The New England Patriots look to secure their first win of 2023 when they Miami Dolphins come to Gillette Stadium in Week 2. The longtime AFC East rivals will be playing on Sunday Night Football. Each has an opportunity to make a statement in front of a national audience.
While the Patriots (0-1) fought hard in their season opener against the Eagles, an early 16-0 deficit proved too tough to overcome. New England was able to make and keep the game close, but unable to secure the victory, falling by a final score of 25-20.
The Dolphins (1-0) put on an impressive offensive display in their Week 1 win over the Chargers. They amassed 536 yards of total offense, including 466 through the air. They prevailed 36-34 in Los Angeles.
If New England can even their record at 1-1 Sunday night, these are the seven keys to success:
1. Start Strong (both halves)
Last week the Patriots fell behind 16-0, courtesy of two first quarter turnovers. After closing the gap to 16-14 before halftime, the offense was again stagnant in the third quarter. Despite New England winning the second and fourth quarters by a combined score of 20-6, it was still not enough. The defense performed well throughout, but flailing at the start of either half cannot happen again this week. Not only will this provide Miami with momentum and confidence, it will also take away home field advantage for New England.
2. Run the Ball Effectively
Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott will need to rush the ball much more effectively in Week 2. Against Philadelphia, New England rushed for only 76 yards. This was due in part to playing from behind, an excellent Eagles defensive front, and a banged-up Patriots offensive line. The Patriots 1-2 punch at running back combined for 19 carries and 54 yards (2.8 yards/carry). The Dolphins allowed 233 yards rushing in their Week 1 win. If New England is able to get anywhere near that number on Sunday night, Miami is unlikely to leave Foxboro undefeated.
3. Control the Clock
Obviously running the ball effectively will help here, but it needs to expand beyond just that. Miami has a virtual track team on offense. RB Raheem Mostert and WR Tyreek Hill are arguably the fastest players at their respective positions in the entire NFL. Giving the Patriots defense a chance to rest and regroup on the sidelines in crucial. The mental fatigue alone of playing an opponent capable of scoring from anywhere on any play can take its toll. It is up to the offense of New England to help their defense this week by remaining on the field themselves.
4. Win the Turnover Battle
In fairness, winning the turnover battle is a key to success for every NFL team in every game. But for teams with a smaller margin for error, this becomes even more crucial. New England’s two turnovers led to 13 Philadelphia points a week ago. Although the Patriots defense forced a turnover of their own, it was not enough. To allow that many points from turnovers in a five-point loss makes this an obvious point of emphasis for the Patriots in Week 2.
5. Solid Offensive Line Play
New England has plenty of excuses to make if the offensive line doesn’t play well, but excuses are not going to help win football games. It appears that just a week after being without their starting guards (Cole Strange, Mike Onwenu) New England will be without starting left tackle Trent Brown this week. Furthermore, it is unclear if either Strange or Onwenu will be ready to go this week, with both listed as questionable. Against the Philadelphia front, the offensive line was unable to generable any push in the run game. Although they protected Mac Jones decently for much of the game, it was far from perfect. Jones helped himself by moving well within the pocket and adding 15 rushing yards on two carries. By the fourth quarter the line was worn down a bit, resulting in two Eagles fourth quarter sacks. New England will need a full game from this group this week.
6. Containing Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle
As the old expression goes, “you can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him.” This goes double when it comes to the Dolphins duo at wide receiver. The New England Patriots need to prevent Hill and Waddle from gaining large chunks of yardage. Last week they combined for 15 receptions, 293 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Although Hill accounted for much of this production, either can change the game in a hurry. This test for the Patriots defense will be even tougher if cornerback Jonathan Jones is unable to go. It would be expected he’d be the primary cover man on Hill if he’s able to go.
7. Be Smart, Playing and Coaching
Last week the Patriots were penalized seven times for 50 yards. The vast majority of these seemed avoidable, aside from a questionable holding call against Hunter Henry. Much as with the turnover battle, penalties equate to shooting themselves in the foot. Discipline in all facets of the game is imperative here. The Patriots coaching also needs to be making smart decisions this week. Offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien was very good in Week 1, and the defensive gameplan did a nice job preventing big gains by the Eagles. But Bill Belichick made a couple of questionable fourth down decisions late in the game, costing the team potential points once, then field position. If the New England Patriots happen to fall to 0-2 it should not be because their head coach has left people scratching their heads.
Although these are all keys to a New England Patriots victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday night, there are no NFL guarantees. Last week against the Dolphins, the Chargers finished with more rushing yards, more time of possession, fewer turnovers, and still lost. However, if the Patriots are able to do the same this week, it should be a winning recipe for New England.
Final Score Prediction: New England Patriots 31, Miami Dolphins 23