As the old saying goes: “Let the games begin.”
The New England Patriots will open the regular season this Sunday, September 12 at 4:25pm against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. With preparations nearing their completion, the Patriots are set to take the field with several key free agent additions, some returning familiar faces and a new rookie quarterback with the expectations of an entire region on his shoulders.
Though many Patriots players are expected to garner some attention during Sunday’s matchup, here are three players on defense that might raise an eyebrow when the Pats take the field against the Dolphins.
With Stephon Gilmore sidelined for at least the first six weeks of the 2021 season, the Pats will turn to J.C. Jackson as their primary option. The former undrafted free agent has become quite the physical presence on the outside. Whether deployed in man coverage or zone concepts, Jackson has developed an impressive instinct for finding the football, earning nine interceptions in 2020. Still, the 25-year-old struggled a bit as the number one option, while Gilmore was out of the lineup. While Jackson has performed well during the 2021 preseason, his progress will be closely tracked from the outset of the regular season. He will draw quite the stout competitor in Miami’s DeVante Parker. Jackson will need to keep Parker within range at all times, as he is a receiver that is able to get separation from his defender. The fourth-year cornerback had some difficulty in man-to-man coverage in 2020, but has taken great strides towards correcting that issue in 2021. Sunday will be a great test for Jackson and the Patriots secondary.
One of the more prominent signings for the Pats in the early goings of free agency was former Dolphins defensive lineman Davon Godchaux. While the Pats struggled to contain the middle in 2020, Godchaux’s addition should greatly facilitate that task this season. At 6-foot-3, 310-pounds, he is a bit smaller than the prototypical Patriots’ nose tackle. However, he will bring a level of versatility to the interior of the defensive line that was not present for the Patriots in 2020. Godchaux is capable of playing all three tackle positions. However, he is likely to see the majority of his playing time in the middle. With Miami offensive lineman Austin Jackson having been activated from the COVID/Reserve list, it is possible that he might provide a boost to the Dolphins protection of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. As a result, they may be able to dedicate two players to containing Godchaux. Should he be able to take on the double team, he will provide the Pats linebackers and edge rushers to keep Tagovailoa uncomfortable for the better part of Sunday afternoon. This should allow the interior of the defensive line to competently defend Miami’s running game led by Myles Gaskin.
When the Patriots inked linebacker Matt Judon to a four-year, $56 million deal ($32 million guaranteed) in the offseason, expectations for the team’s linebackers immediately skyrocketed. The former Baltimore Raven has both the versatility and adaptability to become the team’s number one player on the edge. Throughout the preseason, Judon has looked to be everything as advertised, and more. He has been quite adept at keeping runs from reaching the corner on early downs, as well as providing speed and strength when rushing the quarterback; two areas in which the Patriots struggled last year. He has helped to create favorable matchups from off-the-ball snaps, as well. Judon’s presence allows the Pats front seven to play in position, facilitating their ability to set the edge, and stop the run. With Miami facing some uncertainty up front, Judon might be primed for a big day on Sunday.