For the third season in a row, the Patriots are opening with a familiar division opponent in the Miami Dolphins. However, both teams will be getting a new look at the other as each side will start the season with big changes on the offensive side of the ball.
With the departure of Josh McDaniels, the Patriots have seemingly switched their offensive philosophy away from the Erhardt-Perkins scheme to that of the Shanahan zone scheme which has seen less than stellar results in the preseason. On the Miami side, a new head coach in Mike McDaniel along with the addition of receiver Tyreek Hill, will give the Dolphins a new look on offense for the Patriots to contend with.
Defensively, both teams have remained the same minus a few personnel changes. Even with the firing of Brian Flores, the Dolphins retained defensive coordinator (and former Patriot assistant) Josh Boyer to run the defense so the Patriots should know what to expect there. For New England, the biggest losses on defense came in personnel with cornerback J.C. Jackson and linebacker Kyle Van Noy joining the Chargers, and longtime stalwart Dont’a Hightower in retirement limbo.
With so many changes for both teams, here are three matchups to watch during the season opener.
Patriot Offensive Line vs. Miami Blitz
The Patriots’ offensive line has been a mess during training camp as Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn have each missed time with injuries while trading tackle spots, causing the team to mix and match protections each day. No matter who is in there on Sunday, they will have a tough test with the Miami defense, especially since Boyer loves to blitz.
According to Pro Football Reference, Miami was second in the NFL last year, blitzing 39.6% of the time. While Mac Jones will need to do a good job recognizing the blitz pre-snap and communicating that to the lineman, it will still be on that unit to work together to keep the second-year quarterback upright. Particularly, I’m curious to see how the left side of the line with rookie Cole Strange and Brown are able to handle the Miami blitz.
Patriot Secondary vs. Tyreek Hill
In 5 career games against the Patriots, Hill has 25 catches for 443 yards and 5 touchdowns however most of that came in the first two contests (14/275/4). Beginning with the 2018 AFC Championship Game, the Patriots have been able to hold Hill in check a few different ways. When the Patriots held Hill to one grab in that title game, they doubled him with safety Devin McCourty providing over the top help to cornerback Jonathan Jones. In the other two games, they used the speedy Jones to primarily cover Hill one-on-one.
With Jones receiving more looks at outside corner during the preseason, it will be interesting to see if they allow him to take Hill by himself, allowing guys like McCourty and Kyle Dugger the chance to play up against the run.
Patriot Tight Ends vs. Miami Defense
It was a mixed bag for the two free agent tight end acquisitions in 2021 with some good (Hunter Henry) and some bad (Jonnu Smith). With question marks at receiver, it would be great if the Patriots could find ways to get more out of Smith in 2022 to provide matchup problems for opposing defenses out of a two tight end set.
The Dolphin defense was a large reason why they were able to finish 2021 9-8 after a 1-7 start. They went from allowing 291 passing yards and 116 rushing yards per game through 8 contests to 171 and 105 during the final 9. One area the Dolphins struggled most of the year was with tight ends. In Week 1, Henry and Smith combined for 8 receptions for 73 yards, while in Week 18 Henry had 5 grabs for 86 yards while Smith was shut out. If both Henry and Smith are able to get going and occupy linebackers and safeties, that could open up a lot of opportunities for this Patriot offense.