It’s projected to be one of the most exciting games of the week, according to SmartRatings. And we’re breaking down the matchup and revealing our model’s Patriots vs. Dolphins prediction.
If you’re a fan of the Miami Dolphins, you’re probably feeling pretty good about their offensive performance from Week 1 of the NFL season.
If you’re a fan of a team that plays the Dolphins this season, you’re probably feeling a little queasy.
The Dolphins put on an offensive clinic in last Sunday’s 36-34 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, producing some eye-popping numbers.
Slowing down Mike McDaniel’s offensive machine won’t be easy, but Bill Belichick will welcome the challenge on NBC’s Sunday Night Football when the Dolphins take on the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.
The sportsbook consensus has the Patriots as home underdogs in this one (at around a three-point spread) with an over/under of about 46.5, and our model’s Dolphins-Patriots prediction is similar with Miami owning a 56.3% win probability. At a 61, our SmartRatings system pegs it as the fourth-most exciting game of the NFL Week 2 slate.
The Patriots may not have won their season opener, but they had an encouraging showing in nearly knocking off the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday, falling 25-20.
Granted they didn’t come away with a win, but the defense made things difficult for Jalen Hurts and company.
The Patriots limited the Eagles to just one offensive touchdown and an average of 4.11 yards per play. Last year, the Eagles had the second-most offensive TDs in the NFL with 57 and averaged 5.88 yards per play – the sixth-highest rate in the league. And they had four offensive TDs in Thursday night’s 34-28 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
Overall, the Eagles were limited to 37.7% of successful offensive plays – the fourth-lowest rate in the NFL – and this comes after they ran successful plays 53.1% of the time in 2022 – the league’s third-highest rate.
Percent of Successful Plays Allowed – 2023
- Cleveland Browns (24.1)
- Dallas Cowboys (36.9)
- Carolina Panthers (37.5)
- New England Patriots (37.7)
- Washington Commanders (37.9)
The defense was especially stingy late when the team needed stops to stay in the game. New England thwarted Philly on all three of its third-down attempts in the final quarter, as well as on a fourth-and-2 just before the 2-minute warning.
In all, the Pats did a good job of getting Philadelphia’s offense off the field, stopping them on nine of their 13 third-down attempts. Overall, there were definitely some positives to take away from a loss against a team that played for the Lombardi Trophy seven months ago.
Well, it’s not going to get any easier in this AFC East showdown.
Miami’s Passing Attack
The Dolphins marched down SoFi Field last week from the opening kickoff to the tune of a league-best 30 first downs and an NFL-high 536 total yards of offense – a whopping 103 yards more than the next-closest team, the Chargers – while their 8.25 yards per play was 2.33 more than the next-closest team, the San Francisco 49ers.
Tua Tagovailoa orchestrated Miami’s offensive assault, finishing with 466 passing yards – the third most in a season opener in the Super Bowl era, trailing only Tom Brady’s 517 in 2011 and Dan Marino’s 479 in 1994 – and threw three touchdown passes with one interception.
Tyreek Hill caught 11 passes and was on the receiving end of two of those touchdowns, as well as 215 of those yards – the third most in Week 1 in the Super Bowl era – while Jaylen Waddle caught four passes for 78 yards.
Behind Tagovailoa, Hill and Waddle, as well as receivers River Cracraft, Braxton Berrios and tight end Durham Smythe, the Dolphins averaged an NFL-best 10.4 yards per pass play – nearly double the league average of 5.6.
The numbers are impressive enough on their own, but a deeper dive into the stats really shows how explosive Miami’s offense was against the Chargers.
No player was targeted more in Week 1 than Hill, with Tagovailoa throwing 15 passes in his direction. And on those 15 throws, the four-time All-Pro receiver registered a staggering 12 burns, recording a ridiculous 18.63 burn yards per target.
And how about his counterpart?
Glad you asked. All Waddle did was produce a massive 23.37 burn yards per target.
Among the 45 receivers targeted at least five times in Week 1, Hill and Waddle ranked 1-2 in burn yards per target. (This came after Waddle had a league-best 13.52 burn yards per target and Hill ranked fourth at 12.98 among the 54 receivers targeted at least 75 times in 2022.)
Highest Burn Yards Per Target – 2023 (Min. Five Targets)
- Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins (23.37)
- Tyreek Hill, Miami Dolphins (18.63)
- Tutu Atwell, Los Angeles Rams (16.93)
- Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers (16.13)
- Chris Olave, New Orleans Saints (15.43)
Miami’s offense ranks second in the NFL with a 45.9 matchup win percentage heading into Week 2, second only to New England’s 50.0% win rate after Kendrick Bourne, Rhamondre Stevenson and Hunter Henry each had over 50 yards receiving from Mac Jones.
New England’s Pass Defense
Alright rookie, let’s see what you got.
Patriots first-round pick Christian Gonzalez has the nightmare assignment of drawing plenty of matchups against Miami’s dynamic duo in his second career game.
Hurts and the Eagles tried to expose the 21-year-old last Sunday, targeting him 11 times – one fewer than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Carlton Davis III for the most defensive targets by a corner in Week 1.
Gonzalez spent most of his day covering A.J. Brown and while he limited the Pro Bowl receiver to just one reception of more than 15 yards and was credited with one pass break-up, he still found himself beaten more times than not.
Gonzalez registered a burn-allowed percentage of 63.6 – the seventh worst among the 43 cornerbacks targeted a minimum of five times in Week 1 – and an open-allowed percentage of 81.8. So far in 2023, the NFL average for burn-allowed percentage is 48.0 and the average for open-allowed percentage by corners is 69.9.
Hill and Waddle have made life miserable for some of the best corners in the league, so it’s a tough ask for the young Gonzalez to try to contain them, but if New England’s defensive front can put some pressure on Tagovailoa, it would likely go a long way in helping the secondary out.
New England had the league’s fourth-highest blitz rate in Week 1 at 43.6% and sacked Hurts three times. Tagovailoa was never sacked by the Chargers, though he was taken down three times by the Patriots in his only matchup with them last season.
The Dolphins opened the 2022 season with a 20-7 win over the Patriots in McDaniel’s coaching debut before New England won the Week 17 rematch 23-21, with Tagovailoa sitting out because of his second concussion of the year.
In the first meeting, Tagovailoa completed 23-of-33 passes for 270 yards with a touchdown, while Hill caught eight passes for 94 yards and Waddle had four receptions for 69 yards, with 42 of those yards coming on a TD.
In that contest, Tagovailoa and a well-thrown rate of 71.9 while averaging 8.03 air yards on his passes. For the rest of the season, he had a well-thrown rate of 77.3 and averaged 9.96 air yards on his throws.
In last Sunday’s opener, Tagovailoa averaged 11.79 air yards per pass – only Derek Carr averaged more (12.70) – while his well-thrown percentage of 93.0 ranked third among all QBs with a minimum of 15 attempts.
He was his most accurate while stationary behind his offensive line, compiling a well-thrown rate of 96.9 on his 32 passes while planted in the pocket – best in the NFL among all QBs with a minimum of 15 such attempts.
On seven attempts while moving, however, he wasn’t as precise with his throws, as his well-thrown rate dropped to 71.4.
Obviously, not a huge surprise to see his accuracy dip while on the move, but the NFL average for well-thrown rate while moving in Week 1 was 77.3, so he rated lower than the league average.
Keion White could play a big part in getting Tagovailoa on the move. The backup edge rusher appeared in only 23 defensive plays last week but was credited with a team-high five QB pressures – one more than four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Matthew Judon.
Judon and end Deatrich Wise Jr. each registered four QB hurries on Tagovailoa in Week 1 of last season.
It’s no big secret that applying pressure on a quarterback not only puts him under duress but also takes the QB out of his rhythm and disrupts the timing with his receivers.
It also might help if the Pats can pile up some rushing yards with Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott to control time of possession and keep the ball out of Tua’s hands.
But if the Patriots don’t get Tagovailoa out of his comfort zone and allow him to stand unimpeded in the pocket, that gives time for Hill and Waddle to create separation downfield and Tagovailoa will pick the secondary apart.
If that happens, New England is staring at its first 0-2 start since 2001.
That was the year that Drew Bledsoe started the season’s first two games before getting hurt in Week 2, opening the door for some sixth-round draft pick named Tom Brady.
Brady then famously led the franchise to its first Super Bowl championship, but he isn’t going to be walking through the door this time.
(Though New York Jets fans might be open to that idea.)
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