Well, after more than eight months, it’s finally here. In just a few days, the Miami Dolphins will embark on the grueling, arduous journey that is the 2018 NFL regular season. They’ll face a Tennessee Titans team that, like the Dolphins, has some question marks of its own. Heralded quarterback Marcus Mariota (or, ‘Mariado’, as commissioner Roger Goodell called him on draft day) has not played particularly well during the preseason, which means, that coupled with the Dolphins’ putrid performance against the run in that same preseason, new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur will undoubtedly give Miami a healthy dose of 6’3”, 247 lb running back Derrick Henry on Sunday.
Henry, who has been clocked at 4.54 in the forty, is exactly the kind of back the Dolphins could really use, but coming into the 2016 draft, Miami needed a starting corner in the worst way, and had little choice but to trade up for Xavien Howard in round two; Henry went to the Titans seven picks later, at 45. Fortunately, the Dolphins were able to select Henry’s backfield running mate at Alabama, Kenyan Drake, in the third round that year, and he gives Miami big play potential every time he touches the ball. In a season opener in which both starting quarterbacks are likely to have some jitters, it’s tempting to predict that the team which best runs the ball likely wins this game, but if the Dolphins can control time of possession and run the clock prodigiously when they have the ball, Miami’s young defense has a chance to shut down Tennessee’s offense inside the twenty and force the Titans to settle for field goals. Various Las Vegas bookmakers have Tennessee favored by an average of about two points, but given the general lack of respect afforded the Dolphins this year, that doesn’t necessarily mean much, in my opinion.
As much as I hate to say it, this game is probably going to come down to how well Ryan Tannehill plays; remember that game in 2009, when the Dolphins played the Colts, on Monday night football? They outplayed the Colts in every facet of the game, yet lost because of quarterback Peyton Manning, who turned in a masterful performance. The Dolphins won the time of possession battle and out rushed Indianapolis 261-39, but they couldn’t stop the Colts when it mattered. In fact, Manning threw an 80 yard touchdown pass to tight end Dallas Clark on the game’s very first play, and Clark ended up with the fourth highest yardage total by a tight end in league history. Miami had a chance to win the game at the end, but WR Ted Ginn, Jr couldn’t hold on to quarterback Chad Henne’s desperation pass as time ran out. On paper, the Dolphins absolutely should have won that game, but Manning’s superior performance was just too much for them to overcome. On a much smaller scale, Tannehill may have to provide the Dolphins with a similar boost on Sunday to bring home a win. Henry and Mariota will probably combine for about 200 rushing yards, so the Dolphins are going to have to make some big plays, both on the ground and in the air.
Although I was not particularly impressed with the post roster cut moves the team made, I have faith in this franchise, in terms of both coaching and in the front office. The past two drafts and off-seasons make me feel much better about the direction of the team than I did a few years ago, and while the Dolphins may not win many more than they lose in 2018, I look for them to be a force in the AFC in years to come. I know we’ve been saying that for a while now, but the future, if not the present, looks bright for this team. It’s an exciting time to be a Dolphin fan.