New England Patriots regular season football is finally back! The Patriots will face off against the Miami Dolphins in their regular-season opener on Sunday, September 12 at 4:25 PM. EDT. The game will be televised on CBS.
Without further ado, here are the five biggest things to watch for in the Patriots’ Week 1 clash with the Dolphins.
Things to watch for in Patriots’ regular season opener
1: The debut performance of Mac Jones
This Sunday marks the beginning of the Mac Jones era in New England. All eyes in the football world will assuredly be focused in on the debut performance of Jones. Expectations for the 15th overall pick are sky-high, especially considering the player Jones is replacing as the team’s franchise quarterback. Will Jones ever be Tom Brady? Certainly not, however, he flashed a good amount of upside and poise in the preseason. Can that upside and poise translate to the regular season? It will be intriguing to see.
Jones faces a tough task in Week 1. The Dolphins are a team known for exotic coverages and blitz packages. Brian Flores is very good at confusing younger quarterbacks. How Jones handles the mental aspect of Sunday’s game will be something to keep an eye on.
It’s fair to expect some ups and downs from Jones in Week 1, considering his lack of experience and the strength of the defense he’ll be facing, but if you’re a Patriots fan you want to see how he plays in response to his mistakes. All throughout the preseason, Jones showcased his ability to quickly recover from mistakes. If he can do that again on Sunday, then the Patriots will feel good about the performance of their rookie quarterback.
2: Who starts at the second outside corner spot opposite J.C. Jackson?
If you’re looking for the biggest unknown on the Patriots’ roster it’s the current corner group. Stephon Gilmore, who’s on PUP, is out at least the first 6 games of the season, and beyond J.C. Jackson the Patriots don’t have much-proven talent at outside corner.
Joejuan Williams, a top 50 pick in the 2019 NFL draft, and 2021 free-agent addition from the Philadelphia Eagles Jalen Mills are the top candidates to start in the second outside corner spot.
If both were healthy, Mills would be the most likely to start between the two. However, Mills may not play Week 1. As of Thursday, he has yet to really practice this week. Mills, while he hasn’t proved to be a very good boundary corner (as he’s better in a safety role), would still be the preferred option over Williams.
Having to start Williams would be a bit risky. Williams has been very underwhelming thus far in his NFL career. He showed some improvement over the course of the summer but he also has had his fair share of struggles.
The Patriots could throw promising rookie Shaun Wade out onto the field, but he was just acquired a few weeks ago. How much of the defensive system does he really know? That said, if Mills can’t go, Wade may have to play some. Bottom line: The Patriots aren’t in a good spot at corner going into Week 1.
3: How will the Patriots split snaps at running back?
The hype surrounding the Patriots running back room is at an all-time high. Rightfully so too, the Patriots have five legitimately good running backs. How Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels split the snaps at the position will be interesting to see.
Damien Harris is expected to be the lead back. He flashed a lot of potential last season and should break out even more in 2021. Harris is a hard runner and rarely ever loses yards. However, his limitations in the passing game and the Patriots’ tendency to use multiple backs, will open the door for the rest of the group.
One player to keep an eye on is rookie Rhamondre Stevenson. Stevenson put on a show during the preseason. He carried the ball 30 times for 216 yards in three games, averaging 7.2 yards per carry. While it was against backups, Stevenson’s skillset in the preseason was everything the Patriots had hoped for when they drafted him out of Oklahoma in the 4th round.
Meanwhile, J.J. Taylor has drawn comparisons to former Patriots running back Dion Lewis. Taylor is the most explosive running back on the Patriots right now. He will serve as a nice change of pace back and may even take over a Rex Burkhead-esque role.
Let’s not forget about veterans James White and Brandon Bolden either. White is firmly entrenched in the passing-down role and it wouldn’t be shocking to see Bolden play a few offensive snaps either.
4: How improved are the Patriots’ pass-catching options?
The Patriots made huge offseason splashes at wide receiver and tight end. Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne were all signed in hopes they would improve one of the worst pass-catching units in the NFL last year.
At tight end, Smith and Henry form one of the better duos in the NFL. Thus far, they haven’t spent much time on the field together, as both have had minor injuries. That said, both seem to be fully healthy heading in the season opener. Having two dynamic pass catchers at tight end will help quarterback Jones through his expected rookie struggles.
At wide receiver, Agholor adds an element of explosiveness that the Patriots haven’t had since Brandin Cooks. Agholor can clear out the middle of the field and take pressure off the running game by making teams play with two safeties instead of one. Unfortunately, we may not see Algholor’s impact right away, as he may not be healthy enough to play in Week 1.
That would leave Meyers and Bourne as the top two wide receiving options against Miami. Both are good players, and Meyers, in particular, looks primed for a huge season, but the Dolphins’ secondary is very good. Xavien Howard and Byron Jones make for a top-notch corner tandem.
It may be tough sledding for the Patriots passing game on Sunday. Luckily, New England’s tight ends should be able to help open up the field for the wideouts.
5: Can the Patriots revamped front seven exploit the Dolphins offensive line?
To improve the front seven this offseason, the Patriots spent almost $54 million guaranteed and used numerous draft picks. The group is set to be much better in 2021, but how much is the question?
Going into Sunday’s game, it looks as if the Patriots’ front seven should absolutely dominate. Miami has one of the weakest offensive lines in the NFL.
Looking at the Patriots side of things, free-agent additions Matthew Judon and Kyle Van Noy are instant impact players. Judon was unblockable in the preseason.
Dont’a Hightower also returns after sitting out last season due to COVID-19 concerns. Rookie Christian Barmore has looked every bit the monstrous pass rusher he was at Alabama. Linebacker/edge hybrid, Josh Uche is trending towards a breakout season. Uche dominated this summer and will be a monster of a pass rusher if he stays healthy.
Not to mention, the Patriots front seven also consists of Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson, Chase Winovich, Lawrence Guy, Carl Davis, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Ronnie Perkins, and Deatrich Wise. Those are some very quality players.
If the New England front seven is truly deserving of the hype they’ve received, this is a game they should takeover. On paper, this is clearly a matchup that favors the Patriots’ defensive front.
Article edited by Luke Ervin.