Dec 23, 2012; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake (91) reacts to causing a fumble against the Buffalo Bills in the second half at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Miami won 24-10. Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch: Dolphins vs Browns

 

The Dolphins first game of the season is finally here.  After an intense offseason of retooling the team, full of promise and questions, the Dolphins will look to answer a number of questions early on in the season.  They have an opportunity to make a statement against a mediocre-at-best Cleveland team, and there are several areas that should be focused on in week one that could give an indication of the identity of this Dolphins team.

Miami on Defense

  • Dolphins First Team Defense: Miami’s first team defense looked strong in the preseason, and after a whirlwind offseason that saw the departure of a number of players, a retooled secondary and linebacker corps as well as retaining a strong front four, Miami looks poised to make strides forward in 2013, making a good defense into a potentially great one.  They’ve added speed, while also setting the table with players who showed a knack for causing turnovers.  If the starters can gel the way that they appeared to in limited action together in the preseason, we may be on the verge of seeing a very special defense.
  • Miami’s Front Seven vs. Trent Richardson: The toughest test for Miami’s retooled defense in week one will come from the Brown’s running game, as Trent Richardson has shown signs of being a special running back in this league.  If Miami is able to shut him down, expect them to have strong performances against running backs throughout the season, and make a true statement that teams will not be able to run agains this defense.
  • Miami’s Pass Rush vs Brandon Weeden: Miami has worked hard to add speed to compliment Cam Wake on defense and terrorize opposing quarterbacks, and if Miami can get to Weeden early and often this may spell a long day for Cleveland fans.  Weeden is an average quarterback at best, and being knocked around should give Miami’s secondary opportunity to make some big plays.  Look for Miami’s front seven to wreak havoc on Weeden and the Brown’s offensive line all day.  Look for a big day from Cam Wake.
  • Davone Bess vs Miami Secondary: Look for Bess to play with a chip on his shoulder after his ouster in Miami.  Bess is a very good receiver and can help keep drives alive for Cleveland, serving as a solid outlet for Brandon Weeden

Miami on Offense

  • Miami’s new Wide Receiver Corps: Have the Dolphins finally found their answers at wide receiver?  Brian Hartline, who showed very good chemistry in year one with Tannehill returns, and should put up solid numbers with an improved Tannehill in year two.  Mike Wallace and Daniel Gibson were brought in this offseason, and after early questions appear to be developing good chemistry of their own early on with Tannehill.  Week one should see the Dolphins look to display their new weapons against Cleveland’s secondary, and while Joe Haden should be able to cause some issues, expect Miami to attempt to get over the top with Wallace early on in this game and open up the short passing game and the running game by doing so.
  • Lamar Miller vs. Browns Front Seven: The Browns aren’t a strong team against the run to begin with.  With them being unable to put eight men in the box out of respect for the Dolphins passing game, Lamar Miller should be able to display what so many individuals have talked about this preseason.  If Miller isn’t able to get started in this game, we may see a healthy dose of Daniel Thomas and Mike Gillislee as the game wears on, leaving the Dolphins searching for a running back to step up. 
  • Ryan Tannehill’s development: Warren Sapp predicted that Tannehill will challenge Marino’s sophomore season this year.  NFL experts have selected Tannehill to show as one of the leagues most improved players in year two.  With an improved receiving corps, the latter may be possible.  For the former, Tannehill has shown no indication that he is Marino nor that he is even ready to put up stats that keep him in the NFL MVP race with quarterbacks such as Brees, Manning and Brady.   Expect a big, solid year from Tannehill that puts his name on the map with fans, but anything in excess of 4000 yards and 20 touchdowns should be considered a bonus after an extremely solid sophomore season.  Tannehill should be able to make a statement against the Browns here in week one.  On a side note, I do expect that he is able to surpass Marino in one statistical category from his sophomore year: Rushing Yards (Marino had -7 yards rushing that season).
  • Miami’s Tight Ends: Miami desperately needs someone to step forward and prove they can be a solid and reliable option for the team, and serve as an outlet for Tannehill in the passing game.  Clay, Sims and Egnew all showed promise in varying areas in the preseason, and one of them will need to take a step forward and sieze the role in week one.

Miami on Special Teams

  • Special Teams: Look for Marcus Thigpen to build upon a strong year last season.  With Caleb Sturgis showing a strong leg in the preseason and removing the incumbent in Dan Carpenter Miami should be able to extend their range for field goals, while fans should look for Sturgis to put the ball out of the back of the end zone often against the Browns on kickoffs.  Brandon Fields is one of the best punters in the game, and should pin the Browns deep in their own territory when the Dolphins are forced to punt.  Miami’s special teams has been built and tooled to win the field position battle, giving the Dolphins offensive and defensive units the opportunity to make difference making plays.

Week One Predictions:

  • Team Leaders
    • Passing: Ryan Tannehill – 32 of 47, 425 yds, 4 TD, 1 INT
    • Receiving Leaders: Brian Hartline – 6 rec, 111 yds, 2 TD; Brandon Gibson – 8 rec, 85 yds, 1 TD, Wallace – 5 rec, 120 yds, 1 TD
    • Rushing: Lamar Miller – 28 car, 95 yards, 1 TD; Daniel Thomas – 5 car, 12 yds; Mike Gillislee – 10 car, 55 yds; Mike Wallace – 1 car, 18 yds
    • Interceptions: Brent Grimes – 2 int, 1 TD; Reshad Jones – 1 int
    • Fumble Recoveries: Jared Odrick – 1 FR, Olivier Vernon – 1 FR
    • Sacks: Team – 8; Cam Wake – 3, Olivier Vernon – 1.5, Jared Odrick – 1, Phillip Wheeler – 1, Dion Jordan – 1, Danelle Ellerbe – 0.5
  • Outcome:
    • Summary: Look for Miami to make a statement against Cleveland here in week one.  Miami’s passing game will light up the field, and showcase Tannehill and his new weapons.  Miami’s defense should be able to wreak havoc against the Browns offense.  Miami leaves this game with questions still at tight end, and with a running game that puts out a good, but not great, showing.  Miami proves too much for Cleveland in week one, showcasing their ability to move forward after a strong offseason.  They may not be able to carry this momentum through the season, but against a weaker Browns team in week one it should be an exciting week to be a Dolphins fan.
    • Final Prediction: Miami – 45, Cleveland – 13

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