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NFL 2023 Week 2 Preview & Prediction: Dolphins at Patriots

Taking a look at the Dolphins’ Week 2 Sunday Night Football matchup with the Patriots.

Miami Dolphins v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The six of you who read my “Preview & Prediction” pieces last year may be wondering, “Did I miss his Week 1 article?” No, you did not. I simply got swept out by the tide of life and wasn’t able to submit my article in time. Nevertheless, here we are with our Fins sitting at 1-0 after a thrilling road win over the Chargers last week.

For what it’s worth, I was predicting a 27-24 loss to the Chargers last week, so I’m 0-1 in the straight-up pick department. And I couldn’t be happier about that.

Let’s look at the next step on the 2023 journey.

Tale of the (No) Tape

My usual tact is to look at the key team stats for the two combatants to get a broad-stroke sense of their strengths and weaknesses. But it’s only week 2. Weird stuff happens. Teams put up numbers that may end up clear outliers just a handful of weeks down the road. For instance, I don’t see the Bengals averaging only 142 yards of offense a game, which is what they put up in week 1. So I’m not going to bother with any of that until we’re three or four weeks into the season. At this early stage, it’s much more informative to simply look at what the teams did in their season openers, to get an idea of what to expect in Foxboro this Sunday night.

The Week That Was

We know what our Dolphins did. Though the defense was under serious duress against the Chargers run game, they did just enough to keep a lid on a talented, high-powered LA offense to let the Fins offense carry the day. Eschewing a running attack that was struggling much of the day, Tua threw for 466 yards with 3 touchdowns to one interception. Nearly half of those passing yards and two of the TDs were hauled in by muscled-up hummingbird Tyreek Hill. The team showed a few flaws, but it was overall an impressive, gutsy road win with clutch plays on both sides of the ball. The Chargers are a wildly talented, likely playoff team again, so this was a great way to open the season.

The Patriots hosted the defending AFC champion Philadelphia Eagles in New England, losing 25-20. The first half was an intermittently sloppy, drizzly tale of two quarters. Though Eagles QB Jalen Hurts is usually a reliably accurate passer, the rain seemed to have him and OC Bill O’Brien a bit rattled. Despite Philly’s lackluster performance in the passing game, they returned a 70-yard interception for a touchdown to go along with a field goal and a methodical drive based around the running game to build a 16-0 lead. The Pats got it together in the second quarter, with Mac Jones mustering enough poise for a couple of nice TD drives, while the New England defense clamped down on the Eagles. Halftime score: 16-14. Although the rain stopped by the time the second half started, both offenses struggled to get much going for most of the latter 30 minutes. The Birds steadily put up three field goals, building their lead to 25-16, though Hurts and the passing game continued to struggle. The Pats managed to make a game of it by driving for a TD with 3:37 left in the game, though they failed on the 2-point conversion attempt, putting the score at 25-20. After a defensive stand that got them the ball back, the Pats offense managed to drive to the Philadelphia 19-yard line, only to come up short and turn the ball over on downs.

My main takeaways on the Pats from this game were:

  1. This is still very much a textbook Bill Belichick team. Strong, reliable defense with excellent fundamentals that applies steady pressure and rarely self-inflicts wounds.
  2. New England’s defensive line is excellent. Against one of the best offensive lines in the game, they got plenty of push, applied regular pressure, and made life very difficult for a normally potent Eagles offense. The rain in the first half helped a bit, but the defense did plenty of heavy lifting.
  3. Mac Jones isn’t bad. He isn’t good, either. This isn’t exactly news to those of us who have been watching, but it’s become rather chic among Patriots Haters Inc. to write Mac Jones off as not good enough to polish Ryan Mallett’s cleats. Jones is a perfectly mediocre starting NFL quarterback. He’s going to make some nice throws and orchestrate a couple of good drives each game. He’s also going to make several bafflingly bad decisions and throws nearly every game, as he did last week against Philly. On a related note…
  4. The Patriots passing game isn’t to be written off. This is likely due to the upgrade at OC to Bill O’Brien, who might not be Andy Reid but also isn’t the goofball brigade that was calling the offensive plays last season. They also still have reliable if not spectacular weapons like Rhamondre Stevenson and Hunter Henry to fall back on, and O’Brien does seem to know how to use them.

Dolphins Offense vs. Patriots Defense

Miami Dolphins v Los Angeles Chargers
Tua had one of his very best games as a pro against a stout Chargers defense on Sunday.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

This is a real strength vs. strength situation. New England’s defense showed last week against Philadelphia that they are stout. Their line pushed the Eagles' strong O line around with relative ease, often forcing Jalen Hurts off his spots and getting to him for three sacks on the day. Their linebacker and secondary crews covered well and rallied to the ball, assisting in keeping the Eagles to just under 250 yards of total offense. All that said and while the Eagles offense is formidable, they aren’t the Dolphins offense. Miami’s O line was very impressive against a very talented Chargers D line last week, not giving up a single sack and providing solid pass protection all game. In contrast with Philly’s passing-averse strategy last Sunday, I simply can’t see Mike McDaniel shying away from letting Tua and his two elite receivers try to continue their massive success in LA. I’m certainly not going to predict another 450+ yard passing explosion, but I see the Fins moving the ball through the air well enough. My real hope is that the running game gets more traction than we saw last week, when they really had to work to get to a modest 70 yards on the day. It will be tough against the Pats’ front seven, but I imagine they can do enough to keep the defense honest. Slight advantage: Dolphins.

Dolphins Defense vs. Patriots Offense

Neither of these groups lit the world on fire last week. The Pats put up a respectable 383 total yards of offense and 20 points, though it was quite ugly at times. Thanks to some timely big catches by a range of pass catchers and a couple of bad defensive lapses by Philadelphia, the Pats got enough through the air to keep the game close. The run game was less successful, with neither Rhamondre Stevenson nor new Patriot Ezekiel Eliot getting much going. The Dolphins’ run defense performed far worse than expected last week, getting constantly gashed by Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelley. The Fins D looked a step slow for most of the game but showed a few signs of progress late. If this happens again, I imagine the Pats will follow the same blueprint as the Chargers. New England still has a very good offensive line and two very capable RBs, so the Fins will have to step up their game and look more like the top-5 run-stuffing unit they were a year ago. The Fins defense should fare better against the Pats passing attack, which lacks the military-grade weaponry of the Chargers (which the Fins D kept in check very well). If new Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio makes the proper corrections and mixes in a few earlier blitzes, they should avoid giving up the kinds of ground yards and point total we saw last Sunday. I have reason to believe that this will be the case. Some interesting related data: Fangio has faced Belichick offenses three times since 2012:

  • 2012 as DC of the 49ers: Not a good day. That otherwise great defense got roasted for 34 points on 520 total yards, 425 yards passing and 95 on the ground. Bear in mind, however, that that Patriots team had prime Brady, Wes Welker, and very young Gronk and Aaron Hernandez on it. That Pats offense wasn’t quite the video game 2007 offense, but it was the #1 offense in the NFL that season in both points and yards. Nobody was stopping them.
  • 2018 as DC of the Bears: A deceptively solid performance. Fangio’s defense gave up a respectable 381 yards (273 passing, 108 rushing) to a strong Pats offense that was part of an eventual Superbowl-winning run. The Bears gave up 38 points, but 14 of those were due to monstrous special teams gaffes.
  • 2020 as the Denver HC: By far Vic’s finest performance of the three. His defense suffocated a Brady-less Pats offense into a paltry 288 total yards (171 passing, 117 rushing) and a scant 12 points. And that game was in New England.

While the 2023 version of the Patriots offense isn’t as bad as that 2020 group, it’s hardly what it was in the Brady years. Slight advantage: Dolphins.

Special Teams, Coaching, and Other Factors

NFL: AUG 08 Preseason - Falcons at Dolphins
The Dolphins kickers were less than stellar on Sunday - something that can bite a team when it plays the Pats.
Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Special Teams: This was still an issue for the Fins last week, though not quite as bad as I had feared it would be when watching them in the pre-season. Signing Justin Bethel and Kelvin Joseph late in the pre-season and having Brandon Jones healthy and contributing seemed to help the coverage a little. Jason Sanders hit his three field goals, but he wasn’t exactly drilling them down center. He also missed a clutch PAT, which is concerning. The Patriots, on the other hand, and true to the Belichick Era, are still very solid. Bill Belichick has always thought of special teams the way a master ninja thinks of poison in your morning cup of tea – the quiet, unsexy method to assassinate a target. Last week, they punted well, covered well, and returned well. As much as anything the Pats offense did, the New England special teams kept them in that game. Major Advantage: Patriots

Coaching: I wrote it last year about Belichick and McDaniel and I’ll write it again: Belichick is still one of the best overall coaches in the NFL, but McDaniel isn’t folding to this guy. The loss of Tom Brady has laid bare Belichick’s weaknesses as a builder of offenses and hiring manager of offensive coordinators, but he’s still Hall of Fame level in nearly every other coaching aspect of the game. It’s how he’s kept otherwise unspectacular teams around .500 and competing for Wildcard spots in the three-plus years since TB12’s departure after the 2019 season. I would love to tell you that Belichick has dropped off a cliff, but he hasn’t. That said, Mike McDaniel is not intimidated by Bill. McDaniel’s very first game as an NFL head coach was last year’s season opener against the Pats, and he coached his new team to a convincing, 20-7 choke-out victory. In the rematch, the Pats barely beat a Fins team without Tua, 23-21, and that was in Foxboro in early January. The fear that Belichick seems to inspire in many young, new head coaches simply doesn’t affect Mikey McD. While McDaniel certainly has a healthy respect for Bill, he isn’t wetting his pants over him like many have in the last twenty years. The discrepancy in coaching talent is not as dramatic as it would normally be when comparing Belichick to a second-year HC. On top of that, Vic Fangio should prove a new asset in this game. Slight advantage: Patriots.

Injuries: A weekly concern for the Dolphins going back to roughly the Pleistocene Era, the reports so far are actually promising. The Fins are pretty healthy, with the most pleasing sight being Terron Armstead actually practicing again. While Kendall Lamm did really nice work filling in at left tackle on Sunday, Armstead is top-3 in the entire league when he plays. That could be a nice boost to the run game. New England, on the other hand, has several players who have been limited in practices or completely unable to practice, including four out of five starting offensive linemen. If that offensive line doesn’t get much healthier really quickly, then the Fins D line should be able to make Mac Jones feel like he opened a Hellraiser Lament Configuration Box.

Setting and Climate: The game is in Foxboro, which obviously favors the Pats, with their rabid fans. The advantage isn’t as marked as it might normally be, though. For one, this is a mid-September game. The forecast is for cool but not cold weather in the mid-60s for this Sunday Night Football matchup. Hardly an impediment. It also looks like no rain, something that seemed to bog down the Eagles a bit in Foxboro last week. For another, the annoyingly psychotic Pats Nation has been showing more of the “depressive” side of their manic-depressive nature over the last couple of years. It’s not hard to imagine a few boo birds making noise if the Pats get off to a rough start in a game these days. Slight advantage: Patriots

X-Factor?: Mike Gesicki Revenge Game? Probably not, in my opinion. Last week, “The GZA” had a very Gesicki-like three catches for 36 yards, and you mostly forgot that he was a part of the team. It’s probably worth noting that Gesicki only played a little over 40% of the offensive snaps, presumably because he still isn’t much of a blocker and his presence telegraphs a passing play to any DC worth his salt - something that probably has Belichick grinding his teeth harder than Robert E. Lee’s late decisions in the Civil War. Gesicki probably will have one or two big games this season, but I don’t see it happening against us next week. Fangio is too smart and the Fins defensive backfield is too good for that. GZA will probably have a few catches, but I don’t see him “sending a message” to Dolphins brass by putting up huge numbers. Hunter Henry is still the bigger threat.

Prediction: Dolphins 27, Patriots 20

I doubt it will be an easy victory since Bill Belichick Patriots teams rarely surrender those, but I think our Fins can get to a 2-0 start with another road win here. I predict that the Fins surrender some field position due to special teams, but any other minor advantages the Pats have should be mitigated by Miami’s sharp coaches and elite-level talent at impact positions.

Go ahead and throw some comments down below to let us know what you expect Sunday night. Fins up!!!