The Miami Dolphins are on the verge of one of their most important seasons in recent memory. Chris Grier, Brian Flores, and the rest of the Dolphins’ organization have executed a masterful rebuild thus far. The foundation was set in 2019 when the team won five of its final nine games and acquired an abundance of draft capital and cap space. 2020 was used to get young players acclimated into the league and gain valuable game experience. The Dolphins finished 10-6 and controlled their own destiny to clinch a playoff berth. While they did not achieve their goal of a post-season appearance, something even greater was fulfilled: experience for Tua Tagovailoa. There is no denying that the Miami Dolphins will only go as far as Tagovailoa can take them. There is also no question that Tagovailoa’s 2020 season fell short of the expectations most had for the young QB, but the nine starts he was able to get under his belt will go a long way for both this team and for Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa is poised to make a big year two jump and could cement himself as the Dolphins starting quarterback for the foreseeable future.
Another focal point of this Dolphins team is their defense. A unit that led the league in turnovers and interceptions only got stronger. Adam Butler, Jason McCourty, Justin Coleman, and rookies Jevon Holland and Jaelan Phillips add both experience and depth. Miami is deeper at every position on the roster than we have seen in years. Not only does this allow room for injury, but it also pushes players to perform and maintain their role on the team. Competition is a recipe for success in today’s NFL. A big mistake Miami made for years with Ryan Tannehill was not giving him any competition. The Dolphins have position battles up and down the roster: Justin Coleman vs. Nik Needham, Jason McCourty vs. Jevon Holland, Liam Eichenberg vs. Jesse Davis, etc. The better teams in the league can withstand injuries and replace them without skipping a beat. With another year of learning the system, building chemistry, and the depth the team has, Miami’s defense should replicate, if not surpass, last year’s performance.
Speaking of depth, the Miami Dolphins wide receivers could be the deepest position on the roster. Chris Grier did an excellent job transforming one of the weakest units on the team into one of the strongest. Will Fuller, Jaylen Waddle, and getting Preston Williams and Albert Wilson back will make the offense dynamic and exciting to watch. Speed kills, and Miami has a lot of it with Fuller, Waddle, Grant, and Wilson. Opposing defenses must allocate a free safety not to allow any deep completions consistently, sometimes even two safeties. The teams won’t be able to load the box on Miami with the fear of getting beat over the top, which will also boost the run game. Tua Tagovailoa was surrounded by elite talent at the University of Alabama. What Tagovailoa was able to accomplish last season with the receivers Miami had on the field was remarkable. The Dolphins ranked near the league’s bottom in yards of separation at the receiver position, meaning Tagovailoa had to fit most of his throws into tight windows. That won’t be the case this season. Fuller, Waddle, and Wilson create space with their speed, while Parker, Williams, and Gesicki use their strength. There is a nice balance on the offensive side of the ball, and there is not a particular featured star. Each week, a different playmaker could lead the way for Miami, which is very difficult for other teams to plan for.
Three Keys to Victory in Foxborough
Key #1: Make life hell for rookie QB
For the second straight season, the Miami Dolphins open their season on the road in Foxborough. The AFC East is poised to be a very competitive division, and Miami must start strong. In week one, the New England Patriots parted ways with starting quarterback Cam Newton and will be going with a rookie, Mac Jones. In recent years, the Dolphins have struggled with mobile quarterbacks while having great success verse pocket passers. Jones is a pocket passer and isn’t much of a threat with his legs. This benefits Miami, and they must make it tough on the rookie to move the football. In 2020, Brian Flores loved to use the amoeba defense and have about eight guys around the line of scrimmage. Opposing quarterbacks never know whether the Dolphins will blitz all eight guys or drop some into coverage. It causes the quarterback to rush his decisions, which sometimes results in interceptions, sacks, or fumbles. Even the best players in the league (Mahomes, Wilson) struggled against Miami’s defense. Now they face a player making his first-ever start in the NFL.
Key #2: Run the ball effectively
The Dolphins RPO (run, pass option) offense is only effective when the run game is effective. Miami must establish a solid run game and not rely solely on the arm of Tua Tagovailoa. A philosophy as old as time remains true, “the run game opens up the passing game.” The Patriots will be without Pro Bowl cornerback, Stephon Gilmore which will allow Miami to be more effective in the passing game. The offensive line must do a good job of creating holes for Gaskin, Brown, and Ahmed and must control the line of scrimmage. If the Patriots’ defensive line is consistently in the backfield and forcing long 3rd downs, the Dolphins could be in for a long day. Miami’s offense could have the ball for most of this game if the defense forces Mac Jones into tough situations. They must capitalize on turnovers and field position when given a chance. A solid benchmark for Miami’s backs is to top 100 yards rushing and a touchdown.
Key #3: Contain New England’s tight ends
The New England Patriots signed Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry this off-season, giving them a dynamic tight end duo they are so famous for. Smith and Henry are both one of the best tight ends in the entire league and complement each other well. Smith had nearly 500 yards and 8 touchdowns last year with the Titans, while Henry tallied 613 yards and 4 touchdowns with the Chargers. Eric Rowe will have his hands full in week one and will most likely be asked to shadow Jonnu Smith the entire game. Rowe, a.k.a. the tight end eraser, did an excellent job containing the opposing team’s tight ends in 2020. Mac Jones will definitely be looking for safe, easy throws in his first career start, and most of those will target Henry and Smith. If the Dolphins can keep the Patriots tight ends under 60 yards receiving, they have a strong chance of winning the game. Making New England one-dimensional is key in Sunday’s matchup.