Can the new look Patriots exact revenge on Miami?

 

 

In the NFL, it’s common knowledge that you’re not entitled to anything. If you want to put your team in a good position to succeed in the playoffs, you need to show up when it matters. Unfortunately for the Patriots, they didn’t seem to get the memo last season, when they unexpectedly dropped their regular season finale to the Miami Dolphins at home. That loss prevented New England from securing a first round bye, and forced them to host Tennessee for a Wild Card game that ended up being Tom Brady’s last game as a Patriot.

A lot of things have changed since that matchup in December, from the pandemic, to the vast exodus of veterans from the Patriots roster during free agency. A win tomorrow won’t change the result from that Week 17 contest, but it would help set the tone for a wildly different season with Cam Newton under center.

With that being said, here’s what to look forward to during this Week 1 matchup.

1. What will the Patriots’ offense look like?

New England’s offensive struggles throughout the tumultuous 2019 season were well documented, as it quickly became evident that receivers other than Julian Edelman consistently struggled to get open against man coverage. Other than letting Phillip Dorsett walk & releasing Mohamed Sanu, Bill Belichick didn’t do much to overhaul the wide receiver corps, which means that the Patriots will be relying on Edelman, N’Keal Harry, and Jakobi Meyers to carry the load. Personally, I’m excited to see what newcomer Damiere Byrd can bring to the table, as his pure speed could help open things up down the field. Due to the strength of Miami’s secondary, I’m pessimistic about the Patriots’ chances of winning one-on-one matchups against Dolphin defenders. However, the addition of rookie tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene could help lighten the load for the team’s wide receivers, as they are definitely miles better than the team’s putrid tight end room from last season. Based on what we’ve heard from training camp, both Asiasi & Keene are dynamic, but the learning curve for rookie tight ends is typically steep, so it will definitely be a storyline to follow.

After a stellar rookie season, Sony Michel struggled mightily during the 2019 season, as he had a tough time getting started behind a patchwork offensive line. Luckily for Michel, starting center David Andrews is returning to action, after missing the entire 2019 season due to blood clots in his lungs. Andrews was a key anchor for the offensive line that dominated opponents during the Patriots’ last run to the Super Bowl. Michel had a leg injury that sidelined him for most of training camp, but when he returned, it was reported that he was quicker and more agile than the last time we saw him. As always, the Patriots will turn to the reliable duo of James White & Rex Burkhead to supplement Michel, with the two veterans also playing an important role in the passing game as well. The most intriguing member of the running back room has to be Damien Harris, who had a strong training camp until he suffered an untimely injury that will sideline him for at least 3 weeks.

I think it’s obvious that the biggest question mark surrounding the Patriots right now has to be the health & effectiveness of Cam Newton. Due to a lack of preseason games, we haven’t seen Newton in action for almost a year, which means that his running ability (which typically energizes an offense) is an unknown for now. Hence, we don’t know how comfortable Newton will be scrambling around the pocket and line of scrimmage tomorrow. Most importantly, it’s interesting to wonder if he’ll still initiate contact with defenders, which was a big part of his game back in Carolina. That being said, the mystery around Newton’s game could actually be a boon for Belichick and Josh McDaniels, as Miami’s head coach Brian Flores won’t know exactly what he’s dealing with. Most analysts have said that they expect McDaniels’ plan for Newton to be similar to Norv Turner’s short passing game from Newton’s stellar but injury plagued 2018 season, which actually seems to suit how the Patriots’ receivers play, as they’re definitely more effective across the middle of the field.

All in all, I’m excited to see how the post-Brady Patriots’ offense looks with a more mobile quarterback in Cam Newton, whose strengths may help cover the warts at wide receiver and other skill positions.

New England Patriots Practice
FOXBOROUGH, MA – AUGUST 26: QB Cam Newton, left, and Julian Edelman work out during a drill at the training camp. The New England Patriots hold practice training camp at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA on Aug. 27, 2020. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

 

2. Can the defense deliver?

One of the biggest storylines of the offseason was the news that several Patriots veterans, including key leaders Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung had decided to opt out of the 2020 season due to concerns surrounding COVID-19. The absence of these two important defensive contributors will undoubtedly cast a spotlight on younger players on the defense, and test Bill Belichick’s confidence in them.

It may be hard to take the Dolphins’ offense seriously with 37 year old journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, but as the Patriots learned last year, he can hurt you when it matters most. Fitzpatrick’s top two weapons in Devante Parker & Mike Gesicki were key contributors during that December loss, and will likely be an important part of Miami’s game plan tomorrow. Uncharacteristically, Stephon Gilmore struggled mightily covering Parker, so I have to imagine that the reigning Defensive Player of the Year is salivating at the opportunity to exact revenge by locking up Miami’s top receiver. Due to the loss of Patrick Chung, it’ll be interesting to see how the Patriots decide to match up against Gesicki, but I wouldn’t be surprised if their top pick Kyle Dugger is given the assignment due to the success he had during training camp. Having Devin McCourty in the back end will be as important as ever, due to his effectiveness as both a player and a leader. New England will also have to deal with Preston Williams & Jakeem Grant, but I’m confident that the rest of the secondary will be able to limit their effectiveness.

However, the team’s defensive line and linebacker corps are much more of an enigma. The defensive line struggled to stop the run throughout last season, with the Wild Card game being a clear example, as Derrick Henry accumulated 182 rushing yards for the Titans. Other than adding veteran DT Beau Allen, the Patriots mostly stayed pat at the position, which means that Lawrence Guy and a slew of younger players will be tasked with playing much better against the run this season. Tomorrow’s game will be a tall task, as Miami has one of the fastest running backs in the league in Matt Breida, and a bruising rusher in Jordan Howard.

Dont’a Hightower’s decision to opt out dealt a devastating blow to the team’s linebacker corps, as he was a steadying force in the middle of the field. Luckily, the Patriots went into April’s draft with the goal of improving at linebacker, due to the departures of Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts, & Kyle Van Noy (the latter two players signed with Miami). This led to the team drafting Alabama LB Anfernee Jennings & Michigan LB Josh Uche, who should help add versatility to the position behind three-year veteran Ja’Whaun Bentley. New England will also rely on Chase Winovich and John Simon to set the edge, and get after Fitzpatrick.

The Patriots had one of the NFL’s best defenses last year, so it will be intriguing to see how the retooled lineup looks tomorrow against a Dolphins offense that gave them fits last season.

Kansas City Chiefs v New England Patriots
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 08: Stephon Gilmore #24 of the New England Patriots runs the ball after recovering a fumble against the Kansas City Chiefs at Gillette Stadium on December 08, 2019 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Gilmore was ruled down after recovering the fumble. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

 

Injury Report:

Patriots

  • Yodny Cajuste (knee) – Out
  • Gunner Olszewski (foot) – Out
  • Dalton Keene (neck) – Questionable
  • Cassh Maluia (knee) – Questionable
  • N’Keal Harry (shoulder) – Questionable
  • Chase Winovich (shoulder) – Questionable

Dolphins

  • Clayton Fejedelem (pectoral) – Doubtful

Bonus:

1. New uniforms!

Tomorrow’s game will mark the debut of the Patriots’ new uniforms, which are primarily based on the team’s popular Color Rush uniforms which were worn from 2016 to 2019. Interestingly, this will be the first time the team wears the combination in a non-prime time game.

Dev new unis 2020
(Photo via the New England Patriots)

 

2. Fans in the stands?

Due to COVID-19, the Patriots will not have fans in Gillette Stadium throughout September. New England has been provided with a recorded track of artificial crowd noise which will be filtered throughout the stadium.

 

Prediction: Patriots 23, Dolphins 14

Here are my picks for the rest of the NFL’s Week 1 slate (apart from Thursday’s opening game).

Jets at Bills: Bills

Packers at Vikings: Vikings

Eagles at Washington: Eagles

Browns at Ravens: Ravens

Colts at Jaguars: Colts

Raiders at Panthers: Raiders

Bears at Lions: Bears

Seahawks at Falcons: Seahawks

Chargers at Bengals: Chargers

Cardinals at 49ers: 49ers

Buccaneers at Saints: Saints

Cowboys at Rams: Cowboys

Steelers at Giants: Steelers

Titans at Broncos: Titans

Will the Patriots finally overcome their struggles in South Beach?

Even though the Patriots were dominant during their Week 1 rout of Pittsburgh, they should be extremely cautious entering tomorrow’s divisional matchup against the lowly Miami Dolphins (0-1), due to their historic struggles in Hard Rock Stadium. The Patriots have lost 5 of their last 6 games in Miami, with their last win coming in 2016.

Here are some things to consider entering tomorrow’s game.

1. Who will win the matchup between Josh McDaniels and Brian Flores?

The Dolphins defense was dreadful against Baltimore in Week 1, as they surrendered 59 points to the Lamar Jackson-led Ravens. Most surprisingly, Jackson threw for over 300 yards and 5 touchdowns, and was able to silence his critics who felt that he would never succeed as a passer in the NFL. Due to Baltimore’s performance, most pundits expect the Patriots to light up the scoreboard in Miami, which is a claim I am skeptical of. Don’t get me wrong, adding Antonio Brown to the offense that scored 33 points against the Steelers should make Patriots fans excited about playing a dreadful Dolphins defense, but there is one key factor that cannot be ignored. Miami’s new head coach is Brian Flores, who was a member of the Pats’ staff from 2004 to 2018, including one season as the team’s primary defensive play-caller. Flores was the architect (along with Bill Belichick) of the game plan that limited the Rams to 3 points in Super Bowl LIII, and clearly has a great understanding of the way Josh McDaniels, Tom Brady, and the offense operate. Belichick and the Patriots have always struggled against his ex-pupils, which makes this matchup even more intriguing.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Brady and the offense have a great performance, but the presence of Brian Flores on the other sideline may make this matchup tighter than people expect it to be.

tb vmiami p.jpg
(Photo via Getty Images)

2. Can the Pats’ defense shut down Miami’s offense?

It wasn’t pretty the last time the Patriots’ defense took the field in Miami, as they gave up a 69-yard multi-lateral touchdown to Miami on the last play of the game now known as the ”Miracle in Miami”. The defense has clearly improved since that fateful day in December, becoming more stout against both the run and the pass. On the other hand, Miami’s offense had a terrible outing in Week 1, as they only mustered 10 points against the dominant Ravens defense. Both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen struggled at quarterback, with the Dolphins rushing attack also being rendered non-existent. Once again, the Patriots’ effective performance against Pittsburgh doesn’t necessarily guarantee an easy win against Miami, due to the fact that their former wide receiver’s coach, Chad O’Shea, is now the Dolphins’ offense coordinator. O’Shea’s familiarity with the Patriots’ system may enable him to find some chinks in their armor, which is something Belichick and Jerod Mayo will need to be cognizant about.

At the same time, I feel like the Patriots’ defense will have the ability to dominate this game if they continue to smother the opposing offense’s weapons, while applying effective pressure on the quarterback.

pats d vs miami 17.jpg
(Photo via NBC Sports)

Injury Report:

Patriots

  • Marcus Cannon (shoulder) – Questionable
  • Matt LaCosse (ankle) – Questionable
  • Brandon Bolden (hamstring) – Out

Dolphins

  • Charles Harris (wrist) – Questionable
  • Trent Harris (foot) – Questionable
  • Bobby McCain (shoulder) – Questionable
  • Daniel Kilgore (shoulder) – Questionable
  • Reshad Jones (ankle) – Out
  • Albert Wilson (hip/calf) – Out
  • Walt Aikens (shoulder) – Not listed

 

Prediction: Patriots 27, Dolphins 14

Here are my picks for the NFL’s other Week 2 games (excluding Thursday Night Football)

Cardinals at Ravens: Ravens

Chargers at Lions: Chargers

Colts at Titans: Titans

49ers at Bengals: Bengals

Jaguars at Texans: Texans

Vikings at Packers: Vikings

Cowboys at Redskins: Cowboys

Seahawks at Steelers: Steelers

Bills at Giants: Bills

Chiefs at Raiders: Chiefs

Saints at Rams: Rams

Bears at Broncos: Bears

Eagles at Falcons: Eagles

Browns at Jets: Browns

Super Pats stifle the Rams to win their sixth title!

TEAM

1

2

3

4

T

LAR 0 0 3 0 3

NE

0 3 0 10 13

I’m not sure that most fans or casual viewers were expecting a defensive slugfest when they tuned into Super Bowl LIII, but that ‘s what we got yesterday, as the Patriots prevailed 13-3 over the Los Angeles Rams (15-4) to win the Super Bowl for the sixth time in the last seventeen years. Although points were at a premium in this game, Julian Edelman capped off his impressive postseason with a performance that earned him the Super Bowl MVP Award.

Here are some takeaways from Super Bowl LIII.

1. Defense wins championships!

As most Patriots fans lament, the New England defense was the weak link the last time the team was in the Super Bowl, as they didn’t have an answer for Nick Foles or the Philadelphia Eagles who dropped 41 points on them. Following that dreadful performance, not much was expected of the defense, with most people overlooking them throughout the season and also leading up to this game, as pundits felt that the Rams had the edge against Bill Belichick’s defensive unit. That was not the case last night, as the raw physicality and ferociousness of the Pats’ defense sent the high-flying Rams crashing down to earth. Whenever Tom Brady and the offense struggled to finish off drives, the defense had their back, as they didn’t allow Jared Goff and the Rams to gain any sort of momentum.

Belichick and Brian Flores ensured that Goff would never be comfortable, as they consistently sent pressure after him which caused the young signal caller to either rush throws or absorb vicious hits. In total, the Pats sacked Goff 4 times and hit him an additional 12 times, with Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy playing a huge part. The Rams were one of the NFL’s best offenses due to a steady balance between their rushing and passing attacks which allowed them to either stretch the field with play action or punish their opponent with the speed and power of Todd Gurley. Neither facet of their identity was in play yesterday, as Gurley only got 11 touches, and Goff was forced to drop-back more times than he was accustomed to. This resulted in the Rams being shut out in the first half for the first time under Sean McVay.

In the second half, the Rams had a chance to take the lead, as Brandin Cooks was wide open in the end zone due to a busted coverage, but a second’s hesitation by Goff resulted in a wobbly ball that allowed Jason McCourty to cover 10 yards and dislodge the ball from Cooks’ hands. Later on in the fourth quarter, with the score at 10-3 in favor of the Patriots, the Rams were driving to tie the game, and Goff lofted a perfect pass to Cooks that was knocked out by Duron Harmon to save a touchdown. On the very next play, Harmon came on a safety blitz that caused Goff to panic and float a ball in the vicinity of Cooks that was picked off by Stephon Gilmore to all but seal the victory.

The game plan constructed by Belichick and Flores was absolutely remarkable, as it befuddled the normally impervious McVay, and knocked the Rams out of rhythm. As the Pats proved last night, defense wins championships.

gilmore pick sb53.jpg
(Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

2. The offense was clutch when it mattered

As the final score indicates, the Patriots’ offense left a bunch of points on the field, as Wade Phillips’ defensive unit were able to consistently make stops in order to ensure that the Rams were in contention throughout the night. Tom Brady had a nightmarish start to his night, as his first pass was intercepted (due to a bad read on his part), which wiped out a promising opening drive that appeared to be destined for points. Julian Edelman (10 catches for 141 yards) was a consistent mismatch for the Patriots, as the Rams could not cover him regardless of who was on him, with Nickell Roby-Coleman and Aqib Talib being burnt on several occasions. Edelman was Brady’s security blanket throughout the night, and was especially clutch on third down.

In the fourth quarter, the Pats got the ball back with just under 10 minutes left, and Tom Brady relied on his old friends, Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, on a 5 play, 69 yard drive that helped the Patriots drive down the field. Gronk turned back the clock on this drive, as he first beat Samson Ebukam on a 18-yard catch and run, and he set up the Pats deep in the red zone with a diving 29-yard catch. On the very next play, Sony Michel pounded the ball in for the game’s only touchdown to give the Patriots a 10-3 lead that they would never relinquish.

I also feel that the penultimate possession by the Patriots was equally impressive, as they were able to use Gilmore’s interception to milk the clock. They rushed the ball from their own 4-yard line all the way to the Rams’ 24-yard line, with Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead leading the way to set up Stephen Gostkowski’s 41-yard field goal to make it a two possession game.

One of the headlines leading into this game was the matchup between the Rams defensive line and the Pats offensive line, who were amongst the NFL’s best at their respective positions. I think it’s fair to say that the Patriots’ offensive line performed much better than people expected, as the Rams only sacked Brady once (the first and only time he was sacked during the postseason) and hit him 4 times. The duo of Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh were limited to 2 combined QB hits.

Brady did look erratic at times and he was hardly his best self, but it is hard to deny that #12 and the rest of the offense were absolutely clutch when it counted.

gronk catch sb53.jpeg
(Photo via Getty Images)

3. Special teams was remarkable!

Apart from Stephen Gostkowski’s missed field goal in the first quarter, the Pats’ special teams unit had an unblemished performance, with Ryan Allen constantly booting impressive punts that resulted in the Rams being pinned deep in their own territory. Matthew Slater also played a big role, as he was responsible for downing Allen’s punts and stopping punt returns before they could become deadly.

Gostkowski made up for his early miss with a late field goal that made it all but impossible for the Rams to mount a comeback.

gostkowski fg sb53.jpg
(Matt Rourke/AP)

Statistical Leaders:

Patriots

  • Passing: Tom Brady – 21/35 for 262 yards, and 1 interception
  • Rushing: Sony Michel – 18 carries for 94 yards, and 1 touchdown
  • Receiving: Julian Edelman – 10 catches for 141 yards
  • Defensive: Jonathan Jones – 8 tackles (including 1 sack)

Rams

  • Passing: Jared Goff – 19/38 for 229 yards, and 1 interception
  • Rushing: Todd Gurley II – 10 carries for 35 yards
  • Receiving: Brandin Cooks – 8 catches for 120 yards
  • Defensive: Cory Littleton – 10 tackles

 

What’s next?: The Patriots enter the offseason as champions, but will need to quickly turn their attention to the draft and free agency, as they may end up losing key contributors to either free agency or retirement. It will be interesting to see how this team looks during the 2019-20 season.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Pats may end up hosting the Chiefs, Steelers, Cowboys, or Browns for their season opener.

Bonus: Check out this sweet Disney World promo featuring Brady and Edelman!