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.

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Dolphins cornerbacks have great opportunity vs Tampa Bay

With the Miami Dolphins heading to Tampa for joint practices with Buccaneers, the depth of the cornerbacks room in Miami is going to be tested

Miami Dolphins cornerbacks
Photo Credit: Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins are heading north for a Sunshine State showdown. Miami will be practicing and playing a preseason game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa brings the challenge of an elite passing game for the Dolphins to compete against. However, being just the first preseason game, those are not the names to be focused on. Miami will be without Byron Jones for this game and will likely only give Xavien Howard limited playing time.

This week can give the Dolphins a great look into where their cornerback depth stands thanks to Tampa’s excellent receiver depth. 

The Dolphins Cornerbacks are thin on the back end 

With Byron Jones not practicing, the Dolphins have been able to get a glimpse of what life would look like if one of Jones or Howard were to go down. Seemingly every receiver on the roster has been able to get open downfield and make a big play in camp. Without Jevon Holland on the back end, it may be even worse. 

The Dolphins will have an opportunity to get a look at players like Noah Igbinoghene, Nik Needham, Trill Williams, and many others. Right now, it is a great opportunity for any of them to earn more playing time as the third or fourth cornerback.

However, it is also an opportunity for the coaching staff to decide whether or not to consider working out veteran corners to add some depth to the room. 

Great challenge ahead of the Dolphins Cornerbacks

The Buccaneers have one of the best wide receiver rooms in the NFL, both in terms of top talent and depth. The receiver room in Tampa outside of their starters features Breshad Perriman, Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson, Jaelon Darden, and the newly-acquired Russell Gage.

The three practices, as well as the game, serve as a great challenge for the young Miami cornerbacks. There is a combination of players with legitimate NFL experience, as well as promising young players. If Tampa is able to throw the ball with ease throughout the week, the Dolphins may need to start weighing options and potentially looking for upgrades in the middle of their cornerbacks depth chart.


The Miami Dolphins have an incredibly expensive cornerbacks corps with Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. However, both have had some injury issues in the NFL. Depth at cornerback is extremely important with the ever-changing league. More sets with three or four receivers have led to an increase in cornerback value.

If Miami does not like what they see this week, they can pursue some veteran depth options. Names such as Chris Harris or Xavier Rhodes make the most sense.

The RISE Of Nik Needham

Cornerback Nik Needham joined the Miami Dolphins as a UDFA, but he has quickly shown his high potential and knack for making plays.

Throughout the years, the Miami Dolphins have many had elite cornerbacks. Guys like Sam Madison, Patrick Surtain, Brent Grimes, and more recently, Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, have been stars of the defense. But while many of those players were highly touted, the Brian Flores regime has found a diamond in the rough in former Undrafted Free Agent Nik Needham.

Draft Profile

Coming out of college, Needham wasn’t looked at as a high round prospect. He lacked refinement, often over-extending in press man and taking too long to process in zone. But what he lacked in technique, he made up for in athleticism, running a 4.3 40 yard dash and displaying a high motor.

Nik Needham was elite in college.

The raw traits weren’t enough for Needham, however, who went undrafted in 2019. But Dolphins head coach Brian Flores saw something that others didn’t, signing him as a UDFA. Profiling as a high motor player with a high ceiling, Miami looked to develop the former UTEP prospect.


Needham’s rookie season started off rough, as he was on the wrong end of many big plays in preseason. Showing many of the same issues that he did in college, he was consistently being targeted. This prompted many to question his role on the team, but Flores continued to give him playing time.

As the season progressed, Needham got better and better. Working on the outside, he was often matched up with number 1 receivers, and he didn’t disappoint. Over the last 9 games of the season, Miami went 5-4, mainly behind their young defense led by their stud CB. Needham was constantly getting pass-breakups and was grading highly on sites such as Pro Football Focus.

Nik Needham was the Dolphins Top Performer in Week 10 of 2019 per PFF.
Dolphins Writer Travis Wingfield points out Needham’s stats over a 2 week stretch in 2019.


After a pleasantly surprising rookie campaign, Needham had a change of scenery. After Xavien Howard came back from injury and the team signed Byron Jones, Miami figured that Needham would be best used in the slot. Allowing him to be on the field for over 59 percent of defensive snaps, Needham shined in his new role.

Although Miami drafted CB Noah Igbinoghene in 2020, Needham was starting and playing at a high level on the inside. He consistently covered the league’s top slot WR’s, and found himself being targeted heavily (due to the elite talents on the outside).

But even with his new position, he remained a constant on this defense, snagging 2 INT’s and 7 pass defenses. Needham’s play continued to improve, as he showed that he has star potential in Miami.

Nik Needham gets a pick against the Jets.

Present Day

Over the past offseason, Miami brought in several corners, most notably Jason McCourty and Justin Coleman. Both of which have plenty of experience on the inside, where Needham played last year. Despite his play in 2020, Needham has been listed as an outside cornerback, behind DPOY nominee Xavien Howard.

Nik Needham is a backup CB on the depth chart.

But in the Brian Flores regime, we know that the depth chart doesn’t always portray what is on the field. For instance, Needham was starting on the inside against the Bears last Saturday (with Howard and Jones out). In the same spot that he played in 2020, Needham showed why he started last year over his competition. He was the 3rd highest graded Dolphins player, per PFF. He logged impressive stops, pass breakups and tackles, showing his elite potential

No matter where Needham lines up, players, coaches and fans know that he is a weapon. His ability to perform at a high level on the inside and out is a rare one among corners, and Miami has definitely relied on him in key spots.

From an undrafted player to a rising star, Needham’s development has been fun to watch, and Dolphins fans should be excited to see how he continues to progress throughout his NFL career.

Miami Dolphins: Training Camp Surprises

(Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

The Miami Dolphins have started training camp as many players look to make a name for themselves. As always there are players who are standing out and others not so much. Even though the team has only had full pads on for a couple of days, some players have stood out. Here are five players who have been training camp surprises for the Miami Dolphins.

Brennan Scarlett

Scarlett has been the biggest training camp surprises for the Dolphins. He was brought in this past offseason to help bolster our edge playing. With the injuries to Jaelan Phillips and Andrew Van Ginkel, Scarlett has been playing on the first team. On the first team, Scarlett has turned quite a few heads. On the first day of padded practice Scarlett did a nice job of setting the edge. The following day, Scarlett had a whopping three sacks. with this being his first year with the team, Scarlett is defiantly making the most of his opportunities this offseason. It will be interesting to see if he can carve out a role for himself during the season.

Scarlett was one of Omar Kelly’s top performers for day two of padded practice.

Albert Wilson

Would this list even be accurate without Wilson? Wilson has undoubtedly been the biggest training camp surprise for the Dolphins. This is not because of how well he has played, but how consistently well he as played. It seems like almost every practice Wilson is making a huge play. Dolphins beat writer, Omar Kelly, said that he has never seen a player practice this well for this long.

Tua throws a dot to Wilson who takes it all the way to the house.

Wilson is coming off of an opt out year due to COVID-19. During that time off he rehabbed his hip injury that occurred in 2019. He is now back to his 2018 form and is giving all of our corners a tough time. Wilson’s and Tua Tagovailoa’s already is very impressive. If Wilson can keep this up, expect Wilson to have a career year.

Nik Needham

Signed by Miami as a 2019 UDFA, Needham has shown flashes of his potential. His rookie year was better than expected but unfortunately took a step back in 2020. With Xavien Howard currently out with an ankle injury, Needham has taken a majority of the starting snaps. So far in camp, Needham has been one on one with Miami’s fastest players: Jaylan Waddle and Jakeem Grant. And to Needham’s credit he is holding his own.

Needham makes a good play against rookie Jaylan Waddle and Travis Wingfield praises him.

If Howard is still absent from practice expect Needham to show coaches that he deserves to at least get playing time and hold down that starting spot (at least until X is back). Expect Needham to keep showing out during camp and preseason.

Kirk Merritt

Merritt was an UDFA last season and immediately became a fan favorite. This is because of his insane athletic ability. During his pro day Merritt ran a 4.33 forty yard dash and in a video Merritt had a standing jump of 62″. During his one season at Arkansas State, Merritt was one of the top receivers in the nation and had 83 catches for 1,005 yards and 12 touchdowns. Due to off the field concerns, he was an UDFA and due to COVID-19 he had little to no offseason practice. This causes an uphill battle to make the team and eventually made the practice squad.

This year Merritt is taking advantage of the offseason and showing off. He has became quarterback Reid Sinnett’s favorite target. Merritt has worked with the second and first team as well and is moving up the depth chart rather quickly. With receivers Devante Parker, Preston Williams, and Will Fuller all out, Merritt is making a name for himself. If Merritt has a strong preseason expect the Dolphins to find a spot on the roster for him.

Merritt makes a leaping catch for a touchdown during training camp.

Tua Tagovailoa

Out of all the Dolphins training camp surprises, Tua has to be the most enjoyable. From having five interceptions in one day during OTA’s to only throwing two within the first seven practices, Tua is finally showing his swagger. Last year Tua was rehabbing from his hip injury which made it hard to fully concentrate on the team. Like Merritt, Tua also had very little off-season practice which made it harder to build chemistry with his teammates. Now a healthy and confident Tua seems to be blowing away everyone’s expectations.

So far in training camp Tua has been throwing the ball deep regularly and accurately, something we saw very little of last year. Not only is he receiving rave reviews from the beat writers, but his fellow teammates as well. His teammates are impressed with how Tua’s leadership skills have improved. If Tua keeps playing out of his mind, expect the Dolphins to be a very successful this season and beyond.

Baker explains the difference of Tua from last year to this year.

check this article out!

Trill Williams: Miami’s Next Project

The next undrafted player hoping to make his mark on the league is former Syracuse defensive back Trill Williams. Having been cut by the Saints a mere six days after signing following a failed physical, Chris Grier swooped in claiming him off waivers and in doing so acquired one of the most sought after undrafted free agents in the 2021 class.

Perhaps one of the most surprising statistics in football is that 30% of active NFL rosters are made up of undrafted players, the Miami Dolphins of which are no strangers.

Nik Needham, Albert Wilson, Salvon Ahmed, Adam Butler, Jesse Davis, Malcolm Brown, Justin Coleman, Robert Foster and Allen Hurns are some notable names on this roster, all of which went undrafted in their respective classes.

The next undrafted player hoping to make his mark on the league is former Syracuse defensive back Trill Williams. Having been cut by the Saints following a failed physical (a mere six days after signing), Chris Grier swooped in claiming him off waivers and in doing so acquired one of the most sought after undrafted free agents in the 2021 class.

“One of the best UDFA in the class- the Dolphins pounced and in doing so brought in a legitimate developmental project who has starting level upside at corner or safety, but needs a position and polish”

NBC Sports Thor Nystrom on Trill Williams

Williams was underrated coming out of high school due to questions about his measurables, and ever since then has played like an underdog with aggression and explosiveness. During his career at Syracuse, he played 28 games, starting 15 resulting in: 93 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 4 interceptions, 10 pass breakups and 3 touchdowns. Unfortunately for Williams, his junior year in 2020 was plagued by injury.

Having sprained his ankle early on in the season, his efforts in attempting to play through the pain ultimately meant further injury ensued, as his injury began to affect his hamstring, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season. After the 2019 season, Williams was regarded as the second best DB at Syracuse behind Ifeatu Melifonwu, while ahead of Andre Cisco who went 65th overall to Jacksonville; Williams was himself projected to go in Rounds 2/3 prior to his injury, making him one of the potential steals in this years draft.

Williams strips the ball from the WR returning it for 94 yards for an overtime walk off win, A play eerily similar to one he made in high school.

It is clear that Williams has a lot of upside and versatility, he is able to line up in the slot, on the outside, at safety, and can play both zone and man coverage.

He is a long rangy, physical and explosive player. In essence he is the epitome of a Brian Flores kind of player. He has a clear talent for creating turnovers, his ball skills best explained by the fact that Williams played both receiver and corner at high school.

Pro Football Focus graded Williams as the 5th best defender with Syracuse with a grade of 74.9, while he was also the second best player in coverage with a grade of 78.7. However, while Williams’ aggressive play style may be one of his greatest strengths, at times it can be one of his biggest drawbacks, as there have been instances where he has been known to over-commit to a tackle, leaving him out of position.

Nevertheless, such issues are easily coachable, whereas the ability to create turnovers which he possesses may not be.

Trill Williams was a steady presence in the Syracuse secondary since 2018 where he spent time at wide corner, slot corner, and at safety. While he is versatile and has appeal in any role, I like him best at wide corner. Williams is long, rangy, athletic, physical, and aggressive. His physical skill set is exceptional and he doesn’t have any restrictions. He is springy and explosive, capable of thriving in both man and zone coverage. With that said, he does have room to grow when it comes to anticipatory skills and there were some instances where he didn’t get his head around to the football with his back to the line of scrimmage.

He had three return touchdowns in his three seasons in college and has a knack for coming up with big plays. For a team looking for a versatile defensive back that can be a matchup-neutralizer, Williams has the physical gifts to do that.

Joe Marino- The Draft Network

Williams is by no means an automatic starter in the secondary, nor is he the heir apparent to Xavien Howard, should relations deteriorate further. Instead at this time he is an outsider to even make the final 53 man roster considering the strength and depth at the position, with his main competition being that of Jamal Perry. Williams will be a strong developmental player with a lot of upside, playing alongside some of the best in their craft in the Dolphins backfield.

Comparisons can easily be made with Nik Needham, a promising young defensive back who flew under the radar during the draft, didn’t quite make the 53 man roster after camp, but then started 11 games in his rookie season.

Needham has since become a solid contributor to this defense with 4 INT throughout his first 2 seasons. Williams has already been quick off the mark in Miami, in fact in his first day with the team he intercepted Tua Tagovailoa, along with a couple of pass breakups, standing out in an otherwise talented positional group. He is a physical, scrappy player with the right mindset to fight on every play to make it in the league and has certainly gotten off to a fast start in South Florida.

So what can the Dolphins can expect from Trill?

“Hes a special kid, and I’ve never seen anybody outwork him. He’s different, he makes difference making plays. I’m so proud of this young man. Now we watch the show.”

Tre Williams, Trill’s father

While Williams may not be NFL ready Week 1 against the Patriots, his mental fortitude, versatility and aggressive play style make him the ideal student for Flores, Boyer, and Alexander to develop and refine his skills as a solid player in the NFL. Dolphins fans should be very excited to watch the development of this young man.

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