The first Sunday of NFL action is finally here. Few days in the year are as refreshing as today. But something is still missing.
As special as starting out the year on Monday Night Football truly is, especially against rival New England, this opening Sunday is a little watered down with no Dolphins’ football.
But fear not, I thought I would wait to post my three keys to victory for today in order to satisfy your Dolphins’ fix.
Pressure, pressure, pressure
There has been one key to slowing down Tom Brady and the Patriots over the past decade.
If you can get consistent pressure on Brady you’ll stand a chance. If not, well, you’re probably going to get run out of the building.
The Jets beat the Pats twice last year with pressure and the true blueprint was laid by the Giants in Super Bowl XLII. The Dolphins’ defense is primed for similar success with one of the game’s best pass rushers in Cameron Wake facing off against rookie Nate Solder thanks to Sebastian Vollmer likely being out of the lineup.
But Wake can’t do it all by himself. He’s going to need Jason Taylor to flash glimpses of his old self and maybe Koa Misi showing improvement in the pass rush department to truly fluster the game’s top signal caller.
I also expect Mike Nolan to dial up some of those exotic blitz packages he’s famous for. With that said, Belichick will likely counter with plenty of quick reads for Brady and a heavy dose of the screen game.
If there is a measuring stick for a defense poised to take the next step and emerge as an elite unit, it’s against Tom Brady and the Patriots. It’s time to put up or shut up for the Dolphins’ defense.
Win the turnover battle
When elite teams are upset, you can typically look no further than the turnover ratio to find out what went wrong.
If the Dolphins can protect the football tomorrow night and force two or three takeaways of their own, they’ll be in position to win. On the contrary, though, if the Pats win the turnover battle, this game will have blowout written all over it.
I expect Chad Henne to exploit a somewhat leaky Patriots’ secondary, but that won’t matter if he doesn’t protect the football. The biggest knock on Henne hasn’t been his inability to move the football. He’s put up big yardage at times but seemingly always makes the huge mistake that breaks the Dolphins’ backs.
The Patriots weren’t exactly stingy a year ago when it came to yards surrendered, but they do have a knack for forcing turnovers.
The media will be singing a different tune Tuesday morning in regards to Henne if he avoids the mind-boggling interceptions that have plagued his career thus far.
Get something going on the ground
For once, the biggest question mark heading into the year isn’t the quarterback position.
The running game was anemic in the exhibitions and with Reggie Bush projected to get the bulk of the workload behind a revolving door of an interior offensive line, there isn’t much hope things will turn around against Vince Wilfork and the Patriots’ front seven.
It will be a huge test for rookie center Mike Pouncey. He showed some promise in the preseason, but lining up against the best nose tackle in football will be a different animal.
Reggie Bush surprised by running hard between the tackles, but he’s not shaking any labels until he does it consistently when it counts.
With possibly no Daniel Thomas, who was limited in practice this week with a tweaked hamstring, Larry Johnson may have a key role.
Let’s face it, the Dolphins are probably in trouble if they need Reggie Bush to carry the football 20+ times. A power back, either Johnson or Thomas or maybe even Lex Hilliard, needs to step up and hammer out some tough yards up the middle.
If not, the Dolphins will run the risk of becoming one dimensional. If they can somehow approach 4.0 yards-per-carry, the running game will take some pressure off of Henne.