The New England Patriots host the Miami Dolphins this Sunday, so I spoke with Kevin Nogle of our Dolphins site The Phinsider to get the inside scoop.
1. Looking at the Dolphins injury report, there are some important names on the list. Who do you think will play and who will sit?
Center Mike Pouncey and defensive end Mario Williams are both likely out of this game, Pouncey with a small fracture in his hip and Williams with a concussion. DeVante Parker is a question mark, as Jelani Jenkins may be as well.
Everyone else I would expect to see play. My guess is Arian Foster's hamstring issue that kept him out of practice on Wednesday was more of a precautionary thing for a veteran player rather than anything that really threatened this week. Jordan Cameron, Xavien Howard, Spencer Paysinger, and Jordan Phillips will likely all be in the game.
2. Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso were big additions this offseason. How have they impacted the Dolphins defense?
Impact wise, they have been good additions to the team. Maxwell locked down a starting cornerback position from day one, and Alonso took the middle linebacker spot. Neither has been a dominant player who is going to make the Pro Bowl, but they have both been exactly what the Dolphins needed to start rebuilding two position groups that struggled/got old last year.
My guess is, until rookie Xavien Howard and second-year corners Bobby McCain and Tony Lippett prove themselves, we will see opponents target them more than Maxwell, which will make the veteran look better on paper than maybe he would if quarterbacks looked his way more often.
That said, I think both Maxwell and Alonso will be fine this year and, potentially, play their way into staying with the team next year as the team looks to continue to develop younger players behind them.
3. Outside of Jarvis Landry, who are the biggest threats in the Dolphins offense?
I'll let you know as soon as we find them.
Seriously though, this has been one of the biggest debates over the past few weeks, especially with Parker injured again. Foster is obviously a weapon out of the backfield, but he is older and has an injury history that Miami is trying to prevent from continuing.
Rookie Leonte Carroo saw the start and increased playing time last week with Parker out of the game, but he is a rookie and is not quite ready to be a breakout weapon yet.
Kenny Stills could have been the easy answer to this question if he had managed to catch the 70-year touchdown pass that hit him in the hands - twice - with no one anywhere near him.
Jordan Cameron has had a drops issue all summer, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill just seems to have no trust in him.
Tannehill may actually be the best answer to this question, based on the fact that Adam Gase's offense seems to be more open to allowing Tannehill to use his legs and pick up yards on the ground, compared to last year's Bill Lazor offense. The offense has a lot of really good potential. Now, it needs someone to step up and take some of the pressure off of Landry.
4. It appears Mike Pouncey won't be playing, but where is the strength of the Miami offensive line?
The tackles are clearly the strength with Branden Albert at left tackle and Ja'Wuan James at right tackle, while the interior includes a rookie left tackle at left guard (Laremy Tunsil), a third-year guard playing center (Anthony Steen), and a tenth-year left tackle playing right guard (Jermon Bushrod).
Yet, somehow, it all seems to be working. They are not dominating, and they are probably better as a unit in pass blocking than they are at run blocking right now, but it is a lot better than what we have seen in the past for the Miami offensive line, and it should only get better as they get more playing time, and whenever Pouncey can return.
Tunsil will make some rookie mistakes, but he seems to be adjusting well to both the speed of the game and to the guard position. Steen has been surprisingly good at center. Bushrod is playing like a veteran and really has not appeared to have any major issues thus far.
Depth behind the starting five may be an issue, and if someone goes down you are going to see a lot of shuffling, but overall, the line has been okay, and that is what Miami needs at this point. Tannehill took too many hits last week, but it definitely seemed to be an improvement after one week as compared to last year.
5. How has Adam Gase changed the Miami culture thus far in his tenure?
Every time a team gets a new coach - not that you would know given Belichick's tenure, and we have plenty of experience with it since Shula - there is all this hope and belief that things are different this time. That happened again when Miami hired Gase, but, as we get into the season, it seems like, for the first time, there really is a change happening. It is hard to put a finger on and define exactly, but Gase seems like a head coach already - not an offensive coordinator trying to figure out how to be a head coach.
I think he has some learning to do still, like in time out use and things like that, but he has a swagger that Joe Philbin did not have. Jay Ajayi was left home last week as a healthy coach's decision seemingly because he did something to complain about not being the starting running back. That is not something any of the rookie head coaches Miami has had recently likely would have done. He also has openly talked about how his number one job is to support Ryan Tannehill, something Philbin did not do. He has called out the reporters (jokingly, but still doing it) about how negative they can be. It's nice to see a coach who appears to have "it" from day one, instead of trying to develop whatever "it" is.
The team has a lot to learn still, especially when it comes to how to put a game away and how to win - as last week's loss shows with Seattle scoring the winning touchdown with about 30 seconds remaining in the game - but it does appear Gase has the team moving in the right direction.