The Miami Dolphins will visit the New England Patriots on Sunday in the first of two contests between the AFC East rival franchises. The Dolphins are currently two games up in the AFC East, but the Patriots are still the defending division and AFC champions, so they will fight their way back into this season at some point. Can Miami keep it from starting this weekend?
There are going to be several members of the Dolphins that could hold the keys to a Miami win or loss Sunday. Five of them are discussed below:
Minkah Fitzpatrick, safety/cornerback
The Dolphins should have the opportunity to move Fitzpatrick around the field to where they need him, assuming safety Reshad Jones is back and ready to resume being a Pro Bowl safety for the team. If they can move around Fitzpatrick, he could be the main coverage option for Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, following him everywhere on the field. Given the state of the Patriots receiving corps, shutting down Gronkowski should be the primary focus, and giving that to the rookie - along with safety or linebacker double teams - makes a ton of sense.
Kenyan Drake / Frank Gore, running backs and the offensive line
Last week was a miserable week for the Dolphins’ running game. There simply was no space on the field for Drake or Gore. The Oakland Raiders clearly wanted to send a message and make the game all about Ryan Tannehill’s right arm, and the team responded - but the issue is, the Raiders did not do that much in terms of stacking the box. The offensive line has to be able to create space for Drake and Gore, that will then allow Tannehill to use the play-action passing game to find success through the air. If the line and the running backs can get going against the Patriots with their 31st ranked rush defense in the league, then the Dolphins should be able to explode on offense.
Mike Gesicki, tight end
You are starting to see more and more of Gesicki in the passing game. He has been a surprisingly solid blocker early this year, but it is time to see him become the pass-catching threat for which he was drafted. What a perfect time to break out a new wrinkle to the offense, something we really have not seen yet, just to punch the Patriots in the mouth with something new. Gesicki becoming a receiving threat for the team would be huge. Rookie tight ends do not typically have great first seasons, but a great game could be huge for Miami this week.
Charles Harris, defensive end
William Hayes is done for the year and Andre Branch is injured and will not play this week. Add in that Cameron Wake is technically questionable for Sunday, and the Dolphins will be looking to Harris to prove he was worthy of the 2017 first-round selection. Wake (should he play) and Robert Quinn will likely look to shoulder a larger load than they normally carry for the team, but Harris is definitely going to be on the field more and in key positions more often. It is time for him to step up and get to the quarterback and set the edge against the run.
Raekwon McMillan, linebacker
After all of the talk all offseason was about the Dolphins getting older with the addition of players like Gore and Danny Amendola, it is amazing how young this team really is. Two rookies and two second year players make this list this week, along with the third-year Drake sharing the running back slot with Gore. McMillan, who is only playing his fourth career game after losing all of last season to an ACL tear, is essentially a rookie still, but he is being asked to perform at a much higher level - and probably not in the way the team best could use him. McMillan should be a really, really good run-stuffing middle linebacker. Instead, he is having to rotate into coverage too much. If he can find his game - especially if rookie linebacker Jerome Baker can become the coverage guy - McMillan should be a special player in the league, but there definitely is that “if” word starting the sentence. This week, Tom Brady is likely going to attack the linebackers, especially McMillan, and he is going to use quick passes, Gronkowski, and the running game to come from multiple fronts on the attack. McMillan will have to prove he is capable of controlling the middle of the field.