Going up against a rookie right tackle tonight, Miami Dolphins linebacker Cameron Wake should be able to put pressure on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
1. Miami Pass Rush. The Dolphins have to put pressure on New England quarterback Tom Brady. There's no way around it. If Brady has all day to throw, he'll find a way to pick apart the best of secondaries. The good news here is, the New England offensive line should allow for opportunities. Dolphins nose tackle Paul Soliai should be able to gain some pressure up the middle against Patriots center Dan Koppen. The right guard position is a mess in New England, with Dan Connolly hurt, and newcomer Brian Waters having to learn to play the right side of the line. At the left tackle, Matt Light returns, where he is going to have to deal with Miami defensive end Randy Starks and/or linebackers Koa Misi and Jason Taylor. I think Miami has the advantage here, as Light has been in decline the last couple of years, but given this is just week one, I wouldn't be shocked to see him play well. The Dolphins' biggest advantage comes at the right tackle position. Rookie Nate Solder is expected to get the start with Sebastian Vollmer having injured his back. That means Solder is going to be matched up against pass rush extraordinaire, Cameron Wake. If Wake can't abuse the rookie, the Dolphins could be in trouble here.
2. Miami Offensive Line. Just like New England, the Miami offensive line is a mess. Rookie Mike Pouncey has played well during the preseason, and, according to head coach Tony Sparano, has held his own against Soliai in practice. But, he's thrown into the fire tonight when he goes nose-to-nose with Vince Wilfork. If Pouncey can't handle the Patriots' big man, the Dolphins run game has no chance, and quarterback Chad Henne could be running for his life. Amazinginly, the Dolphins' offensive line with the least questions is the left guard position, where Richie Incognito as been the most solid of the offensive linemen during preseason. That could be because there are so many questions about the rest of the line, but Incognito has stayed off the radar leading in to week one. The opposite guard position finds Vernon Carey trying to get comfortable as a guard instead of his customary right tackle position - and it hasn't been an easy transition. Carey has looked out of place during the preseason. The tackles include questions as well. The left tackle position is held by Pro-Bowler Jake Long - but he had no appearances during the preseason as he nursed an injured knee. Long should be ready to go, but the lack of preseason games doesn't exactly add comfort to the situation. The right tackle is the worst mess on the team. The Dolphins brought in former Cowboy Marc Colombo to take over the position, leading to the position change, and pay cut, for Carey. And, Colombo has been an open door - especially to the speed rush - leading straight to Henne. If this offensive line doesn't quickly gel tonight, Henne could be constantly running for his life.
3. Miami Running Game. The Dolphins running game is another series of question marks. Can Reggie Bush actually be an every-down, workhorse back? Is Daniel Thomas healthy enough to be the compliment to Bush? What does Larry Johnson have left in the tank? With Charles Clay out, can Lex Hilliard fill the fullback role effectively? With the offensive line in the mess that it is and all these questions about the running backs, this could be a very difficult matchup against New England.
4. Miami Cornerbacks. This preseason, Vontae Davis proclaimed that he and Sean Smith were the top cornerback tandem in the league. He has since backed off a little from that claim, but the idea is still out there. Miami fans want to see a return to the Sam Madison/Patrick Surtain domination days - and these two could do it. But they need to make a statement tonight against one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
5. Chad Henne. Any surprise that he makes this list? Henne has performed like a different player in the preseason, sharp, consistent, leading the team. But, now that the games count, and against a team many pick to go to the Super Bowl this year, can Henne continue to perform like that, or was it a fan preseason over-reaction to his growth. Henne doesn't need to be perfect tonight, but he does need to show he is in control of the offense, making reads, and making the smart play with the ball. This is not a must have game for Henne, but after spending the offseason trying to win over a hostile home crowd, Henne doesn't have many bad games left before he completely loses the confidence of Dolphins fans. A good performance tonight will at least buy him some more time.
Those are the five things I am watching for tonight. What others can you think of?