Dolphins vs. Patriots: Three things to watch for in the season opener

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (17) runs the ball during an NFL preseason football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021 (Photo via Dolphins)

The Miami Dolphins face off against the New England Patriots at 4:25 p.m. this Sunday at Gillette Stadium for the first game of the regular season. 

Quarterback play:

Alabama fans are excited to see the duel between quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones who were together on the Alabama roster in 2019. 

In two preseason games, Tagovailoa had 24 completions on 34 attempts with one touchdown and one interception. During three preseason contests, Jones threw 36 completions on 52 attempts with one touchdown and no interceptions.

The edge would go to Tagovailoa over Jones, he already has NFL experience and is fully healthy. This season Tagovailoa will have an offensive scheme catered to his skill set and retooled offensive weapons.

Defense, Defense, Defense:

While the QB play will be important, the defense may be even more significant. The Fins enter with a talented eleven that allowed the sixth-fewest points in the NFL last season. The Pats boast veteran linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who returns to the field after opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19. 

The expectation is that the Patriots’ defense has improved from last season with the addition of outside linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Matt Judon. They ranked 27th in sacks last year with 24; that number should increase with the two veteran pass rushers.

Linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel staring down the defensive line. Photo courtesy of the Miami Dolphins

Miami managed to keep all-pro cornerback Xavien Howard after a public contract dispute almost caused a hold-out. The secondary added another ballhawk in safety Jevon Holland in the second-round from Oregon during the 2021 draft. Holland is currently not listed as a starter on the depth chart but should see playing time. 

The Fins have elevated the role of outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel after releasing Van Noy early in the offseason. Van Ginkel has the potential to be a pro-bowl caliber player after a breakout 2020 season that included five and a half sacks, three forced fumbles, and one defensive touchdown. Fans should keep an eye on the havoc Van Ginkel will create with a full-time role on this defensive squad.

Brian Flores proved he is a premier defensive mind last year, but Bill Belichick has already cemented his legacy as an all-time great. The advantage on the defensive side tilts towards the Pats strictly on Belichick’s experience of proving to be a nightmare scheming young quarterbacks. 

Revamped offenses:  

When it comes to offense, both teams added weapons. The Patriots picked up tight end Hunter Henry and wide receiver Nelson Agholor during free agency. They are looking to implement the same two-tight-end style of offense they implemented early in the decade with Henry and Jonnu Smith. 

The Dolphins added a pair of speedsters to their receiving corps, one during the 2021 draft with first-round pick Jaylen Waddle from Alabama and Will Fuller, who signed in free agency. The Fins had issues last year with receivers failing to create separation, but with the speed on the field, this should no longer be the case. 

Verdict:

With young quarterbacks at the helm and top defenses on both sides, the game on Sunday has the ingredients for a fun watch. Jones will try to step into the Tom Brady role during his first few years. Tagovailoa will attempt to prove all the doubters wrong by becoming an impactful player who leads the Dolphins to a winning season. 

The Fins will win this game 24-17. Tagovailoa will no longer be handcuffed by offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s offensive playbook. Along with a new playmaker in Waddle, the offense should be more vertical. 

The Fins have added to their defense by subtraction this offseason and continued to develop prospects such as defensive tackle Raekwon Davis and Van Ginkel. Jones will have a high mountain to climb come Sunday.  

Alex Vargas is a digital journalism major at Florida International University. He enjoys watching sports and reading about the latest news. He makes a valiant effort to provide the best coverage of a story.