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MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 11: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots takes a hit from Jevon Holland #8 of the Miami Dolphins after making a pass in the fourth quarter of the game at Hard Rock Stadium on September 11, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

This post “Battling through injuries to earn a playoff spot: Patriots vs. Dolphins What to Watch For” originally appeared at 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston from Alex Barth. As a ‘Fins fan it’s always interesting to see the other team’s fan’s take on a game. 

Despite losing two games in a row and four of their last five, the Patriots are still very much alive in the AFC playoff chase. By winning out, they would secure themselves the seventh seed in the AFC, but there are also scenarios where they get in without beating Buffalo in Week 18. However, with a loss to the Dolphins on Sunday night, they’d be officially eliminated.

Coming into the week, the Dolphins are a game up on the Patriots in the standings at 8-7. Miami also has the head-to-head tiebreaker right now, thanks to their Week 1 20-7 win at Hard Rock Stadium.

As the Patriots prepare for this shorthanded game, they also find themselves needing to fill multiple spots on their depth chart. Injuries are starting to build up across the roster, with ___ players appearing on Thursday’s injury report. The Dolphins are banged up as well, with ___ players listed in their injury report this week.

How will the Patriots adjust from their first matchup? Will one side’s injuries be more impactful than the other’s? Let’s take a look in this week’s What to Watch For…

  • Coverage assignments

    Miami Dolphins

    MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 13: Jaylen Waddle #17 and Tyreek Hill #10 of the Miami Dolphins celebrate after a play in the first quarter of the game against the Cleveland Browns at Hard Rock Stadium on November 13, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

    Over the last few weeks, we’ve talked quite a bit about how the Patriots’ injuries at cornerback – and resulting lack of size at the position – created significant mismatches at the position. As the injuries continue to pile up there looks to be another mismatch this week, just not in terms of size.

    The good news for the Patriots is that the Dolphins’ top two receivers, who combined are responsible for over 50 percent of Miami’s total passing production this year, are both 5-foot-10. The bad news is that those two receivers are Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, two of the most explosive players in the game.

    On Sunday, the Patriots will have to contend with them with what will likely be a deeply depleted secondary. Jalen Mills (groin), Jack Jones (knee), and Marcus Jones (concussion) haven’t practiced all week and are unlikely to play. Meanwhile, Jonathan Jones (chest) has been limited.

    Even though Jonathan Jones has handled Hill well in the past, that could change if he’s not 100 percent. Plus, even if that matchup goes the Patriots’ way, who they put on Waddle is another question. Would it be Myles Bryant, who has struggled with speed matchups in the past? Shaun Wade, who has barely played this season?

    Beyond those two, the Patriots would need to turn to a practice squad elevation of either Tae Hayes or Quandre Mosley, one of whom will likely be added to the roster this week just to fill out the depth at the position. Ideally though, whichever player gets the nod won’t have to end up in a featured role, like what happened with De’Vante Bausby against the Bills last year in the playoffs.

  • One big change with Teddy Bridgewater

    Miami Dolphins

    MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 27: Teddy Bridgewater #5 of the Miami Dolphins warms up prior to the game against the Houston Texans at Hard Rock Stadium on November 27, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

     

    With Tua Tagovailoa in NFL concussion protocol, backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is expected to get the start for Miami. Bridgewater has appeared in four games this year including one start, when Tagovailoa dealt with a separate concussion earlier in the season. Between Weeks 3 and 6, Bridgewater completed 61.7 percent of his 60 pass attempts for 522 yards, throwing three touchdowns and three interceptions.

    So, what changes for the Patriots defense facing Bridgewater instead of Tua – who is 4-0 in his career against New England? One very surface-level difference is that while Tagovailoa is a lefty, Bridgewater is a righty. It’s not necessarily easier to defend righty quarterbacks, but lefties add a layer of unfamiliarity, especially for pass rushers. That’s something the Patriots now won’t have to deal with.

    Schematically, there’s significant crossover in Tagovailoa’s skillset and Bridgewater’s. That means Miami doesn’t have to adjust its offense much to make the change. However, when Bridgewater stepped in earlier in the season, the Dolphins called RPOs at a much lower rate than they have the rest of the season.

    Miami’s RPO package has given the Patriots fits over the past few years. If the Dolphins are going to go away from those plays in this one, that’s a plus for the Patriots’ defense.

  • Bradley Chubb’s impact

    Miami Dolphins

    MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 27: Bradley Chubb #2 of the Miami Dolphins waves to fans after win over the Houston Texans at Hard Rock Stadium on November 27, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

     

    The biggest change for the Dolphins since the matchup in Week 1 is the addition of defensive end Bradley Chubb. Chubb was acquired at the trade deadline from the Denver Broncos for a first-round pick. Chubb hasn’t practiced yet this week due to hand and ankle injuries, but his presence should make a big difference if he does play.

    Chubb individually hasn’t been as productive in Miami as he was in Denver. He had 26 pressures and 5.5 sacks in eight games with the Broncos to start the year, but has just 24 pressures and 2.5 sacks in seven games in Miami.

    Yet even though Chubb’s numbers aren’t the game, the Dolphins’ pass rush as a whole has been better since adding him to the equation. Prior to acquiring Chubb they were averaging 6.3 pressures per game. Since his first game in teal and orange in Week 9, the Dolphins are up to 12.7 pressures per game, the most in the NFL.

    Basically, the Dolphins have become tougher to block across the board as teams now need to account for Chubb on one side, Jaelan Phillips on the other, and Christian Wilkins and Raekwon Davis in the middle. Those three have all seen their numbers improve since Chubb got to Miami.

    The Patriots’ offensive line has been better as of late, posting three of their best PFF pass blocking grades of the season over the last two weeks, including their two best. Will they be able to keep that momentum going against the challenge presented by Miami? They’ll need to if the Patriots want to have a chance at winning this game.

  • Can Rhamondre Stevenson bounce back?

    Miami Dolphins

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 24: Rhamondre Stevenson #38 of the New England Patriots runs the ball during the second quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at Gillette Stadium on December 24, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

     

    The Patriots have asked a lot of Rhamondre Stevenson this year. A lot.

    After playing in just 12 games last year as a rookie, and having only played more than 30 snaps in three of those games, Stevenson has been the focal point of the Patriots’ offense this year. His 68.4 percent offensive usage rate is the most by a Patriots running back going back to 2012, when Pro Football Reference began tracking the stat. The next closest back would be James White’s 53.6 percent usage rate in 2018.

    Stevenson has been busy in those snaps too. He not only leads the team in rushing, but also in receptions with 62. His 258 touches are the ninth most in the NFL. He has a chance to become just the fourth Patriots player to surpass 300 touches in a season in the Bill Belichick era, and only the second to do so since 2004.

    As the season wears on, that workload is starting to show. Stevenson had his least-productive game of the season last week, picking up just 30 yards on 13 carries and catching two of his five targets for a total of three yards. The game culminated in his first lost fumble since his NFL debut last year.

    After the game, and again earlier this week, Stevenson admitted for the first time he’s starting to feel banged up. When asked about his workload prior to that, he’d regularly insisted it wasn’t getting to him physically. Stevenson has been listed on the injury report for the last three weeks with an ankle injury, and has been limited at practice this week.

    With Damien Harris still on the injury report and missing practice on Thursday, the Patriots may need to turn to Stevenson to shoulder the load once again this week, this time in a key game. Can he get back to the game-breaking form he was in earlier this year?

  • How much will Kendrick Bourne play?

    Patriots

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 24: Kendrick Bourne #84 of the New England Patriots reacts after his receiving touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at Gillette Stadium on December 24, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

     

    Last week Kendrick Bourne has one of his highest usage rates of the season, and he made the most of the situation. He caught a season-high six passes on nine targets, finishing with 100 yards receiving for the first time in his career, and catching his first touchdown of the season.

    Now the question is, will Bourne get another shot this week? On one hand, he jumpstarted the Patriots’ offense against the Bengals. On the other hand, the team has often chosen to get away from successful concepts offensively this year.

    With DeVante Parker still out with a concussion and Tyquan Thornton practicing through a knee injury, there should be snaps available for Bourne. Given his success rate in the intermediate portion of the field, which also happens to be the Dolphins’ weak spot defensively, he’s a game plan match as well. If he does play, he could have a chance for another big performance.

  • Some pics from their first matchup back in September