Here's how Patriots can beat Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa for first time

Here's how Patriots can beat Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa for first time originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The New England Patriots defense played well enough for the team to win Sunday's Week 1 game against the reigning NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles, but the offense didn't do its part in a 25-20 defeat at Gillette Stadium.

The defense needs to give a similar (or better) performance Sunday night if the Patriots are going to beat the rival Miami Dolphins and avoid an 0-2 hole to start the season.

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That's because the Dolphins are flying high right now after an impressive outing Sunday against the Chargers in Los Angeles. They dominated the Chargers defense in a 36-34 win, highlighted by an awesome showing from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

Tagovailoa, who is now the co-favorite for league MVP with Patrick Mahomes at some sportsbooks, completed 28 of 45 pass attempts for 466 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. His 466 yards are the fourth-most in a Week 1 game in league history.

Slowing down Tagovailoa and forcing him into mistakes likely will decide the outcome of Sunday night's game in Foxboro. And so far in his brief career, Tagovailoa has owned the Patriots in what matters most: wins and losses.

The former University of Alabama star is 4-0 against the Patriots since he was selected No. 5 overall by the Dolphins in the 2020 NFL Draft. That said, his stats versus New England are pretty average. He's averaging less than one touchdown pass per game and has zero 300-yard performances.

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But there's a good chance the Patriots will see a far different and more effective Tagovailoa in Foxboro on Sunday. He absolutely shredded the Chargers secondary in Week 1. He often looked for No. 1 wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who caught 11 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns. Their most impressive connection came on a pivotal third-and-10 play in the fourth quarter with Miami trailing 34-30.

Tagovailoa did a great job spreading the ball around to different wide receivers, tight ends and running backs in Week 1. Five players hauled in at least three catches, 40-plus yards and five targets each. Even though Hill and Waddle are the primary targets, Tagovailoa trusts plenty of other guys to make plays in the passing attack.

So, how do the Patriots beat Tagovailoa?

A consistent pass rush is essential. The Patriots have done a pretty good job of that against Tagovailoa in recent years, and their eight total sacks of him are tied with the Buffalo Bills for the most of any team in his career.

New England's defense did a nice job getting in Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts' face throughout Sunday's season opener. That unit tallied three sacks and five QB hits, while holding Hurts to just 207 total yards, one touchdown and one turnover (a fumble). Hurts had just two games with less than 210 total yards last season.

The longer Tagovailoa has to throw, the easier it is for his wideouts, and especially Hill, to get open down field. Hill is one of the fastest players in the league. Miami's other star wide receiver, Waddle, is a menace after the catch with good speed of his own. The Patriots found out first had in Week 1 last season.

Third down will be key, too. The Patriots held one of the league's best third-down offenses from last season, the Eagles, to a lackluster 30.6 percent conversion rate in Week 1.

The Dolphins struggled on third down last season and ranked 24th with a 36.6 percent success rate, but they converted at 41.6 percent in two games against the Patriots. Miami went 4-for-9 (44.4 percent) on third down versus the Chargers in Week 1. If the Patriots defense can't get off the field, the Dolphins' high-powered attack is going to put up a ton of points, and New England isn't built to win a shootout.

A 1-1 start would be huge for the Patriots, especially with their Week 3 matchup against the Jets looking much more winnable now that Aaron Rodgers is out for the season with a torn Achilles. But for the Patriots to get their first win Sunday night, they must make life miserable for Tagovailoa. Miami's rushing attack is nothing special, so if the Patriots can frustrate Tagovailoa, they should be in good shape.