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.

Synopsis

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.

2019

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.

2020

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!

Can Miami be fine without Xavien Howard?

There has been a trend over the past several seasons among NFL playoff teams to spend significant resources on their secondary.

There has been a trend over the past several seasons among NFL playoff teams to spend significant resources on their secondary.

Having at least a solid secondary in the pass centric modern game has become a necessity if you want to give your defense a fighting chance.

The top 3-4 defenses in the league spent the most on their defensive back groups at an average of 18.63 percent. This group had the largest disparity in spending between the top and bottom defenses with a 5.18 percent difference.

Miami runs a “hybrid” defense that consists of 3-4 and 4-3 base; however, with Miami’s positional alignments and roster notes for simple terms it is a 3-4 defense.

All the teams that have made it or won in the playoffs have put copious amounts of money into the secondary. Having a good to great secondary players have been a staple in elite defenses. An argument can be made that spending money on good players in the secondary leads to wins.

Rough estimates from Spotrac detail the money spent on starters:

Super Bowl WinnersSecondary Salary
New England (2019)$38 Million
New England (2017)$16 Million*
Denver (2016)$20.6 Million
Seattle (2014)$15,5 Million*
Baltimore (2013)$14 Million*
*Denotes majority of players on rookie deals

The Salary cap jumped significantly in 2014

The 2019 Patriots Super Bowl winning team had DPOY Stephon Gilmore, Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty, JC Jackson, and Jonathon Jones. These players contributed to the league leading #1 Defense manned by Bill Belicheck and Brian Flores.

The 2017 Patriot’s secondary consisted of Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty lead a 5th ranked defense to a Super bowl title. With other significant role players on their rookie contracts.

The Legendary Legion of Boom had all of their Corners, Sherman, Browner and Maxwell on rookie deals; while Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor took most of the salary cap room with their contracts en route to a stunning 35 point Super bowl win.

In a league run by QBs, the guys you pay to stop them are one of the most important position groups on the field.

The secondary.

In 2020 Miami spent roughly $44 million for their starters-rightly so winning games through crucial turnovers and coverage sacks-while dialing the blitz 40% of the time.

The top 4 teams secondary spending, excluding Miami goes like this:

2020 BAL-$41.3 Mill

2020 PIT-$25 Mill

2020 ARI- $23 Mill

Now lets take a look at the 2020 Playoff teams secondary spending:

2020 Playoff Teams Secondary Spending (in cap)
BAL $41.3 Million
BUF $36.9 Million
TENN $35.9 Million
PITT $29.8 Million
KC $29.4 Million
CHI $29.1 Million
WAS $29.1 Million
CLE* $26.8 Million
GB* $24.5 Million
NO $24.5 Million
SEA $22 Million
LAR $18.3 Million
TB* $10 Million
* Denotes majority of players on rookie deals

Most if not all of these playoff teams have put copious amount of money into their top 1 to 2 defensive backs to lock down one side, with complimentary players that can handle passes thrown their way. The investment also includes DB’s from the draft, low cost pickups and UDFA signings.

Regardless of whether or not Xavien Howard stays with Miami, they have put the resources into the position to have a good secondary. With current draftees in Noah Igbinoghene, Brandon Jones, Jevon Holland, UDFA Signing of Needham Trill Williams and efficient veteran deal for McCourty and Rowe, the Dolphins are fine depth wise as all players are versatile.

While there are some unknowns in the secondary, the Dolphins coaching staff has put players in position to succeed. The biggest impact is coaching ability to develop players and help them win thier matchups, which the aforementioned teams also did. Head Coach Brian Flores and DB’s Coach Gerald Alexander are highly touted for these skills.

Miami’s ceiling is much higher with Howard’s playmaking ability at corner, but it shouldn’t make or break their season.

Brian Flores wants Xavien Howard in his defense, I think the Dolphins organization will make something work, especially since Tua Tagovailoa is still on his rookie deal.

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