Full Week 1 Stat Predictions for the Miami Dolphins' Offense
However, they begin that early stretch with the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, Aug. 8., in a game that is generally accepted to be the most winnable contest of Miami's first five.
It's about this time where someone usually steps in to tell you not to overlook the Browns, and that's where I come in. The Browns had one of the more impressive defensive preseasons, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The Dolphins finished with the second-highest overall defensive grade (48.5) in the preseason, trailing only the Seahawks. Cleveland's run defense was especially stingy, grading out at 31.5. That could spell trouble for the Dolphins, who are full of new offensive weapons trying to mesh in a starting offense that finally picked up steam near the end of the preseason.
Miami's offense cannot succumb to lazy play against the Browns otherwise it could see itself starting the season at 0-1. We won't know until Sunday how well prepared Miami's offense truly is, but that won't stop me from giving you the Dolphins' full offensive statistical predictions for Week 1.
Projected Starter: Ryan Tannehill
Others Expected to Play: N/A
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill enters the 2013 season looking to build upon a better-than-expected rookie campaign. Despite his advancements last season, there was a reason why Tannehill was overshadowed by the likes of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. Tannehill simply did not make enough plays to win games.
Here's the chance to show he's improved in that regard right off the bat. He'll be coming off two nice preseason performances against Houston and Tampa. He threw for a combined 291 yards and two touchdowns in those two games while completing 66.7 and 63.0 percent of his passes, respectively, in each.
More impressive was Tannehill's decision-making. He didn't threw a pick the entire preseason and he looked a little more comfortable making reads in the pocket, even when under duress. That's good because Cleveland defensive coordinator Ray Horton excels at bringing exotic and confusing blitz packages from all over the field.
According to Brendan Leister of DraftBrowns.com, Horton's Arizona Cardinals' defense generated pressure 33.9 percent of the time when five or more blitzers were sent. That number jumped to 54.7 percent with six rushers. Miami's shaky offensive line should be tested early, especially with the addition of Paul Kruger and rookie Barkevious Mingo, whose status is still uncertain, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Norheast Ohio Media Group (per Cleveland.com).
Cleveland's secondary is the perceived weak spot of the defense. Corner Joe Haden and safety T.J. Ward are certainly very talented, but question marks abound beyond their presence. Unproven players like corner Buster Skrine and safety Tashaun Gipson graded out at 2.9 and 1.5 in coverage, respectively, but can Cleveland depend on them when it counts?
Overall, Tannehill will likely be challenged a bit more than many fans might expect and he may have trouble hitting the deep ball with Mike Wallace against the watchful eye of Browns cornerback Joe Haden. That said, Tannehill should have success with shorter routes and will finish with respectable numbers.
Final Stat Line
Tannehill: 16-of-26, 206 yards, 2 TDs, 0 Ints
Projected Starter: Lamar Miller
Others Expected to Play: Daniel Thomas
Similar to the Dolphins, the Browns' defensive strength is their ability to clog the middle and stifle running backs.
They demonstrated that in the preseason, finishing with a run defense grade of 31.5 and allowing an average of 102.5 yards per game. Nose tackle Phil Taylor is a monster at nose tackle while inside linebackers Craig Robertson and D'Qwell Jackson make short work of anything that gets past the line.
Miami's offensive line will face no shortage of challenges in this game. When it isn't being tested by Cleveland's tricky blitz packages, it will need to generate running lanes for sophomore running back Lamar Miller and his backup, Daniel Thomas.
Playing in his first game as a starter, Miller is expected to have a breakout season by many, including Chris Wesserling of NFL.com. Miller has set a personal goal of 1,500 yards and an average of 5 yards per carry, according to the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson. It's a lofty goal that would take a massive season for Miller to attain.
Unfortunately, he likely won't make much headway in his progress towards that goal in the opener. While he should grab a touchdown against Cleveland, it will come with much attrition. Thomas should do well in short-yardage situations, but likewise won't do much elsewhere.
Final Stat Lines
Miller: 20 carries, 74 yards, 1 TD; 2 receptions, 24 yards
Thomas: 7 carries, 19 yards
Projected Starters: Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson
Others Expected to Play: Rishard Matthews
The one connection that Dolphins fans have been waiting to see since March has been Tannehill to Mike Wallace. Miami's biggest offseason acquisition provides a speedy, big-play threat the Dolphins haven't had in a long time.
Unfortunately for Miami, the deep ball everyone wants to see might not happen in Week 1.
Wallace will face off against Joe Haden, a very good Cleveland corner who possesses elite-level talent and is looking to take the next step this year. As fellow Dolphins writer for B/R Thomas Galicia points out, Haden took Wallace out of the game in their lone matchup last season. Wallace was limited to one catch for nine yards.
Miami's newest wide receiver will be used as more than just a deep threat though, and that's why I still see him having an alright day. Look for him to snag his first touchdown as a Dolphin (not counting the preseason) on a short route in the red zone.
Tannehill's favorite target from a year ago, Brian Hartline, should fare better against Buster Skrine. Tannehill and Hartline scorched defensive coordinator Ray Horton's Cardinals last season with Hartline collecting 253 receiving yards and his only touchdown of the year. Don't expect the same level of performance this time around, but look for Hartline to benefit from his relationship with Tannehill and finish with good numbers.
Miami's other addition at receiver, Brandon Gibson, plays a unique role. Although larger than the typical slot man, the Dolphins' slot receiver relies on good hands, sound route-running, and a potent mix of athleticism and physicality to succeed. With Dustin Keller out for the season, Miami will likely use Gibson's big frame in goal-line scenarios, like it did against Tampa in the preseason.
The fourth wide receiver, Rishard Matthews, should get the least work of the group. Don't expect much from the veteran receiver other than a catch or two and a few yards.
Final Stat Lines
Wallace: 3 receptions, 59 yards, 1 TD
Hartline: 5 receptions, 68 yards
Gibson: 3 receptions, 31 yards, 1 TD
Matthews: 1 reception, 8 yards
Projected Starter: Charles Clay
Others Expected to Play: Michael Egnew, Dion Sims
When the severity of Dustin Keller's knee injury was confirmed, one thing became clear for the Dolphins. An area that looked mightily improved suddenly became a giant question mark.
Keller's injury means relatively unproven candidates like Charles Clay, Michael Egnew and rookie Dion Sims have to step up to fill the void at tight end. Clay, the most experienced of the bunch, will start on Sunday.
Clay struggled against Tampa, catching the ball just once despite being targeted six times. However, it should be noted that Pro Football Focus (subscription required) lists Clay as having only one drop in that game, meaning the other four incompletions could be attributed to a number of factors other than Clay.
It will be interesting to see if he can succeed against Cleveland's undersized interior linebackers. The athletic tight end has the skills and potential to be an effective threat over the middle, but Clay likely won't do much on Sunday.
Egnew should figure even less into Miami's passing game. Though he improved in the offseason and had a strong camp, he still isn't quite at the level the Dolphins would like at the position. Sims, the rookie out of Michigan State, will likely be used primarily as a blocker, assuming he sees the field at all. Don't expect either player to have a catch.
Final Stat Line
Clay: 2 receptions, 16 yards
Follow Alan Hubbard (@ahubbard72) on Twitter for sporadic tweets about the Miami Dolphins.