Miami Dolphins: Know the opponent

Bengals QB Brandon Allen faces the Dolphins for the first time since their 2020 matchup.

Ahead of the Cincinnati Bengals final preseason game against the Miami Dolphins, I collaborated with Bradley Davies at Dolphins ATB to profile the team the Bengals will be hosting in Cincinnati this week. Although we aren’t likely to see a true representation of the team the Dolphins want to present in the regular season on Sunday, there will still be plenty of storylines developing and key players to watch.

Q: Who has been the biggest standout in camp and the preseason so far? Any particular roster battles that are shaping up to produce a different result than would have been expected a few months ago? Anyone we should be keeping a close eye on in the final preseason game?

If you would have asked me this question 2 weeks ago there would have only been one answer and that would be Albert Wilson. Throughout the early weeks he was everywhere and seemed to have seamless chemistry with Tua. From a potential cut candidate to starting receiver on the first depth chart, Wilson had a very impressive camp before being sidelined with injury (as is the case with nearly every Dolphin’s receiver). Ever since I would have to say the camp standout would most likely be either Holland or Waddle, both rookies have hit the ground running with their explosiveness and play making ability. 

Bradley Davies

In relation to the positional battles, the biggest surprise is what is happening with the offensive line. Coming into camp everybody believed that the starting line was set in stone. It was presumed that it would be: Austin Jackson (LT), Solomon Kindley (LG), Matt Skura ( C), Robert Hunt (RG) and Liam Eichenberg  (RT). Since then both Kindley and Skura have had spells with the 3rd team, while Jackson has been bullied throughout joint practices and preseason. Furthermore, Michael Deiter, a player who did not start a single game for the Dolphins, has transitioned from left guard to be the starting center.

The biggest factor going forward is what to do with Liam Eichenberg. After starting camp as starting RT to then starting LG, he is now back at RT in the second team behind Jesse Davis. However with a strong performance against the Falcons he is knocking on the door once again for a starting position.

Going into the final preseason game it is likely that we will not see many starters at all including Tua. The game will primarily focus on players that are on the bubble of the roster and practice squad players. Given the vastly changing nature of the Dolphins wide receiver room on Tuesday, I would keep a close eye on Kirk Merritt for one last push to make the roster. He has been productive throughout camp after failing to break in to the team last season

Bradley Davies

With Joe Burrow seeing his first live-game action since his gruesome knee injury, it’s probably best to protect him. No one wants to see him put his body on the line for a game that doesn’t count. That said, as I referenced in last week’s review, preseason does matter for those fringe roster players. So, it’s interesting to see how guys like Jalen Davis and Eli Apple fare against hungry Miami Dolphins receivers. Wilson and Merritt, in particular, are good ones to watch. Also, I am fascinated to see how Jackson Carman plays this week in comparison to Liam Eichenberg. Eichenberg was a player many Bengals fans were hoping the Bengals would target at 38.

Q: The big talk in the Draft surrounded the Dolphins’ decision to trade down and back up in the Draft. There were a lot of opinions surrounding this decision. But, it seems like they have found a solid player in Jaylen Waddle. Was accumulating picks and drafting Waddle the right move? Should have stayed put and selected Florida TE Kyle Pitts, popular among Florida-based Dolphins fans?

Absolutely. There is no doubting Pitts’ ability, he is a freak athlete that would have created a matchup nightmare. However the Dolphins are not short of contested catch specialists with a strong TE room. As for Waddle, his speed, explosiveness and what he brings to this offense is invaluable. He is just special and has shown that comparisons with Tyreek Hill is no exaggeration. To come away with Waddle and another first round pick from one of the picks robbed from the Texans is nothing short of remarkable. The Dolphins are much further ahead in their rebuild now than anybody could have imagined. They are a legitimate playoff contender already, and their added draft capital over the coming years gives them the flexibility to really build something special.

Bradley Davies

Of all the top pass-catching prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft, Chase seemed like the obvious target for the Bengals. But, many fans were hoping for Pitts. Few made the argument for Waddle at the time. However, so far Waddle has been the most impressive of the bunch for the Miami Dolphins. If you believe everything the national media tells you, Chase looks like the most disappointing of the bunch so far. But, he’ll likely have an opportunity to influence that narrative this week as both rookies could get some playing time.

Q: What is going on with Tua Tagovailoa? He had an up-and-down rookie season and that appears to be continuing this preseason so far. What is the general feeling around his potential as the Dolphins’ long-term solution at QB?

It is no secret that Tua’s rookie season was somewhat underwhelming, it wasn’t great but at the same time he didn’t stink like many would lead you to believe. Let us not forget prior to making his NFL debut, Tua was less than a year removed from a potentially career ending injury. I’m sure Bengals’ fans can now sympathise with the ups and downs that you endured throughout Joe Burrow’s return.

I personally believe that the Miami Dolphins had their hand forced into playing Tua before he was fully ready. With the strong starts made by Burrow and Herbert, if the 5th overall pick did not see the field over the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen, scepticism over his potential would have been even more rife across the NFL. By allowing Tua the opportunity to make his mistakes in a weakened AFC East, with both the Jets and Patriots very much below par, meant any rookie mistakes that made did not come at the expense of winning in the moment.

Any notions of his rookie struggles continuing this offseason are incorrect. Tua has come on leaps and bounds. Throughout camp the Dolphins’ passing game has improved tremendously. Despite the likes of Will Fuller and DeVante Parker not being on the field, Tua has had no issues in being able to push the ball down the field against an elite Dolphins’ defense. Tua has done this with consistency throughout camp with around 7 times more touchdown passes than interceptions throughout the entirety of camp.

Coming into the preseason games there was much anticipation as to how he would perform in a game setting. When evaluating his rookie season there were a few holes in Tua’s game: elements of his mechanics, decisiveness and confidence in the playbook. Throughout preseason Tua has been efficient with the ball, getting it out quickly with his feet set. In addition his pocket presence has come on enormously, as he has not been afraid to climb the pocket whilst his receivers get open. From what we have seen so far, everything is set for a big leap in 2021. Whether he is the long term solution we will see. A sample size of 9 games in an unprecedented season is not enough to make any judgement whether good or bad.

Bradley Davies

For a large chunk of 2019, a lot of Bengals fans thought the Bengals should target Tagovailoa in the Draft. I know because I was one of them. However, as Burrow’s legend grew, and Tua’s faded after his injury, it became clear who was the obvious choice. The Bengals will likely be seeing Jacoby Brissett and Reid Sinnett taking all the snaps this week. But, understanding the situation around Tua is essential to understanding the Dolphins.

Q: Opinions about head coach Brian Flores have generally ranged from highly impressed to somewhat skeptical. It was an impressive turnaround from the 5-11 team he coached in his first season. But, is there significant pressure to make the playoffs this year? What happens if they don’t?

People should not forget the position the Dolphins were in 2019. With what was considered the worst NFL roster of all time, calls for the league to investigate whether Dolphins were tanking and putting their players at risk. From starting 0-7 the Brian Flores has since gone 15-10 all in one year of a rebuild. Very few of Belichick’s coaches have been successful since leaving New England, Brian Flores is certainly one. The culture that he and Chris Grier have built in Miami is something truly different to what the Dolphins have had in some time and it is refreshing. While missing out on the playoffs this year will inevitably be a disappointment, if the team continues to develop in their rebuild and improve on both sides of the ball, Flores will be just fine. 

However as Tyler DeSena said in one of his articles, there is pressure on Flores to ensure that he has finally sorted the offensive coordinator position at the 3rd time of trying. From Chad O’ Shea’s highly technical and confusing offense, to an archaic offensive system designed by Chan Gailey specifically for Ryan Fitzpatrick, all eyes are now on George Godsey and Eric Studesville to modernise the Dolphins’ offense. However, so far so good. Pre-snap motions are being used to create separation, creating leverage allowing them to beat the defenses.

Bradley Davies

There are actually quite a few similarities between the Miami Dolphins’ turnaround and the Bengals’ rebuild with Zac Taylor. Both teams are run by young, first-time head coaches and both looked bad enough to draw tanking claims in 2019. Each targeted a franchise quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft. Both teams hope to have found a game-breaking wide receiver with their top pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. Each head into 2021 needing to prove the rebuild is working.

The biggest difference? The Bengals have a 6-25-1 record in that time frame and the Miami Dolphins are 15-17. In fact, the Dolphins just barely missed the playoffs. Flores’ job could be in jeopardy if the Dolphins put together an abysmal season. But, Taylor is under pressure to show progress now. Another sub .500 season with no hope of playoff contention would absolutely be a death knell for this regime.

Addressing the Joe Burrow Panic and the Trust He Deserves

One lackluster week of training camp seems to have everyone wondering if it’s time to press the panic button on Joe Burrow.

You certainly can’t blame Bengals fans and media for being a bit nervous. There has been a lot of heartbreak that has followed high expectations in the Queen City. These are the same fans who watched the ‘savior’ collapse in a heap after Washington’s Jonathan Allen fell into his knee the wrong way. The same fans who went from following the blossoming of their bright young star to trying to figure out what the hell happened. Why are Ryan Finley and Brandon Allen are starting the rest of the season?

All offseason, fans watched Joe Burrow make incredible progress in rehab. Miraculously, doctors fully cleared him for training camp. Many of the same fans already went through most of this when Carson Palmer suffered the same fate fifteen years ago. Some were even around to watch Greg Cook’s promising start ruined by a devastating injury 51 years ago.

And then they watched the offense struggle in camp. Tyler Boyd noted that Burrow looks ‘iffy’ on his knee. Paul Dehner Jr. went viral simply reporting on the offense’s struggles. Suddenly the sky is falling in Cincinnati and people are bringing back the Chase vs. Sewell war amid accusations that the Bengals have ruined their franchise quarterback, as so many knew would happen.

Have we forgotten who Joe Burrow is? This is the same guy who has done nothing but overcome adversity his entire career. Before his career even began, he was buried on the depth chart at Ohio State. But, he transferred to LSU and convinced the world he was worthy of the No. 1 overall pick. Being drafted to the Bengals was supposed to spell doom for his career. But, he performed like a Rookie of the Year candidate until his unfortunate injury late in the season.

It is also worth remembering the whole reason training camp exists is to install the offense and work out the kinks that are inevitably going to pop up. “I would say right now it’s a mental thing, getting back to playing football against top level competition,” Burrow told the Cincinnati media on Saturday. “Getting back to being able to feel the people around me as opposed to seeing people around me. I’ve always had a great feel for the pocket. It’s just going to some more reps to get that back.”

If any player has earned the benefit of the doubt on this matter, I think it’s Burrow. Working through adversity is simply what he is best at. Through all the setbacks he has experienced in his career, he has always comes out on the other side better than ever.

In fact, we saw that classic tenacity, drive, and focus pay off at Saturday’s practice. It’s only one day, but he finally found a rhythm with Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase, finishing the day with nine completions on ten passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. That’s the Joe Burrow we’re used to seeing. We’re likely to see much more of it as he gets back into his groove and the rest of the offense develops chemistry with him.

In fairness, we can’t dismiss a whole week of struggles with one good showing at the end of the week. I cannot and will not condemn anyone for being concerned after witnessing the “savior” look mortal. Then again, perhaps we shouldn’t put those expectations on him in the first place. But, regardless of why, those expectations are there. In addition, the whole offense is built around the assumption that he can play at an elite level. Therefore, whether fair or not, those expectations do exist and it makes perfect sense why fans would be nervous when he looks vulnerable.

For the same reasons, we can’t forget everything we’ve ever seen from Joe Burrow to this point. He didn’t look like a future Hall of Famer in his first 11-on-11 action since going down with an injury that would ruin the careers of most quarterbacks. The concern is absolutely valid. But, he made it back for training camp by attacking his rehab with the same intensity he attacks everything. That mentality doesn’t appear to have changed. That’s all the proof I should need for why he deserves the benefit of the doubt.