When the Patriots Run – Edge: Patriots
Despite a very difficult preseason, the Patriots have the ability to move the ball on the ground, and that is the strength of the offense. Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris have the tools to be productive between tackles, and the Dolphins’ defense was average (110 yards per game, 14) stopping the run in 2021. New England’s preseason woes started early on. , where the new offensive line had trouble transitioning to some of the outside zone blocking schemes being implemented. With very few exceptions, those plays were a disaster during the preseason, but Bill Belichick won’t be adamant about playing plays that weren’t productive and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Stevenson and Harris employed on some of the gap runs we’ve seen produce a lot. in the recent past. The Dolphins’ frontcourt is solid with Christian Wilkins, Raekwon Davis and Emmanuel Ogbah guarding linebackers Jerome Baker and Elandon Roberts, so it won’t be easy, but the Patriots should find ways to be more productive on the ground in Game 1.
When the Patriots pass – Edge: Dolphins
The 2021 Dolphins were also average in passing defense, finishing 16th in the league and allowing nearly 228 yards per game. But a closer look shows a secondary that finished ninth overall in allowing just 6.4 passing yards. Miami was also able to create pass rush, finishing seventh in sacks per pass attempt. Those numbers will present problems for a Patriots offense that struggled to both push the ball downfield and protect the passer all summer. Mac Jones hasn’t looked comfortable since the start of training camp and that’s mostly due to shoddy protection. The offensive line, which now features Trent Brown at left tackle and Isaiah Wynn on the right side, hasn’t been strong in camp or during preseason games. Wynn is also dealing with an injury that has cost him some time this summer. Jones has a few options to work with in the passing game, including newcomer DeVante Parker. The former Dolphin gives Jones a target with a larger catch radius, and Miami will be without second cornerback Byron Jones, who starts the season at PUP. The Dolphins still have Xavien Howard, one of the best cornerbacks in football, so life won’t be easy. The key will be protection, and the Dolphins have been able to generate a lot against the Patriots in the recent past, especially in Miami.
When Dolphins Run – Edge: Dolphins
Miami was terrible running the ball in 2021, except against the Patriots. In their Week 18 meeting at Miami, the Dolphins racked up nearly 200 rushing yards against a suspect New England defense. First-year coach Mike McDaniel wants to run the ball with newcomers Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert, using the same approach the Patriots are trying to incorporate with the outfield look. Both possess plenty of speed and can stress the edges of the defense, and while the Patriots appear to have improved during the preseason from their shaky play on run defense a year ago, this will be a tough test. The Dolphins have also upgraded their offensive line, adding left tackle Terron Armstead and center Connor Williams via free agency. McDaniel wants to be balanced and will probably give his back plenty of opportunities to get going, and given the speed the Dolphins possess in the passing game, it won’t be easy adding extra bodies in the box to slow things down.
When Dolphins Pass – Edge: Dolphins
Much has been written about the improvements Miami has made in the offseason, and most of it has focused on the arrival of Tyreek Hill. Miami also added Cedrick Wilson, a talented third receiver to Jaylen Waddle, who is coming off a fantastic rookie season in which he caught 104 balls. The Dolphins also have a couple of solid tight ends in Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe. So the pieces are in place for Miami to have an explosive offense with McDaniel coming over from San Francisco and installing the same Mike Shanahan offense the Patriots are having trouble establishing. But all of those potential improvements will depend on the play of third-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who has struggled to stay healthy and get the ball on the field consistently. However, he has been effective against the Patriots, as his 3-0 career mark suggests. In general, the Dolphins haven’t asked him to do much, but he has been precise, especially on steep routes, and has avoided mistakes for the most part. If he does it in Game 1, Miami should be successful through the air given the number of weapons to choose from.
Special Teams – Edge: Patriots
Both teams are solid in the kicking game with Miami’s Jason Sanders (kicker) and Thomas Morstead (punter) matching New England’s Nick Folk and Jake Bailey. They are all proven veterans who have found success in the league. Sanders missed eight of 31 shots from the field a year ago, but four of them came from more than 50 yards. He also scored 34 out of 35 on the PAT. Folk enjoyed another spectacular season at Foxborough, shooting 36-for-39 from the field at age 36. Neither team generated much in the return game and with hot and humid conditions expected, the kick return game doesn’t seem to have an impact with expected touchbacks. . The Patriots are trying to find a punt-return option with Myles Bryant and rookie Marcus Jones getting some chances this summer. Hill or Waddle will likely handle those duties for the Dolphins, so the Patriots’ surplus units will need to be accurate. After a season in which the Patriots struggled on special teams, Bill Belichick added some youth to the mix with Brenden Schooler and DaMarcus Mitchell, and both featured prominently throughout the summer. Expect the Patriots to improve a lot in the third phase.