The Patriots open their 2021 season against the Miami Dolphins in Foxboro. The two teams met last year in the opener, also in Gillette Stadium. And the two teams will finish the regular season playing each other in Miami.
This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Kevin Harlan will handle play-by-play duties with Trent Green as the color analyst. Melanie Collins will work from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.
The Patriots have met the Dolphins 111 times since their first meeting in 1966 with Miami holding a slight 57-54 edge. The teams have split the season series the last four years.
We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2021 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out. So, here is our look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.
First up is the Patriots offense:
The Patriots’ running game looks to be very good this season, despite trading Sony Michel to the Rams. Damien Harris is going to be the lead back with rookie Rhamondre Stevenson getting some work as well as James White as the 3rd down back. J.J. Taylor will be looking to replicate the Rex Burkhead role
Miami runs a base 3-4 and their players upfront (Raekwon Davis, Emmanuel Ogbah, and Christian Wilkins) are stout. Although the Dolphins were middle of the road against the run (16th) a year ago, they look to be improved. We look for the Patriots’ offensive line to get the better of this matchup. The key is getting blockers to the second level.
The Patriots’ passing game has a new rookie QB, Mac Jones, running the show and in his first NFL game he’ll be facing one of the better, more aggressive, and opportunistic secondaries in the league. The Dolphins’ pass defensive stats were misleading. Allowing 251.3 yards per game (23rd), however, on 3rd down defense Miami, was #1 allowing to convert just 31.8 percent of 3rd downs.
The Patriots have a lot of new faces in the passing game with Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne at wide receiver and Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry at tight end to complement the rookie, Jones. We look for Brian Flores to throw some looks at Jones to force him to hold onto the ball and allow Miami’s good pass rush to get home.
Next up is the Dolphins offense:
The Dolphins running game (with the exception of the Week 15 gashing of New England) wasn’t a strength a year ago. Miles Gaskin and Malcolm Brown will lead the way, but the offensive line is still a question mark.
The Patriots’ run defense has made big, needed improvements in 2021. After re-signing Lawrence Guy, they signed former Dolphin Davon Godchaux and Henry Anderson, drafted Christian Barmore along the defensive line. They brought back Kyle Van Noy, as well as Matthew Judon, and got back Dont’a Hightower (2020 opt-out).
Miami’s passing game with Tua Tagovailoa, Devante Parker, Jaylen Waddle, Albert Wilson, Will Fuller, Jakeem Grant, Preston Williams, and Mike Gesicki at tight end will be a handful this season. Fuller has to sit out a suspension in Week 1 but they have plenty of weapons for Tua to throw to. If Tua has the time to throw, there will be open receivers.
The Patriots’ secondary will be missing Stephon Gilmore and although J.C. Jackson is holding down one side, questions abound on the other. Will it be Jalen Mills, Joejuan Williams, or even rookie Shaun Wade? The key to the Patriots’ defensive success is getting the pass rush home. Judon, Van Noy, Barmore, Hightower, and Josh Uche can get to the QB, especially if left tackle Austin Jackson (COVID) can’t go on Sunday. Miami’s OL is the potential weak spot on the offense.
The Patriots’ STs are always a strength under Bill Belichick, although this year, the team will start rookie Quinn Nordin at kicker. He has a tremendous leg but his consistency is something that needs to improve. Punter Jake Bailey is outstanding and led the NFL in net punting average (45.6) last year. The coverage units are excellent and with Gunner Olszewski and J.J. Taylor in the return game gives New England a decent threat.
Miami’s Jason Sanders was excellent a year ago converting 36 of 39 field goals last year. Punter Mike Palardy returns in 2021 after missing last year with a torn ACL. The Dolphins’ Jakeem Grant is a very dangerous returner, but Matthew Slater, Justin Bethel, and Cody Davis are excellent as gunners on the coverage units and should give them the slight edge here.
The first week of the season is traditionally one of the toughest to predict as there are so many new faces on teams and it remains to be seen how well they gel early in the season.
Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:
Run Effectively and And No Turnovers – The New England offense wants to run the ball and has the ability to do so. Converting third downs and finishing drives in the red zone will be areas to watch, not only this week but all season. The offense has to protect the ball, no one was a bigger ballhawk than Xavien Howard. Mac Jones has to take what the defense gives him without turning it over. Jonnu Smith is the offense’s “X” factor in this game. Look for the team to move him around and get him some touches.
Bring Pressure on Tua – The Patriots made big improvements on their front seven. The pass rush in particular should be much improved. With a secondary missing its best player (Gilmore), the pass rush can cover up a lot of breakdowns in coverage. And maybe they’ll be able to generate some turnovers themselves. Miami’s OL could be missing their left tackle. The NE defense needs to take advantage of that.
Special Teams Has to Flip the Field – The Special Teams units are always a strength of the Patriots under Bill Belichick. They’ll need to generate some return yardage and limit Grant’s returns to win the field position battle. Jake Bailey is always a weapon in this regard.
This is a tough matchup for Week 1, Miami was 10-6 a year ago and has improved. But just like a year ago, they have limited tape on many of the new faces of New England’s offense as they didn’t play much at all in the preseason. Having the game in Foxboro is an advantage, especially in September as the Patriots have traditionally wilted in the Miami heat early in the season.
This should be a low-scoring matchup, and the Patriots defense will have to make one more stop to hold off the Dolphins at home. Patriots 20-17
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