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Patriots’ X-factors against the Dolphins

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Seven Patriots are in focus heading into Sunday.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots will be preparing to play the Miami Dolphins — a team coming off a 59-10 loss. But he games aren’t played on paper, and New England still has to execute the plays to beat Miami.

The Patriots’ roster is loaded with household names and talent on both sides of the ball, though it will come down to the workman-like guys who don’t necessarily put up big numbers yet are critical to the team’s success overall.

These will be the guys to watch for when the Patriots play on Sunday.

Offense: Phillip Dorsett, Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse

The Patriots’ top three receivers will be Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon and Antonio Brown. Brown will be on a limited snap count for the game should he suit up, which means the team will need their fourth receiver to stand up. Don’t expect big numbers from Dorsett, especially if Edelman and Gordon are constantly winning their matchups, but his contributions will make it tougher for the Dolphins to stop the Patriots’ offense from going down the field.

This could be a game where the Patriots will also want to attack the Dolphins on the ground and test their mettle. That means the point of attack blocking needs to be sharp, notably on power runs that go off-tackle. That means they’ll need solid efforts from the tight end position, with Izzo’s blocking and LaCosse’s receiving abilities. Once the ground game is established, that’s when LaCosse becomes more dangerous off the play-action passes running those 10-yard crossing routes behind the linebackers who have to step up to defend a faked run.

Defense: Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton and John Simon

The key for the Patriots on defense will be stopping the run and forcing long third-down conversions for Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins. The Patriots have the offensive firepower to quickly turn this game into a blowout, provided the defense does its job. The Patriots will need Guy and the rest of the D-line to clog the running lanes inside, as well as the edge guys setting a hard edge in the run game to prevent the Dolphins from getting big plays outside.

Speaking of edge-rushers, that brings up the topic of Simon. Simon isn’t a flashy guy who will put up numbers, but his workman-like approach, strong fundamentals and physicality are pluses when it comes to doing his job. Guy, Shelton, and Simon are rotational players who probably won’t see much more than 50 percent of the regular season snaps, but they are players who will continue to make a difference when on the football field.

Special Teams: Jake Bailey

Obviously we’re not expecting the Patriots to punt much, but Bailey’s ability to flip the field is worth noting anyway. His first career punt was a masterpiece, 50-plus-yard booming kick with the perfect angle to prevent any return. The Patriots will need those kind of punts if the offense is slow to establish their rhythm, although it will only be a matter of time before they do. The key will be for Bailey and the punt coverage unit to continually force long fields for Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins’ offense to give the defense a better chance at getting stops. He will also impact the field-goal operation as the holder, but that one doesn’t need to be further mentioned.