Bill Belichick has made taking away an opponent’s best weapon the hallmark of his coaching career, and it’s served the New England Patriots well. Yet, All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill and the Miami Dolphins present a special set of problems sure to tax all of Belichick’s ingenuity and experience.
Fortunately, former Patriots’ wideout Chris Hogan is confident his old head coach will have the right plan for Hill at Gillette Stadium in Week 2. The latter is the premier deep threat in the NFL, but Hogan explained how the Pats will deal with Hill and put the onus on Dolphins’ quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to win the game with other weapons.
Speaking during an appearance on “The Patriots Report” podcast with Christopher Price of The Boston Globe, Hogan described Belichick’s probable plan for Hill: “Corner, press, safety over the top. Always trying to give help.
“Maybe Christian (Gonzalez) follows Tyreek Hill, or Jonathan Jones, ’cause Jonathan Jones has got a lot of speed, but I think there’s just going to be a lot of over-the-top help. I think they’re really going to key on him and they’re going to try and Tua beat them with other players on the field and his feet.”
Hogan has firsthand experience of how Belichick plans for Hill. He was part of the team that beat Hill and the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2018 AFC Championship Game.
Hogan’s thoughts on how Belichick will deal with Hill this time reflect recent Patriots strategies on two levels. They also fit with what another ex-Pats wide receiver, Randy Moss, thinks it takes to stop Hill.
Patriots Getting Used to Doubling Tyreek Hill
There’s been a change in how the Patriots approach trying to stop Hill. Belichick has gone from using press coverage in one-on-one matchups, with a single safety covering the last line of defense, to deploying “split-safeties” something Taylor Kyles of Patriots on CLNS noticed late last season.
Split safeties just means keeping two safeties back to cover the deep portion of the field. It essentially provides an extra layer of protection against a speedster like Hill, who averaged 19.55 yards per reception when the Dolphins beat the Los Angeles Chargers 36-34 in Week 1.
Hill burned the Chargers for 11 catches, 215 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Moss, arguably the most intimidating vertical playmaker in NFL history, was an interested observer and he blasted the Chargers for trying to contain Hill with single coverage.
Belichick won’t make the same mistake, but he’ll also be wary about how keeping a safety over Hill can backfire. Once he gets by a cornerback covering underneath, one of the most dynamic receivers in the game is running at a backpedaling safety.
It’s vital for the cornerback to shadow and jam Hill to keep him in front as much as possible. That will be difficult for the Patriots to achieve if Hill’s familiar tormentor isn’t ready to go in Week 2.
Patriots Need Hill’s Best Matchup Healthy
Belichick has often trusted Jonathan Jones to stick to Hill, but the corner is dealing with an ankle problem that kept him out of practice on Friday, September 15, according to Brian Hines of SB Nation’s Pats Pulpit.
Being without Jones would stymie Belichick’s usual plot for keeping Hill under wraps. It would put the spotlight on Christian Gonzalez, the Patriots’ top pick in the 2023 NFL draft, to prove he can handle perhaps the toughest man-coverage assignment in the pros.
Gonzalez impressed at times during Week 1’s 25-20 defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles, but he still allowed nine completions from 13 targets. The rookie’s coverage numbers weren’t great, but at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, Gonzalez has the size to press Hill underneath.
A physical approach is Jones’ best recommendation for dealing with Hill, per Kyles: “You just try to be physical. Try to hit him when you can, slow him down, and try to match speed with speed.”
Belichick has long encouraged his corners to get rough with opposing receivers. It can work with Hill, as well as his prolific running mate Jaylen Waddle.
The latter is an accomplished receiver in his own right, but Hill is the one capable of changing a game in an instant. That’s why Belichick will be hoping Jones is available, given the 29-year-old’s success rate against the four-time first-team All-Pro, shown by numbers from Louie Benjamin of Pro Football Focus.
Belichick has other options, including Gonzalez, Myles Bryant and Marcus Jones. Keeping a former cornerback-turned-safety like Jalen Mills over the top would also put a little more quickness around Hill.
Ultimately, the nuts and bolts of the plan are merely schematic semantics. Provided Belichick and the Pats refine their focus to paying a lot of attention to Hill, they’ll have a chance to slow him down.