1. I think we have to start off talking about the elephant in the room. Now that Tua Tagovailoa has been ruled out, how confident are you in Jacoby Brissett after watching him play for about three quarters last week? What does Brissett bring to the offense that Tua doesn’t, and vice versa, what will the Dolphins be missing without their starting quarterback?
I think Brissett is a solid backup quarterback. I know he would bristle at that description, having told the media after last week’s game, “I don’t refer to myself as a backup quarterback,” but that is his role on this team.
Solid really is probably the best way I can describe him right now. I do not expect him to come out and light the world on fire - we would have seen that in New England or Indianapolis - but I think he knows the system and will be able to execute. Maybe I am a little jaded here after Fitzmagic was always available last year, and I do not expect the same from Brissett, but I do expect him to be solid and protect the ball.
He obviously brings more experience to the game than Tagovailoa does, which might help get the team into a better situation pre-snap. He worked well with the second team this summer, and hopefully some of that chemistry can help him as he works to build reps with players like DeVante Parker, Jaylen Waddle, Will Fuller, and Mike Gesicki.
I do think there is one thing that has not been mentioned - and maybe it is not as big a deal as we think, but I think it could have some impact - is Brissett is a right-handed quarterback. Obviously, Tagovailoa is a lefty. The ball is going to rotate the wrong way after the top receivers spent all summer working with Tagovailoa. Hopefully practice this week took out any issues there.
2. Since we just talked about Tua and his injuries, I feel like the next natural topic is to talk about the Dolphins’ offensive line. New defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has blitzed like maybe five times in two games, so is it blitzes that are giving the Dolphins’ linemen trouble, or are they just not winning one-on-one blocks? Or both? Should Raider fans expect to see a new group upfront from Miami this week?
I wish I could tell you something profound about the offensive line, but it was just bad on Sunday. Free rushers all over the place, blitzes not picked up, one-on-one battles lost.
It was just bad. So very, very bad.
I would not be surprised to see the entire offensive line shaken up. We have already heard they may be looking to put Liam Eichenberg in at left guard, replacing Solomon Kindley, but I do not think that was the issue.
Miami’s tackles were just overmatched on Sunday. Jesse Davis is a solid do-everything type of offensive lineman, but having him as a blind-side protector for Tagovailoa is probably pushing a little too much. Austin Jackson at left tackle is young and still developing. He showed he needs more time to continue to grow.
I think part of it was communication and not adjusting the protections properly, but part of it was just execution and being outplayed. I would expect the Raiders to come out blitzing, even though it is probably not their strength, just to see what adjustments the Dolphins have made or immediately put doubt into the heads of the line and Brissett.
3. Moving on to the skill positions, Miami has an impressive receiving core with Jaylen Waddle and DeVante Parker as the headliners. Can you give me a matchup on the perimeter that you think favors Miami, and then one that favors Las Vegas? Outside of the two guys I mentioned, is there someone that Raider fans should be wary of on Sunday?
This will be an interesting game for the Dolphins receiving group, basically, because they should have the entire group (minus maybe Jakeem Grant who has an ankle injury) for the first time this year.
Will Fuller was suspended for Week 1 and then had a personal matter take him away from the team for Week 2. He is back and practicing, so the assumption is he will be on the field on Sunday. How do the Dolphins adjust their receivers to add him in?
Trayvon Millen is big enough to match up with Parker, so the jump ball that Parker does so well (aside from an end zone drop last week) may not be there this week.
Miami is going to look to beat you with speed. Parker, at 4.45 seconds for the 40-yard dash, is the slowest of the group. Fuller ran a 4.32. Waddle, who did not run the 40 this year because of an ankle injury, ran a 4.37 in high school and has been compared to Henry Ruggs’ speed, which would put him in the 4.2 range. Albert Wilson ran a 4.43 but plays so much faster than that.
If Grant is out there, he ran a 4.38. Miami is built to attack you with speed all over the field.
Mike Gesicki is the wildcard here. He was basically a non-participant in the Dolphins’ Week 1 game, then was targeted six times, with three catches for 41 yards last week. He is fairly fast for a tight end, running a 4.54, and he is someone who is expected to be in the upper echelons of tight ends around the league this year.
We just have to see if the Dolphins use him, or will they be so concerned with the offensive line that they use tight ends as additional blockers, giving up a potential seam-threat option in order to ensure Brissett has time to throw?
4. Pivoting to Miami’s defense and specifically their secondary, collectively, what would you say their biggest strength is, and on the other side of things, where have teams been able to have success throwing the ball on this secondary?
Stay away from Xavien Howard. The guy is simply a ball hawk and will force a turnover. It is not much easier on the other side as Byron Jones may not get the pick, but he sticks to his player like glue and shuts down that target as well.
Miami has 24 straight games with a takeaway, the longest streak in the NFL, and a large part of that is the secondary’s ball-hawking. They are able to close quickly and steal the ball away from receivers. The good thing is, the Raiders do not have a threat from the tight end position that will kill the Dolphins. Right? Right....?
Okay, I still have nightmares about Darren Waller last year with his five receptions for 112 yards. Eric Rowe is actually a good tight-end coverage safety for the most part, but Waller ate him up last year. We also saw his play-time drop in Week 2, going from 65 snaps in the opening week to 26 snaps last weekend. I am not sure why that happened, but I would expect him to see the field more this week, primarily trying to slow down Waller.
5. Moving up a level, let’s talk about the Dolphins’ linebackers. I’ll be honest, this is a position group where I only recognize a few names like Jerome Baker, Andrew Van Ginkel and Jaelan Phillips, so enlighten me, what should the Raiders expect from this crew? Is this a potential weakness for Miami?
It is, but maybe not as bad as we expected.
I hate to say that because guys like Baker, Van Ginkel, Phillips, Elandon Roberts, and Sam Eguavoen are really talented, but for some reason, they do not seem to come together all the time.
The Dolphins have not broken out the amoeba defenses that we saw have so much success last year, and they are not pressuring the quarterback very well yet. They are built as a 3-4, but it almost feels like they are relying on the three defensive linemen more than they are the linebackers to try to create pressure.
Van Ginkel and Phillips should be outstanding pass rushers, but they are not getting there yet. Baker is a master at the blitz, but they have been using him in coverage much more than sending him after the quarterback. He is a good coverage linebacker, do not get me wrong, but it just feels like something is missing from his game right now.
Roberts should be a run-stuffer, and he has been solid this year, but nothing spectacular yet. And Eguavoen all-but disappeared last week.
Hopefully, last week’s wake-up call includes the coaches getting the linebackers energized and putting them in a position to succeed.
6. Phillips is from SoCal and the Raiders have a strong fanbase in Los Angeles, so I’m sure a lot of Raider fans would love to know how he’s been doing. Can you weigh in on him and give an update on how he’s been doing so far?
He is a rookie who still needs to adjust to the speed of the game. He has 40 snaps over the two weeks thus far, and he has three assists on tackles. You can see the potential, but it is just that right now - potential. He explained it this week, speaking to the media on Wednesday:
“Regarding the snaps, I can only control two things and that’s my attitude and my effort. When I get out there, regardless of how many snaps I play, I’ve felt that I’m still kind of settling in. I don’t think I’m completely comfortable yet. I’m definitely working on being able to let loose and have fun. At the end of the day, I think that’s the most important thing – when you’re talking about success, being able to free flow and let loose. I’m just grateful for the plays that I’ve been able to play – the couple of half tackles and stuff that I was able to make. It’s definitely good to get my feet wet.”
He missed time this summer with an injury, and that did not help his growth into an NFL player. “Like I said, I’m starting to get settled,” Phillips said when asked if he was behind because of the missed training camp time. “I think at first, definitely from a conditioning standpoint. I hadn’t played football in almost a year. It definitely took me a second to kind of get back into things, but I feel like I’m starting to get there, for sure.”
The Dolphins also are looking to use him as a stand-up linebacker more than a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end. He can play both roles, and I do not think it has hurt his ability to get after the quarterback, but I think there is also some level of needing to think and not just react and play right now.
He has been asked to do some coverage responsibilities and the normal linebacker requirements, so it is not instinctual for him yet. He will get better, but he is not jumping off the screen right now.