The Dolphins (8-7) visit New England (7-8) at Gillette Stadium at 1 p.m. Sunday trying to end their four-game losing streak and take another step toward their first playoff berth since the 2016 season. Here are a few things to watch for:
This is where coach Mike McDaniel’s offensive creativity must re-emerge. Opponents have figured out ways to limit the Dolphins offense whether it’s been San Francisco, the Los Angeles Chargers, Buffalo or Green Bay. McDaniel must make a counter move, and so far we haven’t seen any.
The Dolphins could start by involving tight end Mike Gesicki in the passing game or utilizing the run more often. In the passing game, wide receivers Tyreek Hill (franchise-record 113 receptions) and Jaylen Waddle (67 receptions) are the offensive leaders by a wide margin. Next on the list is wide receiver Trent Sherfield (28) and Gesicki (26). As for the running game, the Dolphins are last in the league in rushing attempts (331). This offense must diversify.
Bill Belichick taking away something offensively
Along the lines of the Dolphins offense becoming more diverse, there’s the pressure of responding to whatever New England’s Belichick takes away, as is his years-long trend. If Belichick decides to focus on taking away Hill (good luck on that), the Dolphins are in big, big trouble. If Belichick decides to focus solely on Hill and Waddle, allowing the Dolphins to run the ball or pass to other players, which would be a good defensive strategy, the Dolphins offense faces a huge challenge.
Belichick will have something up his sleeve. Perhaps he takes away the middle of the field in the Dolphins passing game, perhaps he jams Hill and Waddle at the line of scrimmage to throw off the timing of the passing game. The Dolphins offense absolutely must have an answer to whatever Belichick attempts.
Dolphins’ gut check
Like it or not, we’re seeing the substance of this team. And a four-game losing streak and a winless December make people start using the term “choke,” as in the Dolphins can’t take the pressure. There’s no other explanation. The Dolphins definitely should have beaten Green Bay, a losing team that came into their house in a crucial December game. And they needed to win one of those games on that three-game road trip against San Francisco, the Chargers and Buffalo. Now they find themselves in the tough position of needing to win a road game.
And, by the way, the Dolphins are 3-5 on the road this season and will likely be starting backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Yes, these final two games will test the substance of this Dolphins team and if the answers are undesirable, heads could roll in the offseason. At this point it doesn’t appear such changes would start at the top with general manager Chris Grier or McDaniel, but heads could roll.
Dolphins’ QB performance
Forget statistics such as touchdowns, interceptions and passer rating. The backup quarterback who starts at New England, whether it’s Bridgewater or rookie Skylar Thompson, must keep this game close into the fourth quarter. That’s it.
Yeah, it’d be nice if the starting quarterback throws for 300 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. But that’s unlikely. Keep the game close, don’t make silly errors, and get the ball in the hands of the playmakers. Those are the things the Dolphins seek from their starting quarterback this week. Do your part, don’t try to do too much.
Dolphins ‘star’ players
This is a player’s league, first and foremost. It’s always been that way, it’ll always be that way. Having said that, let’s see what receivers Hill and Waddle can do to lead the Dolphins to victory. And let’s not forget the other “star” players — left tackle Terron Armstead, cornerback Xavien Howard, pass-rushing linebackers Bradley Chubb, Jaelan Phillips and Melvin Ingram, linebacker Elandon Roberts, defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, safety Jevon Holland.
These are the best players on the team and the guys who must make plays to get this Miami to the playoffs. No, quarterbacks Bridgewater and Thompson aren’t mentioned here. They’re essential, of course. But these other guys are the top playmakers, the ones who really make the team go. Let’s see what they’ve got.