I hope this article isn’t too late because I want Dolphins Nation to have my opinion before this game starts.
Miami Dolphins vs. New England Patriots in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
In the Dolphins’ history, especially during the Patriots Brady-era, a trip to Patriots territory normally meant a loss for Miami.
But during the Dolphins Flores era, the Dolphins lost up there in their season debut last year but won up there in their season-finale in 2019.
Two strong head coaches in Bill Belichick and Brian Flores.
Two young quarterbacks in Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa. Both are relatively unproven but coming off strong preseason performances.
Two strong defenses—The Patriots got some starters back from opting-out in 2020, and the Dolphins retooled with a few former Patriots veterans from the past.
But this game is going to come down to a chess match and exploit the opponent’s weaknesses.
The Dolphins seem to be near full-strength with their receiving corps (finally). Will Fuller won’t be around because he is suspended for Week 1 from a suspension that carries over from last year, but the Dolphins have…
A talented DeVante Parker.
Albert Wilson — who seems to be Tua’s favorite weapon of camp.
Mack Hollins has become a team captain after coming along in 2020 and emerged after a strong preseason.
And a speedy but inconsistent Jakeem Grant.
The Dolphins’ advantage here is speed and the chance to get yards after the catch— especially with Wilson.
Another advantage is that the Patriots don’t have one of the league’s best shutdown corners— Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore is on the PUP list and will be out until Week 7 with a quad injury.
Parker took advantage of Gilmore in Week 17 of 2019. And without Gilmore, I would expect one of these Dolphins receivers to have a big day.
The Patriots still have cornerback J.C. Jackson (9 interceptions in 2020), who has been impressive since signing as an undrafted free agent with the team in 2018, but even with Jackson… the Dolphins seem to have plenty of mouths to feed through the air.
However, that also depends on how much protection Tua is going to have in this game.
And therein lies the problem.
I don’t know how to feel about this offensive line of the Miami Dolphins right now.
Miami played their starters against a strong Bears defensive front in preseason Game 1 and had a rough day when it came to running the ball and tackles —Jesse Davis and Austin Jackson — had trouble with defenders coming around the edge.
We saw better protection from the O-line in their 2nd preseason game against the Falcons (Tua had a nice day), but the Falcons weren’t playing their starters in that game. And Dolphins had trouble protecting Tua from the Falcons starters in their joint practices leading up to that game.
Preseason Game 3 versus the Bengals? Yeah, we saw them protect backup quarterback Reid Sinnett who had a big day, but the Dolphins weren’t playing their starters, and neither were the Bengals.
So I’m thinking this O-line is going to be mediocre. But is it going to be mediocre that will provide a pocket, but not a lot of push? Or is it going to be the frustrating type of mediocre that will allow inconsistent protection and pressure?
Having Austin Jackson—who just returned from the COVID-list— ready for this game helps the Dolphins (that was really worrying me before this game), but I still think the Patriots will find ways to get pressure on Tua.
And I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear former Dolphins LB Kyle Van Noy’s name called a few times in this game. Van Noy had 6 sacks for the Dolphins last year and 6.5 for the Patriots in 2019. Belichick has a way of helping players get revenge on their former teams, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Van Noy finds a way to impact this game. Either by tackles for loss, pressure, or even a sack.
So the Dolphins need to get the ball out quick with some quick-passing and timing. They need to use short and intermediate routes in this game and feature their pass-catching running backs in Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed.
I would like to see Miami’s rushing attack succeed in between the tackles, but that hasn’t exactly been a strength in training camp, and Belichick typically doesn’t allow teams to run on him. So I’m not expecting huge gains on the ground for the Dolphins.
On the flip side, the Dolphins’ defensive line needs to do the same. Stuff the run and cover the running backs coming out of the backfield. And I think they are capable of doing that.
Raekwon Davis, Christian Wilkins, Zach Seiler, Adam Butler, and Emmanuel Ogbah are interchangeable pieces on the line. Elandon Roberts, Jerome Baker, and Jaelan Phillips are physical linebackers with good instincts against the run. And they have athletic linebackers who can cover like Baker, Duke Riley, and Andrew Van Ginkel to cover the Patriots RB’s. Patriots seem to have a backfield with scarier guys catching the ball and running to the outside than rushing up the middle. Dolphins need to be ready for the dump-offs and maintaining the edge.
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) September 12, 2021
As far as the quarterbacks go, I think it’s pretty even.
Tua isn’t getting the respect from the national media that he deserves, and Mac Jones is getting way too much praise. Both have looked good during their preseason, and Tua looks like he’s on par with Mac Jones.
Jones may have the height, and he’s getting praise because of his accuracy, timing, and decision-making in the Josh Daniels offense.
But Tua’s elite trait is his accuracy. He’s in tune with the new offense created by co-coordinators George Godsey and Eric Studesville. And despite his height, he has also made some really nice throws this offseason.
The statistics may differ, but based on my eyes, both look like they know what they are doing on the field.
Jones may have the better o-line, but Tua has the better weapons.
Jones has tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, but the Dolphins have a deep secondary that emphasizes coverage; a strong safety in Eric Rowe, who is known for limiting tight ends outside of Chiefs Travis Kelce and Raiders Darren Waller; and an experienced former Patriot in Jason McCourty who has seen plenty of the McDaniels offense in past years.
So I think the Dolphins will be okay against New England’s tight ends.
The Dolphins cornerbacks also have the edge against the Patriots’ receivers. Xavien Howard and Byron Jones are two of the best man-to-man corners in the NFL, and nickel CB’s Nik Needham and Justin Coleman have had a strong camp. Needham’s been a find since 2019, and Coleman is reunited with Flores and hoping to regain success.
The Dolphins’ talent in the secondary outmatches the Patriots’ talent at the receiver, including names like Jacobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor. The 2019 undrafted Meyers had 7 catches for 111 yards in his last meeting with the Dolphins, and Agholor revitalized his career after his productive season on the Raiders, but neither scared me. Neither are WR-1’s. The Dolphins should take care of them.
Overall, I think the Dolphins are strong where the Patriots are weak, and the Dolphins have enough adequate talent in their weaker areas to get by in this game. This game will be close, but the Dolphins have going for them to come out on top.
If the Patriots want to gain an edge, they have to do what they did to the Dolphins in their first meeting in 2020: use misdirection, counters, and some trickery.
Dolphins keys to victory:
— Protect Tua
— Establish enough of a rushing attack to keep the Patriots defense honest and avoid putting the entire game in Tua’s hands.
— Eliminate negative plays: Turnovers and tackles for loss/sacks.
— Take points when you can. Especially when you are ahead.
— Secondary needs to win against inferior WR’s.