In order to preview this matchup, I reached out to our friends over at The Phinsider. The great Kevin Nogle (@thephinsider) kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming game. Let's take a look at the answers. (Also don't forget to check out my Q&A exchange over at The Phinsider.)
1 - How long will the Dolphins’ starters play on Thursday night?
I am guessing we will see the majority of them into the third quarter, but I would absolutely expect to see players like Mike Pouncey and Ja'Wuan James pulled fairly quickly. The Dolphins coaching staff has been very deliberate when it comes to rehabbing players and minimizing the risks of re-injury this year, so Pouncey (hip) and James (shoulder) likely will start the game, then head to the bench. I think the rest of the offense and most of the defense will be asked to stay in through "adjustments" at halftime. That probably is a necessity at this point, with so many injuries and changes to the Dolphins' projected starting lineup on both sides of the ball this summer.
2 - What’s the outlook for the Dolphins this year now that Jay Cutler is the starting quarterback? How many wins are you expecting?
Honestly, I am not sure what to think about the 2017 season for the Dolphins. We just have not seen enough of Cutler yet to be able to predict anything. He looks like he has a big arm, which is the first thing everyone says when they seem him practice, but he still needs to get into sync with the receivers. We have not seen mush of Julius Thomas this summer, so that part of the offense is still a piece to be added. The Dolphins' offense probably runs through Jay Ajayi, so as long as he becomes a true "feature" back, the Dolphins could be okay this year. With Ryan Tannehill, I thought the Dolphins were a team pushing for a second-straight Wildcard berth, somewhere in the 10-6/9-7 range - though stepping back to 8-8 and missing the playoffs, but being a better overall team was not out of the realm of possibilities. With Cutler, I could still see the team making it to 9-7, but I could also see 6-10 or 7-9 as injury after injury mounts. I will be optimistic and say 9-7 - but that's just a guess until we get a better look on Thursday as to what kind of chemistry Cutler and the receivers can create.
3 - What were your takeaways from the Eagles-Dolphins practices this week based on what you saw following along from afar?
It was mostly small things for the Dolphins. For example, Jesse Davis, a practice squad level undrafted free agent from 2015 now appears to be growing into a starting guard for the team, partially because of injuries but his play is elevating him too. Kenyan Drake was cleared from the concussion protocol. Pouncey and James look like they are ready to get some game experience. Those type of things. I think it was a great experience for both teams, getting a chance to work against someone other than themselves for a couple of days. I think it was interesting to see how both coaching staffs seemed to treat this as an extended scrimmage against each other, rather than the typical joint practice schedule of joint team work breaking up individual drills. As for the Eagles, Wentz seemed to look good, and the Dolphins secondary, including your old friend Byron Maxwell, was a little worrisome.
4 - What is the strongest position on the team? What about the weakest?
On offense, the strongest is clearly the wide receiver corps, where the team may just run out of roster space before they hit the end of players who deserve to make the roster. The top three, Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, and Kenny Stills, are obviously locked onto the roster. Then Leonte Carroo looks like he is taking a step forward in this, his second year, and Jakeem Grant is looking like he will be a bigger part of the offense this season as compared to last season. That really leaves one, maybe two, roster positions, despite there being some good, young, developmental talent behind the top five. They are not going to be breakout stars or anything, but Drew Morgan and Damore'ea Stringfellow have both flashed at times this summer, and the team is still looking at players like Malcolm Lewis and Trey Griffey. This could be the strongest wide receiver group the Dolphins have had in a long while.
The weakest offensive position group is the offensive line. Injuries and question marks simply have dominated the line since this spring. Will Pouncey get and stay healthy? Will James be able to take a step foward? Will Laremy Tunsil transition well to his natural left tackle position after playing guard last year? Who will be the starting left guard after the biceps tear injury to Ted Larsen? Offensive line seems to be the biggest question mark on the offense for the Dolphins every season, and this year is no different.
On defense, the defensive ends are clearly the strength, with Cameron Wake, Andre Branch, Charles Harris, and William Hayes headlining the position group. Add to them a player like defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and it is a scary group. On the flip side, the linebackers are the biggest question mark - especially with the loss of rookie Raekwon McMillan, who was slotted as the starting middle linebacker, now out for the year with a torn ACL. Kiko Alonso is a known commodity for the defense now and should continue to play well as he moves to outside linebacker. Lawrence Timmons will assume the other outside linebacker role, and he seems to be solid, though we will see how well he can cover during this game and into the regular season. Mike Hull appears to be the starter at middle linebacker without McMillan, but the Dolphins did just sign Rey Maualuga (will not play Thursday), and we do not yet know how exactly he will rotate into the lineup.
5 - Can you give us an outsider’s take on the Eagles’ outlook this year?
The NFC East is always such a strange division. I thought the Eagles were a better team than their 7-9 record last year, but, as Bill Parcells says, "You are what your record says you are." I think everything about the Eagles depends on Carson Wentz this year - I know that is an amazingly original take - and whether he continues to grow. I like former Dolphins quarterback Doug Pederson, and I think he can groom Wentz, so that should help with this season. I like the addition of Alshon Jeffery, Ronald Darby, and Derek Barnett to the team, all of whom should help the team make up some of the ground in the division.
Bonus: Score prediction?
I actually was pretty close to my prediction to the Preseason Week 1 game against the Falcons, having guessed 27-20 Miami and having it end 23-20 for the Dolphins. I didn't make a score projection for last week, thank goodness because I would have been no where near 31-7 Ravens. So, because this is a preseason game and things are completely guesses, I will go 34-24 Eagles because of the home field. Apparently, I do not see defense showing up this week.