Before we delve into the game preview, I would just like to thank and credit Julian Parker of Bears ATB for his contributions and insights in putting together this Dolphins preseason matchup article.
Q. Which players have stood out during camp? Who needs to improve? Has any side of the ball got the advantage over the other?
JP: “Alec Ogletree has been the biggest training camp surprise by far. There is no chance he does not make the 53-man roster by the end of preseason. I want to see improvement from Eddie Jackson. I think he is still a top five safety in the league and in Sean Desai’s defense. The defense easily has the advantage over the offense and it has been this way for a while. I think the Bears defense really has too many stars, especially in this defensive scheme Desai brings to the team.”
From a Miami Dolphins perspective, Albert Wilson has undoubtedly been one of the biggest surprises coming into camp. Having opted out of the 2020 season, it was predicted that he would be a player on the outside looking in, with a good chance of being cut. However, ever since he has come back stronger than ever consistently balling throughout training camp and has quickly become one of Tua Tagovailoa’s favorite targets. Wilson’s production and most importantly consistency has resulted in him being named a starting receiver in the Dolphins’ first official depth chart.
There is no doubt that the player who needs to improve the most is Noah Igbinoghene. A player deemed by many to be a potential replacement for Xavien Howard (had relations broke down), Igbinoghene has certainly not lived up to expectations. He has gone from a presumed starter to being torched by practice squad players, including Kirk Merritt and Isaiah Ford. I fully expect Noah to get a good amount of playtime against the Bears.
In comparison with the Bears though however, it is very refreshing for Dolphins fans that neither side really seems to have the advantage over the other. If you had to choose though, it would have to be the offense. Tua’s grip of the playbook and overall development throughout the first two weeks in camp, has been bigger than even the most avid of Tua fans could have hoped for.
Q. What do you hope that the Bears will gain from joint practices with the Dolphins?
JP: “I think Fields and Tua Tagovailoa are going to gain a lot from each other. Both quarterbacks had outstanding college careers and similar play styles. Not to mention they both have something to prove. I would hope that Dalton and Fields can also read other defenses and be more ready for the regular season.”
While the Dolphins may have a top defense in the NFL, they have always struggled against mobile quarterbacks. In last seasons win against the Cardinals, Kyler Murray was able to rush for over 100 yards. The team struggled against Josh Allen, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson, essentially any QB who is not going to stand in the pocket. If this Dolphins’ team hopes to become a legitimate contender in the AFC, they need to learn to deal with their biggest weakness and stop a mobile QB. Justin Fields is the perfect example of such a dual threat, and it will be interesting to see whether the offseason acquisitions can help contain him behind a shaky offensive line.
Q. Which positional group is considered to be your strongest in terms of talent and depth, and where is the weakness on the team?
JP: “The Bears’ strongest positional group would have to be our linebackers and defensive line. Khalil Mack is still a premiere superstar who strikes fear into offenses, despite having a down year last season. Roquan Smith is incredibly underrated as a middle linebacker and should really be considered as a top five inside linebacker. Danny Trevathan adds a great football IQ to the defense.
Robert Quinn did not impress me too much last season. I could see him making a comeback with the new defensive coordinator, Sean Desai. Even rookie Charles Snowden is getting praised, some even calling him “Leonard Floyd 2.0”. For the Bears’ defensive line, nose tackle Eddie Goldman returning this season is a massive improvement. Like Mack, Akiem Hicks has always been another consistent force in the defense. Bilal Nichols is another lineman to look out for as well.”
“The biggest weakness for the Bears is the offensive line problem. Tackle Teven Jenkins being injured really hurts us as we drafted him to be an anchor for our line. The depth was already shallow considering we expected two rookies to start. Jenkins and Larry Borom were supposed to really help out our line. Without them, it’s going to be a struggle. Germain Ifedi does not impress me. Cody Whitehair and James Daniels are solid, but offensive tackles are a massive concern for Chicago. There is not a lot I think the Bears can really do to improve the offensive line due to their salary cap situation and tackles that are currently in free agency.”
The Dolphins strongest positional group very much depends on how you choose to look at it. In terms of outright talent, the Dolphins’ secondary is the best positional group on the roster. The duo of Howard and Jones, along with the emergence of Jevon Holland as a ball hawk to complement the already reliable Eric Rowe, gives the Dolphins a truly elite secondary. However, if one of the starting players goes down, at this moment in time there is a considerable drop off in talent.
Thus, it is the wide receiving unit that appears the strongest in terms of depth, as despite injuries to presumed starter Will Fuller and the absence of DeVante Parker, many players have stepped up throughout camp. The Dolphins have a dilemma that they could have only have dreamed off last season, as many players appear to have made a big jump over the offseason. Who would have thought that it would be Mack Hollins ripping apart the Bears defense during camp?
The Dolphins biggest weakness going into the Bears game remains the offensive line. From the nightmare of 2019 to positive developments in 2020, it appears some positions on the line have regressed during training camp. The days of the presumed starting line being set in stone are no more. Such weaknesses were made blatantly clear following the first day of joint practice.
Bears fans be reassured Dolphins fans feel your pain. A day filled with players getting in the backfield, both teams pass rushers showed promise against shambolic offensive line play.
Q. What are your expectations going into the game? What do you hope the team takes away from it?
JP: “It’s tough for me to have expectations on one preseason game and not the whole preseason. Of course, I want to see Andy Dalton show flashes of what he was with the Cincinnati Bengals. Bears head coach Matt Nagy signed him this offseason for a reason. If Justin Fields wasn’t drafted, he would be the face of our offense. I am also looking forward to seeing undrafted free agent, Charles Snowden and newly signed linebacker, Alec Ogletree. Ogletree has been a nightmare for the Bears offense in training camp, racking up multiple interceptions against all of the Bears quarterbacks. Snowden has also drawn praise from multiple Bears’ coaches so far this training camp. I’m hoping more wide receivers will get chances after Anthony Miller was traded. I would keep your eyes on Riley Ridley and rookie Dazz Newsome.”
I anticipate this game as being rather close, both teams with relatively similar strengths and weaknesses. Of course I would like to see Tua Tagovailoa get the Dolphins preseason off to a good start with a couple of solid drives down field, consistently moving the chains like he has in practice. Whether the offensive line can provide him with the time to do that is the ultimate question.
As aforementioned, to see the Dolphins defense shut down Justin Fields and not allow him to escape the pocket will be a big win coming out of this game. The key factor I see in this game is the ability of Nick Foles in comparison with Reid Sinnett. As the game enters the second half I am interested to see how the depth in the Dolphins secondary can deal with a Super Bowl winning veteran QB. Keep your eyes out for how the likes of Trill Williams, Jamal Perry, Terrell Bonds and Jaytlin Askew perform, as they battle it out for the final roster spot.
Q. What players that opposition fans may not know about should we keep a close eye on?
JP: “Darnell Mooney against the Dolphins secondary is gonna be a matchup to watch. Most of his highlights are just breaking off receivers and not actual catches. Then again, the Bears quarterbacks last season were not exactly competent. Mooney is someone to watch out for on the field. He is going to be a great complement to Allen Robinson in the slot. I would also watch out for cornerback Jaylon Johnson. He had a solid rookie season and I think he’s going to expand on that this season as CB1.”
With Albert Wilson and Jaylen Waddle unlikely to get a lot of snaps in this first Dolphins preseason game, I foresee Lynn Bowden Jr playing a big role in the slot. Expectations were high with Bowden coming into camp, especially after his offseason workouts with Tua. However, he has not had the best of starts to this training camp, being pushed down the depth chart, with his roster spot very much in question. I can see Bowden getting a lot of playtime against the Bears. Lets hope he can impress and get his offseason back on track.
Q. How many series do you foresee that we will see out of the QBs during the game?
JP: ” From what I have heard, it is going to be hard to keep Fields off the field. He’s just been more impressive than Dalton has been. I think for the game against the Dolphins, you’ll see a quarter of Dalton, and maybe a quarter or two of Fields. The remainder of the game most likely being Nick Foles. I would love to see Dalton play the first half, and then Fields plays the second half.”
As much as we would all love to see as much of Tua’s development for as long as possible, I do not envisage him getting anymore than a couple of series during the first Dolphins preseason game. I believe this week the emphasis for Tua will be on the joint practices and how he deals with facing the pressure of a dominant defensive line, offering a different look to what he sees against the Dolphins defense every day.
Therefore, I then see Jacoby Brissett seeing out the rest of the first half before then handing the keys over to Reid Sinnett who unfortunately has struggled throughout camp.
Q. Which player on the other team scares you the most?
JP: “Xavien Howard. Dude is a ball hawk. There’s not much I can really say about him. He’s a top 3 cornerback in the league, great hands, and can lock down receivers. I think Allen Robinson is going to struggle getting separation from him. Mike Gesicki is also a great piece to the Dolphins offense. I think he is going to be Tua’s favorite target. A Dolphins player I am not worried about is any running back on the team. I don’t know if that is an issue Dolphins fans are worried about but if the Bears stop their run game, Tua is going to really struggle.”
There is only one right answer here. Khalil Mack. The man is a force of nature and if he features in the Dolphins preseason game he will very much like Aaron Donald give Tua immediate problems behind this offensive line. Allen Robinson is a player many fans hoped could be an option in free agency. However, if Xavien Howard plays, I feel confident enough that Howard can lock him down like Julian eluded to above.
After 8 months of waiting, endless dramas, new acquisitions, surprise cuts and trades, Dolphins football is finally back. While it may only be preseason, I for one cannot contain my excitement. Once again I would like to thank Julian for his help throughout his article. Be sure to go and follow him on Twitter.
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