After last week’s crushing loss to the Bills at home, let’s try something new, shall we?

Welcome to my new weekly series, “First and Fin!” The goal here is to provide the same format every week so that you can get your Miami Dolphins fix for the whole week with just one stop here at DolphinsTalk. 

We’ll get into some specifics, but otherwise, this will be a thirty-thousand-foot view of what’s going on with the team. (Ideally, this will make the series accessible to readers of all levels in terms of football knowledge, and it’ll save me some time as I get ready to start flight school).

In each of these columns, we’ll recap what happened in the previous game, hit some of the week’s main headlines from practice, and preview Miami’s upcoming contest in addition to a few other tidbits. 

With the formalities out of the way, let’s get rolling with the inaugural First and Fin: Week Three Edition.

Week Two Recap: 35-0 Loss Against the Buffalo Bills

You don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to talk about it. I get it.

There are, however, a few things from last week’s curb-stomping that bear mentioning before we finally turn the page to the rest of the season. 

The offense as a whole was putrid on Sunday between dropped passes, dumb penalties, and blown protection after blown protection. It was absolutely unacceptable. And the worst part is that despite the final score, this was a game that wasn’t out of reach until the second half was well underway. The offense, led by Jacoby Brissett once Tua Tagovailoa exited the game after getting his clock cleaned on a blown pass protection rep by Jesse Davis, occasionally moved the ball against the Bills defense.

What they weren’t able to do was score. And scoring is, well, important.

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Blowing opportunities in the red zone and across midfield, in general, was demoralizing. Still, the reality is that it probably didn’t matter — coughing up three turnovers on top of going 0/4 on 4th down and allowing six sacks is never, ever a winning formula. 

There’s more to say about the game, but most of it has already been said elsewhere. The reality is that as long as the Dolphins continue to fold spectacularly to the Buffalo Bills, they have no shot at taking back the AFC East. This has been and will continue to be Brain Flores’ biggest challenge as head coach.

If you’re looking for silver linings, consider this: The defense played lights-out for stretches before eventually succumbing, thanks to the lack of support it received from the other side of the ball. Additionally, the Dolphins beat themselves worse than the Bills beat them for most of this contest (though that seems a dubious positive). 

At any rate, Miami’s season is far from over. The loss, however, laid bare many critiques of Brian Flores’ Dolphins, such as the team’s offensive identity and the overall struggle to compete with Buffalo. 

Flores teams are generally a resilient bunch, but the week two setback will test the mettle of this 2021 squad much sooner than most fans anticipated. 

Main Storylines Coming Out of Practice

Tua Tagovailoa’s injury turns out to be fractured ribs: Unfortunately, Tua was not able to escape with merely bruised ribs after Sunday’s hard-hit from A.J. Epenesa. The timeline looks to be 2-4 weeks of missed time, but at as of now Flores claims that the team is not considering short-term IR for Tua. This would suggest at least some optimism that he could return in time for week five against the Bucs. 

Will Fuller returns to practice: After missing week two for personal reasons, Fuller has rejoined the team and expects to play against the Raiders.

Dolphins staff weighing offensive line changes: Adjustments need to be made after last week, and Flores and co. seem to be taking a hard look at personnel decisions along the line. Let’s hope they get it right.

Week Three Preview: On the Road Against the Raiders

This feels good, doesn’t it? Finally, turning the page from last week.

The Las Vegas Raiders are sitting at 2-0 with wins against the Ravens and the Steelers. Jon Gruden’s boys in silver and black are off to a hot start in 2021, and it all starts with Derek Carr.

Carr has been decisive, accurate, and mobile in the pocket so far this season. A surprise to many, he leads the NFL in passing yards to this point with an average of more than 400 yards per game through the air. His primary weapon continues to be tight end and athletic freak Darren Waller, but wide receivers Henry Ruggs III and Hunter Renfrow have also been key contributors.

The Raiders run game has been anemic through two games, averaging a league-worst 2.9 yards per carry. However, thanks to Carr’s efforts, Las Vegas still leads the NFL in yards per game with 458 and is 7th in points per game with 29.5.

Defensively, Gruden’s team has been middle of the pack in most categories.

Some trends to watch Sunday are the fact that the Raiders seldom blitz on defense (they rely on their four-man rush to get home, which has often worked thanks mainly to the efforts of defensive end Maxx Crosby); feature a good mix of offensive personnel packages ranging from heavy two-tight end sets to five-wide receiver, empty backfield sets; and have an extremely lopsided run-to-pass ratio on offense. 

X-Factor of the Week: How Miami Counters Las Vegas’s Defensive Gameplan

There’s a case to be made that the Dolphins’ defensive secondary is the X-factor this week, but I feel that they’ll be able to match up against the Raiders’ weapons outside and hold up. Containing Waller may be an issue as it was last season, but between Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, and Miami’s safety rotation, Flores’ defense should be able to hold its own. 

This will be especially true if the Raiders’ run game is as nonexistent as it has been thus far in 2021, allowing Miami to key on the passing game with its opportunistic secondary. 

The real X-factor then is if the Dolphins can respond to whatever the Raiders cook up on defense, which could be one of two things:

Scenario A: The Raiders fall back on what they do best and rush four all game, keeping most of their defense back in coverage.

Scenario B: Gruden watches the Miami-Buffalo game tape and realizes that the Dolphins O-line was helpless when blitzed and decides to stray from his roots and send extra rushers to test Miami’s protection all game. 

In either case, Miami must be ready to adapt to what they see.

Additionally, the Dolphins enjoy a notable size advantage upfront compared to the Raiders — Vegas’s front four weighs an average of 283 pounds per person while Miami’s starting five (as of now) weigh about 325 pounds on average. 

The Bills also sport an undersized defensive front, so this didn’t pay dividends last week. Still, if the Dolphins can emphasize being physical and establishing a real running game, they’ll have a better chance of countering whatever the Raiders decide to opt for defensively. 

With all the business out of the way, let’s bring this home with our Tweet of the Week, shall we?

Tweet of the Week: A Note From One of DolphinsTalk’s Own

A good reminder that no matter how much football you watch or how much you know about the game, this stuff is still confusing as hell sometimes. So sit back, worry less about ID’ing cover 2 or 3 or 6 when the game is live, and enjoy watching your Dolphins (hopefully) not get clobbered 35-0 this Sunday.

(That’s all folks! Check back next week for the next edition of FIRST AND FIN, and be sure to give me a follow on Twitter @EvanMorris72 for more content. Thanks for reading!)