In a way they should look at Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders not as the second game of a long 16-game season, but as the first game of a 15-game season. They will be at home for the first time (and thankfully not blacked out) and will be honoring the 1972 Perfect Season team for their 40th anniversary.
So what will the Miami Dolphins have to do at each position in order to secure the victory that yours truly predicted earlier this week? A lot. Let's take a look.
Only one of the six quarterbacks who started their first game last week had a worse outing than Ryan Tannehill, and that was Skip Bayless' man Brandon Weeden of the Cleveland Browns.
It's not so much that Ryan Tannehill had a terrible game, but he had a terrible four-minute stretch in the second quarter where J.J. Watt and the rest of the Texans defense tipped everything he threw, followed by the pass landing in the awaiting arms of another Texans defender.
These tipped passes have spawned a flood of theories as to what the issue is and how to make them stop. If you ask former Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington, he'll tell you it's about the release point and how it's too low, telling Dan Le Batard of 790 The Ticket the key is "a high release point and getting it on your front foot."
ESPN's Trent Dilfer had his own opinion, stating (via Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post):
“I don’t think it’s correctable on Tannehill’s side, I don’t want this kid to start getting killed that he’s staring down receivers or his release is too low.”
“Typically, what allows you to not get balls knocked down is a quick release, or the shortest arc on the ball. And he has one of the quickest releases there is, so it doesn’t really make sense.”
The best answer could actually be found right here on Bleacher Report though, as AFC East Lead Writer Erik Frenz used the All-22 view of the game to break down each and every one of Ryan Tannehill's interceptions. The conclusion he came up with?
The batted passes are clearly at the forefront of the issue. The offensive line needs to do a better job engaging on their blocks to keep the linemen's hands down and allow Tannehill the largest windows possible.
Frenz then pointed out that Tannehill's low release point was also an issue, but "a correctable issue" that will "take some time."
This issue is expected to be somewhat corrected this week against the Raiders. Tannehill and the coaching staff have been working on it. There will also be more variety in the play-calling, which was also looked at as a potential reason for the tipped passes.
The Raiders defense has a lot more holes than the Texans defense, holes that Tannehill and the Miami offense should be able to exploit come Sunday.
Miami's running game is no longer the ground-and-pound attack that we've seen the last few years. Instead, they're a finesse running team where the backs are expected to catch the ball out of the backfield and rely heavily on yards after catch.
That doesn't mean Miami doesn't run the ball. Last Sunday, they did run 17 times and gained 80 yards between Daniel Thomas (three carries for 11 yards) and Reggie Bush (14 carries for 69 yards). Part of the reason Miami didn't have as many rushing attempts as in the past is due not only to the new West Coast offense, but also the fact that, after the second quarter from hell, they were playing catch-up.
Miami will be without Daniel Thomas on Sunday against Oakland as he suffered a concussion last week. You might remember the play, it was a fumble in the same second quarter from hell. Looking at the tape, it seemed like he was concussed on the hit before the fumble, which likely caused him to let go of the football.
Miami is lucky in the fact that they have fourth-round rookie Lamar Miller from the University of Miami. Miller was inactive against the Texans but will likely be activated and ready to play against the Raiders. Expect Miller to get quite a few passes thrown his way out of the backfield, and expect him to run the ball at least 10 times.
Bush, on the other hand, will also be used to make catches out of the backfield, but from time to time we could see him lining up as a wide receiver. As it stands, he's probably Miami's best wide receiver on the roster.
Ladies and gentlemen: presenting the top three leading Miami Dolphins receivers from last week's game.
The leading man when it comes to receptions was Reggie Bush, who had six receptions for 46 yards. Brian Hartline had the nicest catch (the 34-yard catch seen in the picture above) and the most yards with 50, despite only getting three receptions. Oh, and the crazy thing is he missed most of training camp and the whole preseason with a left calf injury.
Davone Bess had five catches for 45 yards, likely because of the fact that he's Miami's most consistent receiver. Tannehill would get locked into him, which played a role in a few of the tipped passes talked about earlier.
Newcomer Anthony Armstrong had one catch but was targeted a few more times than one would expect for a person that had just signed with the team five days ago.
Wide receiver is Miami's weakest position on offense. Hartline will be more solid after another week of working out with Tannehill and the rest of the offense, while Bess will continue to be Bess. Armstrong will gain some more rapport with Tannehill, but that will take some time. Will he get more than one catch this week? He's going to have to.
But the key is for the rest of the receivers outside of Bess (which not only includes Hartline but also Armstrong and the at times terrible Legedu Naanee) to become more consistent. They dropped a couple of passes during the game against Houston, and if they can't prove to be reliable, then you will see Tannehill lock on to receivers that will be more reliable, and that's when bad things start to happen.
The receivers obviously aren't alone, as the running backs (last slide) and tight ends (we'll get to them in a minute) have to make their catches too, but when it comes to gaining chunks of yardage and getting first downs and eventually touchdowns, the wide receivers have to be the reliable targets.
Miami's tight end play last Sunday—puts on sunglasses—wasn't very tight. *YEAH!!!!!!!!!!!*
Anthony Fasano had three catches for 19 yards. Three catches for 19 yards. Charles Clay was missing in action. He had a few balls thrown to him but couldn't seem to get a handle on them.
Yes, it was bad for the unit that's supposed to serve as Tannehill's safety blanket. Tight ends are an integral part of the West Coast offense, but when they don't produce, the offense tends to stall.
They're most important in the red zone. Miami visited this mythical place twice on Sunday, yet didn't come up with a single score. Part of the reason was the tight ends lacking the ability to get open in the red zone.
So what should we expect out of this unit? More passes thrown their way is definitely one thing to expect, with quite a few plays specifically designed to get the ball into the hands of a tight end, whether it is Clay or Fasano.
The tight ends should take advantage of Oakland's weaker linebackers and safeties and make plays. Can they do it? We shall have to wait on Sunday to find out.
Before we've even gotten to the offensive line on this slideshow, we've already discussed their weaknesses and how they're part of the reason for Tannehill's tipped passes.
But it goes beyond that. They didn't give him much time behind the line, and while the run-blocking was very good, you can't just hang your hat on being good at one aspect of offensive line play when you got murdered in the other aspect.
Jake Long did play a good game despite a lingering knee injury, yet he's not listed on the Dolphins' injury report, which tells me he should be alright for the next game. John Jerry wasn't listed either, which means we should expect him to be healthy and play come Sunday. However, while Long was decent, John Jerry was his typical self. John Jerry—a better John Jerry, but still, John Jerry.
Mike Pouncey was the best of the bunch and it will likely remain that way. Despite Tannehill fumbling a couple of snaps, these fumbles were more on Tannehill (they couldn't have been snapped better).
As for Incognito, well, it was a rough game with two penalties and letting a sack go. However, he was also accused of playing dirty by Texans DE Antonio Smith, but even Smith's coach, Gary Kubiak, stated:
Those two had a heck of a battle going on all day long. I didn’t see anything different from what you normally see week to week. I just saw two guys getting after it.
Finally we take a look at new right tackle Jonathan Martin. He's shown improvement since the start of training camp but still had a rough outing on Sunday.
This week should be different. The onus will be on Incognito, Pouncey and (takes a deep breath), John Jerry to protect the Dolphins from Oakland's very good defensive tackles Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly. However, Oakland's defensive ends (Matt Shaughnessy and Lamarr Houston) will likely struggle against Long and Martin on the edges.
There won't be as much pressure inside the Dolphins' pocket come Sunday, as the Raiders only got into the Chargers' pocket three times.
However, they did do an excellent job stopping the Chargers' running game on Monday night, holding them to an average of 1.6 yards per carry on 20 attempts. Miami's offensive line has to do a better job of pushing Oakland's linemen back than the Chargers did on running plays.
Miami's defensive line was one of the bright spots of their last game.
Randy Starks got in for two sacks against Matt Schaub while also recording six tackles. Cameron Wake again drew double coverage but still managed to tackle anyone who came by him. Paul Soliai had two tackles (both resulting in a loss of yards), as did Jared Odrick and Kheeston Randall. Olivier Vernon also contributed a tackle of his own.
On the surface, these statistics don't look too great; however, Houston's offensive line is one of the best in the NFL and employs zone blocking schemes very well. Oakland, on the other hand, is down a level from the Texans, and has at times had problems protecting the quarterback.
How bad were the problems of the Raiders' offensive line? Three sacks and five quarterback hits. It wasn't a good day for Carson Palmer, unless you consider the fact that he had zero interceptions.
If Miami's defensive line keeps up the aggression shown last week against Houston, then to quote the South Park ski instructor, "Oakland's going to have a bad time."
Hopefully after Sunday's performance, we can put the "Koa Missing" jokes to bed for good. That boy came to play, racking up 11 tackles, including one for a loss. He also did a decent job dropping back into pass coverage.
He's going to need a bit more help back there though from Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby. Both players have shown themselves to be great at times, but usually they're just mediocre. They were somewhere in between against Houston, but part of that can be attributed to their prolonged training camp and preseason absences.
This linebacking crew isn't bad at all, but just like about anything can still be better. The more time the three play together in this scheme, the better they will get. I already saw improvements throughout the game on Sunday, I should see more against Oakland.
I'm at least expecting more. Stopping those intermediate passes to Darren McFadden makes the linebackers even more important against Oakland this week. Last week, they did struggle with those passes against the Texans.
At least against Oakland, McFadden is the main bother for the Dolphins' linebackers and not a barrage of backs and tight ends like the Texans threw at them.
This is a coaching issue, but why was Sean Smith single-covering Andre Johnson? Why in God's name was anyone only single-covering Andre Johnson? Aren't receivers like Andre Johnson the very reason why defenses such as the nickle and dime packages were invented?
The secondary still has leaps and bounds to go. Other than Andre Johnson being Andre Johnson, they weren't terrible against the Texans. The shortcomings can be blamed on coaching. Would it have been nice to have Vontae Davis out there? Of course it would have (but before you go wishing we had him, keep in mind that he has to play Andre Johnson twice this season, it won't go so well for him either). But Smith, Richard Marshall, Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons are what we have right now, and they're exceeding expectations, which should show you how low the expectations have been for them from the beginning.
While Jimmy Wilson is still listed as a backup safety, he will see some time playing corner. Of course, we'll also get more Nolan Carroll than we deserve (which is any Nolan Carroll), and R.J. Stanford will play a few snaps as well.
Is there a silver lining with this secondary? Yes there is. They won't have to face Jacoby Ford (placed on season-ending IR per CBS Sports), and while Denarius Moore is expected to play on Sunday, it's unlikely he will start, as he's still nursing a hamstring injury (per CBS Sports).
This means having to deal with the likes of rookie Rod Streater, Darrius Heyward-Bey and the immortal Derek Hagan. It should be an easier time for the Dolphins' secondary, but they have to impress this week.
Not much needs to be said about the Dolphins' special teams unit.
Marcus Thigpen likely won't score a touchdown against Oakland's punt unit. He will, however, have the chance to get great field position. Should he do this, Miami is obviously in better shape. As for Oakland's punt unit, they're in a bit of of a flux. It's unlikely long snapper Jon Condo will be back after suffering a concussion on Monday night, but at least they won't have to rely on Travis Goethel after signing Nick Guess (via CBS Sports).
Oakland usually has a good return team, and with Taiwan Jones and Phillip Adams returning punts and kicks, it is no different. However, as long as Fields can keep his punts high and long, while Carpenter continues to get touchbacks, they won't be too big of a worry.
Finally, when it comes to field goals, Dan Carpenter just has to be Dan Carpenter.
This is a winnable game for Miami. They have a better defense, they have the home-field advantage and the have the tried-and-true advantage that is playing a West Coast team at 10:00 a.m. West Coast time.
Miami should come out of this game 1-1. We will see that they weren't as bad as they showed themselves to be last week. Ryan Tannehill will play well, and his line will protect. While even a lot of Dolphins fans see this game as a potential loss, I don't. I didn't on Tuesday, and I don't now.
Miami 27, Oakland 20