The New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins are no strangers to each other, but a cloud of uncertainty hangs over both teams heading into their Week 1 meeting. In order to clear up the picture a little bit, we spoke with Kevin Nogle of Pats Pulpit’s sister site The Phinsider to get an idea of what the Patriots will have to expect from the team on Sunday.
How would you attack the Dolphins defense?
If Xavien Howard is healthy and starting, the cornerbacks for the Dolphins should be stout this year as he is paired with Byron Jones. Safeties Eric Rowe and Bobby McCain are both former cornerbacks, so they should be able to assist in coverage fairly easily. The question marks will come with multiple receiver sets, where rookie Noah Igbinoghene and second-year corner Nik Needham will have to prove they are capable of complimenting the rest of the unit. Igbonoghene has looked really good in camp, so there is hope he is able to keep that up in the season, and Needham showed flashes last year as the Dolphins were forced to rely on him due to injuries. If one or both of them are able to become a strong nickel/third cornerback for the roster, the Dolphins secondary should be a great one.
Which brings us to how to attack the team. Run the ball, and keep running it. Trading away Raekwon McMillan made sense because he does not fit the versatile, do-everything type of linebackers head coach Brian Flores covets. McMillan is a run-stuffer, and he can excel in that type of role. The Dolphins had to adjust for his lack of coverage abilities last year, and it just appears, with the addition of players like Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts, plus now a full year of second-year linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel, the coaches realized McMillan’s role would be drastically cut. All that is a way of saying, Miami moved on from their top run-stuffing linebacker, and they already had problems stopping the run last year. Maybe running more of a true 3-4 scheme, and having a second year to add players to both the defensive line and the linebackers can improve their performance against the groung attack, but until they prove they can stop it, I would say running, running, and running some more would be the best plan possible.
How would you attack the Dolphins offense?
Since we all know Bill Belichick defenses are conventional and boring, I am not sure how well the Patriots can exploit Miami’s weaknesses on offense. In all reality, though, I think Miami will struggle with the Patriots defenses simply because they are moving around and disguise everything. The Dolphins are starting a rookie left tackle and a rookie right guard, plus new additions in Ted Karras at center and Ereck Flowers at left guard. It is a revamped offensive line, with young players in key roles, so how well are they going to communicate and work together? Stunts, blitzes, shifts, and twists could all be an issue if the five guys up front are not working on the same page. Create confusion early and often, and see if the line responds.
If Ryan Fitzpatrick has time in the pocket, DeVante Parker and Preston Williams could prove to be a strong tandem at wide receiver. Force Fitzpatrick to rely on the other receivers, such as Jakeem Grant and Isaiah Ford, or turn to his check downs in tight end Mike Gesicki and running backs Jordan Howard and Matt Breida. Luckily for Patriots fans, there are some good cornerbacks in New England, so it will be an interesting matchup — especially Stephon Gilmore versus Parker.
On the ground, I have no idea what to expect from the Dolphins. Howard and Breida are new to the team as an effort to better a rushing attack that saw Fitzpatrick as Miami’s lead rusher last year and Kalen Ballage put up a historically bad 1.8 yards per carry in 2019. Part of that is going to be on the offensive line to open holes and get the runners into space, but there are a lot of questions to which we need answers.
Who are five players Patriots need to know and why?
Some names you may never have heard include players like Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Ted Karras, Eric Rowe, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Calvin Munson, and Jamal Perry (formerly Jomal Wiltz). Wait. That is just the South Beach Patriots connections list. Hold on.
Okay, here we go. Found the right list.
Rookies Austin Jackson and Solomon Kindley will be players to watch as they man the left tackle and right guard positions, respectively, in their first full-speed NFL action. I’m really excited to see how the Dolphins use seventh-round draft pick Malcolm Perry, the Navy quarterback who was drafted as a running back and is listed as a wide receiver on the depth chart. He has the ability to be played in multiple ways, coming out of a triple-option offense in college, and the Dolphins seem like they are willing to move him around to create mismatches. On that same note, Lynn Bowden Jr, the Las Vegas Raiders’ third-round pick for whom Miami just traded, will be someone the Dolphins look to use in multiple ways, but his having just arrived to the team could mean he is still in the playbook-learning phase as compared to being ready for game day. On defense, Davon Godchaux is a player who is not a recognized name outside of Miami, but he is a strong nose tackle/defensive tackle and he is going to be the key to Miami’s defense, anchoring the middle and providing freedom for the rest of the defense.
The Patriots will win on Sunday because…
The Dolphins are young and still trying to find themselves. To be transparent, I think the Dolphins can pull off this upset, simply because no one really knows what to expect from them yet. The same can be said about the Patriots, though, as we enter the Cam Newton era. Confuse the offensive line and force Miami to prove they can both run that ball and stop the run, and the Patriots could have success. Or maybe Miami is ready to do those things, and the offensive line is cohesive despite the lack of a preseason, and the Dolphins are ready to run toward the top. It feels like a coin toss on what kind of team we will see from Miami this week.