6 Dolphins players to watch in Sunday’s Patriots game

Patriots

The Dolphins have transformed into a potential Super Bowl contender with many of their players growing into possible stars.

Tua Tagovailoa and Tyreek Hill have been in sync since the start of last season. Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The Patriots are trying to win consecutive games for the first time since November of last season. To do so, they’ll have to beat one of the league’s best teams.

The Dolphins hold a 5-2 record entering Week 8, carrying several playmakers on both sides of the ball as they’ve transformed into a potential Super Bowl contender. A few players have blossomed in Mike McDaniel’s offense while younger players on defense have grown and are starting to play to their potential in Miami.

Here are six Dolphins players to watch in Sunday’s game against the Patriots.

Tua Tagovailoa

The Dolphins quarterback is 6-0 in his career against the Patriots. Despite the undefeated record, Tagovailoa has actually relatively underperformed against New England compared to other teams.

Tagovailoa has led the NFL in passer rating in each of the last two seasons, but he’s yet to have a game against the Patriots where his passer rating is over 100. He’s also never thrown for multiple touchdowns in a game against the Patriots. He’s moved the ball better though against New England since McDaniel’s arrival in Miami, throwing for 270 yards and 249 yards in his last two games against the Patriots.

Still, those numbers are pretty unstellar for a quarterback that has torched almost everyone else over the last two seasons. Tagovailoa’s 89.5 passer rating against the Patriots is the third-lowest he has against the nine teams he’s faced multiple times.

But Tagovailoa has still proven to be one of the game’s best quarterbacks this season. He’s arguably coming off his worst performance of the season, in which he 23 of 32 passes for 216 yards, one touchdown, and one interception with an 87.5 passer rating in a 31-17 loss to the Eagles. If that’s your worst, well, then that’s not bad at all.

Raheem Mostert

When the Patriots and Dolphins faced off in Week 2, the veteran running back had one of the best performances of his nine-year career. Mostert rushed for 121 yards on 6.7 yards per carry, picking up yards on a timely basis as he rushed for two scores as well.

That performance was a major improvement for Mostert compared to how he ran the ball in both matchups against the Patriots last season. He only ran for 45 yards on 3.2 yards per carry in those games.

But Mostert’s Week 2 outing is far from an outlier compared to how he’s run the ball this season. He’s rushed for 474 yards on 5.6 yards per carry, which is the second-best mark in the NFL. Dolphins running back De’Von Achane has also proven that Miami has a strong run game, rushing for over 100 yards in three games this season, but will miss Sunday’s game due to a knee injury.

On the flip side, that game was also an anomaly for the Patriots’ defense. New England’s run defense has largely kept opposing running backs in check this season, with Mostert being the only back to rush for more than 80 yards in a game. The one other opposing running back to reach 80 rushing yards against the Patriots was Alvin Kamara, who needed 22 carries to hit that number.

The Patriots have also allowed the fewest rushing yards per carry in the league, surrendering just 3.4 yards per carry this season.

Tyreek Hill

Sunday will mark the ninth time that Hill has gone up against the Patriots in his career. He’s had some ups and downs against them.

He dominated the Patriots’ secondary in his first two games against the Patriots, going for over 130 receiving in both of them. Since then, he’s only had one game against New England that he’s recorded more than 80 receiving yards.

The last time these two teams met, Christian Gonzalez was credited for slowing down Hill for much of the game, allowing the star receiver to get five receptions for 40 yards as the rookie also recorded an interception.

Even though Gonzalez is done for the season, the Patriots still have the corner that’s mostly slowed down Hill in their prior matchups against him. Jonathan Jones allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 44 percent of their passes when targeting Hill for a 35.4 passer rating in the last five games he’s played against the All-Pro. Jones missed the Week 2 game due to an ankle injury, but has been back in the Patriots’ lineup for weeks now.

Hill’s on-pace for arguably the best receiving season in NFL history. He enters Sunday’s game with 53 receptions for 902 yards and seven touchdowns. He did miss time in practice this week due to a hip injury, but he’s good to play on Sunday.

Andrew Van Ginkel

Many Patriots fans likely remember seeing the linebacker and his long blonde hair all over the place back in Week 2.

That was the case though. Van Ginkel had six total tackles and one sack to go along with five total pressures and three run stops (via Pro Football Focus) against the Patriots.

Van Ginkel really took advantage of the Patriots’ vulnerability at right tackle in that game. New England had Calvin Anderson in that spot as he was still just a couple weeks back into action after missing a month due to an illness.

Anderson’s just one of the handful of players the Patriots have played at right tackle since the start of the preseason, but they might have finally found their answer at the position last week. New England played Mike Onwenu at right tackle for the first time this season against Buffalo and he only allowed one pressure against a strong Bills edge rush.

Van Ginkel has had other notable performances this season though. He recorded two sacks against the Bills in Week 4 and was credited for eight pressures against the Giants in Week 5, recording three run stops in each game as well.

Christian Wilkins

To help balance out Miami’s defensive line play, Wilkins has given the Dolphins strong performances in the interior since they drafted him in 2019.

This season might be the best of Wilkins’s career so far. His 3.5 sacks this season are just one short of his career high. He also has 30 combined tackles, 10 quarterback hits, 25 pressures, and 11 run stops so far this season.

As the Patriots have dealt with issues across the offensive line throughout the season, Wilkins was also a beneficiary of that in Week 2. He had a sack, seven total tackles, three pressures, and two run stops in that game.

That performance has been par for the course for Wilkins against the Patriots lately. Over the four games in the previous two seasons, Wilkins recorded 21 total tackles, eight stops, four pressures, and two sacks.

Jevon Holland

The Dolphins’ secondary hasn’t been great this season, recording just three interceptions on the year.

As Jalen Ramsey potentially makes his Dolphins debut on Sunday, there’s one member they have in the defensive backfield that’s given them strong play in 2023.

Holland has recorded a team-best 52 total tackles so far this season. On top of that, the third-year safety also has an NFL-best three forced fumbles.

In terms of pass coverage, Holland has allowed just 15 receptions on 23 targets for 121 yards without a touchdown, mostly working as a free safety.

The Patriots are certainly aware of Holland’s strong ability to work as a free safety. In the season-opening matchup against the Dolphins in 2022, he caught Xavien Howard’s deflected pass on the game’s opening drive for an interception. He also recorded a pass breakup in the last meeting between the two teams.

Holland was credited for allowing three receptions on six targets for just 23 yards in the Week 2 game against the Patriots, mostly lining up against tight ends Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki.


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