Sunday 7: Another shot to take down Tua and the Dolphins


1 – Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa is coming off one of the best opening day passing performances by any player in NFL history. Tagovailoa’s 466 yards through the air in the shootout win in Las Angeles were the fourth-most in an opener ever.

Tagovailoa carries that hot start into a matchup with former Alabama teammate Mac Jones and the Patriots, a matchup the 2020 Miami first-round pick has gotten the better of over his short professional career. Tagovailoa has a 4-0 record over three seasons against New England, including a 3-0 mark against Jones.

But while he had eye-opening numbers in last Sunday’s win over the Chargers to earn AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors, Tagovailoa’s game-by-game work against New England has been more moderate.

In four wins over the Patriots in his career Tagovailoa has averaged a mere 181.5 yards passing with just three touchdowns and two interceptions, never more than one TD in a game.

In Sunday night’s battle at Gillette Stadium New England and a suspect secondary will obviously try to snap Tagovailoa’s winning streak in the series while attempting to slow down the hottest QB and passing attack from the first week of NFL action, hoping to keep his numbers more in line with past meetings than what he was able to do on opening day.

2 – A big part of Tagovailoa’s success on opening day was with Tyreek Hill, the duo connecting on 11 passes for 215 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Hill is arguably the most dangerous playmaker in the NFL these days, fitting in quite nicely early in his second season in Mike McDaniel’s offense in Miami. But the Patriots have done a good job holding Hill in check over the years dating back to his time in Kansas City. The problem is that Jonathan Jones has generally been at the center of the Patriots’ defensive game plan against Hill and the veteran cornerback missed Friday’s practice with an ankle injury. Jones is officially listed as questionable for Sunday night. If Jones can’t go, and with second-year projected No. 2 cornerback Jack Jones already on IR, New England faces the immense Hill and Jaylen Waddle challenge grossly undermanned in the back end of the defense. Few have had the success that Jonathan Jones has had against Hill in recent years, ,and expecting any similar results from some combination of top rookie Christian Gonzalez, Marcus Jones, Myles Bryant and others is probably unrealistically optimistic.

3 – Many proclaimed that the Patriots opening the season with an offensive line that did not include either Cole Strange or Mike Onwenu at guard against the Eagles’ historically-productive pass rush was a worst case scenario situation. Well, a week later and after the make-shift line held its own against Philly, things may be ever worse. Both left tackle Trent Brown and rookie fill-in guard Sidy Sow missed the entire week of practice with concussions and though officially listed as questionable for the Miami game have to be considered unlikely to take the field. Sure ESPN has reported that Onwenu is trending toward making his season debut, but the front line is still going to be a major question, especially at left tackle where inexperienced late-additions Tyrone Wheatley Jr. and Vederian Lowe may be in line to make their Patriots’ debuts. “They’ve both been good. I’m glad we have them,” Belichick said. “They’re good to work with and they’re getting better, so it’s good. I’m glad we have them.” And they may be very much needed against Miami.

4 – Rhamondre Stevenson is supposed to be a rising star in his third NFL season. His teammates have referred to him as “Franchise” on social media. And after watching the Dolphins give up 233 yards and 5.8 yards per carry on opening day against the Chargers, there is good reason for New England to hope Stevenson can have a big night against Miami. The only problem is that Stevenson hasn’t had a lot of big games of late, at least not on the ground. He was held to just 25 yards on 12 carries on opening day against the Eagles, finding little room to run behind a makeshift line facing formidable front. In fact, Stevenson has rushed for more than 54 yards in a game just once in his last nine outings dating back to the middle of last season. Stevenson has actually been more likely to be held to 30 yards in a game or fewer since Week 1 a year ago – four times – than he’s been to top 75 yards on the ground – three times. While Stevenson continued to show against the Eagles that he can contribute significantly in the passing game, getting him going on the ground as the team’s young No. 1 back could and should be a priority against Miami.

5 – We’ve used the term house of cards here to describe three positions on the Patriots roster this offseason and summer: cornerback, offensive line and even wide receiver. All three are in issue less than a week into the season. Sure, some thought New England had a “logjam” at receiver this August. That was a curious misconception that’s been debunked in less than a week. Tyquan Thornton is on IR to open a season for the second time in two years in the NFL. DeVante Parker, who has a consistent injury history, was inactive for Week 1 due to a knee issue. JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has a history of knee injuries himself, was not on the field for the closing minutes against Philly, despite not appearing on the injury report. Demario Douglas and Kayshon Boutte looked like late-round rookies in their NFL debuts, especially the latter. A week later, Parker is still on the injury report. Smith-Schuster is still a bit of an unknown in terms of his role with his new team. Oh, and New England elevated former first-round disappointment Jalen Reagor from the practice squad, a move that suggests anything but stability at the receiver position. While Kendrick Bourne looks very much ready for a bounce back and breakout year at receiver, the rest of the position remains very much unsettled for Mac Jones heading into Week 2, even if he has expressed confidence in the two rookies.

“They’ve done a great job, just coming in as a rookie, just working really hard in the weight room, in the sprints and everything. So, they’re definitely dialed in on the details,” Jones said of Douglas and Boutte. “Really, it’s just trying to make sure we’re working together, which we are. They’re smart guys, and I want them to just go out there and play fast, and I feel like they both did that, and don’t chase the plays, let the plays come to you. That’s what I always tell them, and they’re doing a good job."

6 – Mac Jones is facing a former Alabama quarterback competitor and teammate for the second straight week. Tagovailoa lands in Foxborough a week after Jones out-produced Jalen Hurts. Not surprisingly, Jones has tamped down any questions and storylines about these supposed matchups with his Tide QB pals in a veteran fashion.

“I never try to focus on that part of it. It’s really us against the defense, which, Miami has a really good defense,” Jones said. “Yeah, I have a lot of respect for the guys that I played with in college. They’ve done a great job in the NFL. I learned a lot from each one of them differently, some things from one guy and some things from another. So, it’s been good to learn.”

7 – Prediction Time!: The Patriots are a home underdog for the second straight week to open the new season. (According to ESPN, the team is 0-6 against the spread in its last half dozen games as an underdog.) New England met the challenge of the Eagles last week and came up just shy of what could have been a big opening day upset. Now, they face a Dolphins team that’s seemingly flying under the radar a bit despite an impressive road win over the Chargers. Tagovailoa has gotten the job done against Belichick’s team in his career. Hill is on fire after opening week. Jaylen Waddle remains extremely dangerous in his own right, especially with the Patriots potentially even more undermanned in the secondary. On paper the Patriots should want to and probably be able to run the football, but the questions along the offensive line remain significant. New England’s defense has the ability to pressure the passer, there is no question about that. And the Patriots certainly showed plenty of effort and fight in the opener. But sooner or later Jones and Co. need to prove they can get over the hump and get a win against a good opponent in a tough game. So the pick here is for the Patriots to put up the primetime fight, but still come up a little short with Miami taking the 27-21 victory under the Gillette Stadium lights.

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