A lot has been made of the challenge the New England Patriots defense faces this week in trying to slow down the Miami Dolphins' elite wide receiver duo of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. And it's certainly a difficult test, as the Los Angeles Chargers found out first hand in Week 1.
But the other side of the ball might be just as, if not more important for the Patriots.
A worrying trend for the Patriots against the Dolphins in recent years is points scored. For whatever reason, the Patriots just haven't been able to put up many points when they play the Dolphins.
The Pats have played 51 regular season games, including last week's season-opening loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, since the start of the 2020 campaign. They have scored 20 or more points 34 times during that span, and only two of those instances came against the Dolphins.
More Patriots coverage
In six games versus Miami since 2020, New England is averaging only 17.1 points per game. Miami went 3-9 (including the playoffs) last season when allowing 23 or more points, so it's not like the Patriots have to score 30-plus or 40-plus points to beat this team. But less than 20 almost certainly won't get the job done.
Turnovers have been another huge problem for the Patriots in their matchups with the Dolphins. Bill Belichick's team has coughed up the ball 10 times in the last six meetings.
The Dolphins defense isn't horrible, but it's not amazing, either. Miami ranked 18th in yards allowed per game, 27th in pass yards allowed per game and 24th in points allowed per game last season. In Week 1, this unit gave up 34 points and 433 yards to the Chargers.
The Chargers dominated on the ground with 233 yards (5.8 per carry) and three touchdowns. L.A. running backs Austin Ekeler (117 yards, one TD) and Joshua Kelly (90 yards, one TD) were the only duo in Week 1 that exceeded 90 yards each. Miami gave up more yards and yards per carry than any other run defense last weekend.
It's important not to overreact too much from Week 1. We saw that last season when the Cincinnati Bengals and San Francisco 49ers both suffered Week 1 defeats and started slow in September but both ultimately reached conference championship weekend.
However, it was interesting to see the Dolphins' run defense get shredded so badly in Los Angeles. Perhaps that's where Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien will look to attack Miami's defense on Sunday night.
The Patriots' rushing attack wasn't super effective against the Eagles in Week 1. The team ran for just 76 yards on 22 attempts (3.5 per carry), and no player had more than 29 rushing yards by himself. However, the run game was the strength of the Patriots offense last season, and with Ezekiel Elliott now in the fold alongside Rhamondre Stevenson, getting this part of the offense going early Sunday night should be a priority for O'Brien.
Another reason to establish the run would be to open up play-action -- where Patriots quarterback Mac Jones has enjoyed plenty of success in his career, even though the team didn't use those plays enough last season.
Making a strong effort to exploit the Dolphins defense on the ground would also help the Patriots control the clock and keep the high-scoring Miami offense off the field for as long as possible. The Patriots don't have the firepower to keep up with the Dolphins if they get a ton of possessions, so shortening the game with a dominant run game probably gives New England the best chance for success.
The Patriots will need a strong defensive effort against the Dolphins, and based on last week's success versus a loaded Eagles offense, the chances of Belichick's D stepping up are probably pretty good. But even if that scenario unfolds and the Dolphins are held under 30 points, it won't matter if the Patriots offense isn't able to generate more points of its own or protect the football. Continuing their trend of scoring around 17 points against the Dolphins likely will result in the Patriots falling to 0-2.