3 crucial clashes in Patriots’ Week 2 matchup vs. Dolphins


6 rings: Kadlick's clashes to watch in Patriots vs. Dolphins

The Patriots are 0-1. They fought hard last weekend against the Eagles - but several mistakes, both mental and phsyical, resulted in a 25-20 loss to the defending NFC champions. Mac Jones is already past it:

“I think the biggest thing for me is the 24-hour rule,” Jones told the media when asked about moving onto Week 2. “Win or lose, just enjoy the win if you win and then learn from the loss if you lose.”

They’ll learn from it, and welcome the Dolphins to Foxborough this weekend for a division rivalry game on Sunday Night Football. Here are three key matchups (aka crucial clashes here at WEEI.com) to keep an eye on during the contest:

- Mac Jones vs. Vic Fangio

The Patriots’ quarterback played well in his debut with Bill O’Brien calling his plays, throwing for 316 yards and three touchdowns on a career-high 54 pass attempts. Jones looked far more comfortable on Sunday than he did at any point during last season’s debacle.

On Sunday, however, he’ll matchup against Vic Fangio - the Dolphins' defensive coordinator and someone Patriots head coach Bill Belichick called one of “the best defensive coaches in the league":

“Defensively...it’s been a big overhaul for them, with Vic [Fangio] coming in," Belichick explained during his Wednesday press conference. "I have a ton of respect for Vic as a coach and what he’s done in the multiple times we’ve faced him and just watching his teams over the years, very disciplined, sound and extremely well-coached, well-prepared defense.”

Later: “I think Vic’s one of the best defensive coaches in the league. He has his style, his defensive philosophy and system, and he’s had a lot of success with it.”

Fangio’s system, a two-high shell that can change into almost anything post-snap, generally throws off opposing offenses and specifically quarterbacks. Luckily for Mac Jones, his football mind is his great strength. The quarterback is an incredibly cerebral player and his innate ability to read what a defense is doing both pre and post-snap is what helped lead Alabama to a National Championship in 2020, and what turned him into a first-round pick in 2021. Like his head coach, Jones also spoke about Fangio’s defense on Wednesday:

“Coach Fangio has a lot of respect around the league. He’s been around for a long time,” the QB said. “He’s called a lot of football plays, and his defense is pretty sound, always. The guys know what to do. They’re very disciplined. I think each week, there’s going to be some carryover, just with coaching trees and things like that. But, at the end of the day, he’s kind of the top dog. He’s the originator of all the stuff, and he’s done a great job his whole career. I’m just looking forward to going against him.”

Fangio is going to do all he can on Sunday to confuse Jones. Will the quarterback’s - albeit limited - football knowledge be enough to not be outsmarted? Or will the 65-year-old defensive coordinator's scheme help the Dolphins get to 2-0?

- Kendrick Bourne vs. Xavien Howard

Both Patriots' Kendrick Bourne and Dolphins' Xavien Howard have been thrust into their team's No. 1 wide receiver and No. 1 cornerback spots respectively to start the season due to various injuries. Given that, this matchup on Sunday should be a good one.

Bourne caught six passes for 64 yards and two touchdowns on 11 targets during the Patriots loss to the Eagles, a performance that earned praise from his quarterback:

"KB is one of my closest friends,” Mac Jones told the media on Sunday. “I know that he is going to run as hard as he can on every play and fight for the ball, and our receivers have been doing that very well. He kept fighting, and I know that about KB. We've kind of been in these situations far too often where we're behind, and I know that's ‘my go-to guy’.”

Xavien Howard, meanwhile, was a part of a Dolphins defense that gave up 34 points to the Chargers. The cornerback registered just a 48.3 overall PFF grade and was penalized three times in the contest: twice for pass interference and once for illegal contact.

I don’t expect Howard to throw up a dud like he did last Sunday for the second week in a row, and while they likely won’t be up against each other on every play, it’ll be interesting to see the result when the time comes.

- Tyreek Hill vs. Jonathan Jones

The Patriots are one of the few teams across the NFL that has actually been able to hold five-time All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill in relative check since he burst onto the scene in 2016. Their trick? Cornerback Jonathan Jones:

"I think his ability physically to run with Tyreek Hill – as much as anyone can with him – and go out there and compete against him,” said former New England safety Devin McCourty on how … “I think if you pair that together with the game plans that we've had it's been pretty good."

The Patriots have generally shadowed Hill with Jones and added safety help over the top of him, something they’re bound to do again this weekend.

Another added wrinkle is how the Dolphins use motion to get their speedy receivers a pre-snap head start, something they did often against the Chargers on Sunday. Here’s a look at how they did it with Hill:

“It makes it hard,” Jones said when asked about how the Dolphins use motion to their advantage. “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. It’s almost like Canadien football to an extent.”

Cont.: "It’s just awareness, knowing where those guys [are at], knowing who can move, when they can move, and just being ready for it.”

Hill went for 215 yards and two touchdowns on 11 receptions (15 targets) last weekend, so just will certainly need to be ready for it.

Make sure to follow Mike on Twitter @mikekadlick, and follow @WEEI for the latest up-to-date Patriots and Boston sports news!