In preparing for Sunday’s matchup against the Miami Dolphins, The Phinsider’s Kevin Nogle and I sat down for a small Q&A for one another’s publications.
Check out the Q&A below, and be sure to check out DraftKings Sportsbook for all your betting needs this season.
1. What are the expectations for the Dolphins this season? Did Week 1 change anything regarding said expectations?
This is a playoff team. That is what is expected of the Dolphins this year, pretty simply. I think they could compete with the Buffalo Bills for the AFC East division title for part of the year, but Buffalo is so good I think they pull away and Miami is left in Wildcard contention. After two-straight winning seasons, a change in offensive philosophy, an upgraded offensive line, and the addition of players like Tyreek Hill, Cedrick Wilson, Chase Edmonds, and Raheem Mostert, this Dolphins team should be in the postseason, and the fans are fully expecting that this year.
As for Week 1, a solid 20-7 win over the New England Patriots always feels good, but it did not feel like the team - especially the offense - was firing on all cylinders. There is more this team can and should do, but for Week 1, it was a solid performance that ended with a win. Maybe it brought expectations down a little bit with just how explosive the offense is going to be. There seems to be an idea that the offense is only going to be chucking 50-yard bombs on every play, with Hill and Jaylen Waddle using their speed to get wide open every single play. This offense is built off the play-action pass and is designed to get the ball quickly into the hands of the receivers and running backs (and maybe tight ends, but Mike Gesicki’s role is another story...). Will there be deep shots? Of course. But there will be plenty of short passes as well. That may really be the only “expectations” adjustment after Week 1.
2. Can’t talk about a team without mentioning their quarterback. What have you seen out of Tua Tagovailoa this offseason, preseason and in Week 1? What has he looked like and what should Ravens fans know coming into this game about him?
He has shown he is the most accurate quarterback to ever grace a field. In fact, I believe he is the most accurate quarterback who will ever grace a football field anywhere. Hyperbole aside, he has looked solid. I think we will see him get better throughout the year as he and the rest of the offense get used to the new scheme and as he and the receivers all get on the same page. He has looked much more confident in himself, and I think that is an important part of what was missing from his game the last couple of years. I think you should expect to see a player who is looking to get the ball out of his hand quickly and he will be effective in getting the ball to Hill and Waddle. He will still have moments where you can question the decision making, either trying to force a pass where he should not or getting lost in the pocket and taking a sack he probably should have avoided. He looks like a young quarterback finding his prime right now. Hopefully in the next few weeks some of the thinking about the new scheme becomes instinct and he is able to just start playing.
3. On Wednesday, Miami Dolphins Head Coach Mike McDaniel reportedly didn’t commit to either LT Terron Armstead or RT Austin Jackson playing against the Ravens. Then, the Dolphins sign veteran OT Brandon Shell. Could the Ravens be facing their second-straight team without their top two tackles to begin the season? How detrimental could this be to the Dolphins’ offense?
I think it is more likely that Armstead will be available but that Jackson could miss the game. That is just speculation on my part, nothing that the team has said, but that is what seems to be right. Armstead has a toe injury, but the Dolphins have been very deliberate in how they use him in practice, both in training camp and now into the season, so it seems more a matter of taking care of a veteran than his toe causing him any issues. Jackson has an ankle injury that caused him to miss most of the Patriots game and he has not really done anything this week to make it appear he will be fully ready for Sunday. Greg Little would likely start in Jackson’s place if Armstead plays. If Armstead is out, Jackson could be asked to slide in at left tackle.
If both of the tackles are out, there is a lot of shuffling of, and questions about, the offensive line. Armstead is a Pro Bowl left tackle and Jackson has looked much more sure of himself and played better this summer - and given Tagovailoa is a left-handed quarterback, Jackson is his blindside protector, so better play is slightly important there. Having them on the field solidifies the offensive line. Little played well in Jackson’s place. Robert Jones is likely the other option at the tackle spot, though the addition of Shell to the practice squad could give them a player to elevate if he is up to speed on the schemes.
4. Last season the Dolphins had a violent defensive strategy in place to defeat the Ravens with heavy blitzes on quarterback Lamar Jackson. Is that what you’re expecting to be repeated?
Absolutely. The Dolphins returned most of their defensive coaching staff and players, then added a few veterans like Melvin Ingram and Trey Flowers. I think they will absolutely bring the house against Jackson again this week, at least until he proves he can beat it reliably. The biggest fear the Dolphins should have is of Jackson running - they struggle with running quarterbacks. If they can get after Jackson while forcing him to stay in the pocket, they will have success (could that be a bigger statement of the obvious?). What I mean is, they are going to blitz, but they have to do it in a way that does not let him escape the containment. Just getting the pressure on Jackson will not be effective if they let him roll out of the pocket and find Mark Andrews hanging out in the middle of the field, or worse, let Jackson run free down the sideline. Miami worked best defensively last year when they ran an amoeba style, with five-, six-, seven-players on the line of scrimmage, with all of them able to rush or drop back into coverage. That is what I would expect to see early on Sunday.
5. Which two players (one offense, one defense) should Ravens fans be concerned about as the “X-factors” of making this game go in the Dolphins’ favor?
Is Xavien Howard too on the nose to be called an X-factor? Okay, I will not go there but X will definitely have a role in this game. I am thinking instead of an X-factor like a player who Ravens fans may not know, but will impact the game. After an impressive debut last week, for the defense I will look at cornerback Kader Kohou. An undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M-Commerce, Kohou played 18 snaps, 32 percent of the game, against New England and recorded three tackles, a tackle for a loss, a pass defensed, and a forced fumble. He just had an amazing game for a rookie, let alone an undrafted player from a Division II school. With Byron Jones still on the physically unable to perform list, the Dolphins will start Howard and Nik Needham at cornerback, but after last week’s performance, Kohou has earned additional playing time and could make some plays when he is given the opportunity.
For the offense, I have two players in mind. The first is wide receiver Cedrick Wilson, Jr., who is the forgotten acquisition on Miami’s offense this year. While all the focus is on Hill and Waddle, Wilson is going to have success for the Dolphins this year. He is going to have that possession receiver type of role and he should be able to find space underneath as Hill and Waddle push defenses back. He caught two passes for 20 yards last week; he is not going to be a receptions machine, but he is going to make important catches when they are needed. The second answer is one who should not have to be an X-factor, but should be a Pro Bowl-level player. Tight end Mike Gesicki caught one pass for one yard last week after a summer where the focus was on his blocking ability and how he fits in Mike McDaniel’s system - Gesicki is a terrific pass catcher, but he is not a blocker so he does not fit the George Kittle type of mold McDaniel prefers. I still feel like McDaniel is not a coach who is going to waste talent by forcing a player into a role he does not fit well, but after Week 1, there is not a lot of evidence to support that feeling. Gesicki could come out and be more of a focal point in the offense this week, but he could also continue to see his role minimized.
6. Are you surprised the Ravens are favored by -4 in this game? Do you think the Dolphins should be closer? Is there an argument they’re the favorite?
This is a great question because I look at a four-point margin in favor of the Ravens and think that seems right. But, when asked if it should be closer or if Miami could be the favorite, I think that could also make sense. Maybe my years of watching the Ravens blow out the Dolphins routinely has me assuming the Ravens should always be favored over Miami. Counting the two postseason meetings, this is the 18th meeting between the Dolphins and the Ravens. In the previous 17, Miami has been outscored 392-247, or 14.5 to 23.1 points per game. Before last year’s 22-10 win over Baltimore, the Dolphins had seen losses of 6-38, 0-40, and 10-59. Just ugly games for a Dolphins fan. It makes being a four-point underdog seem like a respectful spread.
That said, Miami would seem to have the offensive weapons now that can overwhelm the top defenses in the league, so maybe, yes, you could consider Miami the favorite and it would make sense. I think oddsmakers are still trying to figure out exactly who the Dolphins are in 2022 and the betting odds reflect that uncertainty.
Odd side note. Despite having played 17 times before this weekend, this will be only the sixth time the Dolphins have played the Ravens in Baltimore. Strange scheduling oddity for this game to seemingly always be in Miami.