Miami Dolphins fans have been waiting for this weekend for two years since Brian Flores was hired in 2019 and Miami took a full rebuild approach. It can be argued that next year will be the true end of the rebuild but for fans of this team, expectations are high and success is expected in the 2021 season.
On Sunday the Dolphins will travel to New England to take on the perennial AFC east bullies. After a 10-6 season last year, Dolphins fans expect Miami to compete for a playoff spot this year.
Today I’m going to play the role of Friday Morning quarterback and list five keys for the Dolphins to win the game on Sunday.
Offensive Line – Playing the role of Captain Obvious here but this may well be the only thing that matters in this game. Austin Jackson is likely to miss this game due to COVID exposure. The big question is, who plays left tackle if that’s the case? If Liam Eichenberg is healthy, and that’s a big if, he would be the logical choice. While not taking many snaps this preseason at left tackle, he did spend his entire career at Notre Dame at left tackle. If Eichenberg can’t go look for Greg Little to step in to fill the void. If this is the case the Dolphins will need to devise a game plan to minimize Jackson’s loss. The one thing I don’t want to see is the entire offensive line shuffled around. Let the others stay where they’ve been practicing and plug in a replacement. I think it’s imperative to keep the continuity as much as possible.
Win the Field Position Battle – The Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones comes into this game with a lot of hype around him. Let’s face it, rookie quarterbacks, no matter how much hype they come into the league with, tend not to do well in their first year. See Peyton Manning and his 28 interceptions. I feel very confident that Mac Jones will not be able to sustain long drives all day against the Dolphins defense. Make the Patriots drive the length of the field all day and Jones is bound to make a mistake or two. The Dolphins led the NFL in takeaways last year with 29, a trend that I hope continues this year.
Stop the Patriots running game – A rookie quarterback’s best friend in his first start is a strong running game. I expect New England to come out in multiple tight end sets and attempt to run the ball down Miami’s throat. The Dolphins’ defensive line will need to play well. Playing well doesn’t just mean penetrating and making tackles, it also means keeping the linebackers clean to make tackles. Elandon Roberts must be the thumper he was last season before he got injured. His counterpart, Jerome Baker needs to continue to make plays from sideline to sideline. While these two may be the biggest keys, solid games from Andrew Van Ginkel, Sam Eguavoen, and the rest of the linebacking corps.
Safety Play– The one place that the Dolphins have the least depth is arguably at stack linebacker. Factoring that in with the likelihood that the Patriots will use multiple tight-end formations would make it safe to assume the Dolphins will employ a third safety quite often. I expect the starting safety tandem to be Eric Rowe and Jason McCourty but I also expect to see Brandon Jones and/or Javon Holland on the field quite a bit as well. Their roles will be big in this game as they will be asked to cover a tight end in the passing game but also play the role of a Will linebacker in run support. The Dolphins must get good safety play this week in both the run support and pass coverage game.
Tua Tagovailoa – If my first four points are obvious, meaning they are right out of the Football 101 handbook, then this one is even more so. This week needs to be the coming-out party for Tua Tagovailoa. Miami spent the 5th overall pick on Tua in the 2020 draft and saw him put up a 6-3 record as a rookie. A rookie that came off a major hip injury and did not get the normal offseason of working out to get better as opposed to working out to rehabilitate. The national media is down on Tua, there is even a population in the Dolphins fan base that is down on Tua. Tagovailoa needs to play well and part of that falls on co-offensive coordinators George Godsey and Eric Studesville. They must come up with a game plan that will allow Tua to make quick reads to help alleviate the pass rush that may result from a revamped offensive line, but also one that provides multiple chunk plays by utilizing Tua’s strengths with the speedy weapons he has at his disposal.
If the Miami Dolphins can succeed in these five areas, look for a happy fanbase on Monday and a good start to the 2021-22 season.