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Patriots vs. Dolphins preview: 3 matchups that could decide Sunday’s game

Related: Patriots vs. Dolphins preview: News, analysis, injuries, previews, and more

NFL: SEP 12 Dolphins at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins are heading into this week 18 matchup with relatively low stakes, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing to play for.

Sure, both teams have had their playoff fate decided as New England will move on to the NFL’s tournament of champions next week, while Miami’s players will try to find somewhere other than their home city to vacation in. Though the Dolphins are only playing for pride, the wacky nature of the AFC in 2021 makes it so the Patriots could conceivably end up as any of the seven seeds in the conference. Suffice to say, New England should probably just go out there and try to win this one.

“How can they go down and win a late season game in Miami after struggling to do so throughout the last decade?” you ask me in a panicked tone. Well, they can play the matchups. New England’s roster possesses a wealth of talented players that can and should be able to win their matchups and give the team an advantage throughout the game on Sunday afternoon. Let’s take a closer look at those matchups, shall we?

Josh Uche vs. Chase Winovich

I bet you didn’t see that one coming! Before we get started on matchups that will have an impact on the game this Sunday, it’s about time we talk about a pair of Michigan men and how their contributions this weekend could determine how they are used throughout the postseason.

To this point, it doesn’t seem that the Patriots are ready to trust Josh Uche and Chase Winovich to carry a consistent role on the defense. A combination of one dimensional play, struggles with injuries, and inability to crack the code on finding what the coaching staff is looking for has led to disappointing seasons from both players. At this point, it’s too late for either man to become a consistent contributor, but what they can do is carve out a role on the Patriots rush unit.

It’s no secret that Uche and Winovich are pass rushers. What got both men drafted and keeps them on an NFL roster is their ability to get after the quarterback. At no time is it more important to have a solid group of pass rushers than the playoffs. Matthew Judon, Deatrich Wise, and Christian Barmore have made up the Patriots rush group down the stretch, but have been joined by different players throughout the season.

Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower, and Jamie Collins have all joined that group in rush situations. Facing off against an abysmal Miami offensive line, perhaps Uche or Winovich can stand out and earn that final spot as one of the Patriots rush men in obvious passing situations.

Davon Godchaux vs. Austin Jackson

The Miami Dolphins run game is —statistically— amongst the worst in the NFL. Miami ranks bottom three in yards per carry, rush yards per game, and first downs on the ground. Part of the reason for their low output is the jumbled running back room, another is the inconsistencies they’ve had with their young lineman.

Austin Jackson was drafted 18th overall in 2020 to be Tua Tagovailoa’s left tackle of the future. 29 games into his career he’s playing guard and has looked about average in doing so. Of course a part of the reason he looks just ok is because he’s playing a new position and learning on the fly. The Patriots and their run stuffing nose tackle should look to take advantage of that.

The Patriots run defense is solid and Miami’s rush offense is abysmal, so many may gloss over a matchup like this and assume it will fall in the Patriots favor. That may be true, but making sure to control the tempo of the game by forcing Miami to throw the ball against a ball hawking secondary like New England’s could prove to be a spark in the turnover battle and help New England come out on top.

Steve Belichick, Devin McCourty, and Myles Bryant vs. Jaylen Waddle

This one is a little funny looking so bare with me for a second.

The Buffalo Bills’ primary offensive success in week 16 came on crossing routes to Isaiah McKenzie. Sure, they were able to effectively run the ball and create big plays to other receivers, but when Josh Allen was in a pinch he could always find McKenzie on that crosser to bail himself out.

At first glance many blamed Myles Bryant as he was in coverage on most of those plays, but the people who know more than us pointed out how New England set Bryant up to fail as he was constantly caught in traffic without an ability to pass McKenzie’s route onto others. That starts as a coaching issue by unofficial defensive coordinator Steve Belichick and self-admittedly is worsened by a decision not to check into something different by Devin McCourty.

Here is what McCourty had to say on the matter:

“We didn’t adjust and I felt like I could’ve made some adjustments on the field that would’ve helped us. We just didn’t get it done.

So with some time to think about how to effectively cover fast slot receivers, the Patriots will now be tasked with covering the fastest of slot receivers in Jaylen Waddle. This matchup isn’t so much about a one-on-one face-off between Bryant and Waddle, but the collective effort it will take to stop one of football’s most electrifying playmakers.