Miami Dolphins week two opponent preview: New England Patriots

Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots
Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots / Maddie Meyer/GettyImages

In the second of two away games to start their 2023 NFL season, the Miami Dolphins ship up the East Coast to Foxborough for their first divisional matchup of the new year. The 1-0 Dolphins, fresh off a high-scoring win in Los Angeles over the Chargers, look to improve to 2-0 against an 0-1 New England Patriots team that put up a good fight against the Philadelphia Eagles last weekend.

The 2023 New England Patriots

Mac Jones
Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots / Maddie Meyer/GettyImages

These are not your father's Patriots.

New England has been struggling to find their identity under Bill Belichick since the departure of greatest-of-all-time quarterback Tom Brady left the team in 2020. The franchise drafted Mac Jones in 2021 with the 15th overall pick, but has yet to fully pan out as the new franchise quarterback. This new Patriots team continues to field a good defense, but what is going on with their offense? Let's dive in.

QB Mac Jones

The expected predecessor of Tom Brady has had a very up-and-down career in his first couple seasons. As a rookie in 2021, Jones led New England to a 10-7 record with solid numbers, including 3,800 yards and a 67.6% completion percentage. But in 2022, Jones and the Patriots took a step back. While he missed a few games with injury, Jones threw for less than 3,000 yards and mustered a 14-11 touchdown to interception ratio.

Last week, in the Patriots' close loss to Philadelphia, Jones threw the ball 54(!) times, completing around 65% of them for 316 yards and 3 touchdowns, to 1 interception. Against the vaunted Eagles defense, this is a pretty fantastic stat line for Jones, even though New England only scored 20 points and their opening drive concluded in a pick-six.

In Sunday's matchup, it will be imperative for Jones to finish drives in the endzone and limit the turnovers. The Dolphins, as we saw last week, will score points and march down the field with relative ease, so Jones and the Patriots will likely have to score often and capitalize on opportunities.

Patriots' weapons

Ezekiel Elliott
Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots / Maddie Meyer/GettyImages

Possibly New England's biggest move of the offseason was recruiting and signing RB Ezekiel Elliott, who was released by the Dallas Cowboys this spring. Elliott, once the best back in the NFL, had a couple underwhelming seasons in his most recent years in Dallas. Pairing Zeke with promising, young back Rhamondre Stevenson should have given the Patriots a great 1-2 punch in the backfield.

However, last week against Philadelphia, that was not the case. The Patriots could not get the run game going against a monster defensive line, forcing Jones to throw the ball over fifty times. Elliott only gained 29 yards on 7 carries, while Stevenson barely gained 2 yards per attempt in 12 rushing attempts.

However, the Patriots did find some success through the air, completing 35 passes for 316 yards. The most impressive aspect of the New England passing game last week was the fact they spread the ball around to multiple receivers. Two receivers had six receptions, two receivers had five receptions and in total, eight Patriots caught passes last week.

Wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, the leader in a mediocre-at-best receiving corps, caught 6 passes for 64 yards and 2 touchdowns. Stevenson, one of the better receiving backs in the league added 6 catches for 64 yards of his own last week. Tight end Hunter Henry recorded 5 receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown as well. Former Dolphin Mike Gesicki got in on the fun with three receptions of his own.

The Patriots don't have a true number-one receiver, but the offense schemed well to include several receivers contributing last week and the Dolphins must be prepared to cover everyone, whether they are split out wide, in line as a tight end, or a receiver out of the backfield.

The New England defense

Matthew Judon
Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots / Kevin Sabitus/GettyImages

As I mentioned earlier, the Patriots always have a solid defense, and it appears the 2023 squad is no exception.

Last week, New England held Philadelphia to only 251 total yards of offense, including only 154 passing yards to Jalen Hurts, A.J. Brown, Devonta Smith, and company. The Patriots held the Eagles to 4-13 on third down and forced a fumble from Hurts. Additionally, New England only allowed 97 yards on the ground in 25 attempts, less than 4 yards per rush attempt.

It doesn't stop there. The Patriots generated four quarterback hits that led to three sacks, throwing Jalen Hurts off his game in a rare poor performance. Leading the defensive line is Matthew Judon, the perennial Pro Bowl pass rusher, who contributed a sack and a tackle for loss. Linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley appears to be taking a big leap for the defense, as he added 9 tackles, including a tackle for loss.

In the secondary, New England isn't lacking either. Safeties Kyle Dugger, Jabrill Peppers, and Adrian Phillips all made their presence felt on Sunday and played a massive part in limiting Jalen Hurts. Rookie first-round cornerback Christian Gonzalez added five tackles, including a sack, tackle for loss, and one pass defensed.

The bottom line

Bill Belichick
Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots / Maddie Meyer/GettyImages

The bottom line for Sunday night in Foxborough is this is still a New England Patriots team coached by Bill Belichick, meaning they should not be overlooked.

While Mac Jones may not be a top-tier quarterback in this league, he still lit up the Eagles' defense for 316 yards and 3 touchdowns last week. The Dolphins don't have the defensive line Philadelphia has, so don't expect the Patriots' run game to be a non-factor again this weekend. And while Tua and the Dolphins had an insane offensive game last week in Los Angeles, the Patriots defense is a whole lot better than the Chargers'.

The biggest mistake the Dolphins can make Sunday night is not taking the Patriots seriously. Miami must find a way to continue scoring at will against a very good Patriots defense. While New England's identity on offense is still up in the air, they still present a formidable threat.

I do think Miami wins the game by at least a touchdown, but if the Dolphins give the Patriots opportunities, they will capitalize. And giving Belichick the chance to capitalize on mistakes could make for a game too close for comfort.

Luke's prediction:

Dolphins 31, Patriots 23