The Dolphins will be without Tua Tagovailoa, but they’ve still got a talented roster.

Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle have celebrated a lot this season. Rhona Wise/AP Photo

The Patriots take on the Miami Dolphins in Foxborough on Sunday with their playoff hopes on the line.

Miami will be without starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa as he deals with another concussion. But there’s a reason why the Dolphins still hold an 8-7 record and could potentially clinch a playoff berth without him this weekend.

Here are seven Dolphins players to watch when the Patriots go up against them.

Teddy Bridgewater

There’s no greater wrench that can be thrown into any big game with consequences than a backup quarterback playing instead of the usual starter.

Enter Bridgewater, a quarterback who’s in his ninth season in the league who has somehow never faced the Patriots. The 2014 first-round pick has shown why he was worthy of such a high selection at points throughout his career, but the former Minnesota Viking’s promise as a franchise quarterback seemed to derail after he suffered a torn ACL and a dislocated knee joint prior to the 2016 season.

But Bridgewater has certainly been a serviceable quarterback. He threw for 1,384 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions over five games with the Saints in 2019. A year later, the Panthers signed Bridgewater and he gave them a 3,733-yard season with 20 total touchdowns and five interceptions.

With this being Tagovailoa’s second go-around with a concussion this season, Sunday won’t mark Bridgewater’s first time under center with the Dolphins this season. When Tagovailoa went down in Week 4 against the Bengals, Bridgewater completed 14-of-23 passes for 193 yards with a touchdown and an interception to help keep the Dolphins in the game before losing. When he replaced an injured Skylar Thompson in Week 6 against the Vikings, Bridgewater completed 23-of-34 passes for 329 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

New England holds one of the league’s best passing defenses, and Bill Belichick and Co. have made their name on ganging up on the lesser quarterbacks this season. The big question for Sunday’s game will likely be whether Bridgewater is one of those “lesser” quarterbacks or if he’s good enough to overcome a staunch defense.

There are a couple of reasons to have some faith in Bridgewater …

Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle

Even with Tagovailoa missing time and struggling for much of the second half of the season, the Dolphins have the No. 2 passing offense in the league. Well, that is likely large part due to the fact that they have two of the game’s quickest receivers and possibly the best receiving duo in the league.

Hill became a household name during his time with the Chiefs from 2016-21, receiving a Pro Bowl nod in each season while catching passes from Patrick Mahomes. It turns out he didn’t need Mahomes to continue to do damage, either. Hill’s second in receptions (113) and receiving yards (1,632) to go along with seven touchdowns in his first season in Miami.

Hill’s also done damage against the Patriots each time he’s gone up against them. In five regular-season games, Hill’s caught 32 passes for 495 yards with five touchdown grabs.

Waddle, whom the Dolphins selected with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, has burst onto the scene this season while playing opposite of Hill and in Year 1 of Mike McDaniel’s offensive system. He’s seventh in yards (1,260) and tied for fifth in touchdown receptions (8).

Like Hill, Waddle’s also had a good deal of success against the Patriots in his young career. He’s caught a touchdown pass in all three games he’s played against the Patriots and has 13 total receptions against them.

To make matters worse for the Patriots, three of their top four cornerbacks have missed time in practice this week due to injury. If they’re hampered in the secondary, the dynamic play of Hill and Waddle might allow Miami to overcome the fact that it’s playing a backup at quarterback.

Jeff Wilson

Miami’s ground attack didn’t look too well in the first half of the season, so McDaniel added another former player of his to help the situation by trading for Wilson from San Francisco prior to the trade deadline.

The deal has certainly worked for the Dolphins so far.

Wilson’s rushed for just 275 yards in six games for the Dolphins, which is certainly a sexy number. But he’s done it efficiently, rushing for 5.2 yards per carry and has three touchdowns. Wilson was also an efficient runner for the 49ers, rushing for 468 yards on 5.1 yards per carry with two touchdowns in eight games for them.

The big area where Wilson could make a difference in is in the red zone. All three of his rushing touchdowns with Miami have come in the red zone, which is certainly helpful to have for the Dolphins with a backup under center. If Wilson can help the Dolphins convert on a red zone try, that might very well be a deciding score against a Patriots squad that ranks last in red zone offensive efficiency.

Jaelan Phillips

The years of stockpiling high draft picks are paying dividends for Miami as it also has a pair of young first-round studs on defense. Arguably the best of the group is Phillips.

The 23-year-old edge rusher has really burst on the scene over the last two months. He had a five-game streak of recording at least a half-sack that was snapped on Christmas Day in the Dolphins’ loss to the Packers, but he still recorded five tackles and three stops in that game.

In addition to his 7.5 sacks this season, Phillips has 39 pressures, which is tied for the 13th-most in the league this season. Phillips has lined up opposite of Bradley Chubb since the latter was acquired in a midseason trade, meaning he’ll likely go up against right tackle Conor McDermott on Sunday.

Christian Wilkins

The Springfield, Massachusetts, native will get a chance to end his hometown team’s season on Sunday.

Wilkins, a defensive tackle out of Clemson selected in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, has been a force up the middle for the Dolphins over the last couple seasons. He’s recorded 49 stops this season, leading all defensive linemen. His 63 solo tackles are also the most for a defensive lineman this season. He doesn’t get to the quarterback as much, but he still gets there a fair amount as he has 27 pressures and 2.5 sacks this season.

Wilkins made plays though in a different fashion against the Packers on Christmas. He batted down a pair of passes at the line of scrimmage, seeking to dominate the game in three different phases.

Wilkins typically lines up on the left side of the defensive line, alongside Phillips, so McDermott and right guard Michael Onwenu will have their work cut out for them on Sunday.

Jevon Holland

Patriots fans should know the second-year safety by now, but in case you don’t remember, here’s a refresher.

In his first NFL game a season ago, Holland forced a fumble on Jonnu Smith after the tight end made a red zone grab. In Week 1 of this season, he intercepted Mac Jones’s deep pass to DeVante Parker on the season’s opening drive, creating double coverage to get the batted ball.

Holland hasn’t been as good in coverage this season as he was as a rookie, but he’s still been formidable. He’s allowed 20 receptions on 26 targets for 233 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions, meaning opposing quarterbacks have a 109.9 passer rating when targeting him this season.

Holland’s certainly got a knack for making plays, too. In Week 3 of this season, he stripped-sacked Josh Allen on a blindside blitz in what ended up being a key play in the Dolphins’ win over the Bills. He’s also a solid tackler, recording 81 total tackles this season.


Source link