The Miami Dolphins are only 72 hours away from revealing what kind of product they will put on the field this season against the respectable but beatable Cleveland Browns.
It’s going to be interesting to see what transpires, as the Dolphins are talented team with a great deal of questions. Let’s continue to preview Sunday’s game by breaking down three must-watch matchups.
Mike Wallace vs. Joe Haden
The two elite talents are very familiar with one another, as Mike Wallace and Joe Haden bumped heads twice a year when the former caught passes in Pittsburgh. But Haden has been a thorn in Wallace’s side as of late, holding the speedster receiver to a mere 77 yards combined during their past three matchups.
More of the same would seriously limit Miami’s offensive ability in the opener. The Dolphins want to stretch the field this season, which will open up other aspects of their attack underneath the safeties. But Haden locking down Wallace on the perimeter would put the Dolphins’ offense in the same box it was trapped in all of last season. Taking a warning shot deep downfield to Wallace in the first quarter, could force the Cleveland safeties back on their heels, though.
Ryan Tannehill to Mike Wallace should emerge as one of the league’s most dangerous quarterback/receiver tandems this season, but temper your expectations for the two in the opener. Joe Haden is that good.
Jonathan Martin vs. Jabaal Sheard
Dolphins left tackle Jonathan Martin will likely become a permanent fixture on this weekly segment if he’s unable to silence his critics early on in the season. Doing so in the opener will be no easy task, as outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard is a capable pass rusher.
Sheard is transitioning from 4-3 defensive end to stand-up outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s aggressive 3-4 scheme, however, and there is some uncertainty in how fluently he’ll make the transition. While he must drop back into coverage more as a linebacker — something he was rarely asked to do as a defensive end — his pass-rushing prowess should still be on full display. And Sheard couldn’t ask for a better matchup than Dolphins left tackle Jonathan Martin for his first game in a new system.
Martin graded out as one of the worst tackles in football last season as a rookie, and now that he’s being entrusted to protect Ryan Tannehill’s blindside, his struggles could negate many of the improvements the Dolphins made offensively during the offseason. During the preseason, though, Martin actually looked capable rather than resembling a swinging gate.
He’s probably not going to be an above average starting left tackle this season, but those “experts” who suggest Tannehill will be on his back virtually every play are blowing the situation out of proportion. The Stanford product remains a work in progress, but it’s lazy analysis to just point to Martin as the only reason why the Dolphins won’t be any good offensively this season. He’s improved from last year, and needs to prove that theory correct on Sunday against a solid pass rusher in Jabaal Sheard.
Dimitri Patterson vs. Davone Bess
The former Brown turned Dolphin, Dimitri Patterson, will be matched up against the former Dolphin turned Brown, Davone Bess, for much of Sunday’s game.
Bess is expected to start in place of the suspended Josh Gordon on the perimeter but will presumably kick inside to slot receiver when the Browns line up in three or more receiver sets, which is similar to Patterson’s role at cornerback, covering the boundary in Miami’s base defense but slipping inside to the nickel on passing downs.
That means Patterson will basically shadow Bess for the majority of the afternoon. And it should be intriguing to see which player is able to get the best of his former team.
Bess doesn’t pose much of a threat on the outside, lacking the necessary speed to separate downfield, but his quickness will be a handful for Patterson in the slot. Equivalently, Patterson could really struggle starting on the boundary for the Dolphins this season, but has had success as a nickel corner in the past.
It should be a much-watch matchup all game, as Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden will look Bess’ way often with his go-target from a year ago, Josh Gordon, out of the lineup.