clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Minnesota Vikings v Miami Dolphins

Filed under:

Meet the Dolphins: Patriots go up against a familiar opponent in Week 17

New England will host its AFC East rivals at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.

Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

The New England Patriots’ backs are against the proverbial wall: if they cannot earn a victory on Sunday, they are officially eliminated form playoff contention and will finish the year with a losing record. To prevent this from happening — at least for this week — they need to beat a familiar opponent.

The Miami Dolphins are coming to town for the second matchup between the two AFC East rivals this season. The first one was won 20-7 by Miami, and the team of first-year head coach Mike McDaniel has been through some ups and downs since.

The streakiest team in football, the Dolphins started the season by winning three straight before suffering back-to-back-to-back losses to drop to 3-3. At that point, they started winning again — a lot: Miami won five in a row, at one point even taking the division lead and climbing as high as the second seed in the conference.

What followed, however, was a four-week stretch of defeat that left Miami with a 8-7 record and as the final wild card team in the AFC.

  • Record: 8-7 (2nd AFC East)
  • Offense: 24.3 points/game (9th), 370.8 yards/game (5th), 0.072 EPA/play (5th)
  • Defense: 24.7 points/game (27th), 353.8 yards/game (21st), 0.033 EPA/play (24th)
  • Scoring differential: -5 (13th)
  • Turnover differential: -5 (t-28th)

For several years, the Dolphins were carried by a stout defense that would help put the offense into favorable situations. This year, however, is a reversal of sorts: while Miami’s offense has been among the best in football, the defense has been a below-average unit.

One area in particular that has hurt the team is pass defense. Miami is ranked near the bottom of the league in passing yards (3,670; 28th) and touchdowns (25; 28th) given up, and is not faring much better in interceptions (8, 26th) and EPA per dropback (0.095; 27th). The volume stats can be deceiving, though, because teams had to rely on the passing game to keep up with a high-powered offense.

With wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle leading the way, Miami has been among the most efficient teams in football moving the ball — especially through the air. There have been some hiccups tied to turnovers, but the Dolphins’ aerial attack has been as potent as any in the league. It’s NFL-leading 7.6 net yards per attempt speaks for itself.

With all that said, let’s now jump right to the Dolphins’ active roster to get to know each of the players currently with the Patriots’ Week 17 opponent.

(Note: The 53-man roster is up-to-date as of Thursday 8 a.m. ET; *denotes projected starter)

Quarterbacks

  • Tua Tagovailoa (1)
  • Teddy Bridgewater* (5)
  • Skylar Thompson (19)

While third-year man Tua Tagovailoa is Miami’s nominal starter at the quarterback position, the former first-round draft pick is expected to miss this week’s game against the Patriots. Tagovailoa, who has gone 259-for-400 as a passer (64.8%) for 3,548 yards with 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions, has entered concussion protocol for a second time this season.

With him out, the Dolphins are preparing veteran backup Teddy Bridgewater as their new starting QB. The 30-year-old, who is in his first year in Miami, has some experience running the McDaniel-led offense: he has seen action in four games with one start, completing 37 of 60 throws (61.7%) for 522 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions.

Miami also has rookie Skyler Thompson on its roster, who also has one start under his belt already. The expectation, however, is that he will serve as QB2 and only enter the game in case of injury or Bridgewater struggling mightily.

Offensive backfield

  • Raheem Mostert* (31 | KR)
  • Jeff Wilson Jr. (23)
  • Alec Ingold (30 | FB)
  • Salvon Ahmed (26 | ST)

The majority of opportunities at the running back position have gone to Raheem Mostert this year. Mostert, who missed virtually all of 2021 after suffering a knee injury in the season opener, has carried the ball a team-high 161 times for 791 yards and three touchdowns. He also has caught 21 passes for an additional 150 yards and another TD — ranking third on the team in yards from scrimmage and scores.

Jeff Wilson is the top rotational option alongside him. Playing six games since his arrival via trade from San Francisco, Wilson has touched the ball 60 times for 336 total yards and four touchdowns as well.

Miami will also give fullback Alec Ingold regular opportunities — he has played 42.7 percent of offense snaps so far this season — while keeping Salvon Ahmed as emergency depth and special teams presence.

NFL: SEP 18 Dolphins at Ravens Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Wide receivers

  • Tyreek Hill* (10)
  • Jaylen Waddle* (17)
  • Trent Sherfield* (14)
  • Cedrick Wilson Jr. (11 | PR)
  • River Cracraft (85)
  • Erik Ezukanma (18)

The Dolphins’ receiving group is a two-man show: Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle are the top dogs at the position, and one of the most potent receiving duos in all of football.

Hill is the No. 1 in terms of playing time (75.9%), targets (158), receptions (113) and receiving yards (1,632) and continues to be one of the most productive pass catchers in the entire NFL. His receiving average of 108.8 yards per game is ranked second in the league behind only Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson.

His running mate, Waddle, has been no less impressive. Catching 67 passes for 1,260 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns, he is ranked eighth in the league with an average gain of 84.0 yards per game. Waddle also score a TD in the Dolphins’ opening day win over New England.

Behind the two, Trent Sherfield (28-387-2) is the next option and a starting-caliber wideout in his own right. Cedrick Wilson Jr. (12-136) and River Cracraft (8-97-2) are rotational options at this point.

Tight ends

  • Durham Smythe (81)
  • Mike Gesicki (88)
  • Hunter Long (84)
  • Tanner Conner (80)

While no longer a focal point in the Dolphins’ offense due to the presence of Hill and Waddle, Mike Gesicki is still a productive player. He has caught 26 passes this year for 298 yards and four touchdowns. However, the starting role he held for the last two years now actually belongs to somebody else.

Durham Smythe is leading the team in snaps this season, despite posting significantly worse numbers than Gesicki. He has caught just 11 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown, but plays a viable role as a blocker.

Offensive tackles

  • Terron Armstead* (72 | LT)
  • Brandon Shell* (71 | RT)
  • Greg Little (75)
  • Eric Fisher (79)

The Tyreek Hill trade stole most of the headlines this offseason, but Miami also made a splash in free agency: the team brought Terron Armstead aboard via a five-year, $75 million contract. The deal has paid off, with Armstead looking very good at the left tackle position. Through 15 games this year, he has been credited with only one surrendered sack and 15 total pressures — just the fifth-highest such number on the team (per Pro Football Focus).

The starting spot opposite Armstead has been a bit of a revolving door with both Brandon Shell and Greg Little seeing action there. Shell has given up a team-leading 31 quarterback pressures, but he is expected to again draw the start this Sunday.

Interior offensive line

  • Robert Jones* (65 | LG)
  • Connor Williams* (58 | C)
  • Robert Hunt* (68 | RG)
  • Liam Eichenberg (74)
  • Michael Deiter (63)

The Dolphins interior O-line received a boost this week, with Liam Eichenberg returning from injured reserve. While the sophomore did start the season at left guard, it would not be a surprise to see him play a backup role behind the surprisingly solid Robert Jones and right guard Robert Hunt this week.

At center, Connor Williams will hold down the fort. He has played all 921 offensive snaps so far this season, giving up just 10 quarterback pressures all year.

Interior defensive line

  • Christian Wilkins* (94)
  • Raekwon Davis* (98)
  • Zach Sieler* (92)
  • John Jenkins (77)
  • Justin Zimmer (96)

Led by former first-round draft pick Christian Wilkins, Miami fields a talented defensive line. Wilkins is the No. 1 option both in terms of snaps and general performance, but the team has also received solid contributions out of Raekwon Davis and Zach Sieler.

Sieler in particular proved to be a problem for New England in Week 1 and has since developed into one of Miami’s most disruptive players.

Green Bay Packers v Miami Dolphins Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

Defensive edge

  • Jaelan Phillips* (15)
  • Bradley Chubb* (2)
  • Melvin Ingram (6)
  • Andrew Van Ginkel (43 | ST)

Even with Emmanuel Ogbah and Trey Flowers on injured reserve, Miami still boasts a potent edge group led by three former first-round draft picks.

Jaelan Phillips is the most productive player out of the three, leading the team with seven sacks and two fumble recoveries. The sophomore is more than just a pass rusher, though, and has also seen regular action as an edge-setter in the running game.

The starting spot opposite him was originally manned by Ogbah, but has since gone to ex-Denver Broncos outside linebacker Bradley Chubb. Miami acquired him ahead of this year’s trade deadline, and Chubb has been a steady contributor ever since. While registering “only” 2.5 sacks in his seven games, he has proven himself a player capable of disrupting an opposing offense.

The third spot in the rotation belongs to Ingram, who is ranked second on the team with six sacks and has also recovered three fumbles — including one for a touchdown in Week 1 against New England. Despite already being 33 years old, he can be a problem.

The fourth edge on the team, Andrew Van Ginkel, is primarily a special teams option; his 11 total tackles rank first on the team. He has, however, also intercepted a pass in his 274 defensive snaps.

Off-the-ball linebackers

  • Jerome Baker* (55)
  • Elandon Roberts* (52)
  • Duke Riley (45 | ST)
  • Samuel Eguavoen (49 | ST)
  • Channing Tindall (41)

Miami’s off-the-ball linebacker group is led by ol’ reliable Jerome Baker and ex-Patriot Elandon Roberts.

The 26-year-old Baker has started all 15 of Miami’s games this year and has registered 92 tackles to go along with four sacks and a forced fumble. Roberts, meanwhile, has notched a team-high 93 tackles and 3.5 sacks.

Duke Riley and Samuel Eguavoen are primarily backup and special teams options, with rookie Channing Tindall a developmental player behind them.

Cornerbacks

  • Xavien Howard* (25)
  • Kader Kohou* (28)
  • Keion Crossen (27 | ST)
  • Justin Bethel (20 | ST)
  • Noah Igbinoghene (9)

Miami’s cornerback group is led by Pro Bowler Xavien Howard, who is in the middle of a solid season — but one not quite on the same level as his previous ones in terms of making game-changing plays. One of the best ball-hawks in the league the last few years, Howard has caught just one interception this season. He has also recovered a pair of fumbles, though, including one that resulted in a touchdown.

Despite his lack of interceptions, Howard is still a very good defensive back and Miami’s top option at the position. The starting spots next to him are now occupied by undrafted rookie Kader Kohou and another former Patriot, Keion Crossen: with Byron Jones and Nik Needham both on injured reserve, the two have established themselves as Howard’s primary colleagues in base and nickel sets.

The other two cornerbacks on the roster are also worth mentioning. Justin Bethel, another ex-Patriot, is the team’s leader in special teams snaps. Former first-round draft pick Noah Igbinoghene, meanwhile, has been relegated to emergency duty.

Safeties

  • Jevon Holland* (8)
  • Eric Rowe* (21)
  • Verone McKinley III (32)
  • Elijah Campbell (22 | ST)
  • Clayton Fejedelem (42 | ST)

Miami has a solid safety corps led by second-year man Jevon Holland. Holland is the team leader with two interceptions, has forced a fumble, and picked up 1.5 sacks as well as 81 tackles. He is a very good player capable of lining up all over the formation and making big plays — something New England quarterback Mac Jones found out in Week 1: Holland intercepted a pass to end the Patriots’ first possession of the game.

The top option alongside him is former New England defensive back Eric Rowe, who took over as a starter after Brandon Jones was lost for the year in October. Another undrafted rookie, Verone McKinley, has also seen regular action.

Specialists

  • Jason Sanders (7 | K | KO)
  • Thomas Morstead (4 | P | H)
  • Blake Ferguson (44 | LS)

Miami’s special teams operation has played a lot of football, albeit not together. Place kicker Jason Sanders is entering his fifth year as a Dolphin, while long snapper Blake Ferguson is in his third. Ferguson has been solid so far, but Sanders has been a bit hit-or-miss: he has made just 23 of 28 field goal attempts (82.1%) and also come up short on three of his 41 extra point tries (92.7%).

The most experienced member of the group is 14-year veteran Thomas Morstead, who joined Miami earlier this year. Morstead has punted the ball 53 times, allowing an average of 5.0 yards per punt return.

Two-Minute Drill

Ex-Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to begin broadcasting career in 2024

Patriots Analysis

What hiring Adrian Klemm to their coaching staff means for the Patriots

Two-Minute Drill

Watch: Patriots linebacker Matthew Judon was mic’d up at the Pro Bowl