Patriots opponent preview: Miami Dolphins

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After months of questions and speculation, as well as unconventional preparation, the NFL’s 2020 season has finally arrived. The New England Patriots, defending champions of the AFC East, will start their season by taking on a familiar foe: the Miami Dolphins will visit Gillette Stadium on Sunday, September 13, at 1 pm. Let’s take a closer look at New England’s upcoming opponent.

Quick notes

Record: 0-0 (t-1st place AFC East)

Points scored: N/A

Points against: N/A

Head coach: Brian Flores

Coordinators: Chan Gailey (OC), Josh Boyer (DC)

The Dolphins’ coaching staff has various ties to the Patriots. Head coach Brian Flores and defensive coordinator Josh Boyer are the most prominent, but tight ends coach George Godsey, defensive line coach Marion Hobby and quality control coach Mike Judge also all spent time in New England before.

One of the coaches who has not spent any time with the club is offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, who was brought aboard this offseason to replace another ex-Patriot, Chad O’Shea. Gailey has served as Dolphins offensive coordinator before (2000-01), and also has head coaching stints with the Dallas Cowboys (1998-99) and Buffalo Bills (2010-12) on his résumé. Most recently, he called the New York Jets’ offense in 2015 and 2016.


Season so far

N/A

The Dolphins, like the Patriots were unable to play any preseason football this year due to Covid-19. Sunday’s game will therefore also be the first look at the team in 2020.


Series history

Including playoffs, the Dolphins and Patriots have met 109 times so far:

  • Dolphins wins: 56 (1 playoff win)
  • Patriots wins: 53 (2 playoff wins)

The home team has won 74 of the 109 games, even though both games last season were won by the visitors.


Projected starting lineups

Offense

QB Ryan Fitzpatrick; RB Jordan Howard; WR DeVante Parker, WR Preston Williams; TE Mike Gesicki, TE Durham Smythe; LT Austin Jackson*, LG Ereck Flowers, C Ted Karras, RG Solomon Kindley*, RT Jesse Davis

*rookies

Miami’s offense will be led by veteran passer Ryan Fitzpatrick, who will start his 13 game against the Patriots — second most among quarterbacks during the Bill Belichick era. While the supporting cast includes some familiar faces, the offensive line will be worth watching: two rookies are projected to start at the moment, with first-round pick Austin Jackson filling the left tackle spot and fourth-round selection Solomon Kindley the right guard position. New England will likely try to challenge the two youngsters’ experience and communication skills.

Defense

DT Davon Godchaux, DE Christian Wilkins, DE Emmanuel Ogbah; OLB Shaq Lawson, ILB ILB Jerome Baker, OLB Kyle Van Noy, CB Byron Jones, CB Xavien Howard, CB Nik Needham; SS Eric Rowe, FS Bobby McCain

*rookies

Miami’s defense is an experienced unit, even though four of the projected starters were brought aboard during the offseason: defensive lineman Emmanuel Ogbah, linebackers Shaq Lawson and Kyle Van Noy, and cornerback Byron Jones. Van Noy stands out among the quartet, of course, considering that he spent the last three-and-a-half seasons with the Patriots. He is again projected to see considerable time on the defensive edge.

Specialists

K Jason Sanders, P Matt Haack, LS Blake Ferguson*; KR/PR Jakeem Grant

*rookies

The Dolphins’ special teams units remain largely unchanged from last year, with rookie long snapper Blake Ferguson as the lone exception. Jakeem Grant will be a player to watch: while only a role player at wide receiver, he has proven himself a viable option as both a kickoff and a punt returner. Grant ran back four kicks for touchdowns during his first four years in the NFL, including a 101-yard kickoff return last season.


Three things to watch

1. How will the Patriots’ new-look offense fare? The biggest story of this year’s free agency was the departure of long-time Patriots starting quarterback Tom Brady. New QB1 Cam Newton, who was added three months later, will get his first taste at leading New England’s offense versus Miami. The offense will look different, but the question is how well it will function with a new quarterback at the helm and some unproven pieces at both wide receiver and tight end expected to see significant action.

2. The Stephon Gilmore vs. DeVante Parker matchup. Gilmore and Parker are among the best players in the league at their respective positions, so their battle will be naturally a fun one to watch. The Patriots’ top cornerback came out on top during their first meeting last year (Week 2; 43-0 New England win), while the Dolphins’ number one wide receiver got his revenge later that season (Week 17; 27-24 Miami win).

3. Chan Gailey’s new-look offense. While the addition of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa as the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft was the main storyline for Miami this offseason, bringing Gailey back from football hibernation is no less important. The veteran coordinator brings a lot of experience to the equation, even though his most recent stint was not filled with success: his offenses ranked 11th and 30th in point scored during his two years in New York. Along the way, the units averaged 17.3 points in four games versus the Patriots.



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