Patriots coach Bill Belichick admitted last week that he really won’t know the true identity of his team until “five or six weeks” into the regular season. However, that doesn’t mean that he isn’t focusing on the main goal during that time.
In an interview with WEEI’s “The Greg Hill Show” on Tuesday, Belichick emphasized the importance of continuing to win games as he uncovers the identity of the Patriots during the early stretch of the season.
“We’re not going to try to have a science lab experiment,” Belichick said. “We’re trying to go out there and win games. I think as you play and compete against other teams, maybe you see where your strengths are and where teams are trying to attack you and how you’re holding up in those areas.
“We’re trying to go out there and be as competitive as possible, but at the same time we’re trying to keep a close eye on what’s going on and how it’s all playing out.”
The Patriots’ first test of their identity as they try to win games comes Sunday, when they open the regular season in Miami against the Dolphins. New England has struggled against Miami in their last five meetings, going 1-4. The Dolphins also made a great offseason acquisition that Belichick knows he needs extra attention when his defense is on the field.
“We all know that [Tyreek] Hill is a very explosive player, he can score from anywhere on the pitch and he has breaking speed which we see from time to time but is relatively rare. So we’re certainly going to have to keep an eye on him,” Belichick said in an initial evaluation of the Dolphins.
Hill has put in tremendous performances against the Patriots in four regular season games against them, recording 24 receptions for 401 yards and five touchdowns. However, most of those games were with Patrick Mahomes throwing at him. Sunday will be the debut of the Tua Tagovailoa-Hill partnership, and while the Dolphins quarterback doesn’t have as many accomplishments as Mahomes, he too has had success against the Patriots. Tagovailoa has won all three starts against the Patriots in his career.
Tyreek Hill played only 3 snaps in the preseason, but on the first, he caught a deep 51-yard pass from Tua Tagovailoa.
A reminder of what the Patriots must face in Sunday’s season opener. pic.twitter.com/n2W4lzeV7B
—Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) September 5, 2022
In addition to Tagovailoa, the Dolphins return second-year receiver Jaylen Waddle, who had a touchdown catch in each game against the Patriots last season. Belichick is aware that the Patriots can’t just focus on Hill, even if he is the most explosive player on Miami’s offense.
“Good receivers, good quarterback, tight end and a big emphasis on the running game with their offensive line,” Belichick said. “So he’s not just a guy to stop, we’re going to have to be competitive across the board and play good team defense.”
Hill isn’t the only one making his Dolphins debut on Sunday, either. Mike McDaniel officially begins his career as head coach on Sunday. Belichick shared his initial impressions of the former 49ers offensive coordinator and how he could make the Dolphins’ receivers even better.
“Well, for the last two years, the 49ers have led the league in receiving yards. So they get a lot of yards after the ball is in the receivers’ hands,” the Patriots coach said. “A lot of emphasis on zone running play. Again, things we’ve seen from Kyle [Shanahan] and even before that from Mike Shanahan. But the game plan team creates different things every week for the new opponent, multiple race types.
“It’s not all zone runs by any means, and they use all of their players, receivers, tight ends, whether [George] Kittle or whoever as part of the running game, or RPO, which is a little bit extended, it’s a passing game, but it’s an extended part of the running game. Outside screens and bubble passes, and things like that.
“So they do a good job attacking the whole field and the game actions come from the running game and of course they’ve added a lot of speed to their team with the two running backs, [Cedrick] Wilson, Hill, of course they already had Waddle. So I do not know. It’s an explosive offense that has a balance of running game, game action, mobile quarterback and deep ball, explosive game threats.”
Jaylen Waddle makes a big play to score the first touchdown of his career pic.twitter.com/oroEAMXFVs
— Ben Brown 🌻 (@BenBrownPL) September 12, 2021
With Miami’s talent as a receiver, New England’s new corner room will have a real test to open the season. Jalen Mills is expected to be the No. 1 cornerback on the outside, but Hill and Waddle have done a lot of damage in the slot. Whether the Patriots adjust and have Mills line up in the slot against the two speedsters or insert third-round rookie Marcus Jones into the starting lineup to match speed for speed remains to be seen.
Regardless of how they decide to line up against the Dolphins’ receivers, Belichick and the Patriots will go one step further in learning the identity of their team.