3 Keys to Victory for Patriots in Season Opener vs. Dolphins
The New England Patriots are slated to take on the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium this afternoon to kickoff the 2020 regular season in Foxboro.
With that, PatriotMaven is very excited to bring back it's weekly publications to pre-face each week's matchup. In this exciting Week 1 matchup, we dive into the three keys to a Patriots victory, as going up against a much-improved Dolphins team will not be easy by any stretch.
Here are the three biggest musts to securing the first mark in the win column this Sunday for the six-time Super Bowl champions.
Take Advantage of Red Zone Opportunities on Offense
One of the biggest takeaways from the Patriots game today will be their performance in the red zone and whether there are noticeable improvements from last season's struggle in the red area.
New England was a team that was almost always top 10 in touchdowns scored in the red zone when Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski were at their peak. With a 2018 drop in production from the future Hall of Fame tight end, the Patriots landed as the 12th most efficient scoring offense in the red zone that year. Then after the retirement of Gronkowski last offseason, they ranked an abysmal 26th in the league in that category in 2019. With unreliable field goal kickers and a poor redzone scoring offense, one big reason for the offensive struggles of last season stemmed from that stat alone.
New England was a little better in the red zone against the Dolphins last season, scoring touchdowns in the red zone at a 75 percent rate in last year's Week 2 matchup with Antonio Brown, then at roughly a 66 percent rate in last year's Week 17 loss. That being said, much more emphasis is going to be placed on scoring in the red zone this season with new additions like Cam Newton, Devin Asiasi, and an emphasis on carrying several offensive linemen no the 53-man roster. All of which will help power the ball across the goal line in the red area.
Change the Defensive Approach This Time Around
In that Week 17 matchup against Miami last season, Brian Flores and Chad O'Shea were able to basically call plays against a defense that they not only had familiarity with, however, also implemented with the Dolphins to a large degree. Even to this day, it would probably be quicker to count the small amount of differences between the Patriots' and Dolphins' defensive philosophies than to count the overwhelming similarities. Flores and O'Shea were able to expose the weaknesses of the New England defense they know so well last year. They did so largely by chipping away with short to slightly intermediate throws over the middle and creating long, sustained drives, forcing New England to adjust on defense and play off their game.
The traditional strict man coverage, Cover 1, Cover 0 principles that Bill Belichick normally lives by probably won't be something that he can carry into this game. Doing so again, after these same principles were picked apart in their last matchup, by the same quarterback they are facing this go-around, would be asking for another beating by his disciple, Flores.
Look for the Patriots to mix in many more zone principles. Maybe some Cover 2, Tampa 2 looks, along with some Cover 3 in order to better combat any potential shots downfield by Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Along with changing the defensive approach, one guy who had an underrated yet superb day in Week 17 was Miami tight end Mike Gesicki. Patrick Chung could not seem to handle him in that regular season matchup. Gesicki will need to be a priority by the Patriots defense, as he was a big help in the short yardage passing game last year. Hopefully someone like Adrian Phillips can step up into the box and potentially handle him. Another guy would be a Joejuan Williams.
Regardless, the defense is going to have to adapt and prevent Miami from attacking the weak spots of their traditional defensive looks. If the Patriots let Flores attack a defense he knows best, they are asking to enter a shootout. Which they came up on the losing end of the last Belichick-Flores shootout we saw.
Get Newton's Legs Involved, Keep Dolphins Defense on Toes
As just previously mentioned, the Miami defense shares a lot of similarities with at least the look we saw from last year's New England defense. With several former Patriots now playing for the Dolphins' defense (five former Patriots on that defense, three projected to start, four of the five are linebackers), some joining just this offseason, maybe it's time to give Flores a little bit of his own medicine.
While Flores attacked the Patriots' defensive weaknesses last year, New England now has the perfect player to attack a Patriot-like defense this go-around. The mobile and agile Newton could potentially make those former New England linebackers, Flores, and the rest of the Miami defense very frustrated and upset today.
One way in which offenses have attacked the Patriots Cover 1, Cover 0, man coverage looks and their unprepared linebackers is by using their mobile quarterbacks to their advantage (that is given the team had a mobile quarterback). Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Josh Allen, Carson Wentz are all guys that last season either had rushing success against New England or posed a threat to the point in which the Patriots had to switch some things up in the game plan to ensure they were not burned in that department.
Newton is no exception. In fact, Newton has probably given New England's defense and it's linebackers like now-Dolphins' Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts, the most trouble in his respective matchups against the team.
Miami could try to take away the middle of the field, stack the box to prevent the inside zone runs that the Patriots almost ran exclusively in last year's late season matchup, and then force New England to use their passing game to hit guys like N'Keal Harry outside the numbers while in tough matchups versus guys like Byron Jones.
In order to combat that, Newton will need to expose Miami's linebackers and create uncertainty on handoffs. If he can be successful early on with some runs to the outside, he will draw respect from their defense and will be able create just enough uncertainty to keep the Dolphins defense on their toes, which can then be take advantage of through play action passes, among other things.