After nearly a month away from writing due to the pressure of starting my new career, I am finally back with this weeks preview. In my last preview prior to the Colts game, it seemed like the cracks were getting bigger and now on the back of consecutive last second losses against poor teams, everything has come crashing down. The Dolphins organisation is a shambles.
Widely considered a playoff contender prior to the season, they are now the worst team in the NFL. I am not even sure the Dolphins beat the Texans Week 9, but lets not spoil next weeks preview… There is very little fight within this team and the days of complementary football are now a distant memory. Nevertheless, it is my job to put all of this discontent that has been brewing over the last month to one side, and tell you how Miami can win this game. Should be easy right?
Reflections on Week 6 & Week 7
As last weeks game was drawing to an end, the main thought that raced through my mind was “surely not again”. Having been in London for the Jags game, wanting the ground to swallow me up as 60,000 fans went crazy with the final kick of the game, the Dolphins wanted to provide that same feeling to all fans back at Hard Rock against the Falcons. The Dolphins were the most supported team in London, yet it seemed that the fans of every other team were very much anti-Dolphins.
While the Dolphins have not played well enough across 4 quarters to deserve to win the game, they certainly did not deserve to lose. This is no exaggeration, but the Dolphins are literally 2mm from winning the last two games. Had things gone differently, they would have been out of sight. 2mm from being 1-6 to 3-4, or maybe even 4-3, if the DPI was called on Fuller against the Raiders. The 2021 Miami Dolphins have not done themselves any favors in their performances, but my god they have been incredibly unlucky.
The one positive over the past two weeks is the performance of Tua Tagovailoa. Since his return Tua has a 102.7 passer rating, 620 passing yards for a completion percentage of 74.7% leading to 6 TDs. 3 interceptions unfortunately continue to leave a mark over what have been positive performances. What is more impressive, is that Tua’s best performances during his tenure with the Dolphins have been when his starting receivers are out of the game.
People regularly question whether Tua is a QB who can win game for the team. In the past two weeks he has gone 20/24 with 3 TDs and 1 INT in the 4th quarter. In the 3 games that Tua has played this season, the team has always been in a winning position when he has left the field for the final time. Yet, a dark cloud filled with Deshaun Watson rumors continue to linger over the franchise.
Expectations Heading into the Game:
Over the past three weeks Miami have given up 1,066 yards passing and 337 rushing yards. The decline of the defense has been a key element of the Dolphins’ decline this season. Next up Josh Allen…
That being said in Week 2, despite being blown out 35-0, the Dolphins defense held Allen to 179 yards. This is the lowest allowed by the Dolphins all season and the least gained by Buffalo. It did not make a difference in that game, and in all honesty I cannot see it being any different this week either.
Buffalo have the number one defense in the league, allowing the fewest points per game and the fewest yards per game. In contrast, Miami rank 31st in points allowed (29.6) and 29th in points scored (18.1). It seems somewhat fitting that this game is being played on Halloween, as it has been a nightmare matchup for the Dolphins in recent years.
Keys to Success:
No Mistakes– What the past 5 weeks have taught us is that the NFL is a game of fine margins. The slightest of mistakes on one play can prove to be so costly. Tua has been very impressive. Despite a few mistakes being sprinkled into his performances he has for the most part bounced back on subsequent drives. Against an elite team like Buffalo mistakes will be critical.
Control Time of Possession– The defense has been poor in recent weeks. Keeping Allen off the field will be essential in keeping the score down and within reach for Tua and the offense to attempt to stay in the game. This will require the offensive line to actually keep Tua upright this time.
Defensive Return to Week 2– Miami’s defense played well against the Bills last time around. The scoreline was not reflective of their performance but the offense’s. The offense has since improved (couldn’t get any worse) while the defense has regressed. If Miami are to stand any chance in this game the defense HAS to improve.
With Deiter still on IR and Mancz being questionable, it seems that Austin Reiter will continue to be the Dolphins center. We did not hear much of Reiter in his first game for Miami which is always a good thing on the offensive line. Parker seems like he could feature amidst several trade rumors. Biggest loss could be Jerome Baker who is questionable with a knee injury. The injury is nothing major, but it is clear that he is dealing with considerable discomfort. One positive is Byron Jones and Xavien Howard are now back in full practice.
It has been a testing season for us Dolphins fans and likely to continue. Buffalo are coming off a bye week and well rested. As fans we need a bye week just to give ourselves some relief, but we will have to wait until Week 14 for that. Brace yourselves. The observant readers will notice that the ATB writers score predictions are missing from this weeks’ preview and for good reason. However, stranger things have happened in the NFL. Maybe, just maybe on Halloween, the Dolphins will treat us all, and the defense returns and makes Allen see ghosts. Fins up!
The Dolphins and Colts, two teams who at the start of the season were widely regarded as strong playoff contenders. However, following the performances in the opening 3 weeks, both teams enter this game in desperate need of a win to get their seasons back on track.
Week 3 Recap:
To sum up in one word…frustrating. The game started so positively with the Dolphins first pick 6 since 2019 courtesy of Elandon Roberts. On the next drive the Dolphins defense then proceeded to turn the ball over on downs. That was thanks to great run stuffing of Christian Wilkins and Zach Sieler. With all the momentum on Miami’s side, they even managed to get a big rushing play from Malcolm Brown resulting in a 24 yard score. Then it all changed.
The remainder of the game was just outright painful to watch. After a hot start, the Dolphins defense allowed Peyton Barber to rush for 111 yards and a TD. Also allowing Derek Carr to throw for 386 yards and 2 TDs. Miami just could not get off the field on third down. Nevertheless, after the Dolphins offense could not stay on the field with 5 possessions without scoring. The bend not break nature of the defense ought to be applauded, keeping the Raiders to 25 points heading into overtime.
With a full complement of healthy and talented receivers at Miami’s disposal we were hoping to see the purported modernized Dolphins attack. Far from it. It was the coaches that lost Miami this game, all stemming from the pass out of the end zone to Jaylen Waddle resulting in a safety. From there the Raiders took full advantage and never looked back.
The play calling was conservative to say the least. With the contested catch specialists in Gesicki and Parker and the speed of Fuller and and Waddle, the Dolphins never played to their strengths, electing for a dink and dunk approach. Consequently, Jaylen Waddle, the most electric receiver the Dolphins have, ended the night with 12 receptions for 58 yards. Of course there is the argument that this is down to the play of the offensive line in not giving the receivers the time to develop their routes. However, Miami had no such issues in moving the ball down field late in the 4th quarter. As Hussam Patel wrote prior to the game…
Keys to Success
Coming into the game I stated in my preview article that there would be three keys to success:
Improvements on the Offensive Line– The Dolphins offensive line were by no means perfect but were atleast somewhat functional and a big improvement from Buffalo. Austin Jackson continued to be a problem in the passing game allowing rushers to go by untouched, but was strong in the run game, opening up a solid channel for Malcolm Brown to score.
Explosive Pass Rush– The Dolphins pass rush was much improved managing 3 sacks and 4 TFL. Increased use of Jaelan Phillips as a rusher rather than dropping back into coverage, and more safety blitzes from Brandon Jones enabled the Dolphins to create a more consistent pass rush.
Put Points on the Board– The Dolphins put up 28 points including 11 in fourth quarter when the offense eventually got moving. Ultimately however, it prove not to be enough. Conservative play calling from the outset caused the Dolphins to go 5 drives without scoring, which ultimately decided the game. Giving up a cheap safety and a missed field goal, ultimately meant that the Dolphins beat themselves.
Expectations Heading into Week 4:
Coming into this game the Colts are 0-3, having played the Seahawks, Rams and Titans, all of which are likely to make a strong playoff run. Had the Dolphins played those same opponents, it is highly likely that the Dolphins would also be 0-3. In fact the Colts and the Dolphins are very similar. 2 teams coming off losing seasons in 2019, to be in and around the playoffs in 2020, yet have regressed early in the season. Both teams have strong defenses with their struggles along the offensive line.
Nevertheless, where the Dolphins have the edge is in their overall fitness. Entering this week 12 starters have missed practice this week at some point. With the offensive line already a concern for the Colts, their problems will only be further exacerbated as the only starting lineman who has had a full week of practice is C Ryan Kelly.
I foresee another defensively dominated game from both teams. Both will try and establish the run early and often in order to control the time of possession keeping their defenses rested. Colts QB Carson Wentz has been running around scrambling for his life on 2 injured ankles. With the athleticism of the Dolphins defensive line, especially with the increased worth of Jaelan Phillips improving week on week, I can see the defense causing the Colts offensive line nightmares.
Keys to Success:
#1- Stop the Run
With a run defense as porous as Miami’s at times, the emphasis will be on stopping the Colts’ rushing game. Surprisingly the Colts chose to abandon their running game last week against the Titans with Jonathan Taylor only having 10 carries, yet averaging 6.4 YPC. There is a reason the second year running back was taken so highly in many people’s fantasy leagues, but Taylor is yet to score in 2021. In fact the 64 yards he managed Week 3 was a season high, so look for the Colts to get him involved early and often, especially considering the fitness of Carson Wentz. Limiting the damage in the run game will go a long way to coming away with a W.
#2- Establish the Run
In Week 3 the Dolphins had some success in running the ball scoring twice against the Raiders with Myles Gaskin, Malcolm Brown and Jacoby Brissett all managing over 4.4 YPC. The Colts defense is the 6th worst in the league in terms of rushing yards allowed, but have only allowed 1 rushing TD. This is highly relevant as the Dolphins are the worst in the league in passing TDs with only 1 over 3 games. Establishing the run will go a long way to sustaining drives and allowing the defense to rest.
#3- Better Coaching
The Dolphins play calling was far too conservative with dink and dunk plays. Both Godsey and Studesville need to do better at scheming plays to get the balls into the hands of their best play makers. For Waddle to be tied 3rd in the league in receptions but 45th in receiving yards is no mark against him, but of how he is being used in primarily in bubble screens and drag routes. The Colts adopt a very heavy zone coverage defense giving Brissett (former Colts QB) the opportunity to pick apart the defense.
Another week, another player moved to IR. Unfortunately now the Dolphins will be without their starting center in Michael Deiter for atleast 3 weeks. Deiter was arguably the most consistent performer along the offensive line throughout all of the early woes. Now the job falls to Greg Mancz to steady the ship this week before what will be an ordeal next week @ Tampa. On the brighter side, the remainder of the active roster is healthy and good to go.
The same cannot be said for the Colts who are very beaten up. Biggest news is that Quenton Nelson is OUT, while other big names such as Carson Wentz and Jonathan Taylor are both questionable to feature. Check out the full injury report below.
Despite their record and the teams they have faced the Colts haven’t conceded more than 28 points. As previously mentioned I foresee this being a very defensively dominated game. The outcome will all depend on whether the play calling can improve, allowing Brissett to push the ball down field. Check out the ATB Dolphins staff’s predictions below:
Bradley Davies- 24-17 Dolphins
Hussam Patel- 20-17 Dolphins
Tyler DeSena- 27-17 Dolphins
Tanner Elliott- 13-10 Dolphins
Rishi Desai- 23-19 Dolphins
Jared Vandermyde- 27-13 Dolphins
Chris Spooner- 24-20 Colts
This is a must win game for Miami if they are going to be any form of playoff contender this year. However, before that happens there must be a vast improvement in the overall play calling and execution on offense. Good news for Dolphins fans, the throwbacks are returning this week to Hard Rock, a fitting tribute during the Don Shula Celebration of Life weekend. Fins up!
They say time heals all wounds and eases the pain. As I am writing this, and as I’m sure when you are reading this too, we all know as Dolphins fans this plainly isn’t true. With the foul taste of Week 17 still lingering in the minds of many Dolphins fans, it was almost inconceivable that things could get any worse. They did. In what can be a contender for one of the coldest takes of the year, led by my heart, I predicted that the Dolphins would win in a shootout. Oh how wrong I was. So where did it all go wrong?
In my preview article I stated there would be 3 keys to success against Buffalo:
Contain Josh Allen
With the threat of Josh Allen widely known the Dolphins needed to contain him. For the most part they did as Allen was only able to rush for 35 yards. However, with the Dolphins pass rush only creating 1 sack across the first two games, there was not really much need, as Miami were unable to generate consistent pass rush, despite Buffalo’s issue at tackle.
Elite Secondary Play
The Dolphins secondary deserved a lot better from this game. They held Josh Allen to 17-33 for 179 yards. Stephon Diggs completed 4 catches from 8 completions. Xavien Howard continued to show why he is the best corner in the league with yet another INT this time against Diggs. Rookie Jevon Holland recovered a fumble forced by Jerome Baker. The coverage of the secondary was elite and by the half Allen only had 62 passing yards.
And this is where it all went wrong. Not only did the offensive line allow 6 sacks, 11 QB hits and 24 pressures of 45 dropbacks, starting QB Tua Tagovailoa left the game on a back of a cart following a sack by AJ Epenesa. After an average 2020 season, it very much feels like we are back in 2019 after last weeks performance. It was by no means pretty and was not addressed during the game. Flores and Jeanpierre have stated openly that they will address the offensive line this week, how though remains to be seen.
In an elite secondary like Miami’s it is very hard to stand out, especially if you are a rookie. Just ask Noah Igbinoghene. Jevon Holland however has had no such issues, even replacing Eric Rowe during the game. Against the Bills he was the second highest graded player on the defense, in what was a good defensive performance. Furthermore, he is the highest rated rookie defender in the league. It will be interesting to watch his performances compared with Raiders’ rookie safety Tre’von Moehrig who was the widely regarded No.1 safety in the 2021 NFL Draft. A lot has been said this week about Chris Grier’s drafting capabilities. Thus far, Holland is looking like a home run pick.
Expectations Heading into Week 3
The Raiders come into this game very hot. The Raiders lead the league in passing yards, averaging 8.8 Yards/Attempt, while managing 12 plays for 20+yards over two games. In that time the Dolphins have managed 3. What is all the more impressive is the teams that they have beaten in the Ravens and the Steelers, two elite defenses. Despite heavy reliance on Darren Waller Week 1 with 19 targets, Derek Carr began to spread the ball around against the Steelers, including Henry Ruggs, Kenyan Drake and Hunter Renfrow.
Nevertheless, without Josh Jacobs in the backfield their offense does look very one dimensional which plays into the Dolphins’ strengths. In Week 2 the Raiders run game managed 2.1 YPC on 25 attempts.
In a week that has been full of negativity, one positive has emerged in the return of Will Fuller. Fuller looks set to make his Dolphins debut against the Raiders. For the first time the Dolphins have all of their receiving options available to them, a luxury that has been missing for a long long time. A strong Dolphins’ receiving corps against a young Raiders’ secondary will be a key matchup throughout this game.
We all know that Darren Waller is a freak. Despite Eric Rowe being one of the best safeties in the league at shutting down TEs, he was no match for Waller when the two sides faced each other last December. With the performances of McCourty and Holland impressing in the first weeks of the season, it is unclear as to who will be guarding Waller and how the defense plans on shutting down the main focus of the Raiders’ offense.
Keys to Success
#1Improvements on Offensive Line!!!
If the offensive line can improve to be just a functional, average, yet stable the Dolphins can win this game. A big if. It has been reported that Eichenberg has been taking reps at LG, RT and LT. In addition, Solomon Kindley looks at risk of being dropped or shifted back to RG if Jesse Davis does not feature, pushing Hunt back out to RT where he played last season. I believe that it should be Eichenberg who starts at LT which then pushes Jackson inside at LG, who typically does better with linemen around him. The offensive line will need to perform better against a strong Raiders pass rush who have 5 sacks on the season already
#2 Explosive Pass Rush
Miami did better at getting pressure to Josh Allen than they did against the Patriots, but it will not be enough. With the speed of Ruggs a potential mismatch against most likely Byron Jones, the Dolphins front seven have to do better at getting pressure in the face of Carr before those routes can develop downfield. The Raiders offensive line underwent quite the overhaul in the offseason, and with Richie Incognito out and Jermaine Eluemunor a player that didn’t make the Dolphins’ roster while losing Ronnie Stanley, this is a good time for Miami’s pass rush to get started.
#3 Put Points on the Board
There were several instances where the Dolphins left points on field and it should not have been a shutout. Down 14-0 DeVante Parker dropped a 33 yard TD pass from Brissett right into his hands. Following this Xavien Howard then intercepted Allen just outside the redzone. The Dolphins then elected to go for it on 4th and 2 at Buffalo 16 yard line. If the TD pass was completed and then the Dolphins elect to kick the field goal, the Dolphins are back in the game down 14-10 with the momentum on their side. From the dramatic ending last season in Vegas thanks to a game winning field goal by Jason Sanders, the Dolphins need to ensure they are coming away from drives with something to show for it.
The BIG news coming out this week is that starting QB Tua Tagovailoa is OUT this week and most likely for the next couple of weeks with fractured ribs. A disappointment to many fans in an all important evaluation year for Tua. Thankfully however, the Dolphins do have one of the best backup QBs in the league who will not lose us this game based off his performance. As it stands, the only other players who may be in doubt to feature are Jakeem Grant and Jesse Davis who were both limited in practice after leaving the game against the Bills.
The most notable names on the Raiders injury report is that it is looking unlikely that Josh Jacobs or Richie Incognito will play after not participating in practice, while DE Carl Nassib has been limited.
After last weeks horrendously bad prediction on my behalf of Dolphins 31- 28 Bills, I am going to be much more reserved. Until I see some notable improvements on the offensive line early on in the game I cannot predict a Miami victory at this time. That is not to say it will not happen, so hopefully I am proven wrong this week. Check out the ATB Dolphins staff’s predictions below:
Bradley Davies 27-21 Raiders
Hussam Patel 24-17 Raiders
Chris Spooner 24-17 Raiders
Tyler DeSena 23-10 Raiders
Rishi Desai 20-17 Miami
Tanner Elliot 28-10 Raiders
Jared Vandermyde 17-14 Miami
This game is winnable. The Dolphins are tied with the Bills and the Patriots in the division. While it may seem that the sky is falling in after this Past week, the Dolphins still have a better record than this time last season. The Dolphins beat the Raiders last year. These next two games against the Raiders and Colts will be vitally important in getting the Dolphins’ season back on track if they are to mount any playoff push. Fins Up!
Before we delve into this game preview, I would just like to thank and credit Tony Zanatian of Bills ATB, for his contributions and insights in putting together this Week 2 matchup article.
Week 1 Recap
TZ: “Week 1 was a big disappointment. The Bills were 6.5 point favorites but ended up dropping their home opener to the Steelers. The story of the game was the Steelers dominant pass rush. They rushed just 3 or 4 players on almost every snap but still generated pressure on over 40% of their plays. This allowed them to drop more players into coverage and force tight window throws all game. Josh Allen missed some throws and the receivers dropped some passes which just can’t happen when the defense is playing that tough.
A lot of the national talk is about Allen’s regression. but he didn’t look any different from last year’s Steelers game, so I’m not as worried as some. The real concern is that both tackles either got beat or held their man on what felt like every play. LG Jon Feliciano has never been good in pass protection but he was a complete liability that every team will now focus on. As for positives, the defense returned to 2019 levels. The Steelers couldn’t move the ball through the air or on the ground with rookie Najee Harris. The pass rush has new juice and the secondary is as good as ever. The run game also impressed with Devin Singletary rushing for 6.6 YPC. Check out my full recap if you want to learn more.”
Despite going 1-0 and atop the AFC East, many fans were not overly impressed by Miami’s performance. While some set their expectations too high going into the game about what too expect, from not just Tua but the whole team, the win flattered Miami’s performance against an unconventionally sloppy Patriots team.
The major disappointment in this game, was that the Dolphins struggled to generate any consistency on either side of the ball. From what was a near perfect opening drive resulting in Tua running for a TD, the next 3 drives resulted in 3 punts for a combined 17 yards of offense.
Receiving the ball to start the second half, the Dolphins like in the first half methodically drove the ball down the field in 9 plays for 75 yards ultimately resulting in a first receiving touchdown for rookie Jaylen Waddle. However, much like the first half, the rest of the game the Dolphins managed only a further 33 yards of offense. It may be easy to scapegoat Tua for the Dolphins offensive struggles, he was by no means bad. On multiple occasions he was let down by both his receivers and offensive line, while he had his struggles himself.
On the defensive side of the ball much remained much of the same from 2020. A turnover creating machine, but struggled to stop the run and create a consistent pass rush. The Dolphins continued to bend and not break and would have prevented the Patriots from scoring had it not been for an unfair roughing the passing call against Elandon Roberts. However, Miami’s defense allowed almost 400 yards mainly attributable to soft zone coverage, allowing Jones to stand in the pocket and find his check downs.
TZ: “I expect Josh Allen and the offense to get back on track given their recent history of success against Miami’s defense. I am hoping for a speedy recovery for Raekwon Davis but his absence will benefit the Bills run game. Where Pittsburgh was able to rush 4 and play zone to stifle the passing offense. I think Miami will take a more blitz heavy approach and play man with their talented corner and safety groups. This gives the advantage to the Bills receivers and the passing offense as it has in their past matchups
On the other side of the ball, I think Tua and the speed of the WR group will challenge the defense much more than the Steelers did. DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki have caused the Bills secondary trouble with their size advantage in the past. The pass rush should be able to make some noise if Austin Jackson is back in at left tackle. They will get somewhat exotic switching up pre and post-snap looks to try to slow down Tua diagnosing the defense, knowing that his performance suffers the longer he holds the ball. Overall I expect both offenses to have success despite the quality of the defenses.”
Coming into the season I had hopes that the Dolphins would split the Bills. Whether Miami can achieve that is another question. One thing is for sure the Dolphins will not be able to just put up 17 points and rely on their defense to neutralize Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs. Something has to change. Whereas Week 1 was as predicted a very defensively dominated game, I foresee this matchup as being somewhat of a shootout. In the 6 games Josh Allen has played against Miami, he has won 5, throwing for 17 TDs and 4 INTs, with a passer rating of 114.3.
It was hoped that the Dolphins would have the chance to play with their new toy in Will Fuller. Fuller missed nearly all of training camp through injury and has since been ruled out of atleast Sunday’s game due to a personal matter.This is a huge loss for Miami. The Bills’ secondary ranked top 5 in the league in 2020, and it was hoped that having Fuller, Parker, Waddle and Gesicki on the field together would create a matchup nightmare.
The composition of the offensive line is another key factor. With Austin Jackson set to return as starting LT this week, despite a strong showing by Liam Eichenberg. In his first NFL start, Eichenberg recorded a run blocking grade of 65.9 and pass blocking grade of 71.8, allowing only one pressure. The same could not be said for Jesse Davis at RT against the likes of Matt Judon and co. It is not ideal when Tua is being pressured heavily from his blindside and was obvious that he was uncomfortable. Tua seemed to be rather frantic in the pocket, rather than being cool and composed like we saw in preseason. Whether Flores is bold enough to switch out a veteran tackle for a rookie with significant upside remains to be seen.
Keys to Success
TZ: “For Buffalo to come out with a win, the offense needs to shake off last week and get in sync. Josh Allen has played his best football against Miami and he will need to continue that trend. Miami’s pass rush group isn’t quite Pittsburgh’s caliber, but the line needs to step up and keep Allen from getting pressured every play. Defensively, they need to make sure Tua can’t get comfortable. He will pick our zone apart with ease if he is able to diagnose plays pre-snap. The secondary also can’t let the speed receivers get loose behind them. Diontae Johnson was able to uncover deep a few times last week but Big Ben couldn’t get him the ball. Tua can and will be able to capitalize on those opportunities.
Finally, the Bills must win the turnover battle. Josh Allen and Devin Singletary both fumbled twice against Pittsburgh although only 1 was recovered by the defense. Miami’s defense is among the best at generating turnovers and will be on high alert for chances to take the ball away. A turnover for either team could really flip the script in this one.”
Contain Josh Allen– We all understand that Allen is a dual threat QB. Last season he ran for 421 yards and 8 TDs. In comparison, Myles Gaskin ran for 584 yards and 3 TDs. Even against a formidable Steelers’ front seven Allen was able to rush for 44 yards for 4.9 YPC. Miami historically always struggle against athletic QBs. If Allen is allowed to escape the pocket and extend the play, the task of the secondary will become ever more difficult.
Elite Secondary Performance – While the bitter taste of Week 17 may continue to leave a bitter taste among Dolphins fans, the game in Miami was much more tightly contested. Despite allowing Josh Allen to throw for 415 yards and 4 TDs, the Dolphins only lost by three points. While Allen did not have his best performance Week 1, I expect him to come out all guns blazing. With Xavien Howard and Byron Jones fully fit, they need to be able to shut down the likes of Diggs and Beasley as much as possible.
Protect Tua- to put it simply, we are not going to see the best of Tua nor the offense as a whole until the offensive line allows them to. The unit Week 1 was not horrendous by any means, when the whole offense was clicking the Dolphins were clinical. However, Tua was sacked twice and several instances including the interception where he faced considerable pressure in his face.
TZ: “Buffalo is relatively healthy going into this game. They do have some players on the injury report but there is no indication that we need to be worried about them missing Sunday. WR Gabe Davis has been limited with an ankle injury but is trending up. DT Star Lotulelei missed last week with a calf but should be ready to go on Sunday. Micah Hyde appeared as limited on Thursday with a neck injury but there is no cause for concern yet. The heat will certainly be a factor but McDermott has been stressing hydration and his frequent rotations on the defensive line will help mitigate the impact for the big guys.”
After a tough physical game against the Patriots, Miami came out pretty healthy. However, unfortunately young stud NT Raekwon Davis went down with a knee injury in the first half. Despite returning later in the game, Davis has since been placed on IR, with the extent of his injury as yet unknown.
As aforementioned, Will Fuller is OUT due to a personal issue. His return date remains in question with even some suggesting he is done for the season. The only other player in doubt is wide receiver Preston Williams, he remains questionable. I predict he will miss this week and then begin to ramp it up going into the Raiders game. Adam Shaheen is back off the COVID list and should feature in this game.
TZ: “I expect a fun game with more offense than you’d expect given the talent both teams have on defense. Miami will be hungry for revenge after being embarrassed by the Bills backups in Week 17 last year. Buffalo will be eager to get their season back on track, knowing that a loss would put them 2.5 games back in the division. For my prediction I will go with the same score as last year when the Bills came down to Miami in Week 2:
This will be Tua’s biggest stage to silence the critics. If the offense can keep up with that of Buffalo and the secondary do not dismantle like they did last season, then Miami can win this game. However it will be a lot to expect against a Bills’ team with it all to prove. I am going to think with my heart and not my head and predict the flip side of Tony. Miami wins 31-28. Check out the rest of the Dolphins ATB writers’ predictions below:
Tanner Elliott- 31-17 Buffalo
Tyler DeSena- 38-27 Buffalo
Hussam Patel- 33-20 Buffalo
Chris Spooner- 35-20 Buffalo
Rishi Desai- 27-23 Miami
Once again I would just like to thank Tony for his help and insights throughout this article. Be sure to go and follow him on Twitter. Miami are in rather a good position. If they can pull of the upset starting the season 2-0 whilst the Bills are 0-2, Miami would be in fantastic position to make a run at the division title. Even in the Dolphins infact lose the game they will be 1-1 equal with the Bills and most likely the Patriots who play the Jets. However, in order for this to happen the offense has to be more consistent in putting together drives. If Allen has the same time of possession that the Dolphins afforded to Mac Jones then this may get ugly. Fins Up!
Before we delve into this game preview, I would just like to thank and credit Colby Fauser of Patriots ATB, for his contributions and insights in putting together this Week 1 matchup article.
Expectations Going Into The Game
“After being a model of consistency for so long, the Patriots will be starting their third different opening day quarterback in as many years this Sunday. Offensively, I expect a return to the Patriots offense of old; a quick tempo attack that is balanced by the running game. I expect them to try to get the running game established early to afford Mac Jones an added layer of protection from throwing off of play action. If the Pats offense can stay on schedule and Mac Jones can avoid the big rookie mistakes, I expect them to be a fairly competent group this year.
On the defensive side of the ball, the addition of Matt Judon and return of Dont’a Hightower has completely changed the composition of the front seven from the depleted group that was fielded a year ago. The absence of Stephon Gilmore cannot be understated, but the Pats catch a break as Will Fuller is still serving his suspension. While Gilmore is out, the Patriots defense will need to wed their pass rush perfectly with their pass coverage, as opposing offenses will try to pick on newcomer Jalen Mills early and often.
I expect the Dolphins defense to give the Patriots offense some fits. They are a talented group and will make throwing outside the numbers especially difficult for the rookie QB. If Mac Jones can find consistent success in the middle of the field with his tight ends and slow receivers Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne, it will go a long way to determining this match up. If the Dolphins force Mac to consistently try to find success outside the numbers, the Patriots will be playing into the Dolphins strength.
As for the Dolphins offense, I do expect there to be some trouble finding rhythm. The Dolphins offensive line was already a question mark before Austin Jackson was placed on the COVID reserve list. While his status for the game Sunday is yet to be determined, losing him would put an already shaky group into hot water before the game even started. The Patriots pass rush should be a matchup nightmare for every opponent this season and I look for them to start the season with a strong performance Sunday.”
It is quite the opposite for Miami. After years of mediocrity Dolphins fans are somewhat bemused about what to expect, going into a season a strong favorite as a playoff contender. Gone are the days of Chan Gailey’s archaic play-calling, with the new era of George Godsey and Eric Studesville bringing excitement over the possibility of a modernized attack. Last season the Dolphins thrived when they played up-tempo. The additions the Dolphins made this offseason highlight how speed will be an integral part of the 2021 Dolphins offense.
Where the Patriots emphasis will likely be to establish the run to help Mac Jones, it seems that the Dolphins’ offensive strategy is to pass to set up the run. Of course we will not see the full extent of Tua’s ability or the offense Week 1. Nevertheless, an opening game against a strong divisional rival will go a long way to answering some of the questions hanging over the franchise.
Aside from the addition of Jaelan Phillips the Dolphins front seven remains relatively unchanged. The shock cut of Bernardrick McKinney, a presumed leader of the defense and the answer to Miami’s problems stopping the run continues to leave fans perplexed by the move. Stopping the run was an area where the Dolphins particularly struggled last year, no game more evident than surprise Week 1 @ Patriots. In that game the Patriots rushed for 217 yards, averaging 5.3 YPC and 3 TDs. With Cam Newton no longer on the team and the Dolphins facing a more conventional pocket passer where the defense thrives, it will be essential to cut off the run game early on.
As Colby alluded to above how quickly the Dolphins can find rhythm on offense will determine the result of this game. Throughout preseason overall Tua and Miami impressed in moving the ball downfield effectively with consistency. This could very well be the first time since minicamp that Tua has most of his starting weapons at his disposal. It is possible that the disruption caused by injury to key skill players such as Albert Wilson, DeVante Parker and Preston Williams could result in the offense being a little out of sync to start the game.
“The biggest concern I have is Jalen Mills versus whoever he lines up on. While Gilmore spends his time on PUP, opposing teams will not often target JC Jackson or Jonathon Jones. This means Jalen Mills will be in for a very active six weeks. He must hold up and keep things in front of him for this defense to be successful. I expect a bit of a return of the “bend but don’t break” defenses for the Patriots.
Last year the Pats were often beat by strong performances from opposing tight ends. Mike Gesicki has had strong performances against the Patriots in the past. I expect him to serve as the motor to the Dolphins passing attack. Throughout the preseason we saw Kyle Dugger cover opposing tight ends one on one with limited success. He always seemed to be in the correct position, but struggled to finish the plays. He got better as the preseason wore on but this is an area that he must continue to show growth in, especially this week against a talented tight end like Gesicki. With the expected success of the Patriots pass rush, taking away the safe and quick throws from Tua will be very important for the defense’s success.”
The Dolphins offensive line struggles are well documented. To make matters worse, it seems that the Dolphins will be without starting LT Austin Jackson who is out with COVID.
Jackson is not a world beater, and in fact during the preseason he was the worst on the line. Nevertheless, he was always the starter. Despite the versatility on the line, it doesn’t appear that the Dolphins have a clear contingency. To many it seems obvious to start Liam Eichenberg at LT, the position he played at Notre Dame. However, Eichenberg has stated this week that since camp started he has only taken a few snaps at LT.
Jesse Davis has in the past struggled switching to the left side of the line and will likely start RT. Thus, it seems that Greg Little is the presumed starter. Regardless of who is the starter, the offensive line will need to be well alert of the improved Patriot’s pass rush.
Tua v Mac
“Tua showed signs of progression as the year wore on last year. He has certainly looked like a different QB in the preseason. He is a dynamic playmaker when things are going his way. I am concerned about the offensive line keeping him clean. I cannot stress enough how much of a problem Uche and Judon are going to be for opposing offenses this year. The addition of old friend Kyle Van Noy and COVID opt-out Dont’a Hightower further boosts this group up front. If Tua is provided time, I believe he could be in for a strong day in the office, if his line proves to be porous I think he may be starting the season off on the wrong foot.
Mac has shown all the correct intangibles to be a successful NFL quarterback….against backups and the vanilla looks of preseason football. The Giants supposedly threw the kitchen sink at him in joint practices and Mac had incredible success against them. Mac’s intellect for the game of football has been regularly touted as his most impressive talent. He’ll need to be at his best Sunday to keep himself healthy and keep the offense moving. I expect Flores to try multiple looks and Mac will be responsible for setting his protections. One misidentification will lead to free rushers and potential negative plays for the Patriots.
I expect the Pats to play a safe game plan with him that loosens the reins a little bit. The last thing they want is Mac dropping back 40 times against the Miami defense. This will be a fun rivalry to watch for the next few years. If each team has what they believe they have in their young QB’s, it could be a rivalry we watch for the next decade. Either way, chapter one is Sunday and will go a long way to establishing the narrative of the story.”
All of the pre-draft projections of Mac Jones being the ideal system QB makes him the perfect fit in New England. From a somewhat unconventional Patriots offense in 2020, they are back in familiar territory. While I am not disputing Jones’ ability throwing the ball or his mental intellect for the game, let us not forget who he is facing. Bill Belichick is notorious for causing rookie QBs to struggle. Since he took over in Foxborough he is 21-6 when facing a rookie QB. Tua had no such issues last season leading his team with a pair of rushing touchdowns to win 22-12.
However, outside of Belichick, it is very arguable that it is the defensive system of Brian Flores and Josh Boyer that would cause the most trepidation to a young rookie QB entering his first game in the NFL.
Justin Herbert had a fantastic, record breaking rookie season winning Rookie of the Year. A 4.01 GPA student and the winner of the “Academic Heisman”, Herbert is no slouch when it comes to his intellect for the game. However, the pre-snap movement around the line of scrimmage caused Herbert and several other veteran QBs nightmares. Being in New England, Jones will have an advantage under Belichick in what to expect against this defense. Nevertheless, I foresee Jones’ NFL debut being a baptism of fire and a very long afternoon indeed.
As for Tua enough has been said about last season, his development over the offseason into the preseason. Now is finally the time for him to showcase his abilities. Everything seems set for him to make a big jump in the NFL. As for this game, Tua’s experience and familiarity in the NFL, along with improved mechanics and weapons make him the better QB of the two. No doubt.
Keys to Success
“As mentioned above I believe this game is going to come down to who can control the line of scrimmage. For the Pats, getting the running game going early and protecting their young QB will be the key to the game. If the Patriots can force Flores to play a bit left handed on defense, it will go a long way to determining this outcome. Damien Harris must find success running the ball to keep the offense on schedule and keep Jones from facing many third and long situations against this Miami defense.
Defensively the Pats must show improvement from their porous run defense a year ago; that starts up front with ex-Dolphin Davon Godchaux establishing a point of attack in the run game. The Secondary will need all the help it can get in handling the Dolphins reworked receiving corp and that starts with the pass rush. If the Patriots can make Tua uncomfortable and rush some throws they may be able to force a key turnover or two.”
To anybody thinking that this game will be an easy win, think again. However, if the Dolphins can do the following then we will be in for a good afternoon.
Stop the Run– As simple as it sounds and as relevant as it may be in any game, if Miami cannot stop the run, starting the season 1-0 will be very difficult. We know that the Patriots will be set up to run the ball first with Damien Harris alleviating some of the pressure against Mac Jones. Take the layer of protection away and exploit any first game mistakes from the rookie.
Consistent Pass Rush– The Patriots offensive line is their best positional group. Last season PFF ranked them the third strongest unit in the league. Strong pass protection and a solid run game is the ideal situation for a young rookie pocket passing QB. The Dolphins pass rush must do everything they can to put as much pressure as they can in Jones’ face with multiple looks.
Discipline- Takes no talent. Everybody knows that a Bill Belichick team does not make silly mistakes. Thankfully for Miami neither does Brian Flores. Since Flores took over in 2019, the Dolphins and Patriots are the two least penalized teams in the league. Having just watched the Cowboys & Bucs combine for 19 penalties for 161 yards, any such performances by Miami will only lead to defeat. Do not beat yourself.
“The Pats enter this game relatively healthy outside of the massive loss of Stephon Gilmore. Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith are expected to play. The Patriots love their 12 personnel groupings and having both big offseason acquisitions healthy will be key to their offensive game plan. They just have to hope both stay healthy throughout the game.
In years past the Patriots have used the first few games as an extended preseason; getting reserve players snaps and getting starters some series off as conditioning is often still a work in progress. With the makeup of the schedule (late bye week) and the potential to be in a playoff race at the end of the season, it will be interesting to see how Belichick approaches this. Resting guys early may help through the grind of getting to a week 14 bye, while losing any game early due to resting players may bite them in the back come December. “
At long last it seems that Miami have finally caught a break with injuries at the right time. It appears that the Dolphins will only be without Preston Williams, Austin Jackson and Adam Shaheen. As for New England, it seems that starters Jalen Mills and Nelson Agholor are questionable to feature. With the Patriots without Mills and Gilmore, while the Dolphins receivers are healthy, if Tua is afforded some protection by the line, the offense can roll. That is a big IF.
“I may be drunk on the Patriots Kool-Aid but I do expect them to field a competitive team this year. The struggles of a Cam Newton offense will no longer be hanging over the offense and the hope of a young QB has us convinced that better days are on the horizon. Interestingly, the biggest factor in the game may well be who the Patriots kicker is. If Nordin is our guy going forward, I expect this game to have a unique score due to some missed PAT’s and field goal attempts on the Patriots side. Something like 28-26 Dolphins could be right. If Folk is elevated from the practice squad and plays in place of Nordin I think the Pats win a nail biter 27-24.”
In what could be a very defensively dominated game, not having certainty over your place kicker is not ideal to say the least. Thankfully though the Dolphins and Jason Sanders have no such issues. While I remain confident that Miami can pull of the win, as Dolphins fans we remain scarred by past experiences in Foxborough. Over the pat 20 years the Patriots have lost only 3 times in their home openers. Nevertheless I see Miami coming out on top 23-13. Check out the rest of the Dolphins ATB writers’ predictions below.
Hussam Patel- 21-20 Patriots
Matt Serniak- 27-23 Dolphins
Chris Spooner – 28-17 Dolphins
Rishi Desai- 24-16 Dolphins
Jared Vandermyde- 30-17 Dolphins
Tanner Elliott- 17-13 Dolphins
Tyler DeSena- 23-17 Dolphins
Once again I would just like to thank Colby for his help and insights throughout this article. Be sure to go and follow him on Twitter. The wait is over. The NFL regular season has begun and now we are hours away from real Dolphins football back in our lives. An old foe with a different feel and a different dynamic within the division. A lot of uncertainty has circulated over the past 9 months, but also lot of excitement and hope for the future. Now is the time for answers. As you sit there eagerly waiting for Sunday’s game be sure to go and check out the latest Around the Block-Miami Dolphins podcast. Fins Up!