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New England Patriots

L-R: Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle and Patriots quarterback Mac Jones. (USA Today)

Sunday’s matchup between the Patriots and Dolphins features two teams with revamped offenses. New England, of course, is playing the first game of the Mac Jones era. Meanwhile, Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is coming off of his first offseason as the unquestioned QB1, and has new weapons around him as well – namely 2021 sixth-overall pick Jaylen Waddle.

How will each of those rookies fit in the game plan on Sunday? Who will be tasked with stopping them? Let’s take a closer look in the 2021 debut of Key Matchups.

Dec 19, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (17) gives a high five to Alabama quarterback Mac Jones (10) as they loosen up on the field before the SEC Championship Game against Florida at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

  • When New England has the ball: Mac Jones vs. Brian Flores

    Brian Flores spent 12 seasons as an assistant coach in New England, and in that time he watched Bill Belichick and his defenses torment one rookie quarterback after another. On Sunday, Flores will look to use some of what he learned then against Belichick’s rookie under center.

    For Miami that likely means throwing the entire playbook at Jones, and forcing him to react to coverages and concepts he’s never seen before. Some of Flores’ calling cards that are favorable in this situation include the ‘0 Blitz’ and amoeba defense.

    As a counter, expect the Patriots to spread the defense out using four and even five wide sets, which thin out Miami’s ability to disguise their second level in the box. A healthy dose of the running game will make things easier as well – it could be a big day for Damien Harris.

  • When Miami has the ball: Jonathan Jones vs. Jaylen Waddle

    DeVante Parker vs. J.C. Jackson on the outside is a great matchup in its own right, but lets focus in the slot where Jonathan Jones will be tasked with shutting down Waddle.

    Between Parker and Preston Williams, Miami’s offense is built to push the ball down the field, but given their current situation on the offensive line (more on that in a bit) Tua may find himself looking for the underneath option early and often.

    It will be up to Jones to take that option away and really make things difficult for the second-year QB. Whether it’s Waddle, Albert Wilson, or Jakeem Grant in the slot, it should be a busy day for the Patriots’ slot corner.

  • Bonus: Matt Judon vs. Greg Little

    Offensive line – and specifically pass protection – was already Miami’s biggest question mark heading into the 2021 season. Then on Tuesday, the team placed starting left tackle Austin Jackson on COVID IR, meaning they won’t have him for Sunday’s game.

    This all represents an ideal opportunity for the Patriots’ pass rush to continue the momentum they’ve built all summer. Specifically, it should open things up for Matt Judon, who will likely often be matched up against Miami’s replacement left tackle Greg Little in what will be Little’s sixth career NFL start.

    Miami’s problems up front aren’t just on the edge. The team signed Matt Skura in free agency to be their starting center, but he failed to make the 53-man roster. Michael Deiter is expected to get the start on Sunday – he was the teams starter in 2019 but then was benched last year in favor of Ted Karras, who is now back in New England. We’ll see how he fares against the Patriots’ two new defensive tackles, Davon Godchaux and Christian Barmore.