Miami Dolphins 2020 Season Primer: Part Two

Before we get started, if you’re dropping in without first reading Part One of my 2020 Season Primer, take a quick detour to get caught up before diving into Part Two.

If you took away anything from the first half of the primer outside of Kalen Ballage’s cameo appearance and Mack Hollins’ magnificent hair, it’s likely that the huge amount of change the Dolphins have undergone in the past few months has introduced all sorts of variables into how this season turn will out. Speaking of change, let’s jump straight into the rest of the primer, going from N all the way to Z…


N: New playoff seed — For the first time since 1990, the NFL has again expanded the playoff to now include a total of fourteen teams. Only one team in the AFC and one team in the NFC will be awarded a bye week to start the playoffs, but that new spot could greatly shake things up come Wild Card Weekend. What’s more, is that the final seed could be within reach for a team like the Dolphins that faces a difficult schedule early but could put together a playoff push late in the season. My expectation isn’t for the Dolphins to qualify for the final AFC spot, but to see them in the hunt near season’s end given the format change wouldn’t be shocking.

O: Owning the divisionSimply put, a fantastic way to make undeniable progress this season would be for the Dolphins to go 4-2 in the AFC East. That would likely mean sweeping the Jets and beating the Bills and Pats once apiece, or sweeping the Jets AND the Patriots with two losses to the Bills, who for my money are the team to beat this year in the division. If that seems like too high a bar to achieve, think about this: The Jets still have Adam Gase as their head coach, and the Patriots have the looks of a very average team headed into the season. I realize I’m tempting fate like so many others have done before with the Pats, but listen — Brady is gone. Really, he is. You’re not dreaming. On top of this, the Patriots lost eight players at the opt-out deadline and saw several key players leave in free agency. 4-2 in the division. It’s doable and might be necessary for a successful season given the difficulty of this year’s slate.

P: Parker and Preston on the outsideAll bias aside, the Dolphins have the makings of an absolutely dominant wide receiver duo with Devante Parker and Preston Williams. These two big-bodied, physically imposing receivers bring slightly different skill sets to the table, but at the end of the day have the potential to overwhelm defensive backfields with their size and jump-ball ability. Health will be key for these two after Parker’s well-documented nicks and bruises and Williams’ torn ACL last season, but the talent level between them is impossible to ignore. Getting all sixteen weeks out of this duo would likely force secondaries to stay honest and open up opportunities in the ground game, something that was severely lacking last season.

Q: Quit playing down to the competition — Remember the final week of last season when Miami knocked off the Pats in Foxboro and effectively ended Brady’s reign within the division? We all probably do — it was amazing. But remember the week before when the Dolphins blew a 23-point lead against the Bengals in the so-called “Tank Bowl” and barely managed to win in overtime? You can say that it’s because both teams were tanking, but I don’t buy that. For years, the Dolphins have had a nasty habit of keeping games close that they had no business winning and then falling flat the very next week against a vastly inferior opponent. If the Dolphins hope to become a contender anytime soon, it’s time they became capable of playing up to their own standards week-in and week-out no matter the opponent. If they can do this, Brian Flores will have taken one more big step in the right direction.

R: RPO offense — For those unfamiliar with the term, RPO is short for “run-pass option.” Urban Meyer gives a great description here. In short, RPO plays are just a play where the quarterback snaps the ball, reads a defender/the defense, and decides whether to hand the ball off, take off himself, or throw it. Tua Tagovailoa ran the RPO offense to perfection at Alabama, and should Chan Gailey give the rookie QB the chance to run similar plays when his time comes to start, it could be a major boon for the Dolphins offense.

S: Settling in the O-line — Keeping with the theme of major change headed into this season for the Dolphins, the offensive line has been completely revamped. Jesse Davis is the only familiar face from last season starting week one against the Patriots. The new additions up front have added all sorts of size and athleticism into the mix compared to last year, but continuity is a premium in the trenches and it’s a luxury the Dolphins don’t yet have. Fitzpatrick is incredibly tough but is also an aging quarterback, and Tua needs to be protected at all costs for a variety of reasons but most notably for the sake of his surgically-repaired hip. How quickly the new starting five along the O-line can come together as a unit and gel will be a key factor in the offense’s success early in the season.

T: Tua’s arrival — And you thought I’d never mention it. I truly don’t believe that Tua will have as much of an impact on this season as Fitzpatrick will, but the Dolphins are one Fitzpatrick injury away from proving me wrong. Especially after the decision to cut ties with Josh Rosen, the Dolphins seem to have the utmost confidence in their rookie quarterback whenever his number is called this year. I’m in no rush to see Tua on the field this season — and fans would be well-served to be patient with the young quarterback — but his time is coming, and it may fall on his shoulders to lead this team late in the season. I’m ecstatic for what the future holds with Tua as a member of the Miami Dolphins, and should anything happen to Fitzpatrick the rookie will get a chance to show us what he’s got.

U: “Uncle” and his Nephew — In the same vein as Mac Hollins’ hair, if you haven’t seen the emerging buddy comedy that is Devante “Uncle” Parker and Jakeem Grant’s relationship, you really should. Jakeem Grant talking about his extendos with Devante is a personal favorite.

V: Versatility — Versatility has been the name of the game for this Dolphins coaching staff, especially on the defensive side. If you play defensive line, you should know both end and tackle. If you play linebacker, you should know your run fits and your coverage responsibilities. And if you’re a defensive back not named Xavien Howard or Byron Jones, you’d better be capable of playing corner, slot, or safety. On the offensive side, the team has put together a collection of talent that ranges from bruisers like Jordan Howard to slotbacks like Malcolm Perry to big, tall receivers like Preston Williams. This is a team that, if coached the right way, should be able to keep opponents off guard by changing from week to week and exploiting any specific disadvantages opponents might have.

W: Winning the gimmes — This goes back to shooting for a 4-2 record in the division, but the reality is that Miami faces a difficult schedule this season. With games against the Niners, Rams, and Seahawks thanks to a luckless pairing with the NFC West, there are more than a few games on the schedule that will be difficult to win for a team as young as the Dolphins, talent aside. Because of this, it’s absolutely vital that Flores leads his team to victories in games against teams like the Jets, Jaguars, and Bengals. No more playing down to the competition. No more excuses. Win the gimmes and let the more difficult games go as they might, as upsets are bound to happen every so often.

X: Xavien Howard’s health — For the Dolphins to successfully run on defense what the Patriots have succeeded within recent years, a capable secondary is an absolute necessity. The Dolphins seem to be in solid shape at safety with starters Bobby McCain and Eric Rowe. They also have Byron Jones at one cornerback spot, but think of how special this secondary could be with two cornerbacks able to fulfill this duty. Add in the fact that Xavien Howard is making big money, and the expectation should be that he’s available and playing like he was back in 2018 when he pulled down a whopping seven interceptions. With a healthy Howard and a corner opposite him that hopefully justifies his own contract — Byron Jones — the Dolphins would have loads of flexibility on defense and would be extremely difficult to throw against.

Y: Youth movement and the implications — I wrote about this a few weeks back, but the Miami Dolphins still have one of the youngest rosters in the entire NFL. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the oldest player on the team at age 37, but the next player after him? Kyle Van Noy, who’s only 29. For folks like me who are bad at math, that’s a difference of eight years. EIGHT YEARS. With such a young team still in the early phases of a full-scale rebuild, expect growing pains and look for development throughout the season across the board. The keepers will likely make themselves known early — as Bill Parcells famously said, “If they don’t bite when they’re puppies, they usually won’t bite.” Look for people on Flores’ team that bite.

Z: So I couldn’t think of anything for Z, and while I’m sure there’s a brilliant idea somewhere out there that I’m missing, here’s another look at Kalen Ballage instead. Pray that the Dolphins find their next great running back soon so I can purge Ballage’s 1.8 yards per carry from my mind.