Storming the Capital: Breaking Down the Dolphins’ Season-Opener Against the Washington Redskins
In 1972, the Miami Dolphins were on the verge of becoming the first ever team in NFL history to go undefeated. Their opponent in Super Bowl VII? The Washington Redskins. The Dolphins and Redskins have both since diverged from their paths of greatness, neither team able to gain the footing they had in past decades. These two franchises almost feel drawn together; whether it is through Super Bowl VII in 1972, or the constant comparison of Tannehill and his fellow 2012 draftee Robert Griffin, these two completely separate teams feel pulled together by history. This season, they are once again drawn together, as the Dolphins open up the 50th chapter in the team’s history.
While the Washington Redskins are embroiled in countless scandals, between a racial fueled team-name controversy or a quarterback forming a strange (dysfunctional) dynamic with his team’s owner, the Miami Dolphins are trending up. The team has signed Ndamukong Suh, inked Ryan Tannehill to a long-term deal, and is in their fourth year under Joe Philbin. The Dolphins are finally becoming a stable team, and it appears that history could be ready to finally separate these two franchises. Miami only meets the Redskins every four seasons, so these matchups go a long way. Will Miami continue to widen the gap in one of their most historic rivalries, or can Washington make a statement and show the league that they haven’t given up just yet on the 2015 season?
Key Individual Matchups:
Brent Grimes vs. Desean Jackson:
This will be a pivotal matchup for the Dolphins. The only true strength of the Washington Redskins lies in their receiving corps, with Desean Jackson and Pierre Garcon at the top of the depth chart. Jackson is one of the league’s most electric players, and Brent Grimes is one of the league’s most athletic cornerbacks.
We have been threatened with the decline of Brent Grimes for years, and it will be very clear when he goes up against Jackson if this is the year that we see a serious drop-off. Grimes plays based on his agility and quickness, so if he can manage to continue making plays against a deep threat like Desean Jackson, then we can all be fairly certain that we have another year in which Grimes fends off father time to remain in the upper echelon of NFL corners.
Mike Pouncey vs. Terrance Knighton:
Last season the Miami Dolphins struggled to run the ball up the middle. Yes, Mike Pouncey was playing out of position and career-backup Samson Satele was at center, but it was still disheartening to see the team fail in that area. In 2015, the Dolphins will look to fortify their ground game, and that will fall on Pouncey’s ability to block Terrance Knighton, Washington’s newest defensive lineman.
Pouncey will get help, as the Washington defensive line is not filled with stars, but Knighton is still one of the league’s premiere run-stoppers. He spent years in Denver clogging up the middle, and could provide an issue for the Dolphins if they try to run the ball frequently. If Pouncey can hold off Knighton, then Miami’s air-attack will open up through their productivity on the ground. If both phases of the offense can get started early, Miami will force Washington to throw the football in order to keep pace with them in terms of scoring. If they can have Kirk Cousins passing the ball heavily by the second quarter, the turnovers will start to pile up and Miami will have a better chance at comfortably sailing over the Redskins.
Brandon Scherff vs. Ndamukong Suh:
This is the reverse of the last matchup that Miami needs to focus on. Scherff was a top-10 pick in the draft this past May, and was considered a dynamic hybrid lineman coming out of Iowa State. Unfortunately for Scherff, his first game comes against the best defensive tackle in the NFL. Suh’s job isn’t just to win against Scherff, because we already know that he will. His job is to break Scherff’s confidence early. When a young rookie gets beat like a drum every play in the first quarter of his NFL debut, he will end up rattled. If the Miami Dolphins can successfully rattle Scherff, then Suh will be able to generate enough pass rush to help pile up turnovers from Washington as Kirk Cousins forces the ball downfield.
Matchups are like a puzzle, and if Miami can put together the passing game, Pouncey opening up the ground, and Suh disrupting Cousins as he attempts to rally his team from a potential early deficit, the Dolphins could end up on the winning end of a very decisive game.
Washington By Numbers:
The wildcard for this game is going to be Kirk Cousins. Miami knows that they will be able to smother Washington’s running game, forcing them to go away their strength and push the ball downfield through the air. Washington also has to assume that Cousins will be under plenty of pressure, which is an area that he struggled in last season in his limited starts.
Cousins completed just 44% of his passes when pressured last season, with three interceptions and just two touchdowns. Almost 25% of his drop backs were pressured a number that will certainly go up against Miami (statistics via Pro Football Focus). Cousins is known to be a playmaker, but struggles with pass rush in his face.
Miami will have to make sure that Tannehill stays upright in this game, which should not be a huge issue against Washington. They finished as the 11th worst team last season at getting to the quarterback. When calculating the points that were contributed to for the opposition by the defense, Washington finished as the fourth worst team in the league, contributing to over 100 points of opposing offense (via Pro Football Reference).
When examining Washington statistically, it seems that their poor defense and struggles on the offensive line could not only lead to a long afternoon against Miami, but also a long season in 2015.
What Miami Needs to Do to Win:
The first quarter of this game will be crucial. If the Dolphins can jump out to an early lead, it’s game over. The Washington Redskins’ only chance at victory is controlling the clock, and they won’t have the luxury of running the ball repeatedly if they’re down by multiple scores halfway through the second quarter. If the Redskins can control clock and pick up first downs by riding Alfred Morris, they will have a shot. If the Miami Dolphins can control the tempo of the game and use the run to set up the pass, they will be in good shape. Washington does not have a dynamic defense, so Miami’s job will be to establish themselves in both phases of the offensive game in order to jump out to an early lead and prevent the Redskins from chewing clock with Alfred Morris. Kirk Cousins struggles mightily under pressure, so Miami’s goal will be to not only force him to pass, but also to bring serious heat in the pocket. If they can force Kirk Cousins to sling it, he will turn the ball over, and if he turns the ball over the Miami Dolphins will most likely be able to win their first game of 2015.
This first game of the 2015 is imperative for Miami. Following an offseason that resulted in more buildup for the season opener than any in recent memory, the Dolphins have to show that the hype was justified. If the team goes out and lays an egg against Washington, a reasonably easy opponent, all of that buildup will be gone, and the attitude will return to “same old Dolphins.”
Now, we have laid out what Miami has to do in order to prevent a crushing loss. The team will be prepared for Sunday’s game, as will the fans. Everybody is ready for the return of football, and it seems fitting that the Miami Dolphins’ first game of 2015 will feature the team against which they captured their greatest historical conquest. I feel that the result will be the same as when Miami played Washington to close out that historic season, and that the Dolphins will return from their season opener prepared to live up to the expectations heading into a pivotal season.
Final Prediction: 27-17 Miami