After months and months of waiting, Miami Dolphins fans couldn't have asked for a better way to start the 2014 NFL season. The Dolphins defeated the New England Patriots 33-20 at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday, giving the Pats their first 0-1 start to a season in over ten years.
There were several positives to take away from Miami's Week 1 performance which was the culmination of a busy offseason that had Dolphins fans full of optimism. Here are a few of the great points stemming from the big win:
Miami's offensive line looks much improved from a season ago
In 2013 the Dolphins offensive line gave up a franchise record 58 sacks and didn't give much help to the running game. Coming into this season with five new starters, nobody was quite sure what to expect. The line showed that the problems from last season would remain in the past as they dominated the line of scrimmage throughout the game against New England. They only allowed one sack on quarterback Ryan Tannehill and constantly gave him plenty of time in the pocket to find open receivers. There was also plenty of running room for Lamar Miller and Knowshon Moreno, resulting in the Dolphins rushing for a total of 191 yards.
Speaking of the run game, the Dolphins appear to have a great 1-2 punch
Free-agent acquisition Knowshon Moreno picked up right where left off with the Denver Broncos last season, rushing for 134 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. Showing great explosiveness and ability to gain yards after contact, 50 of Moreno's 134 yards came after he was first hit. Don't be surprised to see him as the Dolphins' starting running back moving forward. As for Lamar Miller, he looked good as well and should be a great change-of-pace compliment to Miami's run attack. Miller ran for 59 yards on 11 carries while adding 4 receptions for 19 yards and a touchdown catch. Both averaged over five yards per carry (Moreno 5.6, Miller 5.4).
Earl Mitchell was a force on the defensive line
When talking about the Dolphins defensive line, much of the attention goes to Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon as they account for the majority of the quarterback sacks. That being said, what I saw from newly acquired Earl Mitchell was something that cannot be ignored. The 6-3, 310-pound defensive tackle was consistently getting penetration into the Patriots backfield causing Tom Brady to have to rush his throws, as well as doing a great job stopping New England's run attack. Dolphins' fans can only hope that this was a sign of things to come from the 26-year-old who signed a four-year deal with Miami during the offseason.
Miami may have more depth at linebacker than anyone realized
Heading into Sunday's game, the Dolphins knew they would be without starting linebacker Philip Wheeler who had been dealing with a thumb injury. Then during the first half Miami would also lose the remaining two members of its starting linebacking corps as Koa Misi (ankle) and Dannell Ellerbe (hip) were injured and did not return to the game. Losing all three starting linebackers is something that would hinder most teams' defense, but not the Dolphins. Reserve players Jelani Jenkins, Jason Trusnick and Jonathan Freeny played well during the second half, making it appear that Miami's defense didn't miss a beat despite the injuries. Some credit must go to Dolphins' defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle for making a few great halftime adjustments as well. The depth at this position will be tested now that Ellerbe has been ruled out for the remainder of the season.
New Dolphins' offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has a great first showing
Following a couple mediocre offensive seasons under former coordinator Mike Sherman, the Dolphins knew that changes had to be made. When Miami hired Bill Lazor away from Philadelphia the hopes were that he could bring some of the Eagles exciting offense with him. According to Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace, Miami only showed about 12-percent of their new offense during the preseason so nobody was quite sure what to expect on Sunday. What we saw was a dominant offensive performance that hasn't been seen from a Dolphins team in quite some time. Lazor called a great game that had the Patriots struggling to keep up. Miami put up 33 points despite having three straight drives end in turnovers during the first half, a sign that the offensive output could've been even greater.
Dolphins' defense pitches a second half shutout
Despite being down 20-10 at halftime, the Dolphins offense was moving the ball extremely well and figured to put up more points in the second half. New England benefited from a couple Miami turnovers that led to 10 points for the visitor, but overall the Dolphins defense performed well in the opening half. They turned that up a notch after halftime, dominating the line of scrimmage and sacking Tom Brady four times. Two of those sacks came courtesy of Cameron Wake, who also forced Brady to fumble on both occasions. Miami DC Kevin Coyle also gave Brady and the Pats offensive line trouble by using some 3-4 looks that had New England struggling to contain the Dolphins pass rush.
Caleb Sturgis quietly has a perfect afternoon
When Dolphins kicker Caleb Sturgis started having injury issues during training camp, there were a lot of questions regarding what the team would do if the second-year kicker was still hurting when the season began. Those worries were laid to rest on Sunday as Sturgis didn't miss one of his seven kicks, making three extra points and all four of his field goal attempts in Miami's win over the Patriots. His longest field goal came from 38 yards away with the other three coming from 24, 22 and 27 yards. While that is a sign that the Dolphins offense was moving the ball well, if Sturgis can continue to convert on those shorter kicks then Miami should continue to see high scoring totals as the season goes on.
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