The 1-0 Miami Dolphins will travel to Foxborough this weekend to take on the winless Patriots for Sunday Night Football. The Dolphins have won four of their last five contests against the Patriots and split the series in 2022. The Patriots are coming off a close loss to the defending NFC Champion Eagles and will be looking to slow down this Dolphins offense that erupted in their season-opening victory against the Chargers.
While there will be several key matchups on the field this weekend, the most intriguing might be between Bill Belichick and Mike McDaniel. I know a lot of folks are down on the Patriots since Brady left, and rightly so.... to a degree. A big portion of their Super Bowl runs was Tom Brady making whatever offensive personnel they gave him, work. The other part of that equation was Bill Belichick being able to develop unique defensive game plans to stymie some of the best offenses in the league.
What Could Their Gameplan Look Like?
For this preview article, my goal is to make an educated guess on how this Patriots team will attack Miami’s offense and figure out some important matchups they’ll have on offense and defense. Let’s start with how Belichick is going to slow down (or try to slow down) this high-flying Miami offense.
The Patriots are one of the few NFL teams that still commonly deploy man coverage. They used it on about half of their coverage snaps against the Eagles last week and for about 40% of their coverage snaps in week one of 2022 (the last time Tua faced the Patriots). When Belichick has the right personnel, he loves running sticky man-to-man defense. They combined that with bringing pressure on high-leverage downs and really gave the Eagles offense fits for most of the game.
The Patriots brought a ton of pressure on high-leverage 3rd down situations against the Eagles. They paired that with off-man coverage and it gave the Eagles fits for most of the game. pic.twitter.com/KgmA7PhwjL— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) September 14, 2023
That begs the question, what do you do with Tyreek Hill? We saw what happened when the Chargers attempted to go man-to-man on Tyreek last week. There isn’t a corner in the NFL that can handle Tyreek by themselves, so I would expect some kind of bracket coverage to slow him down. Belichick is well known for scheming away your top target and making offenses go to plan B.
I think we’ll see the Patriots bring pressure to try to disrupt Tua and the offense while attempting to take away Hill and Waddle. That could mean a big game for players like Braxton Berrios, Raheem Mostert, Durham Smythe, and Erik Ezukanma.
Another Tough Assignment For Miami’s Tackles
There was a ton of concern around Kendall Lamm and Austin Jackson having to take on Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa for the Dolphins in week one. Both tackles stepped up in that contest and kept Tagovailoa upright for most of the game. While there seems to be a good chance that star left tackle Terron Armstead will be back for this game, there won’t be any letup in competition for Miami’s tackles.
The Patriots are 3 or 4 deep at edge rusher and the top three (Uche, Judon, White) are legit stud pass rushers. Bosa and Mack were a tough test last week and it won't get any easier in New England for Miami's tackles. pic.twitter.com/Zn7SJDy6bd— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) September 14, 2023
Patriots edge defenders don’t have big names like Bosa and Mack but make no mistake, these guys can get after the quarterback. Matthew Judon and Josh Uche are names we are familiar with at this point, but you can go ahead and add rookie 2nd rounder Keion White to that mix. White hit the ground running in week one with four pressures and some impressive reps against two of the better tackles in the NFL. You could make the argument that the Patriots are deeper at edge than the Chargers, which means fresh pass rushers all game long.
A Bounce Back Game for the Defensive Line?
The Patriots were missing their two starting guards last week and the offensive line struggled mightily against a really tough Philadelphia defensive front. To go with continued limited participation in practice for their starting guards Cole Strange and Michael Onwenu, the Patriots have starting left tackle Trent Brown working back from a concussion following their week one game. Depending on who can go Sunday night, there could be an opportunity for the Dolphins’ defensive line to take over.
The Patriots sorely missed Michael Onwenu and Cole Strange against a tough Philadelphia interior. One matchup this weekend to watch will be Jaelan Phillips and Calvin Anderson. Depending on who can go for New England, this could be a get-right game for Miami's defensive line. pic.twitter.com/AA6OADdHDc— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) September 14, 2023
One matchup that could work in Miami’s favor is Calvin Anderson (RT) against Jaelan Phillips. Anderson is slotted as New England’s starting right tackle and he struggled to contain Eagle’s edge rushers in week one. Since Phillips typically lines up over the right tackle, he should have plenty of opportunities against Anderson. This could be a game where Phillips gets pressure early and often (after registering a sack and 7 pressures last week).
A lot of Miami Dolphins fans have a low opinion of this Patriots squad, but I think they should get ready for a competitive contest this Sunday evening. While many fans will point out that Tua is 4-0 against the New England Patriots, he’s never eclipsed 270 yards and 1 touchdown in those contests. Belichick has done as good of a job as anyone against Tagovailoa.
Then again, he hasn’t faced him since week one of 2022 and this is not the same Tagovailoa that looked overwhelmed at times in that week one matchup. The offense as well as Tua have made enormous strides over the last year. We will see more explosive plays than we are used to seeing against the Patriots, and the Dolphins will score just enough points to end their two-game road stretch undefeated. 27-24 Miami Victory.