As part of my blog, in the build up to games, I am going to be speaking to rival beat reporters and getting their take on the upcoming games and match-ups. This week I spoke to Jeff Darlington of the Miami Herald who has covered the Dolphins and other aspects of football for over ten years now. He’s a local UF graduate and sports fan.  Here is what he had to say:

1) The Dolphins revamped a lot of their coaching positions in the off season. The big standout for us is former Patriots coach Brian Daboll who joins your team as the new Offensive Coordinator. What does his knowledge bring to the match-up? He had huge success as the Cleveland Browns’ Offensive Coordinator against the Patriots last season.

“Far more than Daboll’s knowledge of the AFC East, which is only decently important from my perspective, are two other ingredients that he brings to Miami: Energy and trust. First, it’s clear his passion during practices is rubbing off on the players, and they’re pushing the tempo with a great degree of urgency. Second, and more importantly, Daboll seems to be shedding the handcuffs from quarterback Chad Henne’s wrist. He is placing a level of trust in Henne that didn’t exist under former offensive coordinator Dan Henning – and it’s allowing Henne to play more within his skillset. Along with the ability to audible at the line of scrimmage (something he didn’t have last year), Henne also has been able to win over his teammates by having more control over the offense. So yes, I think Daboll will definitely help the Dolphins’ chances against the Patriots. But for far more reasons than just his familiarity with the division.

2) The Patriots made many personal moves  whilst appearing to switch their base defense from a 3-4, to a 4-3. How much of an impact do you think this change will have on the Dolphins’ preparation/game planning and how they tackle this game?

“I think the Dolphins probably realize the same thing about New England’s defense as everyone else: The Patriots might say they are a 4-3 defense, but they’ll be much more of a hybrid than that. Miami is expecting to see a defense similar to the one it currently runs under Mike Nolan – one that’s unpredictable on a play-to-play basis. I’m sure the Dolphins will keep in mind the Patriots’ plans to implement a 4-3 scheme. They’d be crazy not to. But it isn’t likely to cause them to also dismiss the possibility of seeing the 3-4, as well.”

3) A lot of the talk around the Patriots this season has been about Albert Haynesworth and the impact he is going to have alongside Vince Wilfork this season. They also added considerable threats such as Shaun Ellis and Andre Carter How do you think the Dolphins are going to game plan in order to deal with this new threat?

“Considering the offensive line has been among the biggest question marks of the preseason, this will be a very interesting key to Monday’s game. Center Mike Pouncey has made nice developments in his rookie training camp, but going up against Wilfork and Haynesworth should provide a massive gauge of where he currently stands. I have no question that Jake Long will continue to dominate on the left side, but I’m very hesitant to suggest the Dolphins will be fine when it comes to the right side. This is an obvious point of weakness that New England will try to exploit. Vernon Carey is still growing comfortable with his new role at right guard, and Marc Colombo has not looked any better this year than he did last year in Dallas.”

4) The Dolphins have had considerable issues covering TEs in the past. Football Outsiders had you ranked at 28th against the Tight Ends last season. Do you feel the team has made strides to improve on this and how much of an impact could TEs Hernandez and Gronkowski have?

“If the offensive line is the biggest question on offense, the ability to cover the tight ends is the biggest question on defense – especially when you consider the duel threat of Hernandez and Gronkowski. You’re absolutely right: The Dolphins struggled badly in coverage against tight ends. Actually, they struggled covering them two years ago also. The team might be better suited to handle pass coverage because of the addition of inside linebacker Kevin Burnett to replace Channing Crowder, but Miami also needs to get better coverage from Yeremiah Bell at the safety position. To say the team has made “strides” with this area would be going too far. We just don’t know yet. But this will be one hell of a test.”

5) The Dolphins acquired Reggie Bush in Free Agency. The dual threat back adds another dimension to your offense and certainly has that ‘home run’ ability. How do you see them utilising him against the Patriots? They aren’t famed for their pass coverage at the Linebacker position?

“The Dolphins have made it very clear they plan to utilize Reggie Bush as their featured back. They fully intend for him to get more carries than any other running back. But I still have a hard time believing he’ll carry the ball between the tackles upward of 15 times. Instead, if he does indeed get 20 touches out of the backfield, I expect the team to try to get him into space more often than not. Obviously, they’ll also try to utilize his ability to catch passes out of the backfield as well. That’s going to be a big part of his contributions. But by all means, you’ll also see him run the ball on multiple
occasions Monday.”

6) Finally, what are your key match-ups in this game and what to the Dolphins need to do in order to shut down a high powered Patriots offense, freeze their new look defense, and notch a mark in the win column?

“I think you already mentioned two of the biggest matchups: The interior of the offensive line against the Patriots’ defensive front and the Dolphins’ coverage of the tight ends. But as always, the Dolphins need to apply as much pressure to Tom Brady as possible, and much of that pressure is going to need to come from Cameron Wake. I’m sure Wake is going to see more double teams and chips than he has seen at any other point in his short NFL career. How he handles those looks could dictate how much pressure Miami is able to get – and ultimately, how successful Brady will be. If the Dolphins’ defense can live up to expectations, and if the offense can get on a very different track
than the one they ended last season on, I think it’d be crazy to discount Miami’s chances. That said, they still have a lot of questions left to answer. They’ll get their chance Monday.”

You can follow Jeff Darlington on twitter (@JeffDarlington) and keep up to date with his thoughts and opinions.

Like what you read? Check out the rest of my blog ’4th & Long’ for more! If you would like to comment and offer your insight into this article, feel free to leave your thoughts! You can follow me on twitter; @DamoJarrett

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