The Miami Dolphins host the New England Patriots on Sunday to open the 2022 NFL regular season. For the third straight year, these two teams will meet in Week 1, moving to Miami after two years in Foxboro. The first of two annual meetings between AFC East divisional rivals, there is a familiarity between the teams but there are also plenty of changes that have happened over the offseason.
For the Dolphins, the offseason changes have been massive, from firing Brian Flores and hiring Mike McDaniels as the team’s head coach through to addition of players like wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Cedrick Wilson, Jr., offensive linemen Terron Armstead and Connor Williams, and edge rushers Melvin Ingram and Trey Flowers. There will be familiar concepts for the Dolphins' defense, where many of the coaching staff returned, but the offense should rely more on the influx of speed and on using the run game to set up a play-action passing attack.
Where are the Patriots different? What has been their biggest offseason surprises and disappointments? How are two former Dolphins, wide receiver DeVante Parker who was traded from Miami this offseason and linebacker Raekwon McMillan who joined the Patriots last year only to miss the season with a torn ACL, looking for New England this year? How much concern is there after a summer full of reports that the Patriots’ offense is broken?
To get answers to these questions and more, I turned to SB Nation’s Patriots site Pats Pulpit. Taylor Kyles was kind enough to sit down and answer my questions about the Dolphins’ Week 1 opponent.
This season, our Five Questions series is brought to us by DraftKings Sportsbook.
What was the biggest offseason surprise for the Patriots?
Unfortunately, nothing has been quite as stunning for New England as their coaching staff turnover.
In one offseason they lost offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, OL coach Carmen Bricillo, QB coach Bo Hardegree, and WR coach Mick Lombardi to the Raiders. Veteran RB coach Ivan Fears also announced his retirement, punctuating a brutal collection of losses for the Patriots’ offensive staff.
These departures have been replaced by coaches who lack experience in their current titles, creating even more apprehension and uncertainty around the offense’s outlook.
Matt Patricia (OL coach, apparent OC) and Joe Judge (QB coach) have won multiple Super Bowls as coordinators, but neither has experience constructing or calling plays for a professional offense.
Bill Belichick has more than earned the benefit of the doubt, and he has infinitely more knowledge on his staff than us outsiders. Belichick has also assumed a larger role on the offensive side of the ball, which warrants some optimism.
All that said, the offense has a lot to prove.
What was the biggest offseason disappointment?
Losing J.C. Jackson to the Chargers in free agency was a tough pill to swallow. Jackson was one of the team’s top playmakers going all the way back to his rookie season, and the Patriots seemed to lack a true CB1 without him.
Fortunately for New England fans, a lot has taken place in the cornerback group this offseason.
Jalen Mills, often the target of Eagles fans’ ire during his time in Philly, has looked like a different player this offseason. Last season he mentioned better situational awareness under the Patriots’ tutelage, and it’s shown in his improved discipline and consistency. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him across from Jaylen Waddle on most snaps.
Career slot corner Jonathan Jones has become the team’s #2 on the boundary, where explosiveness and ball skills should make up for his lack of size. Jones has been excellent as Tyreek Hill’s primary shadow since 2018, holding the receiver under 100 yards in each of their past three meetings despite playing on an island in the past two.
Myles Bryant is a solid nickel corner, but he lacks dynamic athleticism and could lose snaps to uber-talented 3rd-round pick Marcus Jones, who rotated with the starters at times in training camp
All summer, the reports coming out of Patriots camp were highly critical of the offense. What is going on with the offense, what are the problems, and what do you expect to see on Sunday?
Once again, the coaching staff overhaul can’t be ignored. But we won’t know how significant these changes are until the season gets rolling.
The offense has also streamlined its terminology to lessen the learning curve for new players, as well as experimenting with more Kyle Shanahan-esque outside zone concepts. Veteran receiver Jakobi Meyers acknowledged difficulty with the new language, while the shift to zone has sputtered in a group that lacks rapport.
When turning on the preseason tape, New England’s most glaring issue was their offensive line. 1st-rounder Cole Strange was impressive through three weeks, but there were issues with communication and balance that he’ll need to address quickly.
Isaiah Wynn, who annually struggles against Emmanuel Ogbah’s length and power, also popped in a bad way at times. Though he’s received some unwarranted criticism, Wynn’s short arms have made him susceptible to bull rushers that can bench press him. As a result, he’s been walked back into the pocket a few too many times.
These issues have been exacerbated by a lack of separation vs man coverage, which ailed the offense for much of last season.
How has DeVante Parker looked with the Patriots this summer? How about Raekwon McMillan?
Reports indicate Parker and Mac Jones have developed quick chemistry, excelling on the downfield targets and contested catch situations Parker is known for.
The pair only connected on a slant in the preseason, with another slant target and two deep shots falling incomplete. However, Jones’ willingness to give his new receiver chances has stood out after Agholor’s disappointing trial as the team’s primary “X” in 2021.
Specifically, we saw a lot of balls go Parker’s way as the isolated receiver in 3x1 formations, showing New England wants to capitalize on solo opportunities. This has been encouraging for an offense that’s lacked a true boundary threat the past few years.
Raekwon McMillan has been one of this season’s most pleasant surprises. Players and coaches have been praising McMillan since last season despite a the linebacker missing the season to injury. Early on he’s living up to the leadership and intelligence folks raved about, while the speed and explosiveness he showed at Ohio State have been on full display. He looks like an every-down player from them who could also contribute in pressure packages.
What are your biggest concerns about the Patriots heading into the season? What are the strengths for New England?
Sorry to beat a dead horse, but it’s hard not to be concerned about the Patriots’ offense with the change going on at so many different levels. They’ve got the talent to create big plays, but they’ll have to prove they can move the ball consistently.
The Patriots’ defensive line and secondary are clear areas of strength for this team.
Christian Barmore could become a top-tier interior defender this season, old friend Davon Godchaux has looked fantastic, and Lawrence Guy is as consistent as they come at DT.
On the edges, Matthew Judon continues to look like a Pro Bowl talent. Josh Uche hasn’t become the every-down player many hoped he would, but he’s still an electric pass rusher. He will likely play on passing downs for Anfernee Jennings, who has looked solid as a run defender and rusher across from Judon.
In the defensive backfield, Devin McCourty returns as one of the league’s most unheralded center-fielders. He’s joined in a “position-less” group of safeties that includes human missile Kyle Dugger, do-it-all defender Adrian Phillips, and explosive newcomer Jabrill Peppers. This group can line up anywhere and is capable of changing momentum on any play.
Thank you to Kyles for taking the time to give us a closer look at New England. For more on the Patriots, make sure to check out Pats Pulpit.