The NFL season is finally here! Last night, we had a fantastic game as the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Bucs survived a scare against Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas left several points on the table against Tom Brady, and that’s not a winning formula. Looking ahead to Sunday, what will the winning formula for the Miami Dolphins be when they take on the New England Patriots? Here are the three keys to victory!
Three Keys to a Miami Dolphins Victory
Make Mac Jones look like a rookie
During the lead-up to the NFL Draft, one of the biggest talking points was former Alabama quarterback Mac Jones. Just how high would the former Crimson Tide star be taken? Could he be the third quarterback off the board? Was he even worthy of a first-round pick? Opinions varied wildly on the young quarterback, but ultimately the only one that matters is Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
Belichick made Jones a first-round pick in April. Now he has made Jones the starter of the New England Patriots. Jones has some big shoes to fill, and he’s going to get a major test right out of the gates in the Miami Dolphins defense. Miami had one of the better defenses in the league last year, and they’ve arguably gotten better since then.
Head coach Brian Flores is undoubtedly excited about the idea of unleashing this defense on a rookie quarterback. The Dolphins have added pass-rushing prowess with first-round pick Jaelan Phillips. They also added a chess piece in the defensive backfield with safety Jevon Holland. Coupled with the further development of defensive tackle Raekwon Davis and one of the best corner duos in the league, it’s a recipe for disaster for a rookie quarterback.
Miami will need every bit of that if they’re going to walk away with a win and start their season 1-0. Flores is undoubtedly going to make life a nightmare for Jones, with multiple looks and disguises. Will Jones be able to diagnose what he’s seeing? Will Howard be able to force turnovers at the rate he did last season? New England should be in for a long day if Miami can create pressure up front and confuse Jones behind it.
Improved offensive line play
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Miami Dolphins have questions along the offensive line. It feels like a broken record to continue harping on the line, but the fact remains there are still significant questions. Watching the offensive line play in the pre-season did not assuage any fears Dolphins fans had about the performance of this line.
To make matters worse, the Dolphins come into the season opener with both injury and COVID issues along the line. Miami is going to be without starting left tackle Austin Jackson. One of his presumptive replacements — rookie Liam Eichenberg — has been dealing with a lingering “lower-body” issue. Fellow newcomer to the Dolphins, Greg Little, is also dealing with injury issues. It’s going to be a significant point of concern for Miami heading into Sunday’s game. The million-dollar question is going to be, “How well can the offensive line hold up?”
All through training camp, we’ve heard about all the progress that Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has made in his second season — and first full training camp. All of that progress won’t mean much if he can’t put it on display because of a porous offensive line in front of him.
Jesse Davis will likely be thrust into the starting lineup regardless of whether or not Eichenberg is fully healthy. Can his veteran leadership bring the offensive line together? Will they be able to protect Tagovailoa and open up holes for running backs, Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed? They’re going to have to if Miami has any hope of starting the season undefeated.
Tua needs to prove his progress
The biggest story line for the Miami Dolphins this off-season has been quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. It has arguably been one of the biggest story lines in the entire league. There’s been talk ad nauseum about what the young quarterback needed to show in year two with the Dolphins.
Pundits and analysts alike have talked until they’re blue in the face about whether or not coach Flores actually believes in Tua. None of that to mention the persistent Deshaun Watson rumors.
All of that — well, maybe not *all* — gets put to rest on Sunday. We saw a bit of his progress in the pre-season, and it was enough to give fans hope that all the talk they’ve heard from camp wasn’t just that. But it’s a much different animal doing those things in the regular season.
If the Dolphins have any hope of walking away from the season opener with a victory, it’s all on Tagovailoa’s shoulders. He needs to show fans — and the Patriots — how much he’s actually progressed in the off-season. He’s finally had an entire off-season to work with the team. He’s been given weapons on the outside with Jaylen Waddle and Will Fuller — who will miss this week’s game due to suspension. It’s time for Tagovailoa to make the leap and become a franchise quarterback.
Miami is going to need some explosive plays if they’re to beat the Patriots. Whether that comes from Waddle, tight end Mike Gesicki, or someone else, remains to be seen. But no matter who it comes from, it’s going to start with the arm of Tua. It’s ‘put up or shut up’ time. One way or another, there’s going to be a firestorm of talk after Sunday’s game. If Tua is on his game, and the defense is on theirs, it should be a Victory Monday for Dolphins fans.
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