As part of my blog, in the build up to games, I am going to be speaking to rival beat reporters andÂ gettingÂ 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. Â Here is what he had to say:
1) The Dolphins revamped a lot of their coaching positions in the offÂ season. The big standout for us is former Patriots coach Brian DabollÂ who joins your team as the new Offensive Coordinator. What does hisÂ knowledge bring to the match-up? He had huge success as the Cleveland Browns’ Offensive Coordinator against the Patriots last season.
“Far more than Dabollâ€™s knowledge of the AFC East, which is onlyÂ decently important from my perspective, are two other ingredients thatÂ he brings to Miami: Energy and trust. First, itâ€™s clear his passionÂ during practices is rubbing off on the players, and theyâ€™re pushingÂ the tempo with a great degree of urgency. Second, and moreÂ importantly, Daboll seems to be shedding the handcuffs fromÂ quarterback Chad Henneâ€™s wrist. He is placing a level of trust inÂ Henne that didnâ€™t exist under former offensive coordinator Dan Henning â€“ and itâ€™s allowing Henne to play more within his skillset. Along withÂ the ability to audible at the line of scrimmage (something he didnâ€™tÂ have last year), Henne also has been able to win over his teammates byÂ having more control over the offense. So yes, I think Daboll willÂ definitely help the Dolphinsâ€™ chances against the Patriots. But forÂ far more reasons than just his familiarity with the division.
2) The Patriots made many personal moves Â 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 NewÂ Englandâ€™s defense as everyone else: The Patriots might say they are aÂ 4-3 defense, but theyâ€™ll be much more of a hybrid than that. Miami isÂ expecting to see a defense similar to the one it currently runs underÂ Mike Nolan â€“ one thatâ€™s unpredictable on a play-to-play basis. Iâ€™mÂ sure the Dolphins will keep in mind the Patriotsâ€™ plans to implement aÂ 4-3 scheme. Theyâ€™d be crazy not to. But it isnâ€™t likely to cause themÂ 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 questionÂ marks of the preseason, this will be a very interesting key toÂ Mondayâ€™s game. Center Mike Pouncey has made nice developments in hisÂ rookie training camp, but going up against Wilfork and HaynesworthÂ should provide a massive gauge of where he currently stands. I have noÂ question that Jake Long will continue to dominate on the left side,Â but Iâ€™m very hesitant to suggest the Dolphins will be fine when itÂ comes to the right side. This is an obvious point of weakness that NewÂ England will try to exploit. Vernon Carey is still growing comfortableÂ with his new role at right guard, and Marc Colombo has not looked anyÂ 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 abilityÂ to cover the tight ends is the biggest question on defense â€“Â especially when you consider the duel threat of Hernandez andÂ Gronkowski. Youâ€™re absolutely right: The Dolphins struggled badly inÂ coverage against tight ends. Actually, they struggled covering themÂ two years ago also. The team might be better suited to handle passÂ coverage because of the addition of inside linebacker Kevin Burnett toÂ replace Channing Crowder, but Miami also needs to get better coverageÂ from Yeremiah Bell at the safety position. To say the team has made â€śstridesâ€ť with this area would be going too far. We just donâ€™t knowÂ 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 BushÂ as their featured back. They fully intend for him to get more carriesÂ than any other running back. But I still have a hard time believingÂ heâ€™ll carry the ball between the tackles upward of 15 times. Instead,Â if he does indeed get 20 touches out of the backfield, I expect theÂ team to try to get him into space more often than not. Obviously,Â theyâ€™ll also try to utilize his ability to catch passes out of theÂ backfield as well. Thatâ€™s going to be a big part of his contributions.Â But by all means, youâ€™ll also see him run the ball on multiple
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: TheÂ interior of the offensive line against the Patriotsâ€™ defensive frontÂ and the Dolphinsâ€™ coverage of the tight ends. But as always, theÂ Dolphins need to apply as much pressure to Tom Brady as possible, andÂ much of that pressure is going to need to come from Cameron Wake. Iâ€™mÂ sure Wake is going to see more double teams and chips than he has seenÂ at any other point in his short NFL career. How he handles those looksÂ could dictate how much pressure Miami is able to get â€“ and ultimately,Â how successful Brady will be. If the Dolphinsâ€™ defense can live up toÂ expectations, and if the offense can get on a very different track
than the one they ended last season on, I think itâ€™d be crazy toÂ discount Miamiâ€™s chances. That said, they still have a lot ofÂ questions left to answer. Theyâ€™ll get their chance Monday.”
You can follow Jeff Darlington on twitter (@JeffDarlington) and keep up to date with his thoughts and opinions.
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