The Miami Dolphins have a conundrum on their hands and his name is Mike Gesicki. Gesicki, now playing for his third head coach in five seasons, seems to be the odd man out in Miami these days. New head coach Mike McDaniel is bringing the only offense he has ever coached to the Dolphins: the Shanahan-inspired wide zone running scheme. His newly franchise tagged tight end may not exactly be a perfect fit.
With his most challenging training camp coming to a close soon, Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki finds himself in a precarious position.
The biggest hurdle
The biggest question mark around Mike Gesicki’s game has, and always will be, about his blocking ability. As a rookie, former head coach Adam Gase put him in far too many situations where he was blocking pass rushers one on one.
The next regime and their 43 different play callers were able to maximize his strengths. Putting the big body tight end either in the slot or out wide allowed him to flash his freakish athleticism as a pass catcher.
Whether it was Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jacoby Brissett, or Tua Tagovailoa throwing him the ball, Gesicki shined.
Mike Gesicki’s struggles as a blocker are now even more highlighted in this new offense. Miami’s second preseason game against the Las Vegas Raiders was an example of where Gesicki will struggle. He struggled for most of the night to block efficiently. Even his greatest strength failed him on a third down pass early in the game that bounced off his chest.
Gesicki’s performance on Saturday has been the topic of discussion since the game ended. Tua Tagovailoa, Mike McDaniel, and tight ends coach Jon Embree were all asked about his struggles against the Raiders. Each expressed confidence in his ability to bounce back and continue to improve.
Gesicki bounced back in a big way in Tuesday’s practice, and saw more action than he typically has in camp. Wednesday’s joint practice with the Philadelphia Eagles saw Gesicki make an impressive grab in 11-on-11 periods.
What does the future hold for Mike Gesicki?
Reports of Miami seeking to trade the tight end have been shot down by local beat writers. So what does Miami do with Mike Gesicki? If they plan to have him on the field, it is going to be in a more traditional tight end role. His price tag absolutely dictates him being on the field.
However, his blocking ability, or lack thereof, will always stop him from being a fit for this offense. He can improve as a blocker, but will always be limited. He’s a tall and lanky player, with much more upper body strength than lower. Blocking will always be a mission.
This may be Gesicki’s last year with the Dolphins, but he at least appears to be in their immediate plans.
After the Miami Dolphins Week 1 victory over the New England Patriots, the season has not gone quite as expected. While Week 1 left many questioning the Dolphins’ offensive production, a win came nonetheless. After starting QB Tua Tagovailoa was knocked out of the Dolphins Week 2 matchup against the Buffalo Bills after playing nine snaps, those questions were replaced with much harder ones. Since having 10:41 left on the clock in the first quarter of Week 2, fans seem to be watching the Miami Dolphins playoff chances fade away. But just how low are they?
Status of the Miami Dolphins offense
Week 3 featured back-up QB Jacoby Brissett’s first start during Tua’s absence with fractured ribs. Despite coming playing in relief of Tua in Week 2, Brissett still couldn’t get the offense moving during the Bills 35-0 shellacking of Miami. After two early touchdowns for the Dolphins in Week 3, it looked like things were heading for another tragic day. The Las Vegas Raiders scored 25 unanswered points, including a safety featuring some very questionable decision-making. Miami roared back into the game, tying it at the end of regulation, but fell short to the Raiders 31-28 in overtime.
There is some good news for Miami. First, after being placed on the injured reserve after Week 2, Tua should be cleared to return for Miami’s Week 6 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Secondly, Brissett is a solid back-up should be able to snag one win in Tua’s absence. Lastly, the defense is continuing to force turnovers and make things difficult for their opponents. The points allowed total looks bad, but when a defense is asked to go out repeatedly without support from its offense, the opponent will tire them out quickly.
Now let’s get into the bad news. The offensive line is still a disaster. Buffalo sacked the QB six times in Week 2, while the Raiders snagged two of their own and forced a safety. The unit as a whole is the Achilles heel of this Dolphins squad and holds the key to their playoff chances. If they stand any chance of making it to the 2021 postseason they need to make some changes in the offensive trenches immediately.
A look at the rest of the Dolphins’ season
While things seem to be trending down, a look at the rest of the schedule does not necessarily spell doom for the Miami Dolphins’ playoff chances. Before we jump into this, it is worth noting that it is still very early in the season. However, here’s the rest of the Dolphins 2021 regular-season schedule:
Miami will be without Tagovailoa in Week 5 against Tampa Bay. After failing to score a single point at home against the Bills, a win in Buffalo is a pipe dream in Week 8. Miami has not defeated Baltimore since 2015, with Lamar Jackson under center, that drought won’t be quenched any time soon. Tennessee feels like the closest competition out of this group, but I expect to see a very different Titans team in Week 17 than we see now.
The 10 crucial games for the Miami Dolphins’ playoff chances
The rest of these games have the potential to be won by Miami. The combined record of these opponents (excluding Jacksonville’s Week 4 Thursday night loss) is 8-22 featuring four winless teams, one of which they play twice. The only games that will be a challenge are the Week 12 matchup versus the Panthers and their Week 16 tilt against the Saints.
Panthers QB Sam Darnold has become a completely different signal-caller than the Dolphins saw in New York. Will they still be able to make him see the ghosts they’ve made him see in his past duels with this Dolphins defense?
Another key to this game will be the status of RB Christian McCaffrey. Carolina was forced to completely change its offensive game plan after losing McCaffery in their Week 3 win over the Texans. Hamstrings can be finicky. However, the Panthers’ RB should remain out until at least Week 6. They face off six weeks later, but given McCaffrey’s injury struggles last season, anything can happen.
Now for the second game can stifle the Miami Dolphins’ playoff chances. Winning against Carolina and New Orleans, as well as the other eight, leaves this team with an 11-6 record. Who comes out victorious in Week 16: Sean Payton’s offense or Brian Flores’ defense might just be the precursor to whether or not Miami makes the playoffs.
If Miami can fluster Saints QB Jameis Winston and force the bad Winston to come out, Miami can win this game. However, if Sean Payton and company come out on fire, the Dolphins offense can’t keep up with a juggernaut.
So what are the Miami Dolphins’ playoff chances?
It’s about a coin flip right now. The sky might be falling, but as stated earlier, it is only Week 4. A win over the Indianapolis Colts this week, who are missing a number of important starters, would kick things off in the right direction. For Dolphins fans, the magic number is five. This team needs to win at least nine of its last 14 games, preferably 10. Five losses between now and the end of the season leaves Miami with a 10-7 record. Anything more and the Miami Dolphins’ playoff chances seem very unlikely.
Let’s be honest: the last week has sucked for Dolphins fans.
Going into the most important game of Miami’s young season, the hype was building for a potential upset against the reigning AFC East Champion Buffalo Bills. This was the week where it all was supposed to come together.
Tua Tagovailoa, Brian Flores, and the Miami Dolphins were looking to make a leap into being true contenders. This game was prime real estate to make a statement.
But as we all know, the complete opposite happened.
Behind a struggling offensive line, Miami was unable to get anything going in the air or on the ground. Unable to score any points, Miami couldn’t capitalize on multiple red-zone trips. But the worst consequence came from under center.
Young franchise quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was knocked out of the game with broken ribs, and will miss the game this Sunday. He could also miss more games depending on pain tolerance.
But even after the tough loss, the season isn’t over.
Showing the ability to manage the game, the Colts traded for Jacoby, following injury concerns to Andrew Luck. While his team disappointed, posting only a 4-11 record with him as the starter, Brissett was able to make several nice throws, post a solid 3,098 yards, including a long of 80 yards.
After a 2018 season where he didn’t start a game, Luck retired before 2019, which led to Brissett being inserted into the starting lineup.
Now, with Tagovailoa out for at least this week, Brissett offers another chance to prove himself as a starter in this league. In little experience, he has put up solid stats, doing enough to win games, and that’s just what Miami needs, going up against the Raiders, Colts, and Buccaneers over their next 3 games.
Given his previous experience, it is clear that Jacoby Brissett has what it takes to keep the Dolphins in the thick of the AFC, and it will be exciting to see what he can do as Miami waits for their franchise QB to return.
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 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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