2023 Week 2

How Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle pose massive test for Patriots defense

The NFL's best wide receiver duo comes to Foxboro in Week 2.

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The New England Patriots are going to play against arguably the NFL's best wide receiver duo in Week 2 when Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle lead the Miami Dolphins into Gillette Stadium on "Sunday Night Football."

Hill and Waddle shredded the Los Angeles Chargers secondary during the Dolphins' 36-34 road win over the Los Angeles Chargers in the season opener.

Waddle caught four passes for 78 yards. Hill led all wide receivers in Week 1 with 11 receptions, 215 yards and 15 targets. He was one of five wideouts last week to tally two receiving touchdowns. There are just three instances in league history where a wideout has tallied 10-plus catches, 200-plus receiving yards and two or more touchdowns in a single game, and Hill has done it each time.

One of the reasons why Hill is so difficult to defend is his speed and quickness. He's probably the fastest player in the league. Hill tallied three receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown on four deep targets against the Chargers in Week 1.

“These guys though, they bring a different element of speed, dynamic play. These guys really get down the field, they stretch the field,” Patriots cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino said Tuesday, as transcribed by Pats Pulpit. “They don’t just run deep routes, though, they run short routes. Their route explosion is very good. These guys can plant at crazy angles, get in and out of their routes. They can roll it, they can hit it sharp. It’s a very talented group.

The Dolphins also move Hill around the formation in a variety of ways by sending him in motion before the snap. Sometimes he'll go from one side of the field to the other. Other times he'll start on the outside, move to the inside, and then go back outside. There also were a few instances Sunday when Hill lined up in a tight end spot and then went outside.

One area where the Chargers really messed up is matching up with Hill in single coverage way too often Sunday. He caught six passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns in 21 routes against single coverage in Week 1, per Pro Football Focus. You can bet Bill Belichick is not going to have Christian Gonzalez or Jonathan Jones on an island with Hill and not have another defender close by or a safety over the top. When the Patriots held Hill to just one reception in the 2018 AFC Championship Game, they had double coverage on him early and often.

Hill's 37 touchdowns are the fourth-most among skill position players since the start of the 2020 season. He has not enjoyed much success finding the end zone against the Patriots, though. Hill has scored only one touchdown over his last five matchups with the Pats. New England's defense also has limited the big play when covering Hill in recent years. He hasn't caught a pass for more than 26 yards against the Pats since the 2019 campaign.

Waddle, meanwhile, has owned the Patriots since the Dolphins selected him with the No. 6 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The former Alabama star has 16 catches for 209 yards and three touchdowns in four career games against New England. One of those scores came in Week 1 last season on a fourth-and-7 late in the second quarter.

The Patriots are no strangers to facing elite wideouts. There are plenty of them in the AFC East division. Last season, in particular, saw the Patriots go up against many of the best pass-catchers in football.

Here's how they've fared against the best wide receivers since the start of 2021.

There are just four 100-yard games in the chart above, but these wideouts have combined to tally 11 touchdowns. Diggs and Waddle lead the way with three scores each.

The Patriots should be well prepared to face Hill and Waddle because they did a pretty good job defending another elite wide receiver duo in A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith during last week's loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Brown finished with a respectable stat line of seven receptions for 79 yards, but his 11.3 yards per catch was almost six yards fewer than his average last season. Smith did find the end zone, but he was held to just 49 yards. He averaged 70 yards per game in 2022.

Veteran cornerback Jonathan Jones and rookie Christian Gonzalez likely will shoulder most of the burden of covering Hill and Waddle on Sunday night. They won't do it alone, of course, but these two cornerbacks will play pivotal roles in defending two of the fastest and most talented players in the sport.

Despite the improvement the Patriots showed on offense in Week 1 compared to last season, they still aren't built to win games when the opponent scores 30-plus or 40-plus points. Keeping the score in the 20s is the best way for the Patriots to win, and for that to happen, Hill and Waddle can't dominate like they did in Week 1 versus the Chargers.

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