The Phinsider Mailbag was overflowing today when I checked it, so thank you all very much. As such, not every question made it into my answers - but I tried to cover every topic as much as possible, since some of the questions were similar. The Miami Dolphins are preparing to face the Oakland Raiders and would move to 3-0 and continue to be in first place in the AFC East ahead of a Week 4 matchup with the New England Patriots.
What is on the minds of fans for the Dolphins? What do they want to know? Let us dive into the bag and see.
What do you think the most important position matchups will be in determining the outcome of Sunday’s game against the Raiders? - Francesco Pergolini
I think the most obvious one will be the linebackers versus Jared Cook. Cook leads the Raiders in targets, receptions, yards, and yards-per-reception. He has nearly twice as many yards as the next closest receiver for Oakland, so the Dolphins linebackers - or Minkah Fitzpatrick - are going to have to shut him down and force Derek Carr to look elsewhere.
On the Raiders’ defense, Miami’s offensive line needs to come together with the replacement of Josh Sitton with Ted Larsen, and the Raiders defense has not been good at putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks thus far this year. Miami has to keep that as a true statement throughout this game and let Ryan Tannehill use his arm - and his legs - to pick apart of the secondary.
With Sitton out do you think the Dolphins should try to trade a WR for a starting caliber LG? - StrongarmDolphinfan
No. First, Miami has $13.8 million in salary cap space right now, and I would not want them to touch that unless they must. Second, I think Larsen will be fine as a left guard for the remainder of the year. Yes, they are going to see a downgrade from what Sitton was doing, but Larsen should be fine, and it just means Tunsil needs to step up his game some more.
I also would not touch the wide receivers. Kenny Stills, Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant, and Danny Amendola are all needed, which really leaves just DeVante Parker as a possibility to trade. He is not going to get you a “starting” guard or a high draft pick, so, just get him on the field and try to see what he can be so you know if you want to bring him back next year.
What has happened to Cordrea Tankersley? Last season I thought he was on pace to become a longterm starter at CB for us, and now he can’t even beat out Bobby McCain for a boundary CB job! - Redwood_
I think a big part of it is confidence. I feel like something shook Tankersley’s confidence at some point and he is not sure of himself. He seems to be thinking instead of instinctively playing. He is still only 12 games into his NFL career, so there is plenty of time for him to catch up to the speed of the game and start playing like a dominant cornerback. I think he will still become a really strong starter in the NFL, but he needs to start trusting himself again.
Will Howard shadow Cooper all game or will Burke have him mainly stay on one side of the field? - 39 is number 1
Xavien Howard and Bobby McCain primarily played sides of the field early this season, so I think they will continue to do that. I would like to see Howard be the type of player who is simply mirroring the top receiver for each team, and I would not be surprised if the Dolphins ask him to start doing that at some point this year - especially if Reshad Jones’ shoulder injury becomes something larger leading to a shakeup of the secondary starters.
Why does Burke insist on using the same 2 LB nickel package on every single obvious passing down, even 3rd and 10+ yards. Even when the other team has 4 or 5 WRs on the field and doesn’t have a run-threat QB? - Rob in MLB
With two linebackers on the field, you are still running with five defensive backs on the field. Xavien Howard, Bobby McCain, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Reshad Jones, and T.J. McDonald will be your primary five. Most of the time, when a team has “five wide receivers” they do not have five true wide receivers, but rather three or four and tight ends or running backs. The linebackers can pick up those players, or the safeties can cover there. You cannot empty the middle of the field and not expect quarterback draws - even from a non-running quarterback - or sweeps using the receivers/running backs. I think keeping two linebackers on the field - especially when you need your middle linebacker to get experience and be comfortable in his role and the veteran outside linebacker is able to make sure everyone is in the right position - makes the most sense.
Do you believe Parker’s return will be more seamless or more disruptive in terms of the obvious chemistry in the WR room? - finsfan7
It should not cause any chemistry issues in the receivers room because he has not really been gone. You are not adding an unknown to the mix. Parker has been in the meetings, he has been at the practices, and he has been at the games - he just has not been on the field during game day. The bigger issue will be how quickly he and Ryan Tannehill can get on the same page, because Parker should be out there on the majority of the snaps.
I think the Dolphins will open up the offense a little more with Parker, especially if he gives them the intermediate target they need. He will be a big part of the offense, if he is healthy and able to perform. That is just a big if right now.
What do you think is the long-term strategy to building/improving/maintaining the interior O line? - drifitinscotty
The draft. The Dolphins have the tackles they need, so now it is time to build the interior of the offensive line. Isaac Asiata should be a part of that as he continues to develop with the team. Miami will likely look to add younger guards and a center in the Draft next year, potentially keeping the veterans another season to give the younger players more time to develop.
Who do you think so far out of all the new comers, free agent signings and rookies, is having the biggest impact through the first couple games? - JasonMerry
I probably would have said Josh Sitton after the first game, but with him out for the year, the real answer is Minkah Fitzpatrick. He looks fast and has been doing just about everything the Dolphins have asked of him. He is a sure-tackler, which is paying huge dividends when teams try to run outside.
Robert Quinn is another one to consider here. He and Cameron Wake should see the pay off for their efforts soon, but together they are getting after quarterbacks and sealing off the edges. Quinn has looked really good early in this year.
Can Miami’s offense put up 30+ pts if needed or are they too dependent on their defense to win games? Can they over come key injury loses on defense or bad play? - Don12pk
I think they can, and I think they will, but there is a stall in the offense right now that needs to be corrected. The running game needs to be relied upon, with the play action pass feeding off of it. The team has the short passing game and the deep passing game available to it, but the intermediate level needs to be exploited. DeVante Parker’s return will help there. Getting Mike Gesicki more involved in the passing game - and the first two games saw defenses game planning to prevent that from happening - will also open up that middle-depth area and allow Miami to have more offensive success.
Kiko [Alonso] - Leading the NFL with 19 stackles. 1 of 2 players with an interception and 2 forced fumbles. The other?? Khalil Mack. You go Kiko. Ball the hell out. - Charlotte NC Fin Fan
This was not really a question, but definitely worth including. Alonso has played really well early this year, even if he is not getting noticed all that much.
How much will Lynch and their run game be a factor on Sunday? - Vaanx
Lynch will be tough for Miami, but he is only averaging 3.7 yards per carry and 53 yards per game early this year, so it is not like he is tearing up the league. The defensive tackles need to continue to get up field and the linebackers need to fill the gaps behind them. If Reshad Jones’ shoulder is not an issue, I would expect to see him playing up in the box as well.