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New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins in Week 1: What to Watch For

The New England Patriots Week 1 matchup against the Miami Dolphins will be a bellwether for the Patriots 2022 season.

The New England Patriots Week 1 road matchup against the Miami Dolphins will be a bellwether for the 2022 season. In an AFC East that looks to be the most competitive, it has been in years, starting off on the right foot for the Patriots will be of paramount importance. And after New England’s less than impressive preseason, the rubber hits the road for Bill Belichick’s vision for the 2022 Patriots this week at Miami.

Here is what to watch for on Sunday.

New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins: What to Watch for in Week 1

Starting Off Strong

Last season, the Patriots opened their season against the Dolphins. In Mac Jones’ first NFL start, the Patriots narrowly lost after a late Damien Harris fumble. Had Harris not coughed up the ball and New England had won that game, their season could have changed dramatically. New England would have competed for the AFC East more closely, dispelled notions of their struggles to beat Miami, and most likely played the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round of the playoffs. What a difference one game can make.

The Patriots Week 1 game has all the trimmings of a must-win matchup. With Miami’s spending spree this off-season, the arms race in the AFC West, and the continued success of the Buffalo Bills, the Patriots cannot afford to start 2-4, as they did in 2021. A Wild Card playoff spot will not be as easy to come by this season, meaning each game will matter more. And with the difficult games on the backend of their schedule, stockpiling wins early is a necessity for the Patriots.

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The Patriots need to start strong. Plain and simple. If New England can eke out a win in Week 1, that will help them be in a good position down the line. But if they stumble out of the gate, they may be playing catch-up for the rest of the season.

Bill Belichick Versus Mike McDaniel

Bill Belichick (who could be facing his most challenging season in New England) has coached in 477 regular and postseason games and Mike McDaniel has coached in zero. That should mean that Belichick has the edge. But that might not be the case. Belichick might be the most seasoned head coach in the league, having coached longer in the NFL than McDaniel has been alive, but his coaching staff is very green.

In addition to the departure of Josh McDaniels, the Patriots lost long-time running backs coach Ivan Fears to retirement. Moreover, Joe Judge and Matt Patricia, a special teams coach and defensive coordinator, respectively, are running the offense. So, while Belichick’s encyclopedic football mind is brimming with new thoughts and ideas, his staff is relatively new. “New” does not necessarily mean incompetent but it speaks to the lack of longstanding institutional knowledge in Foxboro.

Last season, the Patriots, with many staples along the coaching staff, made countless uncharacteristic mental errors. Having to burn timeouts at inopportune times, delay of game penalties, and substitution problems saddled the 2021 Patriots. And while these can be fixed, it is not obvious that the less-experienced coaches will resolve these issues.

Conversely, that could all also be true for Mike McDaniel and his coaching staff. Keep a watchful eye on both sides for unforced communication and concentration lapses, as they could be the deciding factor in what could be a hotly contested game.

What Is the Patriots Offensive Philosophy?

During the preseason, to say the Patriots new-look outside/wide-zone offense looked disjointed would be generous. The scheme fashioned by Mike Shanahan in the 1990s, by all accounts, takes a lot of time to master. The issue in New England is the Patriots need to hit the ground running. 

While it seems unlikely that the Patriots ironed out all the kinks in the scheme that plagued them in the preseason, improvement still could have occurred. If the wide-zone scheme looks even twenty percent better than it did in the preseason, it would be a step in the right direction. But with the necessity to start the season strong and stack up wins early, will the Patriots table their hopes for the new offense in favor of their established one? It is a fair question to ask. 

In years past, Bill Belichick has changed direction on offense mid-season. In 2021, after weeks of miserable off-tackle sledding, Belichick and the Patriots opted to run between the guards and behind a fullback. That decision helped the Patriots become the eighth-best rushing offense in football. Even back in 2018, as the Patriots floundered in the final four weeks of the season, a change to a power-running scheme over a spread offense lifted them to a Super Bowl victory.

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Belichick could do the same this season, even in Week 1. Do not be surprised if, even after an off-season of offensive changes, the Patriots return to their bread-and-butter on offense against Miami.

A First Look at the Defense

The Patriots defense flew under the radar in the off-season, but they have quietly made serious changes on that side of the ball.

New England let three of their most senior linebackers walk, did not re-sign their Second-Team All-Pro cornerback, and invested in several young defensive talents in the draft. And yet, relative to the offense, there seems to be little concern for how they will perform in 2022. With no changes in the defensive coaching staff and minor injuries to the depth chart, the defense looks to provide the team with some stability. 

While they are not flush with high-end talent, they are a unit built on the backs of smart, capable, and tough players. With the addition of Jabrill Peppers and Mack Wilson Sr., the Patriots got more physical and athletic, something they lacked during the home stretch of the 2021 season. If they, among others, can provide New England with sturdy and stout defensive play, the Patriots defense could find themselves being an unassuming top-10 defense in the NFL and help the team start off the season with a win in Week 1.

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