The Miami Dolphins welcome the New England Patriots into Hard Rock Stadium tomorrow afternoon, kicking off the 2022 regular season. The Dolphins coming into this game with mystery surrounding the team as new head coach Mike McDaniel works the sidelines of his first game. The changes do not stop with the head coach, with the additions of players like wide receiver Tyreek Hill, offensive tackle Terron Armstead, running backs Chase Edmunds and Raheem Mostert, and edge rushers Melvin Ingram and Trey Flowers. There is speed on the Dolphins that has never been there before. There are veterans ready to step in to key role as the Dolphins younger players have begun establishing themselves.
After a vanilla preseason with little game-style exposed, it is time for the 2022 Dolphins to show who they will be. The 2022 season is about to start, and we have a lot to watch for as the Dolphins establish themselves on the field. Here is our what to watch for the Dolphins in Week 1.
Speed, speed, and more speed
The Dolphins have ridiculous amounts of speed. Hill and Jaylen Waddle are burners at wide receiver and Mostert adds another speedster coming out of the backfield. Add in Mike Gesicki who is fast coming out of the tight end position and Miami has a way to pressure the Patriots defense. The Dolphins coming out firing, using the speed to take advantage of the New England defense, is critical to the team getting off to a fast start in the game and for the season.
Getting the ball to Hill, Waddle, and the rest of the group to use their speed is not the only benefit of this much speed. The threat of the speed is also an aspect of the offense the Dolphins need to use. Having Waddle and Hill burning deep opens up space in the middle of the field. Using that space with Gesicki and wide receiver Cedrick Wilson, Jr., is going to be another big part of the offense. How Miami unleashes their speed against the Patriots should be a sign of how they plan to use it all season long.
The Dolphins have Xavien Howard, a perennial Pro Bowl selection at the cornerback position and an interception machine, to lead the position group. Behind him, however, there is a big question mark. Byron Jones is on the physically unable to perform list, keeping him off the field for at least the first four weeks of the season. His absence opens a hole on the roster the team was not expecting to have this year.
Nick Needham has established himself as a solid nickel cornerback, working well in the slot. The team may need him to slide outside to replace Howard, but that just shifts the hole in the defense to another position. Wherever Needham is playing, the Dolphins have to rely on Noah Igbinoghene, Keion Crossen, or Kader Kohou to step up and fill Jones’ spot. Will New England’s Mac Jones deliberately target the non-Howard/Needham cornerback? Do the Dolphins have the depth to be able to cover Jones’ absence? The Miami secondary is a huge question mark and they have to find the answer quickly on Sunday.
Is the offensive line ready?
The offensive line was obviously going to be on the list. The Dolphins have to have better blocking than they had last year. They upgraded the left tackle position with the addition of Armstead and the center position with Connor Williams. Liam Eichenberg at left guard, Robert Hunt at right guard, and Austin Jackson at left tackle are all developing into solid players - but have they developed enough for the intensity to ramp up in the regular season?
Miami struggled with both pass protection and run blocking last year. The pass protection looked better in the preseason. The run blocking started to show up in the final preseason game, but was that real or was it opening running lanes against depth players? This weekend establishes what the Miami offensive line is going to be this year.
How strong will the pass rush be?
Emmanuel Ogbah, Jaelan Phillips, Melvin Ingram, Trey Flowers, and Andrew Van Ginkel are all pass rushers that can be thrown into the fray on any single play. Add in blitzing from players like Jerome Baker, Jevon Holland, and Brandon Jones, and Miami can create pressure from so many different places. The Miami defense may have question marks at cornerback, but if the pass rush is able to get after Mac Jones, the cornerback issues can be minimized.
The final piece of our what to watch article is going to focus on the player who has been surrounded the most discussion all off season. Tua Tagovailoa’s role with the team is constantly a debate, whether it is about how he can play this season or about how he fits with the future of the team. The change in coaching staff from Brian Flores to Mike McDaniel seems to have changed how Tagovailoa is treated within the building and the support the coaching staff is giving him. During Sunday’s game, Tagovailoa can come out and quiet the critics with a performance that shows he is in full control of the offense. Or it can raise the volume from the people who believe Miami needs to move on from their 2020 fifth-overall pick.