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Dolphins vs. Patriots preview: Insider look at New England from Pats Pulpit perspective

The Dolphins face their AFC East rivals, the New England Patriots, for the first time in 2023. To get a closer look at this year’s version of the Patriots, we turned to Pats Pulpit.

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The Miami Dolphins head up the East Coast on Sunday to face the New England Patriots in primetime. A Sunday Night Football AFC East showdown is always a lot of fun, but who exactly are the 2023 Patriots, a version of the team with an actual offensive coordinator this season. How will Bill O’Brien’s offensive system attack Miami this weekend? Will he resort to the ground attack, a scheme that worked well for the Los Angeles Chargers last week but does not seem to be the Patriots’ offensive strength? How should the Miami offense attack the Patriots’ defense? And how are former Dolphins players, wide receiver DeVante Parker and tight end Mike Gesicki, being used this year?

To answer these questions, and more, we turned to SB Nation’s Patriots team site, Pats Pulpit, for some assistance. Taylor Kyles was kind enough to sit down with me and answer my Patriots questions.

Miami’s biggest issue during Week 1 was stopping the Los Angeles Chargers’ rushing attack, which put up 233 yards and a 5.8 yards per carry average. The Patriots, however, were only able to put up 76 yards on 22 carries against the Philadelphia Eagles. Was it Philadelphia that slowed the Patriots’ ground attack last week or something internal to New England and would you expect the offense to have more success running the ball this weekend?

Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

I’d say it was a bit of both. The Eagles’ deep front didn’t make things easy, but the Patriots’ execution wasn’t where it needed to be. Left tackle Trent Brown, who is currently in concussion protocol, had a rough outing, and second-level defenders were coming downhill unblocked. Rookie guards Atonio Mafi and Sidy Sow got stood up multiple times, with Mafi in particular struggling to stay on his feet and sustain blocks.

That said, most of New England’s successful carries were a result of Sow’s blocking, which is unfortunate given he’s also in concussion protocol. They also popped some outside runs behind tight end Pharaoh Brown and with Hunter Henry as a lead blocker.

It will be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien and offensive line coach Adrian Klemm overcome potentially having backups at left tackle, left guard, right guard, and potentially even center. They’re great coaches, but I wouldn’t put my money on the Patriots’ ground game this week, even after the Dolphins’ disappointing performance in LA.

In recent years, it feels like the Patriots like to start slowly in a game, then try to make a comeback late. Against the Eagles, they were down 16-0 very early, but got back into the game before losing 25-20. Why do they start slowly and how do they stop making themselves dig out of holes?

Houston Texans v New England Patriots Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

The Patriots always preach starting fast, but they definitely trend in the opposite direction. Last season their slow starts could be chalked up to coaching and poor preparation. Against the Eagles, they had a worst-case scenario on their first drive when a high pass in the rain popped up in the air and into the arms of Darius Slay for a pick-six. This was followed by flat-out poor execution when Ezekiel Elliott fumbled on the next drive. The ensuing possessions ended in consecutive 3rd & long stops, then a JuJu Smith-Schuster drop that would’ve been the offense’s first late-down conversion of the game.

Bill O’Brien’s scheme helped generate the momentum that helped them climb back, but this offense’s margin for error was already slim with a depleted offensive line and no DeVante Parker, who’s been their most consistent big-play threat. Not only does their execution need to improve, but the turnovers and self-inflicted errors (three penalties) need to be eliminated.

As they were trying to make their comeback last week, the Patriots defense stepped up big time. After allowing a field goal and a touchdown in the first quarter (the other Eagles’ touchdown was on an interception return), the Eagles were held to just nine points the rest of the game. The second-quarter possessions for Philadelphia saw four three-and-out drives and the half-ending one-play drive; the Eagles gained a total of two yards on five possessions. Even their touchdown drive was only a 26-yard possession after they recovered a fumble. The second half featured longer drives by Philadelphia, but they either ended in a turnover, a turnover on downs, or a field goal. New England’s defense came to play. What worked so well against the Eagles and how would you attack the Patriots’ if you were designing Miami’s offense?

Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

One of the biggest keys, as it is in any game, was the Patriots winning on deep passes. Jalen Hurts went 0-3 on throws that traveled 20+ air yards, with Jonathan Jones providing tight coverage on two and rookies Christian Gonzalez and Marte Mapu smothering a shot to A.J. Brown. The Dolphins are one of the only teams that pose a bigger vertical threat with Tyreek Hill’s unmatched speed, so there’s no guarantee old foe Jon Jones, who was competitive but got lucky at times in their matchups last season, will be able to replicate that efficiency.

Besides sound coverage, New England’s defensive front dominated one of the league’s best offensive lines. Jalen Hurts was under pressure on over 30% of his dropbacks, with Matt Judon, Josh Uche, Deatrich Wise, and rookie Keion White (who beat Lane Johnson twice and put Jordan Mailata on skates) bringing consistent heat. Tua’s quick release will help mitigate their effectiveness, but if the Patriots can create 3rd & long situations as consistently as they did against Philly, it could be a long day for Miami’s front even if Terron Armstead is healthy enough to play.

There are several former Dolphins players on the roster for the Patriots, including our old friend wide receiver DeVante Parker and newcomer to New England tight end Mike Gesicki. Parker is already dealing with injuries this season. Do you expect him to play? How has Gesicki looked in camp and what kind of role does he have in the Patriots’ offense?

Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Parker was listed as limited in Wednesday’s practice, and given how important he is I wouldn’t be surprised if they take the cautious approach this week.

Gesicki was making highlight grabs on a daily basis midway through summer’s sessions before suffering a shoulder injury that kept him out for the rest of camp. Last week, O’Brien used him in the slot, particularly out of empty, but also took some snaps as the outside-most receiver at times. He was targeted underneath three times and converted each time, but has yet to be unleashed downfield.

According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Dolphins are road favorites in this game by three points and the point total is set at 47 points. Do those seem right? Would you take the over or the under on Mac Jones throwing for 232.5 yards? Tua Tagovailoa for 264.5 yards?

Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

If the Patriots had a healthy offensive line, I’d say these were more than fair given Miami’s coaching and talent. But with David Andrews looking like the only reliable veteran who will be playing on Sunday, this could be a very tough outing for New England’s offense in terms of scoring. I think their defense will keep things competitive and prevent Tyreek Hill from taking over the game, but Mac Jones will have to get the ball out very quickly and as I mentioned earlier, it’s unlikely their run game is much of a factor.

I’d take the over on Mac Jones’ passing yards since his squad led the NFL in yards after the catch last week and the over on Tua’s passing yards, as he put up 270 on New England last season and looked fantastic last week. That said, I don’t think Miami will find itself in the end zone more than a couple of times.

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