Looking forward to the season opener on MNF against the Patriots; I have started to cap the game to see more or less what we are looking at (obviously in a very preliminary fashion since Free Agency, Training Camp and the Preseason are still to come).
Spectacle wise, the Dolphins couldn't have drawn a better game for week 1. It will most likely be a flashy Monday Night atmosphere down in Sun Life Stadium and a rejuvenated crowd looking forward to an exciting new season.
At first glance, though, the sporting aspect of the event isn't looking so promising from this side of the bridge (don't know if that is a legit expression). Not only are Patriots heavy favorites every time they meet a division rival (-7 points in a neutral field, -4 in Miami), but it's looking like this season they have a shot at being as dominant as they were back in 2007 when they had a perfect regular season.
I was going to divide this in a Pros and Cons format but there are way to many Cons.
- Short time to prepare
Preparedness after Lockout- The Patriots are a veteran team with veteran leadership in the likes of Tom Brady, Wes Welker and Deion Branch. Aside from that Bill Bellichick runs a pretty tight ship down in Boston. Adding to this, Tom Brady and Bellichick seem to realize that their window of (if not opportunity) dominance is closing. I think it's safe to say they will show up. On the other hand, one of Miami's few bright spots under Sparano is that they always seem to be focused and prepared to tackle the task at hand as well as they can. They should show up. (Editor's Note: for gambling purposes a couple of teams that could be a good bet not to show up for week 1 are: Vikings, Eagles, Bengals, Redskins, Steelers (Super Bowl hangover))
Tactical Edge- During this regime's tenure, most game-plans seem to come from Remember the Titans' Sheryl Yoast. In part because of a lack of capacity/imagination by Sparano and Henning and in part because of the team's run first philosophy (there are only so many ways you can run the ball). In contrast, the Patriots boast one of the NFL most complex offenses. Therefore you could argue that the short time to prepare benefits the Dolphins given they can successfully install a simple offense in less time than New England. However, the Patriots return most of their starters and coaching staff in both sides of the ball, whereas the Dolphins have to install new Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll's offense and acclimate a rookie starting running back too. All this against a Bill Bellichick deffense.
When rumors involving any sort of discontent between players or players and coaching staff members start flying around in the media, most of the time they (and their potential influence on the team's chemistry) are dismissed as overblown gossip. However, like James Harrison's all out comments against Roethlisberger and Mendenhall showed; on field related ruptures inside the locker room do happen and their effect can be quite real. I mention this because:
a) Brandon Marshall and Chad Henne. For some reason (enough negativity/bad news) the mid season rupture between these two guys hasn't been stressed enough. To spare a whole analysis as to why this might have happened, I think it's easy to figure out Marshall got fed up with Henne's bad play and then it may have escalated to a personal level. Not only will this eat into Henne's shaky-at-best psyche but could deteriorate the whole offense's on field quality.
b) Any way you want to slice it; Sparano will be a lame duck Head Coach this upcoming season. Adding insult to injury, the team more than visibly quit on him during make or break moments of both 09 and 10 seasons. Clear evidence of this were Ricky Williams' comments back in the Spring or the lack of commitment displayed during the last game of the season at foxborough - yes, a meaningless game, but a game where they knew Sparano's job was on the line-.
I'm afraid there is a decent chance the days this team went the extra mile against superior team's for Sparano and team spirit sake's could be over.
Home Field Advantage-
Initially one would be inclined to believe that opening the season at home on MNF should be a huge advantage whatever the issues surrounding the team were. However, I believe the expectations of such a stage could backfire. The Patriots are a veteran team and is laughable to believe they will be fazed by a rocking Sun Life Stadium on MNF. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that Chad Henne - with the super pressure he's got to perform- could be fazed by the situation. At best I think this is a tie.
Xs and Os
Since ¨The Wildcat Game¨ back in 08 ( apart from last season's week 17 meaningless blowout ) the Dolphins manage to close the gap pretty dramatically between themselves and the Patriots when they saw each other on the field. Most of this because variables like Tom Brady being sidelined by an injury, the insurgency of the Wildcat or New England's weak and young defense or lack of weapons on offense. However, it seems like this year the Patriots are ready to field a dominating team once again. They are able to spread the field once again with Branch and Welker, while their now sophomore dynamic TEs run around in the middle of the field. All of this with an extra motivated and healthy Tom Brady, a good offensive line and a resurrect running attack that will add a couple of second round picks to the mix. More importantly though they got plenty of young playmakers that seem to have matured a whole lot during the last couple of years and it seems like their Defense is ready to come out of their shell and field a top 10 unit at last.
On the other hand the Dolphins boast a pretty solid if not superior defense. We should see improvement in these areas:
- Continuity in the Defensive Coordinator spot
- A stronger Defensive Line boosted by Paul Soliai's consolidation and Jerrick Odrick's addition
- Improvement in Cameron Wake's overall game (plus offenses game planing for him)
- Improvement in Karlos Dansby's overall game
- Channing Crowder solidifying the run if he can get back on the field
- Koa Misi's development
So there is a lot to look forward regarding the Defensive unit. It could very well develop into a top 3 or top 5 defense in the NFL in the short term. However, it is pretty arguable that defense alone doesn't win Super Bowls anymore.
I really don't want to discuss or analyze the Offense when there is such a huge question mark in the most important position of all of sports. If Henne's play is at least decent and the O-line manages to get it together and open some holes for Daniel Thomas then you could be looking at a mediocre offense that doesn't loose entire games by itself. However I think that is the best scenario for this unit when you have a below average Quarterback, a distracted and disgrunted #1 receiver, a new running back and a new Offensive Coordinator. And this realization is quite disappointing for sure but unfortunately this is where this team stands.
A more in depth X's and O's analysis seems a bit premature but if I had to think of 5 things the Dolphins would have to be successful at in order to beat the Patriots on this season's opening MNF game would be these:
1- Establish the run game in order to control the clock and give Henne play action opportunities and a short field.
2- Get the crowd involved and going early.
3- Elite Defense. Containing Brady wont be enough, they will most likely have to make more than 1 stellar play and score points by themselves. Either by fumble recovery or interception.
4- Don`t let a Henne mistake kill you (He may throw 3 interceptions, but al least let them be on their side of the field and not returned for TDs)
5- Swing the game early. This is not that hard and much of it depends on luck. Return the first Kickoff for a touchdown, recover a fumble in their 20, send Gates deep on the first play of the game (they tried to swing the game early this way against the Chargers back in 08 because they knew they had to do something like this to win but Pennington OVERthrew a wide open Gin hahaha you got to admit -looking back- this is a pretty sweet irony)
Whatever the outcome, it is fun to talk football again after such a long lockout and I am definitely very excited to watch the Dolphins open a brand new NFL season of elite entertainment against a long time rival with such good players.