Dolphins vs Patriots: Week 1 Preview

Dolphins ATB preview the key matchups, expectations and keys to success ahead of their NFL regular season opener against the New England Patriots.

Patriot Dolphins
Mandatory Credit: Gillette Stadium
  • Date: Sunday September 11
  • Time: 13:00 ET (18:00 UK Time)
  • Venue: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami FL
  • TV: CBS and Sky Sports NFL

The wait is over, the 2022 NFL regular season is upon us.  After a long offseason fueled by excitement and high expectations, the Mike McDaniel era in Miami has arrived. First up, a familiar foe in the New England Patriots — for the third straight year.  Dolphins ATB preview the key matchups, expectations and keys to success ahead of their NFL regular season opener against the Patriots.

Expectations for Week 1

Expectations are certainly high for the 2022 Miami Dolphins. However, having gone back to last year’s Week 1 preview article, the narrative is shockingly similar…

“After years of mediocrity Dolphins fans are somewhat bemused about what to expect, going into a season a strong favorite as a playoff contender. Gone are the days of Chan Gailey’s archaic play-calling, with the new era of George Godsey and Eric Studesville bringing excitement over the possibility of a modernized attack. Last season the Dolphins thrived when they played up-tempo. The additions the Dolphins made this offseason highlight how speed will be an integral part of the 2021 Dolphins offense.”

2021 Season Week 1 Game Preview: Dolphins @ Patriots

Everything said in the above quote can be said about the 2022 Dolphins. Whether you call it delusion or insanity, us fans fixate on what our destiny could be and with high expectations for what the season may bring. Despite years of being let down by the team, I have no choice but to fall back into the trap of thinking “this could be the year” or “things are different this year”.

As to the present, I do expect the Dolphins to have the edge this game. The Patriots’ offense appears to be a ship without a captain, with Matt Patricia and Joe Judge attempting to fill the play calling void left behind by Josh McDaniels. While I expect the Patriots’ pass rushers to cause the offensive line difficulties, I feel that Miami’s weapons will prove to be a matchup nightmare against New England’s secondary.

As to what I expect from the Dolphins, I expect a rather conservative game, trying to establish the run early and gain rhythm and consistency on the short and intermediate passes. Do not expect the long balls early, those will come with time. While this offense and Tua may feel they have a point to prove, they first have a game to win. Starting the season with a winning record is far more important than seeing a Tua-to-Tyreek 75-yard touchdown pass on the opening play.

Keys to Success

1. Establish the Run

The Dolphins have had mixed success in running the football against the Patriots in recent years, with a lot of Miami’s success in establishing the run coming later on in the season.

Over their past two regular season openers against the Patriots, the Dolphins have averaged 80 yards from 25 carries and 3.2 YPC.

In the second meeting between the two teams, the Dolphins have managed to average 222 yards from 42 carries, which equates to 5.3 YPC.

The Dolphins have struggled so far during camp, and the pre-season, to establish the run. Nevertheless, with a vastly improved backfield and renowned running game expert in Mike McDaniel calling the plays, the Dolphins will be hoping that the new zone running scheme will signal the end of Miami’s early season troubles in rushing the football.

2. Pressure Up Front

Play to your strengths. Miami has one of the strongest defensive lines in the league. However, with Byron Jones currently on the PUP list until Week 5, Miami’s “Amoeba” defense is likely to be hamstrung with out one of their lockdown corners.

It is therefore essential that Miami’s defensive line can keep sustained pressure on Mac Jones. Jones, a traditional pocket passer, achieved a 71.9 percent completion rate when he had a clean pocket in 2021. When under pressure, that completion percentage dropped drastically to 54.3 percent.

While New England’s receiving corps is nothing to write home about, if Jones is allowed time in the pocket, Miami’s depleted corners may struggle to lockdown the likes of Devante Parker, Nelson Agholor, and Jakobi Meyers. It will be interesting to see which receiver will line up opposite Xavien Howard.

The DL will also be key to containing the Patriots’ backfield that totaled 2,151 rushing yards and 24 TDs in 2021, behind a strong offensive line.

3. Discipline

Under Brian Flores, the Dolphins were one of the least penalized teams in the NFL. This early in the season, there is inevitably going to be some teething problems for all teams. A key to the Dolphins’ success will be keeping those mistakes to a minimum to prevent beating themselves.

A new look offensive line that has had limited play time together as a unit, may encounter some early difficulties as they seek to build chemistry as a group. Minimizing drive killing penalties will be key to any team wishing to start the season 1-0.

Key Matchup: Austin Jackson vs Matt Judon

With Terron Armstead solidifying the left side of the line, it is highly likely that Bill Belichick will seek to overpower Tua’s blindside and Austin Jackson.  Who better to do that than Matt Judon, who ranked 52nd on the NFL Top 100.

Judon’s acceleration and penetration make this a key matchup against Jackson, who has struggled in his early career to get his feet set — especially against speed rushers.

However, there is reason for optimism. Jackson, who has made the transition to right tackle after stints at left tackle and left guard, has impressed during camp.

“When Austin Jackson is playing right tackle, I’ve been very pleased”

Dolphins’ Head Coach Mike McDaniel

Jackson’s athleticism and intelligence gives him every chance to succeed in Miami’s new outside zone blocking scheme. However, the transition will not be an easy one, with Judon coming off a career high 12.5 sacks.

Injury Concerns

A number of Miami’s starters were limited in practice on Wednesday, however all 53 players on the roster practiced. Jaylen Waddle’s injury has officially been designated as a quad injury, with Nik Needham suffering a similar injury. Nevertheless, it is hoped that both will be fit for Sunday’s game.

As for the Patriots, Meyers (knee), OT Isaiah Wynn (back), and RB/WR Ty Montgomery (knee) were all limited during Wednesday’s practice.

Follow Bradley Davies on Twitter:

The Definitive Requirements for Tua Tagovailoa to Succeed in 2022

Tua Tagovailoa is entering the deciding year of his career, and he must improve in several key areas if he is to succeed.

There may be no more heavily debated and disputed player in the NFL than Tua Tagovailoa. Dating back to his first starts in college, he’s been analyzed to a degree few NFL prospects have ever seen. Many were sold on his “it factor” after his infamous game winning touchdown against Georgia in the National Championship. However, just as many were skeptical, and doubted his ability to lead an NFL offense.

This lead to heavy debate on his potential draft position, which reached it’s pinnacle when he suffered a career threatening injury against Mississippi State. Many still saw him as a top five pick, while others had him out of the first round entirely.

The former, however, was the only opinion that mattered when Tua was selected number five overall in 2020 by the Miami Dolphins. The team searching for their first elite quarterback since Marino took one of their biggest risks to date.

However, the divisiveness of Tagovailoa has only continued to grow. He has shown flashes of the quarterback many believe him to be, but has had just as many head-scratching moments. These have drawn out extreme takes and biases on both sides. Nonetheless, somewhere in the middle lies a quarterback with definitive strengths and weaknesses. It is with these that we can form the foundation of what can be built upon and what needs to be fixed in the most important year of the young quarterback’s career.

By many accounts, the most important quarterback traits are as follows: arm talent (strength and accuracy), anticipation, processing, pocket presence, and footwork. My goal is to evaluate where Tua Tagovailoa lies on each of these categories, and discover an attainable goal where I, and hopefully the rest of Dolphins media and fandom, can consider this season a success.

Arm Talent

Coming into the NFL, Tua’s strengths and weaknesses as far as arm strength and accuracy were well documented. Coming from the RPO-heavy Steve Sarkisian system, it was clear that he possessed elite short area accuracy and ball placement.

It was also clear that he wasn’t a premier deep ball thrower. While he could hit the open shot once in a while, he wasn’t going to hit the cover-2 hole shots at a rate similar to 2020 draft counterpart Justin Herbert. It wasn’t necessarily an issue, but a clear niche in which his game found itself.

However, the intermediate area is where the debate began. Despite Tagovailoa’s historically high efficiency numbers, there were serious questions about how inflated they were from a primarily one-read scheme. If Tua would have to read more of the field, would his accuracy take a major dip?

When combined with below average true accuracy between the 10 and 19 yard line, the results we would see in the NFL became telling.

Tua Tagovailoa has struggled immensely in the intermediate passing game since arriving in the NFL. Per NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Tua’s passer rating on passes between 10 and 20 yards to the middle and right thirds of the field is significantly below average. However, when targeting the left third, his 118.5 rating dominates the league average of 89.2.

Tua Tagovailoa’s grid, per NFL’s NextGenStats.

This shows a clear area in which he needs to improve. Luckily, there is a visible path to doing so in the Mike McDaniel offense. McDaniel, along with his run-game prowess, has shown the abilty to draw up deadly play action looks. Specifically, boot concepts in which San Francisco’s playmakers would attack the intermediate zones.

The result: Jimmy Garoppolo was above league average in each of the intermediate thirds. It’s clear that Tua can do the same. He has the talent to do so, and it is crucial that he takes advantage of those opportunities when they arise.

Jimmy Garoppolo was above average to elite in the middle thirds of the field.

The goal: attain an above average passer rating in ALL THREE intermediate thirds of the field.

Anticipation and Processing

RPO-based systems are among the hardest to evaluate, due to the fact that so much comes off of one read. Typically, this would stray away talent evaluators, who haven’t seen the quarterback operate in a more complex scheme, but the clip that Tua was able to connect on was generational, and gave many hope that he could do it on a larger scale.

This would be crucial. Given Tagovailoa’s size and physical tools, he would have to be able to compensate with an elite football mind. However, since arriving in the league, he’s yet to demonstrate it.

Far too often, Tua stares down his first read, telegraphing where the ball is going, and allowing DB’s to make a play. Furthermore, when he gets to his second and third reads, he’s either too late or doesn’t trust what he sees. This oftentimes leads to sacks or turnovers.

Tua stares down a receiver and his arm doesn’t make up for the mistake.

It’s difficult to determine how Tua can get rid of these bad habits, and thus the “slow blinker” asterisk. Although, we can also understand that Tagovailoa has significantly better offensive coaching than he has seen to this point. McDaniel, offensive coordinator Frank Smith and new quarterbacks coach Darrell Bevell all have a reputaition around the league as bright offensive minds. It’s likely that they can draw up plays to help cover this up.

However, Tagovailoa can’t be complacent, and must see things quicker. Whether it’s mental reps, more studying of the playbook, or simply just more live action, he must improve, and with the recent training camp clip that has surfaced, it appears that he has.

This clip shows Tua hitting Tyreek Hill in stride for a one handed catch and a touchdown. However, the catch isn’t the surprising part. When Tagovailoa releases the ball, Hill is still covered, and hasn’t found the soft spot in the coverage. Despite this, Tua showed more faith in his eyes, and put it in the perfect spot for his receiver to catch it. This is exactly what we are going to need to see more of, and it’s promising that it’s showing in camp.

Tua Tagovailoa puts this ball on the money in camp.

The more film study, time with receivers, or mental reps Tua runs himself through, the more benefits he will reap. His mentality towards the game must improve. Thus, his play on the field will be a strong indicator of if it has.

The goal: know the situation like the back of your hand.

Pocket Presence

If there is one trait that has been an overwhelming positive in Tua Tagovailoa’s game since being drafted, it’s his ability to sense and evade edge pressure. Miami’s offensive line has been frustrating, to say the least, but Tua has largely been able to subdue those struggles with great pocket movement.

Tua evades edge pressure, steps up, and makes a strong throw.

Much of what makes Tua potentially great is how he is able to maneuver edge pressure. It is when that pressure comes up the middle, however, that we begin to see the common problem that becomes his biggest flaw.

Footwork

Robotic: a term often thought of in a negative connotation, but is one of the most common positive descriptors of Tua’s game. In clean pockets, his mechanics are as consistent as they come. His feet follow his eyes, and often lead to smart, quick decisions. However, it is when defenses send pressure through the A and B gaps that his footwork sees a significant drop off.

This is a common issue among young quarterbacks. It’s hard for any human being to maintain strong footwork with 300 pound men being pushed into their knees. However, many of those quarterbacks don’t take the brunt of the blow to their arm strength in the way Tua does.

Due to the arm strength concerns mentioned earlier, Tua needs his feet to be in line with his throws. He doesn’t have the arm of a Mahomes or Josh Allen, who can make off platform plays with ease. However, he creates several by fading on throws with A-gap pressure, which often lead to poor results.

Tua fades on a throw, and thus it’s incomplete.

This will be the hardest habit to break, and has been something few are able to achieve. However, it may be the most crucial to Tua’s success. While Miami worked on their offensive line this off-season, it still isn’t perfect. There will be plays where teams are able to get into his lap, but he can’t crumble. He has to be able to sit in and make a strong throw, or get out of the pocket, as he has successfully done in the past.

Tua Tagovailoa evades the interior pressure and makes a solid throw.

Tua has shown development in this area, but if he is to become a successful quarterback, it must become a strength, rather than his biggest weakness.

The goal: sustain success at the sight of interior pressure.

The Bottom Line on Tua Tagovailoa in 2022

The most divisive quarterback in the league is going into the deciding year of his career. Stories like this are what the NFL is made of, and while many believe Tua’s fate is set in stone, it’s far from the truth.

There are attainable goals, some more difficult than others, that in my eyes, can correlate to a successful 2022 season. If Miami’s quarterback is able to improve in the key areas I outlined the questions will begin to fade. The noise of bringing in his replacement will become a calming silence, and most importantly, the Miami Dolphins will reach heights unseen in decades.

This is it. This year we will see what the heralded franchise savior is made of. The mountain is steep, but the journey of climbing it will be all so satisfying if Tua Tagovailoa reaches it’s summit.

Could the Miami Dolphins Trade for Kareem Hunt?

Kareem Hunt has been rumored to be traded, and a trade to the Miami Dolphins could potentially be a possibility.

The Miami Dolphins have made several moves at the running back position this offseason, agreeing to terms with free agents Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert and Sony Michel. However, more backs appear to be available, with Kareem Hunt topping the list of backs available to the Miami Dolphins.

Hunt’s trade rumors have begun to circulate following the Browns’ recent backfield moves. After already signing Nick Chubb to an extension last year, they drafted Jerome Ford in the fifth round and gave D’Ernest Johnson (who impressed last year) an extension of his own.

This leaves Hunt, who only has one year left on his deal, as the potential odd man out. While Hunt and Chubb have certainly been a dynamic duo, Cleveland clearly wants to utilize their young pieces. This may leave the former Chiefs star wanting more touches, and thus, being moved. On top of this, Hunt has been “holding in” at practice. Rumors say that he either wants a raise or to be traded.

Kareem Hunt is rumored to potentially be traded.

The Miami Dolphins, who have had a talent deficiency at running back over the last two seasons, were naturally connected to Hunt, and for good reason. His ability to make plays out of the backfield is among the best in the league, and provides a dynamic skillset the team has lacked.

Is it Practical?

However, I mentioned earlier, the Dolphins have already made several moves at their running back position. These signings clearly have them leaning towards a running back by committee, similar to Mike McDaniel’s San Francisco scheme. This makes little sense for Hunt, however, who is already coming from a similar situation. While Hunt would be the most talented back, he would still have to split touches with at least three others. That likely wouldn’t work for Hunt, who would seek an increased workload and more money if he was to be moved. Miami likely has already allocated too many assets to other backs to put money and picks into a Hunt trade.

The Bottom Line on Kareem Hunt and the Miami Dolphins

Had these rumors circulated earlier in the offseason, Miami would have made sense. They were clearly looking for veteran contributors, and had lost Duke Johnson, who saw significant touches late in the year.

However, the timing is at it’s worst for Miami. Hunt is extremely talented, and likely will see high production wherever he goes, it’s just unlikely to be with Miami. Their room is simply too crowded for someone who will demand the touches that Hunt does. They have the capital to make the deal, but already have allocated so many assets to the position.

Miami has more than capable backs in Mostert, Edmonds, Michel, Myles Gaskin and Savlon Ahmed, and we can expect to see them divvy up touches come the start of the season.

Miami Dolphins Schedule: 5 Most Interesting Storylines

The Miami Dolphins schedule was released last week, and there are several interesting matchups for Mike McDaniel and company.

Miami Dolphins Schedule
Credit: Sam Navarro, USA Today

The Miami Dolphins schedule was released last week, and it is riddled with interesting matchups. The Dolphins are getting two primetime games, along with several more that may be nationally televised. Following their trade for star acquisitions, many view the Dolphins as playoff contenders. Thus, their schedule has five key storylines to look out for.

Tua vs. Herbert and Burrow

The Miami Dolphins hold matchups against the Bengals and Chargers, the former of which being on Thursday Night Football. These three teams have been tied together for over two years, when they were all competing for the number one pick and the rights to Joe Burrow, who went to Cincinnati.

Miami, of course, selected Tua Tagovailoa soon after, passing on Justin Herbert, who has looked stellar with the Chargers. In a “do or die” year for Tua, it’s important to see how his progress stacks up with the fellow quarterbacks of the 2020 draft.

Brian Flores Returns to Miami

Following the conclusion of Miami’s 2021 season, the Dolphins opted to fire Brian Flores. A combination of friction with personnel and a lack of production on the offensive side of the ball caused Miami to look in another direction. However, this was called into question when Flores filed a lawsuit against the team and the rest of the NFL.

Flores alleged several teams of racially motivated hiring and interviewing practices, and accused the Dolphins of offering him incentives to lose games in 2019.

Unable to find a job in this cycle as a head coach, Flores joined the Steelers as a linebackers coach. Coaching Mike Tomlin’s star-studded defense, Flores will make his return to Miami on Sunday Night Football in Week 7.

Deshaun Watson in Hard Rock Stadium

The most prominent factor in Miami Dolphins schedule for early on is facing the Cleveland Browns. The constant rumors about a Deshaun Watson trade. It loomed over the team for a large portion of the year, and former coach Brian Flores refused to refute any potential trades. Thus, the pressure was on Tua Tagovailoa, with the constant worry of not having his job in the coming weeks.

Following the trade deadline, the weight seemed to be lifted from Tagovailoa’s shoulders. He performed significantly better and led Miami on a seven-game winning streak.

With Miami’s new staff putting forth full confidence in Tagovailoa, they backed out of the Watson sweepstakes. The controversial quarterback was traded to the Cleveland Browns and leads one of the most talented rosters in the NFL.

Many looked at Watson, Jacoby Brissett, and Jakeem Grant, as three players that would be in Miami in 2022. However, all three are on Cleveland together and will come down to Hard Rock to face the Dolphins in Week 10.

Mike McDaniel Revenge Game

Following the firing of former coach Brian Flores, the Dolphins figured that they needed someone who could change the game on offense. Thus, they hired San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel, who comes from Kyle Shanahan’s elite outside zone scheme.

McDaniel took several staff members from San Francisco on his trip to the east coast. Namely, receivers coach Wes Welker (who played for the Dolphins) and tight ends coach Jon Embree. These three, along with other assistants, will go back to their old stomping grounds in Week 13. Miami will fly to San Francisco where McDaniel will meet his mentor, and potentially show him that he was ready to move on.

Beating the Bills

When Tom Brady left New England to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a power vacuum in the AFC East opened up. Each team made aggressive attempts to get better with hopes of taking over in the division. Miami and Buffalo, namely, have made vast changes to their teams over the last couple of years.

Now Miami fans (and Buffalo fans) circle their calendars every time the Miami Dolphins schedule drops.

However, the Bills have been much more successful in their approach. Making timely additions of Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, and other contributors have vaulted them to the top of the East. Miami, on the other hand, has been on the outside looking in.

This has largely been in part to the matchups between the two teams. Miami hasn’t beat the Bills since 2018, when Adam Gase as their head coach. It is up to Mike McDaniel and company to change this if they are to contend for a title in the coming years. They face the Bills in Weeks 3 and 15.

What Sony Michel Brings to the Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins have signed running back Sony Michel, and his role is one the team was desperately looking for.

The Miami Dolphins signed former Patriots running back Sony Michel on Monday. Following a brief stint in Los Angeles, the Broward Native will be coming back to play in his home state.

Miami Dolphins sign Sony Michel.

Following a solid first couple seasons in New England, 2020 was a rough year for Michel. Battling injury, he only played in nine games, racking up just over 200 yards.

However, when Rams running back Cam Akers went down, Los Angeles called about the struggling back, whose job was being taken over by Damien Harris. Michel was thus dealt for a pair of day three picks, and began to revitalize his career in Los Angeles.

Under offensive mastermind Sean McVay, Michel saw his role expanded. While he was mainly seen as a power back in New England, there were several skills that were uncovered in his game.

Outside Zone and Pass Protection

Rather than running between the tackles, McVay’s system (very similarly to Mike McDaniel’s), calls for more outside zone run. This put more emphasis on his ability to make quick cuts and find cutback lanes, which was rarely seen during his tenure in New England.

Sony Michel makes a big run.

Michel appeared to have regained some burst following his injury, and it showed in his speed. He was more decisive than ever, and was making quick moves, turning big holes into bigger gains.

This is crucial for a Dolphins offense that, under the aforementioned McDaniel, is basing their offense in the inside zone. They signed running backs Raheem Mostert and Chase Edmonds in free agency, but they both fit more niche roles, and Miami still needed an early down back.

Michel can bring exactly that. His mixture of power and a newfound knack for hitting the hole is a match made in heaven for McDaniel. Running behind a left side of new additions in Terron Armstead and Connor Williams should open up several lanes that Michel has shown the ability to hit.

Michel’s collaboration with Miami’s linemen won’t stop there. Coming from a New England scheme that emphasizes the little things, Miami’s new addition takes pride in his pass protection. He has shown an aggressiveness and, just as importantly, a willingness to take a hit to protect his quarterback. The Miami Dolphins struggled to protect Tua last year, and that could soon change with Sony Michel in his backfield.

Sony Michel makes a huge block against the Bucs.

The Bottom Line on the Sony Michel and the Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins are clearly committed to the “running back by committee” approach, and they now have the backs to do it. The three newcomers join Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed, who have both shown spurts of starting-caliber production.

However, this doesn’t mean that the Michel pickup isn’t significant. While Edmonds and Mostert are talented, Miami was lacking an early-down back. With this signing, they now have someone who can run between the tackles and take the tough hits, while also being able to perform on outside-zone concepts.

Michel’s versatility and willingness to do the little things will come in handy for a Dolphins team that looks to be in win-now mode this season.