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Entering the Patriots’ matchup against the Dolphins, much of the discussion has been about how the Patriots stop Tua Tagovailoa and Tyreek Hill.
That’s a reasonable question considering what the duo has done together. Hill had 1,710 receiving yards in his first season with the Dolphins last year, with the vast majority of those yards coming from Tagovailoa. The duo started their second season together with a bang as Hill had a whopping 215 receiving yards and Tagovailoa threw for 466 yards in a road win over the Chargers.
So, slowing down Tagovailoa and Hill will obviously be the key to victory for the Patriots. But what about the rest of the Dolphins’ roster? Here are six Dolphins players outside of Tagovailoa and Hill to watch in Sunday’s game.
Hill isn’t the only speedy receiver the Dolphins have.
Waddle joins Hill as the duo’s not only arguably the fastest receiver duo in the league, but also the best receiver tandem in the NFL, too. Prior to Hill’s arrival in Miami in 2022, Waddle actually had a pair of standout games against the Patriots, recording a receiving touchdown in both matchups as a rookie in 2021.
Waddle followed up his 104-reception, 1,015-yard rookie season with 75 receptions for 1,356 yards and eight touchdowns last season, becoming a far more explosive receiver in Mike McDaniel’s offense.
The Patriots got a taste of Waddle’s big play ability in Week 1 last year. He turned a fourth-down grab over the middle into a 42-yard score as his ability to create separation caused a pair of Patriots defenders to collide, running upfield with no one able to catch him.
Waddle didn’t have as strong of a performance in the Patriots’ second matchup against the Dolphins last season, recording three receptions for 52 yards. But Tagovailoa was out for that game due to a concussion, leaving Waddle to catch passes from Teddy Bridgewater and Skylar Thompson. In the three games that Waddle has played with Tagovailoa against the Patriots, Waddle has 13 receptions for 157 yards and three touchdowns.
With Jonathan Jones being the primary man who’s covered Hill in the Patriots’ last handful of matchups against the All-Pro, New England has thrown a handful of different defensive backs at Waddle over the last two years. Kyle Dugger gave up a pair of receptions while covering Waddle in the second matchup last season while Jalen Mills covered him in the first matchup last year. It’s possible Christian Gonzalez could be tasked with guarding him on Sunday.
There were some questions about the Dolphins’ defense entering the season, but Phillips could help elevate the unit to complement their explosive offense.
The 2021 first-round pick and edge rusher had a solid first two seasons in the league, recording 8.5 sacks as a rookie and seven sacks last season. He got off to a good start to the 2023 season last week, recording a half sack and seven pressures against the Chargers, via Pro Football Focus.
Phillips has struggled against the Patriots in his young career though. He hasn’t recorded a sack in his first four matchups against New England and only has three total pressures over those games, via PFF.
New England’s questionable situation at offensive tackle could benefit Phillips. Calvin Anderson is still a couple of weeks removed from being activated off the non-football injury list while starting left tackle Trent Brown is questionable with a concussion.
Phillips is also questionable for Sunday’s game due to a back injury he suffered at Friday’s practice. However, the Dolphins announced Saturday that Kelvin Joseph didn’t travel with the team to New England, ruling him out, but didn’t provide a similar update for Phillips. Likely a good sign for his chances to play on Sunday.
If Phillips is the X-factor of the Dolphins’ defense, Wilkins is the rock of the defensive line and the unit.
Wilkins has been one of the game’s best defensive tackles since the Dolphins selected him in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, proving to be a three-down player as he had 11.5 sacks and 160 stops in the first four seasons of his career.
Unlike Phillips, Wilkins has had fine performances against the Patriots over the last two seasons. The Springfield, Massachusetts, native recorded 21 total tackles, eight stops, four pressures, and two sacks in four games over the last two seasons against New England.
Similar to their offensive tackle situation, the Patriots’ interior offensive linemen situation is also unclear for Sunday’s game. Starting guards Cole Strange and Michael Onwenu are both questionable after they missed the season opener while Sidy Sow is also questionable after he started at right guard last week.
The injuries to the Patriots’ interior offensive line allowed Jalen Carter and others to have standout performances last week. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Wilkins had another standout game against the Patriots on Sunday.
Holland rounds out the group of defensive first-round picks made in the last few years by the Dolphins.
The 2021 first-round pick has slowly emerged as one of the better free safeties in the league over the last year. He’s been a tackling machine, recording 96 total tackles last season and began his 2023 season by posting a 14-tackle performance against the Chargers.
In terms of pass coverage, Holland has only allowed three receptions on four targets over four career matchups against the Patriots. With Hunter Henry having a strong season-opening performance last week, Holland could be in the mix to cover him. But he’s also been used to help corners over the top and has covered slot receivers in the past, lining up against Jakobi Meyers last year and going up against Kenan Allen out of the slot last week.
With Jalen Ramsey out, Howard will have to help hold down the fort for the rest of the Dolphins’ corners for at least the first couple of months of the season.
The veteran All-Pro though has played well against the Patriots over the last two seasons. Mac Jones has completed 8-of-10 passes for 107 yards when targeting the receiver Howard’s covered, but Howard also has an interception and deflected another pass that led to a pick in three matchups against the Patriots quarterback.
Howard has lined up against Meyers, DeVante Parker, and Nelson Agholor over his last few matchups against the Patriots. With two of those receivers gone and Parker being listed as questionable for Sunday’s game, Howard could be on Kendrick Bourne, who had six receptions for 64 yards and two touchdowns last week.
Hill and Waddle are the two receivers that everyone talks about on the Dolphins’ offense, and reasonably so.
But Berrios appeared to have a relatively big role in the Dolphins’ opener against the Chargers. He played 35 total offensive snaps, being used in both the slot and on the outside. He also had three receptions on five targets for 42 yards.
The most impressive part of Berrios’ performance though was the timeliness of his receptions. Two of his receptions helped move the sticks on third-and-longs for the Dolphins, making low-reaching grabs on both catches as he fought through coverage.
Berrios has 14 receptions for 136 yards in eight career matchups against the team that drafted him in 2018, recording all of those numbers for the Jets in the last four seasons. As he went to South Beach this offseason, Berrios could be a beneficiary of McDaniel’s system and Tagovailoa’s growth in the passing game.
Berrios is one of five former Patriots players who will suit up for the Dolphins on Sunday, joining Isaiah Wynn, Justin Bethel, Jake Bailey, and Chase Winovich.
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