The New England Patriots head to Miami this Sunday for a Week 2 matchup with the Dolphins.
Here are five things to know about the Patriots’ longtime AFC East foe:
1. They play in Miami, where the Patriots always have trouble winning
Bill Belichick’s squad hasn’t lost to the Dolphins at home since the infamous Wildcat game in 2008, but it’s dropped five of its last six games in South Florida. Last year’s defeat was particularly memorable.
The Patriots also lost to teams coached by Patriots alums Matt Patricia and Mike Vrabel last season, with the former coming two weeks after Patricia’s Detroit Lions were blown out 48-17 in their season opener.
2. They’re clearly tanking
The Dolphins’ roster has changed significantly in the nine months since the Miami Miracle. Ten players who started Sunday’s season opener against the Baltimore Ravens (much more on that game in a second) were not with the team at the time of that Week 14 matchup, including quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, wide receiver Preston Williams and three-fifths of their offensive line.
Notable departures included QB Ryan Tannehill, receivers Kenny Stills and Danny Amendola, defensive ends Robert Quinn and Cameron Wake, linebacker Kiko Alonso, running back Frank Gore, safety T.J. McDonald and left tackle Laremy Tunsil. Tunsil and Stills were shipped to Houston on cutdown day for two first-round draft picks and a second-rounder — a deal that gave them valuable team-building assets but undeniably lowered their chances of winning games this season.
Twenty-seven players on Miami’s current 53-man roster are on rookie contracts, and 15 entered this season with zero games of NFL experience. Among those: defensive end Trent Harris and cornerback Jomal Wiltz, who spent last season on the Patriots’ practice squad, and corner Ken Webster, a 2019 Patriots seventh-round pick.
3. Their coaching staff is stocked with ex-Patriots
Head coach Brian Flores, offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, defensive pass game coordinator/cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer, assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski, offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo and quality control coach Tiquan Underwood all spent multiple seasons in New England.
4. They got their doors blown off in Week 1
Like, clear off their hinges. Murray State put up more of a fight against third-ranked Georgia this past weekend than Miami did against Baltimore in the opening game of the Brian Flores era.
Led by second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Ravens decimated the Dolphins 59-10 at Hard Rock Stadium, scoring six first-half touchdowns and eight overall.
In that game, the Dolphins:
— Trailed 42-10 at halftime
— Were outgained 643 yards to 200
— Lost the turnover battle 3-0
— Muffed a punt
— Allowed touchdowns of 47 and 83 yards to rookie receiver Marquise Brown
— Surrendered a 49-yard Mark Ingram run on the first play from scrimmage
— Threw an interception on their opening drive
— Committed nine penalties for 64 yards
— Allowed three sacks and 12 quarterback hits
Jackson, whose play as a passer last season left much to be desired, shredded Miami’s secondary, completing 17 of 20 passes for 324 yards and six touchdowns. Then, backup Robert Griffin III relieved him and went 6-for-6 for 55 yards and another score.
Dolphins No. 1 cornerback Xavien Howard played well, allowing just one catch on one target for 12 yards in 71 defensive snaps. As for the rest of Miami’s defensive backfield? Well …
Yeah, they were brutal. And now they get to face a Patriots offense that just hung 33 points on the Pittsburgh Steelers and could have Antonio Brown at its disposal, too.
“I think for us, we?ve got to just know where their key guys are,” Flores said in a conference call with New England reporters Wednesday, “and those key guys are obviously (Tom) Brady and (Julian) Edelman and James White, Josh Gordon and obviously Antonio Brown. We?ve got to know where they are and do our best to defend them all.”
5. Folks in Miami aren’t happy with Flores
Talent deficiency aside, Flores and his staff have drawn criticism from Miami media this week for their game-planning and usage of certain key players against the Ravens.
Safety Reshad Jones and linebacker Raekwon McMillan both played less than half of the Dolphins’ defensive snaps, and Minkah Fitzpatrick primarily was deployed at strong safety rather than slot corner, where he excelled last season. Running back Kenyan Drake also didn’t touch the ball until Miami’s third series and finished with just six total touches (four carries, two catches).
Players also reportedly were miffed that Flores and Co. waited far too long to adjust their defensive game plan — which focused on stopping a power-running Ravens offense — while Jackson repeatedly tore them apart through the air. Some of these players reportedly spoke to their agents shortly after the final whistle about engineering trades out of Miami.
The Patriots opened as 14 1/2-point favorites. That line has since been driven up to 19 points, which would equal the largest road line of the Brady/Belichick era (at Baltimore, 2007).