There’s always a surprise team that bursts out of the gates to an undefeated start in the early weeks of the NFL season. This year’s Miami Dolphins fit that bill. Entering the season, it seemed there were more questions than answers to be had when looking at coach Adam Gase’s team.
Now, after winning their first three games, the questions have morphed into the ones we ask about any team with a surprising start. Are they for real? Can they continue to play this well? Are they only this good because they’ve played bad teams?
Answers to all of those questions won’t be revealed in just one week, but Miami does have a good litmus test this weekend when they head to Foxborough to face the New England Patriots. The last time the Dolphins beat the Patriots in Gillette was back in 2008 when Matt Cassel was quarterbacking New England due to Tom Brady’s knee injury.
For some insight into the Dolphins-Patriots matchup and a look at a couple of other key games airing on CBS this weekend, we caught up with The NFL Today analyst Phil Simms. The NFL Today featuring Phil, fellow studio analysts Bill Cowher, Boomer Esiason and Nate Burleson along with host James Brown, airs on Sunday afternoons throughout the season beginning at 12 p.m. Eastern Time. (Editor’s note: This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.)
CBS Local Sports: The Dolphins have jumped out to a 3-0 start that has surprised a lot of people. What jumps out to you in terms of what they’ve done well so far this season?
Phil Simms: The defense has playmakers like Xavien Howard, who won the game for them last week with an interception. They have pass rushers and speed on the defensive side.
The biggest thing on the offensive side of the ball is they do a good job of looking at their opponent and determining how they’re going to attack the defense. In the first two games, they were worried about the pass rush, with (Ryan) Tannehill coming back from injury, so they threw a ton of short passes and took a couple deep shots off of that to great success. Then they played the Raiders and weren’t worried about the pass rush. That’s when Tannehill pushed the ball down the field, threw it with accuracy and they made big plays.
The final thing is Tannehill is playing really well and also running in key spots where it has really helped them seal the victory.
CBS Local Sports: With the Patriots coming off a tough loss to the Lions on Sunday night, they now sit at 1-2. What are the biggest areas of improvement for Belichick’s squad right now?
Phil Simms: First, they like to play a lot of man-to-man coverage, and that’s not working out the way it has in the past. On top of that, it’s hard to be a great cover corner in the NFL if you don’t have a great pass rush. The other thing is, speed in the NFL is really determined by the linebackers and pass rushers in underneath coverage. Right now, you don’t really see that from the Patriots, and they’ve struggled against short passing games.
On the other side, the Patriots short passing game isn’t as productive as it used to be because the league as a whole has become faster at linebacker. Think of the Jacksonville game. Brady hit a lot of short passes, but when they caught it, Myles Jack or Telvin Smith were right there to hit them. Teams aren’t letting receivers get away after the catch.
CBS Local Sports: The Bills are coming off a dominant win over the Vikings as heavy underdogs. What do they need to do in order to replicate that performance this week in Green Bay?
Phil Simms: It all starts with their defense. Jerry Hughes has been a huge key to what they’re doing. They have a good secondary to go with that, and they’re coached very well on that side of the ball by Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier. There is also just a real toughness with this Buffalo team that comes from the leadership of the coaches.
But they’re facing Aaron Rodgers, who I thought moved around a lot better last week. Green Bay also has a few cover guys that they’ve drafted recently that I like. That makes for an interesting matchup, because Buffalo’s offense is limited. They did a tremendous job last week of working around the quarterback. Buffalo wants to win on the defensive side and then protect their young quarterback on the other side, while giving him a couple of chances to show his great athletic ability.
CBS Local Sports: The Giants picked up their first win, and the offense seemed to come alive against the Texans. What worked so well for them last week, and can it continue against the Saints?
Phil Simms: Eli had more time, and they weren’t facing the same caliber of defense that they had faced in the first two weeks. I don’t know why the Texans decided to bring five guys and play man-to-man on the outside. Last I checked, the Giants have good wide receivers, and they were able to get free of corners who just couldn’t keep up with them.
The offensive line still had its problems, but Chad Wheeler stepped in and did a nice job. It just helped that the Texans had no one near the ability of J.J. Watt on the other side of the line to put pressure on Eli.
New Orleans defense? I don’t know what to say. They gave up a ton of points to Tampa Bay and then got destroyed by the Falcons’ offense. I thought they were going to be one of the top seven or eight defenses in the league this year, but it’s been awful the first couple of weeks.
CBS Local Sports: With what you mentioned about the Saints defense, and the Giants defense struggling as well, do you expect this game to be a bit of a shootout?
Phil Simms: It could be. It just depends on what style each team wants to play. If either team lines up and plays a lot of man-to-man coverage, the coaches are too smart for that. They’re going to find ways to get their guys open.
I don’t look at either team and say, ‘Wow, we have to really worry about their pass rush.’ They’re not elite pass-rushing teams right now.
I would be surprised if it is a shootout, because both teams should sit back and force the other team to bleed it down the field instead of giving them opportunities for big plays.