Behind Enemy Lines: Inside the Dolphins

To find out all the latest with the Patriots' opponents this week, we checked in with insider Alain Poupart. He gave us the lowdown on the Dolphins best/worst offseason moves, If Chad Henne is ready to take the next step, how will the Dolphins attack New England's restructured secondary and more...

What is the outlook for the 2011 Dolphins (in your opinion and that of the popular one)

Alain Poupart: The popular belief seems to be that the Dolphins are headed for yet another mediocre season, along the lines of the back-to-back 7-9 they produced or perhaps with a slight improvement. The team has the potential to have a playoff-caliber defense — maybe even championship-caliber defense if it can produce more takeaways — but there are significant questions on offense. And, no, the biggest one isn't at quarterback but rather on the offensive line, which did not look impressive in the least in the preseason. Those questions are enough to tamper any optimism a fan might have. Bottom line is 10 wins is a possibility if the line performs, but we're more likely looking at another season around .500.

Best / worst offseason move?

Poupart: While you could make a case for trading for Reggie Bush, who finally gives the Dolphins big-play potential at running back, I like the signing of linebacker Kevin Burnett a lot more. The linebackers are the key to a 3-4 defense, and Channing Crowder simply didn't make enough plays at inside linebacker. Last season in San Diego, Burnett was involved in 10 big plays (sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles, furmble recoveries). That's the kind of playmaking who could take the defense to the next level.

Is Chad Henne the guy finally or are the Dolphins still looking for an answer at QB?

Poupart: Depending upon who you believe, the Dolphins didn't think Henne was the answer because they were ready to pull the trigger on a trade for Kyle Orton until his contract demands made them change their minds. So some would tell you that Henne is the guy by default. Publicly, the Dolphins will tell you Henne was their guy all along and he actually looked very good in the preseason in the new offense of new coordinator Brian Daboll. But that was the preseason and the jury will still be out on whether Henne is starter material until he delivers in the regular season.

The Patriots have chopped their defensive backfield by a few familiar faces.  How will the Dolphins exploit this change, and do you think they have the weapons to take advantage?

Poupart: I don't expect that the Dolphins will do anything different offensively just because the Pats have new faces in the secondary. Rather, they have vowed to attack defenses downfield more aggressively of their own volition because they feel that's the way to go. Indeed, the Dolphins went deep in the preseason more often than we'd been accustomed to. Rookie fourth-round pick Clyde Gates got behind the defense in every single preseason game, and even though the quarterbacks connected with him on those plays only once, it's clear he's a big-time deep threat.

Has the team morphed into something other than the team Bill Parcells built?

Poupart: The answer to that, mercifully, appears to be "yes." Coach Tony Sparano has acknowledged that the Parcells way — boring football emphasizing the running game and a physical defense — was what he knew but that he needed to make a change to become more aggressive offensively. We saw that in the preseason with more downfield passing and can only hope he won't revert back to the "Parcells way" in the regular season. Of course, the Dolphins may not have a choice but to throw the ball a lot in 2011 because the running game looks highly suspect at this point.

Prediction and why

Poupart: The Patriots beat the Dolphins by 27 and 31 points last year, so it's difficult to predict anything other than a New England victory in this one. That said, I will remind you that the Dolphins outgained the Pats by more than 100 yards in last year's Monday night in Miami and only one of the worst special teams performances in NFL history — or one of the best, if you want to look at it from the Pats' perspective — made this game a blowout. I certainly wouldn't discount the possibility of an upset here, particularly with New England appearing to be in transition with its late flurry of significant roster moves, but until Henne establishes himself as a bona fide NFL quarterback, it's impossible to pick his team over Brady's. So make it: New England 24, Miami 21.

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