Dolphins vs. Redskins: What's the Game Plan for Miami?

Thomas Galicia@thomasgaliciaFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 12, 2015

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) looks to pass during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

The Miami Dolphins go into their Week 1 contest at Washington favored by three (per Odds Shark) for a good reason: On paper, they should be a better team. 

The Dolphins offense is much more explosive and talented than Washington's at the skill positions, while their defensive front is the type meant to disrupt the conservative game plan likely to be used by Washington. 

What will Miami's game plan be on Sunday? Here's a look. 

Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

Offensive Game plan

Miami revamped its wide receivers in the offseason, jettisoning Brian Hartline, Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson in favor of Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings and DeVante Parker. 

In that same manner, Washington revamped much of its defense, a unit that ranked 29th in points allowed and 20th in yards allowed. 

Washington is hoping that its new-look defense can help carry an offense that looks weak, but it will be difficult as it is pretty weak up front. 

The team's only proven edge-rusher is Ryan Kerrigan, who missed the entire preseason after having a knee operation in June, per Mike Jones of the Washington Post. Kerrigan primarily plays on the left side of the defense (the right side of the offense) so he'll be matched up against right tackle Ja'Wuan James for most of the game. 

If James can seal Kerrigan off, the pocket should remain clean for Ryan Tannehill, allowing him to use the short-passing game of offensive coordinator Bill Lazor to set up Lamar Miller and Miami's run game. Washington did finish 24th against the pass in 2014, but with the acquisition of free safety Dashon Goldson and cornerback Chris Culliver they should be improved. 

Despite these improvements in the back, Miami has the type of offense that negates a strong secondary. Washington's lack of a pass rush only exacerbates things, thus giving Miami an edge. 

Expect some big plays as well, especially with Kenny Stills getting the start over Rishard Matthews, per Chris Perkins of the Sun-Sentinel. The cleaner Miami's offensive line can keep the pocket, the more likely you'll see something develop. 

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - AUGUST 29:  Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons is sacked by Cameron Wake #91 and Ndamukong Suh #93 of the Miami Dolphins during a preseason game  at Sun Life Stadium on August 29, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrman
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Defensive Game plan

The advantage here belongs to Miami, but it's not as close as it appears. 

When Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins drops back to pass, he should have a lot of pressure around him with the Dolphins not having to blitz. That doesn't always equate to a sack, turnover or incomplete pass, as sometimes the ball winds up in the hands of his teammates. 

That's where it will get scary. Miami's linebackers might be the true weak link on the team, capable of dragging what should be an elite defense down to average. If the ball is in the hands of running back Alfred Morris or wide receiver DeSean Jackson after a pass, there could be problems with Washington gaining chunks of yardage at a time. 

The best way to do that is to continue getting pressure on Cousins. You won't get a lot of coverage sacks, so they will have to be swift. 

Washington will try to run the ball more, and the majority of the time Miami should win that battle. Making Washington a one-dimensional team is the goal, and to do that, the Dolphins must stop Morris on handoffs out of the backfield. 

The good news for Miami on both ends is the fact that Washington's right side of Morgan Moses and Brandon Scherff are low on experience, yet they will have to contend with Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh respectively. 

Bob Leverone/Associated Press

Key Players and Matchups

Lamar Miller is the first key player for Miami. For Miami's offense to really click he'll have to get at least 20 touches, whether that's running the ball or as a receiver out of the backfield. Miller looked tremendous during the preseason and is coming off of a breakout year.

With an offensive line ahead of him that left tackle Branden Albert assures us will "surprise some people," per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, he should at least run to his average yards per carry. 

Someone else Miami should give us a lot of is tight end Jordan Cameron. Cameron was barely used during the preseason, but he spent most of training camp developing a rapport with quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The short-passing game will be critical to Miami's success against Washington, and Cameron should be called upon when in the red zone. 

Ron Schwane/Associated Press

Miami has to contend with Alfred Morris, who remains Washington's bell cow back. Morris ran for 1,074 yards in 2014 on 265 attempts, averaging 4.1 yards per carry and 16.6 carries per game. Look for Washington to attempt to get him at least 20 carries on Sunday, especially with Kirk Cousins at quarterback. 

Washington's left tackle Trent Williams is one of the best left tackles in the game. Despite the inexperience on the right side facing off against Suh and Wake, Williams still makes Washington's offensive line a pretty good one. He'll be tasked with taking on Olivier Vernon, who will have to show he can consistently beat players of Williams' caliber this season in order to get himself the big contract many are projecting him to command. 

In the end, it all comes down to the arm of Ryan Tannehill, and while the offensive line is still shaky and brimming with questions, his matchup against a rather mediocre pass rush should allow him to flourish. 

Prediction

In the end, the difference in talent and coaching will be too much for Washington to overcome on Sunday. The team really doesn't have many of the advantages teams that beat the Dolphins tend to have, and the one way they could exploit a big weakness for Miami is negated by a quarterback that will have difficulties finding those mismatches. 

On offense, the Dolphins have just about every advantage over the Washington defense except between the secondary and wide receivers; and that's a push at best. 

Because of those factors, Miami will come away from our nation's capital at 1-0 thanks to a 27-10 victory, then head into a much tougher matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 2. 

Statistics provided by pro-football-reference.com. 

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