6 rings: Patriots vs. dolphins preview
The Patriots are entering their first AFC East matchup of the season on Sunday night after the Jets and Aaron Rodgers turned the division on it’s head this past weekend. An Achillies tear to the future Hall of Famer completely opened up everyone’s chances to win it, and the New England’s quest for the title starts now.
They’ll welcome the Dolphins to Gillette Stadium for an 8:20 p.m. kickoff. Here are 10 players to watch in the primetime matchup between New England and Miami on Sunday:
10 - WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, Patriots
New England’s wide receiver corps is in an interesting spot.
While Sunday’s performance from Kendrick Bourne (six catches for 64 yards and two touchdowns) was exactly what the third-year Patriot needed to get back into a groove, their first-year pass catcher JuJu Smith-Schuster, was a relative ghost.
The club signed Smith-Schuster to a three-year, $33 million contract this offseason to be a bonafide No. 1 wide receiver. On Sunday, he was anything but that, playing just 54% of offensive snaps, and 12 less than rookie sixth-round pick Kayshon Boutte.
According to the Boston Herald’s Andrew Callahan, “multiple team sources believe Smith-Schuster is not presently among the team’s five most effective pass-catchers. According to those same sources, his place in the offense has been complicated by a variety of factors.”
Factors that include injury and trust.
Whether his knee is truly ready to “explode” or not, the pass-catcher looked slow and out of sync during Sunday’s loss to the Eagles. Keep an eye out for both the number of snaps Smith-Schuster plays on Sunday, and how bought in an involved he looks during them. It’ll be a tell as to where they see him fit moving forward.
9 - OL Isaiah Wynn, Dolphins
Old friend Isaiah Wynn is back in town this weekend, this time as a member of the Dolphins. Miami signed the former Patriots first-round pick to a one-year deal this past May and not only is returning to the building, but by the looks of it he’ll be the team’s starting left guard when the game kicks off at 8:30 p.m.
Wynn’s former teammate, Lawrence Guy, spoke about his return on Thursday:
“I know he has a chip on his shoulder coming back into the stadium,” the defensive tackle said. “I would too if I was in his position. But it’s one of those things that - he knows our defense. He’s practiced against us many different times. Scout team, training camps, so we understand that he understands how we’re going to play our fronts. He understands each player that’s on our d-line. I think he’s doing really good over there, he’s playing left guard and I see the development he has from taking that translation fron tackle to guard and he’s using just good fundamentals. That’s one of the things that I was very impressed by when I saw him on film I thought his fundamentals were there, his energy was there. He’s also a hard worker. He’s one of those players that will stop at the whistle. He’s not going to give you a free play he’s going to work every single down, every single time.”
High praise. But can he live up to it? The Patriots sacked Eagles’ quarterback Jalen Hurts three times on Sunday and, with a line in front of him that many consider one of the best in football. Wynn and the rest of Miami’s line will have their hands full.
8 - CB Jonathan Jones, Patriots
The Patriots have found a way to mitigate the damage that Tyreek Hill has on opposing defenses over the last several seasons, and a lot of that has to do with cornerback Jonathan Jones.
You can read more about the matchup here, but for reference, here are that stats that Hill has been held to during his last five matchups against against Jones:
2018 - zero catches, one target
2019 - four catches on six targets, 28 yards
2020 - one catch on three targets, 22 yards
2022 (Wk. 1) - two catches on four targets, 28 yards
2022 (Wk. 17) - zero catches on two targets, one Jones INT
Miami continues to use both across-the-formation as well as short motions to get Hill, one of the fastest players in football, a head start against defensive backfields. Jones spoke on this on Wednesday, saying that it’s “almost like Canadien football”:
“It makes it hard,” Jones said of the motion. “It makes it hard to get your hands on those guys. You put a guy who’s already fast, you know 4.2 [40-yard dash], and put him in motion he’s getting a head start.”
New England will need Jones’ A-game on Sunday.
7 - S Jevon Holland, Dolphins
The Dolphins leading tackler this past Sunday was safety Jevon Holland. The third-year safety tallied 14 tackles against the Chargers - 11 of which were solo and one of which was deemed a tackle-for-loss.
Patriots tight end Mike Gesicki, who was teammates with Holland in Miami, spoke about the safety during his Thursday media availability:
“Jevon’s awesome, Gesicki said. “He’s super talented. He’s a leader for them. Honestly, across the entire team, not just on the defensive side of the ball. Plays physical, really has a lot of range back there as a safety. Can cover lot of ground very quickly. Smart player and somebody that’s really talented and has only gotten better and is only going to continue to improve as well.”
One of Holland’s many responsibilities this weekend in Foxborough will be pass coverage on both Gesicki and Hunter Henry, who went for a combined eight catches for 92 yards and a touchdown against the Eagles on Sunday. Jones will likely continue to lean on his tight ends this weekend, so Holland will be active.
6 - OL Tyrone Wheatley Jr. and 5 - OL Vederian Lowe
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the Patriots’s offensive line is in a tough spot.
After resorting to two rookies at guard in the absence of Cole Strange and Mike Onwenu in their opener this past weekend, they now have even more injury problems. Both Trent Brown and Sidy Sow are dealing with concussions and have’nt practiced this week, and center David Andrews has been limited with a hamstring injury.
These ailments could potentially thrust Tyrone Wheatley Jr. and Vederian Lowe into action on Sunday against the Dolphins - two players who have only been with the Patriots for just over two weeks.
As final roster cuts approached at the end of August, New England dealt running back Pierre Strong Jr. to the Browns in exchange for Tyrone Wheatley Jr., and a future sixth-round pick to the Vikings for Vederian Lowe.
While this is nowhere close to an ideal scenario, New England clearly saw something in these two guys to bring them in. The only problem is their lack of experience in the system. Buckle up.
4 - QB Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins
Admittedly, I've never been a big believer in Tua. The Dolphins quarterback fails to stay healthy, doesn't jump off the screen like some of his counterparts, and has yet to even play in a postseason game.
Given all of that, he’s starting to prove me - as well as plenty more of his doubters, wrong.
“I don’t care,” the quarterback told Miami media this week when asked if people should still question if he can throw the deep ball. “466. That’s what 466 is, if I can’t throw deep. Thanks.”
The 466 is in reference to how many yards he threw for against the Chargers last Sunday, good for fourth all-time in week 1. When healthy, Tagovailoa has a swagger to him that is unmatched, and I'll be curious to see if he can come close to his production from last week.
3 - WR Kayshon Boutte, Patriots and 2 - WR Demario Douglas, Patriots
An added wrinkle to the Patriots’ JuJu Smith-Schuster dilemma is the rookie pass catchers they have on their roster.
Kayshon Boutte, New England first of two sixth-round picks in 2023, played 55 snaps for the team last Sunday. With DeVante Parker out due to injury, the former LSU Tiger helped fill the X-receiver role in the offense. He didn’t have a reception on four targets.
The other sixth rounder, speedster Demario Douglas, played 33 snaps and caught four passes for 40 yards.
"They looked like two guys who - it was their first NFL game,” co-receivers coach Ross Douglas said of their performances on Sunday. “There was some good, there was some to clean up."
Their other receivers coach Troy Brown, a former Patriots pass catcher, said that he “like[s] the fact that they come to work ready to get better every day."
Both will likely be used heavily once again this Sunday.
1 - WR Jaylen Waddle, Dolphins
With the Tyreek Hill vs. Jonathan Jones matchup at the front and center of Sunday’s game, Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle is flying under the radar.
Like Hill, the Patriots have held Waddle relatively in check the last several times they’ve played Miami. Aside from a 42-yard touchdown at the end of the half during last season's opener, Waddle caught just six passes for 79 yards over two games.
This year, however, it’ll be rookie Christian Gonzalez lined up on his side presuming that they continue their Jones plan with Hill.
The 2023 first-round pick played great in his debut against the Eagles, but the speed and route-running that Waddle brings will be a different test. He could have a day if New England doesn’t scheme it up right.