After a tough, close loss to the now 2-0 Philadelphia Eagles, the Patriots are right back at it against another elite opponent, the Miami Dolphins. Last Sunday, they were in a mega shootout with the Los Angeles Chargers, coming out on top 36-34 despite giving up a league-high 233 yards on the ground, along with 5.8 a carry, which was second most. Afterward, new Dolphins DC Vic Fangio proclaimed that he "didn't have his guys ready" to defend the Chargers run game, putting the blame firmly on himself. It's a good development for the Patriots, given their struggles trying to get the run game off the ground against Philly.
While the Patriots have played Dolphins' quarterback Tua Tagovailoa well in three starts against him, they've yet to win a game where he started for Miami. Not for the lack of effort, mind you. Last year, the Patriots held the Miami offense to just 13 points and one touchdown, leaving the other for the defense, not to mention another good outing to start the 2021 season. Is 2023 the year the Patriots can beat the 'We can't beat Tua Tagovailoa allegations'? And will we have to wait longer than this weekend to find out?
Date: Sunday, September 10
Start Time: 8:20 EST
Location: Foxborough, Massachusetts
Stadium: Gillette Stadium
TV Info: NBC (Mike Tirico and Cris Collinsworth on the call)
Patriots Uniform Info: Pat Patriot Throwbacks
On the day, the Dolphins faced 40 runs from the Chargers last Sunday and surrendered a league-high amount of yards. Even if you were to remove the 55-yard run Austin Ekeler had, they would still be third worst in total yards with 178 and bottom nine in yards per carry with 4.56. So what went wrong? Let's start by looking at that 55-yard pickup.
Miami doesn't necessarily play this wrong. The issue is that they're outnumbered on the line 7-to-five, despite David Long filling in the left side A gap and Jerome Baker saving Christian Wilkins from a double team. The problem is that Raekwon Davis, who's at nose tackle here, ended up getting doubled for a split second before getting piledriven by left guard Jamaree Salyer. That, paired with the blocking on Wilkins by Trey Pipkins, opens up a crater between the hashes, and Austin Ekeler takes care of the rest.
There were a lot of wide-alignment four and five-man fronts from the Dolphins with either six or seven in the box. While that Ekeler run was the only big one they gave up all game, they were consistently giving up gains of four-to-six yards on the ground, which feels like an even bigger indicator that things weren't going well. Miami has the horses up front to make things difficult, Fangio didn't adjust to what Chargers' OC Kellen Moore was doing. If he wants to run two high safeties the whole game again, Bill O'Brien should run it 40+ times if that's what it takes. Force him to bring that extra man down into the box and open things up in the passing game.
Moving onto the pass rush, Miami was just below midpack in creating pressure in Week 1 at just 22.2%, but their three sacks were just outside of 10th best. The reason I bring this up is Bradley Chubb, whom Miami paid a premium for at last year's trade deadline. In nine regular-season games with the 'Fins, the former No. 3 overall pick has just 2.5 sacks, 16 pressures, and two tackles for loss. It's fair to say that Miami wasn't hoping for this after trading for him and then giving him a long-term extension. Chubb is a guy they need to get going off the edge and quickly.
One final note about the Dolphins' defense last week. They let up 9-of-15 third-down attempts (60%) to the Chargers, only the Seattle Seahawks were worse. Although Fangio was money when he needed to be at Sofi Stadium, he needs to put his guys in a much better start on Sunday because he's probably not going to get away with giving up 30-plus again.
The Dolphins and Patriots played at 4:25 last weekend, and you may have missed it, but Tua Tagovailoa was cash money in Los Angeles. 466 yards, 215 of which were to Tyreek Hill, three touchdowns, one pick, and a passer rating of 110 on the dot. He made several impressive throws in this one, none more so than this dart to Tyreek Hill.
The one thing to note here is how quickly Hill gets to max speed from a standstill. That's hard for any defensive back in the league to keep up with. Considering that this was also a 3rd&10 down four, this was a preposterous throw by Tua. It literally couldn't have been better. The Chargers had no answers all day for the speed of Hill and Jaylen Waddle, so it was some happy hunting downfield. Here was one of Waddle's big gainers.
This all goes wrong for Los Angeles and old friend of the program, J.C. Jackson, before the ball gets snapped. You may not notice it at first glance, but his inside shoulder shades Waddle's outside, giving him complete inside leverage. That paired with Jackson playing just enough off of him, gave Waddle all the room in the world to make something happen after the catch, and oh boy, does he. Oddly enough, Waddle hasn't had a game with more than 70 receiving yards against the Patriots in four tries, and his average is 52 yards a game with three total touchdowns. He could be seeing a lot of Christian Gonzalez on Sunday, so keep an eye on that.
Another big reason the Dolphins' passing game was as good as it ended up being was their offensive line. They allowed pressure on just 11.1 percent of Tua's dropbacks, fourth best in the NFL. A surprising outcome, given that the Chargers employ Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack, but give credit to a Miami offensive line. They didn't open up much in the run game, with that said. 70 yards on the ground for the Dolphins' run game for 3.5 per rush, tied for 11th worst in football with the Patriots and Lions. It'll be some tough sledding again, but watch out for Devon Achane, who's likely making his NFL debut this week. He has unreal speed and burst.
New England Patriots
You have to be thrilled with where the Patriots' defense is right now, but they could be without a significant piece this weekend in the form of Jonathan Jones. He missed the final practice of the week, which is typically a good indication that he may be out, and if so, that's massive. He's been their Tyreek Hill defender for the better part of the last four years, and that would mean of the Patriots' top four corners, just Christian Gonzalez and Marcus Jones are ready to go. Naturally, Jones, with his size and speed, is a formidable option to stick with Hill, and he can roam with him no matter where he lines up. Remember what he did against Davante Adams? (4 Catches, 9 Targets, 28 Yards)
While a Jon Jones absence would complicate things in the secondary, the Patriots have some tweeners who can step in and give them valuable snaps. Namely, Jalen Mills and Myles Bryant, the latter of whom had a great game against the Eagles, believe it or not. Bryant talked this week about it being a "game of angles" tackling Hill and Waddle, something he knows a little something about. Just ask A.J. Brown.
Speaking of guys who had great games in Week 1, Jabrill Peppers mentioned that the key to defending Hill is to up the physicality against him, which is correct. You'll never be able to blank Hill, but you can try to literally knock him off his game. Remember, he had eight drops last season. If you can get him thinking about contact after the catch, you're in business. My best guess is it'll be over-the-top bracket coverage on Hill all day, with Gonzalez going 1-on-1 with Waddle. If any of Drew Smythe, Braxton Berrios, or River Cracraft beat you, so be it, but I'll take my chances.
Based on last week's performance, I wouldn't anticipate the Patriots pass rush to fall into the pitfalls that the Chargers did. Matt Judon and Keion White were each one pressure off from equaling the Chargers team total in Week 1, and then their teammates tacked on another 10 for 14 total against the Eagles. White and Josh Uche effectively being spot pass rushers and doing the type of damage they did against the Eagles is remarkable. White was the best Patriot in that game, for my money. Keep the number 15 in mind as well. That's the number of pressures the Patriots got against the Dolphins in Week 1 of last season, and I wouldn't be shocked if a repeat performance is in order.
Despite the wretched opening four or five drives for Mac Jones and co, the Patriots' offense made some pretty good hay in the passing game against the best we'll see the Eagles secondary all year. More importantly than that, they got just about everyone involved. Nine total players received at least three targets, and the only one ending with no grabs was Kayshon Boutte. Give a lot of credit to McCorkle. It's one thing to scheme things up for guys, but another to try and spread the wealth around while not trying to force the issue.
With the way the running game was neutralized, this was only the second time that Jones attempted over 50 passes and the first in nearly two full seasons. With that said, his career-high 18 first downs picked up through the air shouldn't come as a surprise. Not the best game of his career statistically, but considering the opponent, this was the best outing out of McCorkle in quite some time. Also, do with this info what you will.
While the running game was all but shut down due to a ferocious Eagles front, the Pats were down multiple starters on the interior offensive line, and Philly will make plenty of teams look bad on the ground. The good news is that there's no indication that Cole Strange and Michael Onwenu will miss this weekend (yet). The bad news is that Trent Brown and Sidy Sow have been dealing with concussions this week, so they'll likely be out. So the question is now this. Would Bill Belichick put Michael Onwenu out at right tackle, flip Calvin Anderson over to left tackle, and put Atonio Mafi in at right guard? Given the circumstances right now, I wouldn't put that past him. If not, you'll likely see one of the two late-camp pickups, Tyrone Wheatley Jr. or Vederian Lowe, line up at one of the tackle spots. But maybe tackle isn't the only option?
Regardless, the Patriots need 'Mondre and Zeke to show up on the ground this week. If Miami is going to roll out in these light boxes, they need to make them feel it, and the sooner, the better. Lastly, relating to any insider info Mike Gesicki may have, he says he's no help on the defensive scheme, but he never was asked about the offense. Either way, I imagine he knows a good deal about Mike McDaniel's offense, and his knowledge has been nice to have in the building.
Points Spread: MIA -3 (-105) | NE +3 (-115)
Moneyline: MIA (-154) | NE (+132)
Over/Under: O 46.5 (-110) | U 46.5 (-110)
Lines via FanDuel as of Saturday, September 16
This weekend will mark the fifth time the Mike McDaniel-led Dolphins are a road favorite. In those four games last year, the Dolphins covered just once, and it was by a half-point over the Lions. Their three ATS losses were exclaimed by a blowout loss to the Jets as a three-point favorite, even with Tua out. Miami also had a negative average point differential in those four games with -5.5. This also marks the fifth time the Patriots have been a home dog since last year, touting a 0-4 ATS record and a negative average point diff of -8.5. Safe to say, the risk team over at FanDuel did their research looking at this spread.
From a pure football standpoint, this Dolphins team is still clearly working things out on defense, while the Patriots have no such issues. They've played Tua pretty well in the past, even though they've yet to win a game against him. I have a good feeling about the Patriots, both ATS and outright, plus the over in this one.
Tua's undefeated streak against the Patriots isn't going to last forever. What better time, place, or uniforms to wear than on Sunday Night Football in Foxborough with the Pat Patriot Reds? Safe to say that the Patriots matchup much better on the defensive side of the ball with the Dolphins than the Chargers do, and I believe they'll have an easier time (albeit not a ton) working on this Dolphins' defense than what they saw against Philadelphia. This feels like a game that probably has the bulk of the points going into and out of the half, with the Patriots sealing things up down the stretch. Should be another fun one, nonetheless.
Prediction: New England Patriots 27, Miami Dolphins 21
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