By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
It's almost here, we're under 24 hours away from the first Patriots kickoff of 2020. With COVID-centric discussions hanging over every football-related conversation we've had for the last six months, it's going to be nice to get back to some classic X's and O's.
In that spirit, here's my three biggest matchups to keep an eye on when the Patriots and Dolphins take the field on Sunday...
When New England has the ball: Patriots offensive line vs. Kyle Van Noy & Elandon Roberts
Like I wrote about on Wednesday, familiarity can be a dangerous thing in the NFL. It's no secret the Dolphins have basically become 'Foxborough South,' and the Patriots will have to be ready on Sunday for an opponent readily familiar with their entire bag of tricks.
Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts are two of those players who have an inside look at the Patriots, each having spent the previous four years in New England. As those two handle the pre-snap reads for the Miami defense, it will be crucial for the communicators along the Patriots offensive line to stay a step ahead, recognizing and pointing out adjustments.
The battle doesn't stop once the play starts. If the Patriots want to run the ball between the tackles, they'll need to move Roberts, who excels at making plays crashing downhill. He'll constantly be in the face of David Andrews, who will be playing his first NFL game in two years. On the outside, expect the Dolphins to use Kyle Van Noy to test first-year starter Jermaine Eluemunor early and often.
When Miami has the ball: Stephon Gilmore vs. DeVante Parker
The rematch everybody is waiting for. We all remember what happened last year, when Parker torched the Patriots for 8 catches and 137 yards while primarily being covered by Gilmore. The performance was in some ways an asterisk on Gilmore's Defensive Player of the Year award - the game and Parker seemingly brought up all offseason whenever it was mentioned just how good Gilmore's 2020 really was.
Gilmore is usually a pretty quiet guy, but he was especially tight-lipped speaking to the media ahead of this game. Asked just a general question about Parker this week, he replied, "I think they have a lot of great receivers. They’ve got a veteran quarterback. They have a good offense. I’m looking forward to covering all those guys." He was exceptionally careful to not put anything on the bulletin board in Miami.
There really is an insane amount of pressure on Gilmore going into this game. He's facing the team and player who burned him on a national stage a year ago. It will be his first game after receiving a pay raise from the Patriots. And some may even see it as his first game as the face of the Patriots franchise, with many citing him as the 'best player' on the team following Brady's departure.
The good news for Gilmore is that there is a lot that can change from last year's meeting. While he certainly wasn't playing his 'A' game that day, the Patriots defensive scheme didn't do much to help him, putting him in press coverage without any help over the top. If the Patriots put him in a better position to succeed, he should be able to take care of business.
Bonus: Bill Belichick vs. Brian Flores
This is similar to the first point, in that the familiarity from the coaches should be a major factor on Sunday. The Patriots coaches and players have stressed all week that in a Week 1 game where there is little to no film on the opponent, in-game adjustments make all the difference. Belichick's quick changes have made the difference for the Patriots countless times over the last 20 years.
On Sunday though, the Patriots will face a coach who was in the huddle and in the room watching Belichick make those changes. Brian Flores has a better window than most into how Belichick thinks, what his tendencies are, and how best to counter his adjustments. That was proven very clear last year
It's become cliché at this point to say "Belichick is playing chess while the other coaches are playing checkers," but this Sunday, Belichick may have a full-blown chess match on his hands.
For more on the Patriots-Dolphins matchup, check out the podcast below:
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at [email protected].