Game: Miami Dolphins (0-0) vs. New England Patriots (0-0)
Date/Time/TV: September 11th, 2022 / 1:00 PM ET / CBS
Location: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida
SB Nation: Pats Pulpit | @PatsPulpit
The Miami Dolphins kick off their 2022 season at home against the New England Patriots, a team they managed to sweep last year.
Excitement has surrounded the Dolphins all offseason, but preseason wins and training camp highlights are worth about as much as Monopoly money in the real world. And while negativity and distress has clouded the Patriots’ preseason, only a fool would take master-of-the-dark-arts Bill Belichick lightly before opening weekend.
It’s a matchup that almost always delivers, and Sunday’s outcome will come down to a few personnel and schematic advantages across the field, both of which are highlighted below.
Who’s Got The Edge?
QB - Dolphins. However long they may be, Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa and Patriots QB Mac Jones will almost certainly be compared for the rest of their NFL careers. Same position, same college, and now, the same division.
Over their short NFL careers, Tagovailoa has the better win record (13-8 vs. 10-7), as well as a lower interception-ratio (2.2 vs. 2.5). However, Jones holds the better passer rating (92.5 vs. 88.8) and has a far better injury record, which could prove worthy in the long run.
Statistically speaking, there’s really not much to separate the two quarterbacks.
However, on the basis of sheer talent, Tagovailoa is the clear winner. His quick-fire release, poise in the pocket, and ability to win in big moments (3-0 vs. Bill Belichick) are rare traits in a young quarterback. It’s close, but ultimately, Tagovailoa takes the edge here.
RB - Patriots. While the Dolphins go into the season with a vastly improved RB unit from last season, it’s not clear yet if that on-paper improvement will translate to the field. Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert are fantastic RBs, but both players benefited from playing in potent, high-scoring offenses (something which Miami hasn’t seen since the days of Dan Marino). That could change this season, but only time will tell.
New England almost always have a solid running game, and I expect that to continue this season. Last season, lead Patriots running-back Damien Harris racked up 929 yards on the ground (10th-best in the NFL) and an impressive 15 TDs (2nd-most). Behind him, Rhamondre Stevenson added a respectable 606 yards and 6 TDs.
Miami may have the more talented group, but New England’s players have shown real, on-field production for a few years now, and deserve respect in that regard.
WR - Dolphins. Nothing against New England, but Miami’s receiving room would blow 99% of NFL teams out of the water, if not all of them. I mean, Tyreek Hill? Jaylen Waddle? Cedrick Wilson? Quite literally, the Dolphins have #1-calibre receivers playing #2 roles, and #2-calibre receivers playing #3 roles, and so on and so forth. Miami also posses frightening speed on the outside, seeing as their slowest receiver (Wilson) still managed to run a 4.5 40-yard-dash at the NFL combine.
The Patriots’ best receiver is arguably DeVante Parker, a man who the Dolphins deemed unworthy of a roster spot. If that doesn’t speak volumes, I don’t know what will. So, by some distance, Miami holds the advantage here.
TE - Dolphins. Hunter Henry is good, but Mike Gesicki is better. It’s really that simple.
Although a better blocker, Henry is simply not on the level of Gesicki in terms of receiving ability. Last season, Gesicki established himself as one of the league’s best tight-ends, amassing 73 receptions (5th among TEs) for 780 yards (8th among TEs). Compare this to Henry, who had 50 receptions for 603 yards.
Gesicki’s size, catch radius, and astonishing vertical leap make him one of the league’s premier TEs. Even if he doesn’t play a huge role in Mike McDaniel’s new offense, on a pure skill level, there’s no comparison to be had with Henry.
OL - Patriots. The Dolphins spent a fair bit of money on their offensive line this offseason, bringing in 3-time Pro Bowl LT Terron Armstead and talented guard Connor Williams in free agency. On paper, Miami’s OL does look significantly better than last season.
However, until we see this unit in action, it’s hard to crown them as a better group than New England’s, who finished Top-10 in the league last year in terms of overall protection grade, as per Pro Football Focus. In comparison, the Dolphins finished a league-worst 32nd. New England also brought in some OL help this offseason, drafting guard Cole Strange in the first-round of the 2022 NFL draft.
So, until they prove it on the field, the Patriots’ OL is comfortably the better unit.
DL - Dolphins. In Emmanuel Ogbah, Zach Sieler, Christian Wilkins, and Jaelen Phillips, Miami not only has a darn good front-4, but one that dwarfs New England’s in comparison.
As per Pro Football Focus, two of Miami’s interior lineman earned PFF grades above 80.0 last season (Wilkins, Sieler). To top it off, the Dolphins only went and signed 3-time Pro Bowl edge rusher Melvin Ingram III in free agency, bolstering their defensive line even further.
The Patriots, on the other hand, are a below-average unit across the defensive line. Nose tackles Davon Godchaux and Deatrich Wise Jr. are B- players at best, and that’s generous. Edge rusher Lawrence Guy has shown flashes of brilliance in his 12-year NFL career, but nothing to suggest he’s anything more than just “a guy”.
LB - Patriots. Miami’s linebackers were a weak point last year, and I believe that’ll continue into this year. Starting inside linebackers Jerome Baker and Elandon Roberts are a great run-stoppers and excel at blitzing, but generally struggle in coverage and in the open field.
At the same time, the Patriots’ Matthew Judon is already one of the league’s best in his position, having made his 3rd consecutive Pro Bowl last season. Raekwon McMillan (former Dolphin) is also an extremely underrated player for New England, and is much better in coverage than any of Miami’s linebackers.
DB - Dolphins. While the Patriots lost their best corner in J.C Jackson to free agency, the Dolphins are bringing back their entire 2021 secondary, which ranked as one of the league’s best last season. Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, and Jevon Holland are elite players in their respective positions, and will be a handful for the Patriots’ offense on Sunday.
Safety Kyle Dugger is a bright spot for New England, but seeing how their starting corner is Jalen Mills (a man who was laughed out of Philadelphia for multiple blown coverages), I don’t see the Patriots’ secondary causing too many problems for Miami on Sunday.
Special Teams - Patriots. Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders had a down year last season, making just 23 of his 31 FG attempts (74.2%). And though new punter Thomas Morstead boasts a career average of 46.6 yards per punt (roughly 12th-best in the league), the 14-year NFL veteran is likely past his prime at 36-years-old.
Meanwhile, Patriots kicker Nick Folk made the 3rd-most field goals in the league last season (36/39), and punter Jake Bailey finished as the 9th-best punter in the league in terms of yards-per-punt (47.3).
Although the Dolphins do have talent on special teams, on the basis of on-field production, the Patriots take the edge here.
Which Matchups Will Decide The Game?
1) Miami’s WRs vs. New England’s DBs
Let’s fast forward to Sunday, as Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle line up on the outside for Miami, with Cedrick Wilson in the slot. Mike Gesicki runs in motion, confusing the defense. Now, these guys are going to be covered by...Jalen Mills and Jonathan Jones? Really?
Simply put, the Patriots don’t have the talent to keep up with Miami’s weapons on offense. Now, Bill Belichick clearly knows this, and schematic adjustments will almost certainly be made. One of these adjustments might involve double-teaming Tyreek Hill, in an effort to take him out of the game. It’s something Belichick has done against Hill in the past, when the latter was still at Kansas City.
However, this would obviously leave an extra man open on Miami’s offense. Even if New England decides to play zone coverage, say Cover 2 or Cover 3, Miami can still take advantage of the numerical mismatch underneath by getting the ball out early. Release the ball quick, and let the likes of Jaylen Waddle and Cedrick Wilson wreak havoc in open field. Unlike years prior, Miami actually has the ability to blow teams out of the water on offense, and it’s finally time they took full advantage of it.
2) Miami’s LBs vs New England’s Running Game
For a few years now, Miami’s weakness on defense has been their linebackers. Even with a few personnel additions this offseason, I don’t expect that to change.
On the other hand, New England’s running game was very strong last year, ranking 8th in the NFL in total yards gained (2,151). That will likely continue this year, with both of New England’s top backs Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson returning to the team.
Now, Dolphins DC Josh Boyer will likely employ the same 3-4 defense that we saw Brian Flores use last year, which is typically weaker against the run. Unfortunately for Miami, this is quite the mismatch. Miami’s linebackers will need to make big tackles all game, and plug gaps that are created by New England’s offensive linemen. To make matters worse, if New England goes up early, they’ll only continue to run the ball even more.
But, if the Dolphins are able to stop New England from running the ball down their throats, and force Mac Jones to throw against the likes of Xavien Howard and Jevon Holland...I don’t need to say the rest, do I?
27 - 20, Miami.
So, what are your predictions for Sunday’s game vs. the Patriots? Will the Dolphins kick off their 2022 season with a win, or will Mac Jones and the Patriots pull off the upset in Miami? Leave your predictions in the comments below!