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What to know about the Miami Dolphins ahead of Week 2 of preseason

We’re in the midst of joint practices, but let’s look ahead to Saturday.

Miami Dolphins Training Camp Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Falcons will see the Dolphins twice this year, once for joint practices and a preseason game and again for a regular season contest. Thanks to that, they’ll be the most familiar non-NFC South opponent Atlanta in 2021.

Miami should be a good football team, so this week’s practices and preseason game will prove to be a solid test for the Falcons, or at least whatever collection of Falcons hit the field on Saturday. The first day of practice was

2020 comparison

Falcons vs. Dolphins

Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Surrendered
Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Surrendered
Falcons 4-12 16 18 5 27 19 29 32 6 18 9
Dolphins 10-6 15 22 20 22 6 20 23 16 1 16

The Dolphins were a good team aided by some turnover luck and hurt by an inconsistent offense in 2020, and if the distance between the two teams’ rankings don’t seem all that significant here, maybe that gives you some hope for Atlanta in 2021. Just don’t confuse the Dolphins with a team lucky to have been good.

The difference for Miami defensively is that they consistently got off the field on third downs, having the stingiest third down conversion percentage in the league, and boasted both a stingy red zone defense and a very solid pass rush that should be better this year. The offense was helmed by both Tua and Ryan Fitzpatrick at times, DeVante Parker was the only consistent standout receiver (and he only played in 14 games) and the ground game was a solid but not spectacular committee, making the possibility of improvement readily apparent.

This isn’t a team that stood pat, as we’ll cover shortly, but if they had they’d still have had a few capable backs, a young potential franchise quarterback, a couple of gifted receivers and the promising Mike Gesicki at tight end and some unreal talent on defense with cornerback Xavien Howard leading the way. Miami has been a punchline for a long time, but that changed last year, and it’s hard to not think that they’re just getting started.

How the Dolphins have changed in 2021

The Dolphins treated this offseason like contenders typically do, by bolstering weaknesses, adding useful depth and keeping the heart of their team more or less intact. They’ll be an interesting team in the AFC East this year because of the pieces already in place and the pieces they’ve added.

Let’s start with the additions. The most eye-catching one was probably Will Fuller, the oft-injured but explosive former Texans receiver. He’s never come close to playing a full NFL season, but Fuller can be lethal and is coming off a year where he posted 53 receptions for 879 yards and 8 touchdowns in just 11 games. That’s a nice weapon for Tua as long as he can stay healthy, and an important addition for a team that will want to surround their young quarterback with as much talent as possible.

Matt Skura is another potentially major addition. A significant injury suffered later in 2019 likely contributed to an up-and-down year for him in Baltimore last season, but he’s been at least a solid starter for a while now and the Dolphins have a legitimate hole at center (more on that in a moment). If Skura’s improved it’ll help stabilize an offensive line that otherwise might be a trouble spot for Miami in 2021.

Otherwise, the Dolphins largely prioritized shoring up their running back group (where they re-signed the underrated Matt Breida and added Malcolm Brown), their defense (Justin Coleman, Kamu Grugier-Hill) and their depth and special teams. Despite being 10-6 last year, the Dolphins very evidently had plenty of room for improvement, and they set about offsetting their handful of losses and building up their overall talent level.

They prioritized talent for that so-so offense in the draft, adding gifted Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, tackle Liam Eichenberg and tight end Hunter Long in April. They snagged intriguing pass rusher Jaelen Phillips and safety Jevon Holland among their raft of early round picks, and Phillips in particular could be a problem added to a pretty solid pass rush led by Emmanuel Ogbah.

Subtractions? The Dolphins lost Kyle Van Noy and Devin Godchaux to the Patriots, subtracting a couple of useful defenders, but the most impactful loss might have been starting center Ted Karras. They also lost punter Matt Haack, who had a solid 2020, and replaced him with Michael Palardy, who has not punted in a regular season game since 2019.

Overall, I’d say the Dolphins are better on paper than they were a year ago, and they already had the benefit of a potential franchise quarterback and a very good head coach. The Bills are the favorites in the AFC East and the Patriots ought to be better again, but Miami is going to be dangerous sooner than later, and I like their chances of pushing their way into the playoffs right now.

What to know for Saturday

Arthur Smith indicated he wouldn’t exactly trot out of a bunch of starters last Friday and he was a man of his word, as we only got a glimpse of a handful of players who figure to be prominently involved in the offense and defense in 2021. If I had to bet, we’ll see more of the same against Miami, even if I expect Smith to be somewhat coy about it.

I know there’s been some spirited debate over that strategy, centering on the relative importance of live game action for players, especially if they don’t have a ton of experience with the team (which is quite a few players) or the new coaching staff (which is almost all of them). This team wants to get its most important players to the season healthy and use preseason game action to help decide who is going to be the team’s best reserve options ahead of cutdowns, as well as determine whether the competitors they have for key battles like left guard and outside linebacker are good enough. It’s going to be nerve-wracking to see Pitts, Matt Hennessy and Fabian Moreau hit the field with little-to-no preseason time, but I think we should brace for it, especially with the first team doing a good job on balance in joint practices yesterday.

The upshot is that we’re not going to see many starters against Miami, yet again. If the Dolphins aren’t of the same mind—and it’s worth noting that Tua played in the first preseason game—chances are this is going to be beyond ugly in the early going due to the talent disparity. Maybe Arthur Smith will relish the chance to see how reserves and hopefuls fare when they’re seemingly entirely outmatched—call that building character or sadism, it’s your choice—but those of us at home better settle in for an experience that doesn’t promise to be particularly enjoyable. Instead, keep an eye on those key battles, see if players like Dorian Etheridge and Ade Ogundeji can build on strong efforts and get a closer look at a Miami team we’ll be seeing again in a couple of months.