The Patriots play their first divisional game of the 2023 season at home against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 8:20 p.m.
Divisional games are very important in the overall picture of standings and doing well in your own division is paramount if the playoffs are a goal. The Patriots will be looking for their first win against Tua Tagovailoa who is 4-0 against the Patriots.
This week’s game will be broadcast by NBC and can be seen in the Boston area on NBC 10 Boston. Mike Tirco will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth and as the color analyst. Melissa Stark 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.
We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2023 to analyze some of the game’s key matchups and what you can look for in how the game plays out.
So now we can take a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge. First up is the Patriots offense:
Patriots RBs vs. Dolphins Front Seven — Edge New England
The Patriots’ running game did not generate nearly enough yardage against the Eagles in Week 1 (76 yards), and now may be even more shorthanded. Trent Brown and Sidy Sow haven’t practiced this week as they are in the concussion protocol. David Andrews has been limited with a hamstring issue. Which means that nearly the entire OL is injured.
There is hope that Cole Strange and Mike Onwenu will return this week, which would improve the interior of the line. But then the question would be, will the team move Calvin Anderson to LT this week? That may mean that Tyrone Wheatley may get his first start in a Patriots uniform.
Last week the Chargers running game ran all over the Dolphins for 234 yards. With a limited offensive line this week, I think Strange and Onwenu return, and the Patriots will try to attack the middle of the defense. That means that they’ll have to move Raekwon McMillan, Zack Sieler, and Christian Wilkins off their spot.
If they can do that and get Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott some running room, they should be much more balanced offensively.
Patriots WRs vs. Dolphins Secondary — Edge New England
The Patriots’ passing game functioned much, much smoother after an awful start on Sunday against the Eagles. Mac Jones was spreading the ball around, making quick decisions. His favorite target was WR Kendrick Bourne, who scored two TDs.
This week, I believe that the two TEs, Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki, will play a key role in the game plan, especially if they are successful at running the ball this week. Play-action passing will draw the linebackers in and give a window for Jones to find his tight ends. I’m curious if they figure Demario Douglas more this week. If DeVante Parker is able to return this week, it will be a plus. Kayshon Boutte filled in, but he’s never been an “X” WR before.
Miami has a very good secondary, even with CB Jalen Ramsey on IR. Xavien Howard, Eli Apple, and safeties Jevon Holland and Brandon Jones are a very solid group. They allowed only 228 yards to the Chargers last week, although that stat may be tempered somewhat by LA’s ability to run the ball.
The pass rush netted three sacks, including Jaelan Phillips’ sack of Justin Herbert to seal the game. He and Bradley Chubb will have to be accounted for on the edges. Bill O’Brien used motion and stacked and bunched WRs to scheme guys open last week. The Chargers used a similar scheme, and Miami had some communication issues as they are still learning Vic Fangio’s new scheme. Pass Protection is the big key here.
Next up, the Dolphins offense:
Dolphins RBs vs. NE Front Seven — Edge New England
The Miami running game also couldn’t get anything going last week against LA. They managed just 70 yards on the ground, also in part to the fact that Tua passed for 466 yards against the Bolts.
Miami got some good news when Raheem Mostert was a full participant on Thursday’s practice after missing Weds. with a knee injury. Look for the Dolphins to ease in rookie De’Von Achane this week. The diminutive (5 ‘8, 188) RB was a 3rd-Round pick in this year’s draft but possesses blistering speed (as if Miami needed even more), running a 4.36. He could also factor into the passing game.
The Patriot run defense was very good against the Eagles a week ago, holding them under 100 yards (97) which against that offense was a win. BTW Philly ran for 259 yards on TNF. The front seven was very stout and they consistently mixed and matched personnel which kept players fresh and attacked different areas of the offense.
I expect that to continue this week, as the Dolphins haven’t quite figured out their running game yet, focusing on the most import matchup of all.
Dolphins WRs vs. NE Secondary — Edge Miami
The Miami passing game absolutely shredded the Chargers a week ago, with Tua passing for 466 yards and three touchdowns. Their dynamic pair of WRs, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, combined for 15 catches and 293 yards. Hill was the favorite target on Sunday with 11 catches for 215 yards and two TDs. TE Durham Smythe had three catches for 44 yards and cannot be overlooked. They put Hill in motion giving him a free release and the Chargers had no answer for it.
The Patriots held the Eagles to just 170 yards passing on Sunday and sacked Jalen Hurts three times in the process. And that is one of the keys this week; the defense has to get consistent pressure on Tua, who wasn’t sacked last week.
The biggest question mark is Jonathan Jones, who showed up on the injury report with an ankle injury. He has always been the guy they’ve matched up with Hill, with safety help over the top. If he can’t go, that responsibility would fall to Marcus Jones. And that is a matchup that doesn’t favor the Patriots. Rookie Christian Gonzalez will match up with Jaylen Waddle, which is another tough task for him.
How the Patriots choose to align their secondary against the speed of Miami will bear watching. But from a New England perspective, the pass rush (Matthew Judon, Josh Uche, Deatrich Wise, Keion White) has to be consistently disruptive. I look for White to play more than he did a week ago.
Special Teams — Edge Miami
The Patriots special teams had an up-and-down week against Philadelphia. Rookie punter Bryce Barringer had three punts inside the 20, and Ty Montgomery had a 43-yard kick return, while Marcus Jones had a 21-yard punt return.
But they also allowed a couple of longer returns, and those will have to be tightened up. Braxton Berrios didn’t have a return on Sunday, but he is a good returner, and the coverage units will have to be better on Sunday night.
Jason Sanders was 3-3 on FG attempts for Miami. Former Patriot Jake Bailey is handling punts for the Dolphins.
Keys to the Game from a Patriots Perspective:
Slow The Tua/Hill/Waddle Combination — They won’t shut down this trio, they will get their yards, but limiting their successes through the air will go a long way in being able to secure their first victory of the season.
Find Balance on Offense… And Finish — The Patriots must find a way to get the running game going, and not allow Miami’s defenders to pin their ears back on every down. It will allow them to dictate more of the tempo of the game. It is vitally important, not only this week, but moving forward. They have to find a way to start finishing drives, especially at crunch time.
Win Third Down — The Patriots need to win third down on both sides of the ball if they want to pull this upset in Week2. The defense will have to get off the field and try to generate a turnover or two, while the offense has to sustain drives and find a way to be much better in the red zone. (Same as last week)
The Patriots’ defense had a great effort a week ago against Philadelphia. They will need that kind of effort again. They can’t allow Hill and Waddle to have the kind of game they had a week ago, or it will be a long Sunday night. They have to pressure Tua and generate some turnovers.
The offense will start much better this week, eliminating some mistakes and not put themselves in a deep hole. Mac Jones wins a close one at home against a very good opponent. Patriots 24-23
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Bill Belichick Jalen Waddle Jonathan Jones Josh Uche Keion White Mac Jones Matthew Judon Miami Dolphins New England Patriots Patriots edge rushers Tua Tagovailoa Tyreek Hill