Miami Dolphins

Armando Salguero: Dolphins vs. Redskins — who has the edge?

MIAMI HERALD STAFF

When the Dolphins pass the football

The Dolphins were fifth in the AFC in pass attempts last season, and the return was good in that they were third in completions. And yet with that relative success, the team almost totally revamped its pass-catching personnel. Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson, Brian Hartline and Charles Clay are out, DeVante Parker, Greg Jennings, Kenny Stills and Jordan Cameron are in. The question remains is this an upgrade? The team obviously believes it is because the group is said to be less worried about statistics and more about winning. That has yet to be tested, but it will be because the plan is to spread the football around from game to game, depending on the matchups. As quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who had an excellent preseason completing more than 80 percent of his passes, still needs to acclimate himself with Parker and Jennings and others, it’s a good bet he will fall back to his go-to receiver Jarvis Landry often. Cameron has not been much of a factor either in the preseason or practices, but the Dolphins hope he becomes a tough red-zone threat. The Redskins’ secondary has been inconsistent at best in recent years, but last year the team was sixth in the NFC in fewest completions allowed per game (21.6). The addition of starting cornerback Chris Culliver is supposed to make the group stronger. ADVANTAGE: Miami

When the Dolphins run the football

First down is important this game because the Dolphins want to set a tone and preferably do it on the ground with Lamar Miller setting up second-and-5 or less. The problem is the Redskins last season were second in the NFL in fewest yards allowed on first down. They also added Terrance Knighton, affectionately known as “Pot Roast,” to clog the middle and improve the run defense. This will be a good test of Miami’s new interior line, with Mike Pouncey moving back to center, Dallas Thomas at left guard and rookie Jamil Douglas at right guard. The Dolphins are by no means a running team. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor ran only about 39 percent of the time in 2014. But Miller averaged 5.1 yards every time he carried the football and scored eight touchdowns. Miller hasn’t said it publicly but he wants more touches this year — a contract year for him. That’s about him. But the fact he turned in a 178-yard performance when he got a season-high 19 carries in last season’s finale suggests a few extra carries per game gives more opportunities for a breakout run. And that is about the team. ADVANTAGE: Even

When the Redskins pass the football

The Redskins have formidable talent on the outside, with Miamian Pierre Garcon offering speed and size at 6-0 and 216 pounds. DeSean Jackson is the deep threat who has a whopping 21 career TDs of 50 yards or more, one of only 10 NFL players to record 20 or more since the 1970 merger. Matching up with Jackson will be interesting. Expect the Dolphins to have cornerback Brent Grimes shadow him wherever he goes in a matchup of mighty mites. Redskins tight ends aren’t the problem matchups they once were as starter Jordan Reed is hot and cold. The issue containing this passing game is the offensive line. It is bad. Brandon Scherff was drafted to play tackle but he struggled so much he’s now a guard. Right tackle Morgan Moses is not stout and has inconsistent technique. Other than left tackle Trent Williams, this group is weak. And that plays into Miami’s strength along the defensive line with Ndamukong Suh lining up inside of Cameron Wake. The fact the Redskins OL is so troubled makes the idea of Kirk Cousins starting at quarterback a secondary issue because the bigger question is will he be able to finish the game? ADVANTAGE: Miami

When the Redskins run the football

Florida Atlantic product Alfred Morris has been a revelation for Washington since being drafted in the sixth round in 2012. His 3,962 yards in three seasons puts him ahead of players such as Edgerrin James and Walter Payton in yardage their first three seasons. He’s second behind only Marshawn Lynch in rushing since 2012. But, again, that offensive line this year is an issue. And the Dolphins, who had their run defense drop off the table last season, are intent on improving it this year. The Dolphins run defense began to struggle in 2012, coinciding with the arrival of the current coaching staff, but last year it dropped to 24th in the league while allowing 4.3 yards per rush. So why do you think the Dolphins paid $114 million for Ndamukong Suh? He comes from Detroit, where the Lions were the best run-stopping team in the league last year. And, yes, he was a big reason for that success. The Dolphins also have made significant adjustments to their linebacker corps by moving Koa Misi back outside to the strong-side linebacker spot while Kelvin Sheppard has taken over at middle linebacker in place of Misi. Will the adjustments and additions work? ADVANTAGE: Even

Special teams

Special-teams coach Darren Rizzi might not get too much sleep before this game because it will mark the rookie debuts of punter Matt Darr and kicker Andrew Franks. Both came to the Dolphins as undrafted players. Both displaced veterans. Darr’s work helped him beat out longtime Dolphins punter Brandon Fields. And although the focus will be on his punting, it is his duties as the holder that require close scrutiny because Fields rarely if ever flubbed a hold. Franks comes with a booming leg but one that still requires refining. He had better get it refined fast. Miami also has made changes in its return game in that LaMike James will now handle both the kickoff and punt-return duties, replacing Jarvis Landry. James had one fumbled punt in the preseason. Redskins kicker Kai Forbath had three game-winning FGs last season. He doesn’t choke. And Tress Way’s 47.52-yard punting average led the NFL last year. ADVANTAGE: Washington

Coaching

Joe Philbin has made significant attempts this offseason and training camp to relate to his players and get them to buy into a brotherhood approach to this season. Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has simplified the defense and stressed doing fewer things better. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, meanwhile, continues on a path to a head coaching job at some point, and this season has players in their second year within his system, suggesting greater success. Jay Gruden? He is unproven as a head coach and not a fan of franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III. The man is on the hot seat already. ADVANTAGE: Miami

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