The Miami Dolphins captured their first victory in a season opener since the team beat the Buffalo Bills 15-10 in Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 12, 2010. That year, the Dolphins traveled for a second straight week to Minnesota in Week 2, where they beat the Vikings 14-10.
The question on every Dolphins fan's mind is whether the team can begin to lay claim to true "road dog" status by traveling for a second straight week to open the season and beating the Indianapolis Colts in their own house.
The Colts, winners of 10 of their last 13 games under the direction of quarterback Andrew Luck, will certainly not make the task easy.
AFC East Standings
|New England Patriots||1-0-0 (1.000)||1-0-0 (1.000)||23||21|
|Miami Dolphins||1-0-0 (1.000)||0-0-0 (--)||23||10|
|New York Jets||1-0-0 (1.000)||0-0-0 (--)||18||17|
|Buffalo Bills||0-1-0 (0.000)||0-1-0 (0.000)||21||23|
Not many would have predicted a three-way tie at the top of the division after Week 1. Most pundits picked the Cleveland Browns to beat the Miami Dolphins at home and similarly picked the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to beat the New York Jets.
For now, the New England Patriots hold the early tiebreaker over the Jets and Dolphins because they played and beat a division foe during their season opener.
According to the official Miami Dolphins NFL injury report, the Dolphins sat rookie corners Will Davis (toe) and Jamar Taylor (groin) during the game against the Cleveland Browns. They were also forced to make do without an emergency quarterback because Pat Devlin sat out with an ankle injury. Corner Dimitri Patterson (ankle) entered the game listed as questionable but started despite the injury.
The game brought with it a new set of injuries, though none seem overly significant.
Corner Nolan Carroll left the football game during the Cleveland Browns' final drive after being shaken up on a play. However, he returned quickly and did not look worse for the wear.
The injury to keep an eye on would be that of corner Dimitri Patterson. Patterson started the game but could not finish it. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Patterson played only 44 of 81 snaps in the game, whereas fellow starting corner Brent Grimes played all 81 snaps.
If this sounds familiar, it is because Patterson did the same thing during the 2012 season in his second game as a Miami Dolphin. After claiming Patterson off waivers from the Cleveland Browns, the Dolphins played him on all 73 of the team's snaps against the Buffalo Bills in Week 16. However, he only made it through 21 of the defense's 80 snaps the following week against the New England Patriots.
On the other hand, Patterson told James Walker of ESPN that his sitting out the game was just "a precaution."
#Dolphins CB Dimitri Patterson (groin) told me that he was taken out as a precaution. He seems confident for Week 2 vs. Indy.— James Walker (@JamesWalkerNFL) September 8, 2013
This explanation seems difficult to swallow. The Dolphins did not seize control of the football game against the Cleveland Browns until approximately 64 plays into the game, defensively. That was when the Dolphins defense held the Browns on 4th-and-2 from Cleveland's own 33-yard line, producing a turnover on downs.
Given that Patterson played only 44 snaps during the game, that would imply that he sat out around 20 plays during which the game could still have broken in either direction. I do not believe that would have happened simply on a precautionary basis. Patterson is already fighting an ankle injury that put his Week 1 availability in jeopardy. This new issue with his groin is worth monitoring.
What Must Improve
The Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns oddly mirrored one another during their Week 1 matchup. Neither team could run the football particularly well. Both quarterbacks continually suffered the wrath of the opposing side's pass-rush. Special teams were at a stalemate, for the most part.
The big difference that broke the ballgame in Miami's favor was the disparity between the teams' ball skills.
On defense, the Miami Dolphins got their hands on a number of balls that were tipped up by a toothless Cleveland Browns receivers unit. Corner Dimitri Patterson had his hand on three potential interceptions and came down with two of them. Corner Nolan Carroll came down with his lone opportunity for an interception. Strong safety Reshad Jones came up empty-handed on his lone opportunity.
Overall, capitalizing on three out of five opportunities to intercept the football is very good for a secondary.
The Cleveland Browns could not match that. Browns linebacker Craig Robertson, safety T.J. Ward and corner Joe Haden all had their hands on errant footballs thrown by Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill during the outing. The Browns could not capitalize on a single one of them.
The Browns receivers also consistently failed to show ball skills. Travis Benjamin dropped a ball that was nearly scooped up by strong safety Reshad Jones. He failed to fight physically with Dolphins corner Nolan Carroll on a deep ball, allowing Carroll to come down with the ball uncontested. Receiver Greg Little popped up a ball that was intercepted. Tight end Jordan Cameron did the same.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins receivers showed that they were a consistent strength for the team. Aside from an odd drop from Brandon Gibson at the beginning of the game and Mike Wallace late in the game, the receivers generally got open and produced.
The Miami Dolphins will not beat the Indianapolis Colts if they play the way they played against the Cleveland Browns.
Colts defensive backs Greg Toler and Antoine Bethea produced interceptions of their own against the Oakland Raiders this past Sunday. Toler in particular successfully intercepted as a reserve player for the Cardinals a year ago. Corner Darius Butler had four interceptions with the Colts a year ago. Miami Dolphins fans are familiar with Colts corner Vontae Davis' ability to come down with the football in man coverage.
There is as much reason to believe the Colts secondary players are capable of capitalizing on interception opportunities as there is that the Dolphins are capable of doing the same.
On the other side of the football, the Colts have no shortage of receiving weapons to throw at the Miami Dolphins defense. Between wide receivers Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton, tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, and reserve tailback Ahmad Bradshaw, the Colts have pass-catching weapons that can help them sustain offense throughout the game.
The Dolphins will not have a significant advantage in that area.
In order to produce the better results needed for victory this Sunday, the Dolphins' offensive line will have to improve significantly. They cannot afford to allow the same amount of pressure on Ryan Tannehill against the Indianapolis Colts as they did against the Cleveland Browns. They cannot afford to average a paltry 0.9 yards per carry on the ground.
In short, while the Dolphins could afford to mirror the Cleveland Browns and still win the game with a superior roster, the team cannot afford to do the same with the Indianapolis Colts.
In order to beat the Colts, the Dolphins have to differentiate themselves and show a wider range of ways in which they can beat opponents.