The Jets will open up MetLife Stadium (in green and white) for their regular season home opener as the division rival Dolphins (1-0) make their way to the Meadowlands. Going into the game, I asked Kevin Nogle from The Phinsider a few questions on Miami.
1) What is the long-term state of the Dolphins franchise? Is time running out for them to make a playoff run, or are they well positioned to keep progressing in a positive direction?
I think they are in an interesting place. They are set up well on the offensive side of the ball to continue to grow. Young, talented players like Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, and Jay Ajayi will provide the core of their side of the ball for years to come (assuming contract issues do not pop up), but the defense is starting to get older, with Cameron Wake (35), the biggest example of that. Ryan Tannehill's development in the second year of his tenure under Adam Gase may be the biggest deciding factor in where the team is headed - and unfortunately that second year will not happen until 2018 now.
2) How has the Jay Cutler experiment gone? How has he and the team adapted, and is he an upgrade over Ryan Tannehill?
I think there are going to be a lot of people who look at Cutler and think that he is an upgrade over Tannehill, but I think that is being unfair to the injured quarterback. Tannehill looked like he was ready to take ownership of the offense this offseason, something Cutler is going to be able to do - which is also his second year under Gase. I think you will probably see a pretty good year from Cutler - with some of the normal interceptions popping up throughout the season - and I am excited about what he can bring to the offense. That is not to say Tannehill's job is in jeopardy or that Tannehill would not be able to do similar things if he were healthy this year. That was a really roundabout way to say that Cutler has looked good in the one full game we have seen him, he is getting into a rhythm with the offense, and that I still think Tannehill would be able to have similar success with the offense.
3) Where are the Dolphins' primary strengths and weaknesses? Is there any area they might be exploited by the Jets in particular?
The Dolphins offensive strength is probably their multiple skill position players who can make plays, something that seems odd to say about the Dolphins. Landry, Parker, and Stills all perfectly compliment each other, while Ajayi really does look like a "feature" back. The defensive strength is going to be the pass rush, specifically Wake and Ndamukong Suh. Suh played really well last week against the Los Angeles Chargers, eating up the middle of the offensive line, and repeatedly pushing linemen back into Philip Rivers' face. Add compliments like Andre Branch, Charles Harris, and William Hayes, and the defensive live should be fairly strong throughout the year for the Dolphins.
The weaknesses can definitely be exploited, however. On offense, get interior pass rush. The biggest question mark is at the left guard spot, so put pressure there, and isolate the position. If you can push in there, it is going to force Miami to either add another tight end, or they are going to be running away from that side of the line all day. On defense, the linebackers are probably the biggest question mark, as the Dolphins are extremely thin at the position - especially with the disappearance and then suspension of Lawrence Timmons. Run defense was the biggest concern from last year and, while they looked good against the Chargers last week, it is not a sure thing that they can stop the run yet.
The secondary can also be attacked. They played really soft coverage last week, and if they do that again, crossing routes and slants will be your best friend.
4) Who is an unheralded player that is essential to Miami's success?
He has a recognizable name, but it is probably Kiko Alonso. With the question marks that circle the linebacker position, he is the one steady player who can make sure the younger guys filling in at the position - like undrafted rookie Chase Allen who will likely start again in place of Timmons - are in the right spots and making the right plays. After he burst on the scene with the Buffalo Bills, injuries and disappointment in Philadelphia have been the story of Alonso. Last year, however, with the Dolphins, he looked really good, and he is going to have to be good again if the Dolphins are going to have success this year.
5) Simply put: Are the Miami Dolphins a playoff team?
Maybe? If they continue to grow around Cutler, then they should be in the running. I do not think they are a deep-playoff team yet, but they should be challenging for a wildcard position as the season continues. There are concerns, and before Tannehill's injury, I would have said they could be a better team with a worse record this year as they continue to grow. Now, the same holds true, so even if they finish 8-8 or 9-7, I think the season was a success.