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5 questions with The Phinsider: What can the Patriots expect from Tua Tagovailoa?

Related: Patriots vs. Dolphins game plan: How New England’s offense will find success in Week 1

New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The New England Patriots will open their 2022 regular season against a familiar opponent: they have traveled to Miami to take on the Dolphins on Sunday. Not only are the two teams AFC East rivals, they also will kick off the season for a third straight year.

In order to get a better understanding of New England’s Week 1 opponent, we exchanged questions with Kevin Nogle of Pats Pulpit’s sister site The Phinsider — the SB Nation community for all things Miami Dolphins. Our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook have all of the odds for this week’s games, and our answers about the Patriots can be found right here.

Kevin’s, meanwhile, were as follows.

1.) Tua Tagovailoa has shredded the Patriots’ soft coverages with RPOs and quick-hitters, but struggled with turnovers and decision-making against press and pressure. How much progress have you seen from him when throwing versus tight man or facing heat?

Pressure is definitely a concern still. Tagovailoa is an extremely accurate quarterback who throws the ball well when he is given time. He has definitely struggled when the pressure gets to him, and given the state of Miami’s offensive line last year, he was under pressure a lot. It is definitely a part of his game that has to improve this year. The good thing is, he seems to be improved in every other aspect of his game, so there is no reason to think performing under pressure will not be another area of improvement. The offensive line should be better this year — not great, but better — and that will definitely help. The offense is designed for rollouts and play action, so again, there are systems in place to try to minimize pressure. Plus, there will be plenty of quick passes taking advantage of the speed of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. We should see better performance even if it is just because there is lessened pressure on Tagovailoa.

As for throwing into tight man, I think part of that was the pressure and part of that was the system. Last year, Tagovailoa was given a playbook that had single reads, then he had to either bail out or take the sack. It led to passes being forced to a receiver simply because he was the only option in the scheme. That should be taken care of this year. Add in that Tagovailoa seems more confident in himself, in the system, and, his hip - no matter how many times we all heard his hip was healthy and ready, there had to be a confidence issue that probably took time as well - so there is reason to believe he will correct some of the mistakes from last year.

2.) Dolphins fans seem optimistic about a Year 2 jump from Jaylen Waddle, but he was mostly a threat after the catch last season. Do you see Waddle getting more opportunities to expand on his and Tua’s downfield flashes?

Absolutely, if only because Tyreek Hill will be the focal point for the defense. I think Waddle will be able to feast in this offense as defenses look to limit Hill’s impact on the game. It is going to be difficult for defenses to be able to match up to Hill and Waddle, and if you add in Cedrick Wilson, Jr. and Mike Gesicki you have a potent offense that can create mismatches. I think you will see Waddle and Hill getting a lot of short work, then open up the top of the defense using their speed to their advantage. That will open up the middle for Wilson and Gesicki. I think there is a desire from fans to always see the deep ball, and I think we will — Tagovailoa is a better thrower of the deep pass than for which a lot of people give him credit - but I think, as with most offenses in the league, the Dolphins are going to use the shorter, quick passes to get the ball into the hands of their playmakers and let them make plays. The deep ball will be there, but so will the bubble screen and the slant.

3.) Are the Fins benefiting from head coach Mike McDaniel’s switch to more FB-centric zone concepts after being a TE-dominant gap scheme under previous HC Brian Flores? How have the additions of Terron Armstead and Connor Williams, as well as new, solidified roles for Liam Eichenberg and Austin Jackson, translated on the field?

The ground game struggled all summer, at least until breaking out against the Philadelphia Eagles’ depth players in the final preseason game. We really do not know what to expect from it yet. Alec Ingold coming in as the fullback should give the team the lead blocker that McDaniel wants, but he was limited for much of the summer so we did not really see how he fits into the scheme. The running game should be better, but right now, we just do not know for sure. Hopefully, we will see what this scheme really looks like on Sunday.

Armstead did not workout much during the summer as the team looked to keep him healthy for the year. That said, there should be no issues at left tackle. Williams has transitioned from guard to center; there have been some issues with the snap, especially in shotgun, but he has played well for the most part. Eichenberg seems to be settling in at left guard and should grow into a solid player there. Jackson has been the pleasant surprise of the group thus far. After struggling in his rookie season, Jackson has returned this year looking comfortable at right tackle, able to block on Tagovailoa’s blindside throughout the preseason. Of course, the intensity is about to jump, so we will have to see him prove it in the regular season, but the flashes have been there.

As I said earlier, the goal for the Dolphins offense is really just to be solid. They were not good last year, so even being anywhere near average is a huge step forward for the unit. If they can be solid, the rest of the offense should be able to function.

4.) Jaelan Phillips had an outstanding rookie season after being one of the 2020 draft’s most highly-touted pass rushers. After flying a bit under the radar last year despite a productive season, do you see Phillips having a breakout 2022 campaign?

I do. I am high on Phillips heading into this season. He looks the part of a pass rusher. During the preseason, he looked like Jason Taylor. I am not saying he is on the trajectory of being a Hall of Fame edge rusher, but his body, his moves, it reminds me of Taylor. Phillips has 20 pounds on Taylor, so he is not as slight, but he has the speed and the moves that feel like Taylor. He should get more playing time this year and he should be able to put up the numbers.

5.) The Dolphins secondary’s size, speed and heavy use of man coverage make them one of the most formidable units in the league. But man coverage can also present mismatches if the defense isn’t careful. Which player(s) do you see the Patriots offense exploiting this week? Who will step up for Byron Jones?

You are exactly on the biggest concern for the Dolphins right now. The depth at cornerback is a giant question mark, and we are not exactly sure what we are going to see out of them. Xavien Howard will still be X, picking off passes and shutting down a receiver throughout the game. Nik Needham has grown from undrafted free agent into a solid nickel cornerback - but with Jones out for at least the first four games, he could be asked to slide outside. After that, it is all potential. Keion Crossen is a good special teams player. Kader Kohou is an undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M-Commerce. Noah Igbinoghene is a former first-round pick who, despite entering his third year in the league is still only 22 years old, but also plays like a 22 year old. There are questions surrounding all of them. Someone has to step up, but until they prove themselves, targeting any of them has to be Mac Jones’ first read.