aggressive front seven on defense.

“They’re riding high right now, and I think they’re really getting after the quarterback,” Brady said. “They’ve got some real good guys in coverage, but I mean, (Cameron) Wake and (Olivier) Vernon and (Ndamukong) Suh and (Earl) Mitchell and (Derrick) Shelby — they’ve got a whole group of pass rushers who, really the last couple of games have been performing really well.

“Then offensively, they’ve just been scoring a lot of points, so they get ahead and they kind of unleash the pass rushers on you. And then Cameron Wake strip-sacks the quarterback, and then next thing you know, the game is blown open there. It was blown open in the second quarter against Houston. It was blown open in the third quarter against Tennessee. We’ve got to make sure we try to stay on track and execute well so we keep things under control. But you can’t be one-dimensional against these guys. These guys are really a talented group.”

Wake has six sacks over the last two games. Suh, a $100 million free agent addition, recorded his first two sacks in a Miami uniform.

According to Patriots coach Bill Belichick, the Dolphins cut back on their scheme since defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle was let go and just allowed the players to play freer in two games under Lou Anarumo and Campbell.

“I’d say they’ve simplified it,” Belichick said as his offense used a short week to get ready for a new-look unit. “The number of the things they’re running, like the number of calls that they have, it appears to be definitely a lot less than what it was before, and so they’re trying to, I’d say it looks like they’re doing fewer things than they’ve done, they’re doing them better, they’re playing faster, they’re more aggressive, and so it looks like they’ve cut back the scheme a little bit defensively for higher execution.”

Now the question is whether the Dolphins are ready to reach that higher level of execution. It is one thing against Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota or Texans journeyman quarterback Brian Hoyer; it is much different against Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Julian Edelman.

At the very least, the Dolphins very much have Brady’s attention. Which is probably not a good thing for them as the 38-year-old passer continues to elevate his game seemingly every week.

“Those guys are great at what they do, and they really cut those guys loose to get after the quarterback, and they’ve done it,” Brady said of Wake, Suh and the rest.

“Whatever they’ve changed is really working. I think they’re playing at an extremely high level. They can really tee off on the quarterback, and they were certainly teeing off the other day. We’ve got to be balanced. We’ve got to try and take control of the game. It’s tough to do. They’re a good run-stopping defense, in the last two weeks especially. … There’s nothing easy about it. You’ve got to go out, and you’ve got to execute really well. You’ve got to be tough, be firm inside and try to go out there and execute really well.”

SERIES HISTORY: 97th regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead series, 51-45. The two East Coast rivals have met twice a year dating back to their AFL days in the 1960s. Miami dominated the series for portions of the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s. New England has had the upper hand in the Belichick/Brady era, but it has not been complete domination. The Dolphins have won 11 games against Belichick’s Patriots, seven of those in Miami. After the Patriots won seven straight from 2010 to early 2013, Miami won two of the past three, although the last meeting was a 41-13 Patriots blowout last December at Gillette Stadium.

GAME PLAN

A few days after deciding to forgo the running game against the Jets, New England more likely will be looking to be much more balanced on offense Thursday night against Miami. The Dolphins have been making big plays in the pass rush and pass defense in recent weeks, so simply throwing it 50-plus times on the short week doesn’t seem to be the approach. Regardless of whether Dion Lewis can return from an abdominal injury, Tom Brady will be expecting more contributions from his ground game.

The New England offensive line will have its hand full in pass protection against Cameron Wake, Ndamukong Suh and others, so running into that at times should help all involved. Then look for the usual doses of Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and maybe more from Brandon LaFell on the outside after the veteran struggled in his return from the physically unable to perform list.

On defense, the Patriots will use the controlled rush the team has had for guys like Ben Roethlisberger and Tyrod Taylor early this year. The group has done a nice job in that area to date and will try to keep Ryan Tannehill from using his athleticism to his advantage.

Tackling may be the biggest issue for the defense against a Miami team that has hit big runs and pass plays in the last couple weeks. Lamar Miller is a more electric test for the front than Chris Ivory last Sunday, and gang tackling will be important coming on the short week with the defense still feeling its work against New York. The Patriots’ linebackers and safeties will have their hands full dealing with tight end Jordan Cameron and Miller out of the backfield. The biggest focus, though, will be limiting the big plays — of any kind.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–Patriots RT Cameron Fleming vs. Dolphins LDE Cameron Wake.

Fleming likely will be making his second career start at right tackle. Wake will be looking to take advantage of the practice squad call-up the way he has others in recent weeks, having notched six sacks in the past two games. Wake is one of the best pass rushers in the game, and Fleming will face the toughest edge test he has faced in his young career.

–Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower vs. Dolphins RB Lamar Miller.

Hightower returned from missing one game with a rib injury and was the dominant force in shutting down Chris Ivory and the Jets’ physical running game last Sunday. Miller is averaging 6 yards a carry coming off back-to-back 100-yard games in which he hit a number of big plays. Miller is a far more dynamic playmaker than Ivory, and he represents another challenge for Hightower and the Patriots’ up-and-down run defense.


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