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Miami Dolphins

Confidence in Miami Dolphins Defense

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

In Miami’s defense, individually, the Dolphins’ defense has a very good group of players.

Reshad Jones is a Pro Bowl-caliber safety, Xavien Howard is an elite cornerback and Minkah Fitzpatrick is on his way to becoming one.

Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor are phenomenal defensive tackles that cost a fraction of what they’re really worth, and both Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan give Miami a solid, young tandem in the middle of the field.

So with all of this “talent”, how did Miami end up with the 29th-ranked defense last season?

Individually, Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh were two of the top players at their position across the entire NFL; and yet, how well did those defenses do during their tenure?

  • 2015: 25th
  • 2016: 29th
  • 2017: 16th

We have no idea what kind of results Patrick Graham‘s defense is going to produce, but he has an opportunity to mold a group of talented individuals into a threatening team.

These starters all show promise, but do they provide us with a sense of confidence heading into 2019? See who’s letting us relax and who has us on edge down below:

Defensive Line
Confidence Level: 5
Confident Players: 2

Anchored by two late-round picks that came into their rookie training camp with minimal expectations, Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor have stolen the show. Drafted in the 5th and 6th rounds respectively, both defensive tackles have transcended their “draft value” and evolved into reliable starters on the defensive line.

The foot injury to Taylor in Week 8 dampened an otherwise dominant season from the Oklahoma State product, to the point where we started to believe that Taylor may actually be the better defensive tackle between the two.

This is a glorious problem to have for any team, as both players will combine to cost $1.38m against the salary cap next season. These are the exceptional values you receive when you draft stellar talent deep in the draft, and Chris Grier deserves praise for identifying just that.

Where Grier deserves some skepticism is with the performance of his team’s defensive line since taking over as Director of College Scouting in 2007.

Since then, Miami has averaged the 19.5th-ranked rushing defense.

During that time, the team has had:

  • The top-10 rushing defense 3 times (25%)
  • The bottom-10 rushing defense 6 times (43%).
    • In fact, they’ve been bottom-3 as many times as they’ve been top-10.

Recent draft hauls help quell thoughts of incompetent defensive lines, but given the number of resources (money and draft picks) used to solve a defensive line that’s currently in shambles, it’s safe to say our confidence level is average at best.

Christian Wilkins should make it a triple threat on the defensive line, but he is an unknown commodity at this point. Charles Harris was selected #22 overall, and he has provided virtually no assistance to this defense during his two-year tenure.

Even if Wilkins is double the player Harris was, it’s still not enough to eliminate every concern at the position.

Akeem Spence returns and should be a quality backup rather than a starter turned boxer. The only player preventing this defensive tackle room from being the best in the league is the exclusion of William Hayes.

What the Dolphins don’t have are players that can rush the quarterback.

After losing Cameron Wake to the Tennessee Titans and trading Robert Quinn to the Dallas Cowboys, the Dolphins are left with Harris and a bunch of practice squad players.

It doesn’t matter how good Xavien Howard and Minkah Fitzpatrick are, if the opposing quarterback has all day to throw, a receiver is going to get open.

Think back to the Buffalo Bills game last year in Miami when Josh Allen was able to find Zay Jones for multiple touchdowns after each play lasted an elongated amount of time. Allen was also two inches away from hitting Charles Clay in the endzone on a desperate hail Mary attempt….on another play that was extended extensively.

Since 2007, Grier has had a hand in drafting 5 defensive linemen in the first 2 rounds. Combined, out of a possible 292 games they could have all played, they were active for 191 of those games (65.41%) and started just 51 (17.47%) of them:

Clean slate? We’ll give these players one. Confidence they’ll evolve into productive players? Neutral.

Linebackers
Confidence Level: 4
Confident Players: 1.5

You’re just as likely to find half of a human playing football as you are to find Kiko Alonso playing Jeopardy.

Since tearing his ACL in 2014, the former Oregon linebacker has been pretty durable. Up until his ankle injury towards the end of last season, Alonso played every defensive snap. In 2018, Alonso was responsible for another 1004 snaps (92.19%).

But that’s where the consistency ends.

Alonso is going to be on the field and he’s going to consistently give you 8 tackles a game. He is consistently around the ball, but it’s usually after the ball is caught by the opposing running back or tight end.

He diagnoses plays fairly well, but he doesn’t get to his opponent until they are already 3-yards up the field.

To be fair, this actually speaks volumes about the ineptitude of the Dolphins defensive line. If they were able to contain the run better, rush the quarterback with any kind of consistency, or had a 0-technique or 2-technique defensive tackle that was able to maintain the middle of the field, Miami’s linebackers would probably perform better than they have.

This unit makes up for a lot of defensive line failures.

But Kiko is not half the player we’re confident in. Raekwon McMillan’s ACL injury really dampened what could have been a more-promising career up to this point.

McMillan should have been able to get his “rookie mistakes” out of the way in 2017, and 2018 should have instilled more confidence in our defensive play caller.

Overall, he did an admirable job. There were instances where he was burned terribly in coverage, but he also had stretches during the season where he was one of the better defensive players on the field.

I’m simultaneously skeptical of what McMillan can become, but I also believe last season was both a recovery period and a learning curve.

Statistically, McMillan is not a better player than Kiko Alonso, which makes it debatable that he’s a player we’re confident in.

In this case, we’re not rounding up – and we’re being a bit generous with McMillan’s 0.5 – but maybe Kiko deserves a 0.5 himself, and together, they can make one, complete linebacker.

The youngest starter in this unit, Jerome Baker is expected to take the next step and become a better outside rusher and coverage linebacker. Ironic thing is, if you pay attention to the grapevine, it’s possible Baker is an odd-man out in Patrick Graham’s defense.

Personally, I think it’s asinine to leave your best player off the field for extended periods of time (think of what happened last year with Matt Burke and Minkah Fitzpatrick). Good coaches find ways to utilize good players.

Baker is the one of the only linebackers we’ve had confidence in since Zach Thomas or that one season Joey Porter went off (2008).

This unit’s productivity has a lot to do with the defensive line. If Miami can win their battles in the trenches, the team’s linebackers should prosper. Otherwise, “Tank for Tua” is in full-swing.

Secondary
Confidence Level: 7
Confident Players: 3

This position group easily has the capability of becoming a top-10 unit, and it’s not ludicrous to say it could even be a top-5 unit in 2019.

It’s also possible that this position group bottoms-out and ends up living in the bottom third of the league.

On paper, this unit should naturally improve from the 16th-ranked passing defense in 2018:

  • Eric Rowe is better than the missing #2 boundary cornerback we rolled out last season – even if it would be more-ideal if Rowe were a depth player.
  • The Dolphins are expected to solidify positions for both Minkah Fitzpatrick and Bobby McCain.
    • Allowing McCain to thrive in his natural slot cornerback position.
    • Giving Fitzpatrick the opportunity to become an elite talent at one, specific position rather than a valuable Swiss Army knife.
  • A complete season of chemistry under their belt.
    • T.J. McDonald has now worked with Reshad Jones for a full season.
    • Fitzpatrick isn’t trying to learn the ‘lay of the land’ while studying 3 different positions.
    • Defensive Captain Bobby McCain got the “I hope I can live up to my contract extension” butterflies out of his system.

Thing is, we used some of these similar reasons to excuse 2017.

After missing the first 8 games of the 2017 season due to a suspension, McDonald jumped into a starting role in Week 9 – fresh off of a contract extension he earned due to his training camp performance.

We expected vintage 2014 McDonald, and instead we received a player who wasn’t even as productive as Isa Abdul-Quddus.

And it’s not to say that the fans weren’t rooting for McDonald to succeed. We gave him an ample amount of excuses: he had to learn Matt Burke’s playbook, he was shaking off some rust, he had to figure out a way to coexist with Reshad Jones – both of whom are better-suited as strong safeties.

All of which may have some validity to them, but his 2018 performance reminded us why the Los Angeles Rams let a once-promising young player walk. Statistically, it seems like Miami made the right decision, but if you watched McDonald in coverage, he was more of a liability than he was a playmaker.

McCain was expected to settle in at his slot cornerback position last season when he received a $27m contract extension. He was thrust to the outside when Miami realized they actually needed to field someone opposite Xavien Howard.

It’s hard to say it’s entirely McCain’s fault for his subpar season, but when you’re making $6.75m a year (and you’re the 5th-most expensive player on the roster in 2019), you’re expected to provide a solution, not become a detriment.

Although there are only a few players we’re confident in, we aren’t really too concerned about this group either.

If McCain and McDonald are as bad as they were last year, you figure Miami’s passing defense should stay right around 16th again. However, if they perform closer to the expectations their contracts dictate for them, this secondary can carry this Dolphins team to more victories than the “2020 QB club” would like.

Is Reshad Jones “declining”? Yes.
Is Reshad Jones overpaid? Yes.
Did his attitude last season tick us off? Eh, kinda.

But, Jones is still a quality player to have in your backfield. Don’t let the lack of trade offers fool you, no one wants an aging $17.2m safety. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be productive for Miami this year.

The hard-hitting safety will burn us a few times when he takes the wrong coverage angle, but he’ll probably make up for it with an impressive interception or two.

Jones hauled in 3 interceptions last season, but it was also the first year of his career in which he didn’t record even half a sack.

Let’s not allow our emotions cloud the kind of player Jones is for this team. Could the situation be better? Absolutely. But would you rather Walt Aikens back there? What about McDonald? At least until 2020, you have Reshad Jones – and I’m confident he will produce for the Miami Dolphins in 2019.

Between the offense and defense, Miami has 9 players we are confident in. That’s nearly enough to field half a starting football team!

Stay strong, Dolphins fans. 2020 is the year this team is complete and competes. Allegedly.

Growing up a passionate Dolphins fan in Jets territory, Jason learned from an early age that life as a Dolphins fan wasn’t going to be easy. Previously the Sports Editor for his university newspaper, Jason has experience writing columns, creating game recaps and conducting interviews with Hall of Fame athletes (Harry Carson and Yogi Berra are two of his proudest interviews). When he’s not dissecting the latest sports news, you can find him perplexed over the Dolphins offensive line woes or involuntarily introducing music to his neighbors.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Rich McQuillen

    May 8, 2019 at 12:27 pm

    On the new hybrid defense… Flores on the Patriots, seemed to find a way to sneak in extra dbs (with a 3-2 and 3-3 defense). That will be interesting seeing 3 safeties on the field, or 4 corners. Not sure who those extra corners will be. Base 3-4 and 4-3 were 10% of plays combined.

    TJ lost 15 pounds and should be improved.

    • Jason Hrina

      Jason Hrina

      May 8, 2019 at 2:59 pm

      I would love to see Howard, Fitzpatrick, McCain and Rowe on the field at all times (with Jones and McDonald acting as the safeties and with Fitzpatrick as a type of hybrid – maybe shading towards Rowe’s side). This team is going to need to rely on their secondary often, especially with the lack of pass rush coming from the DL.

      TJ is such a wildcard on defense – if he is able to step up in coverage the team should be very stout in the secondary. Also have to think McCain isn’t anywhere near as bad as he was in 2018 – not a given, but he can’t get much worse.

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Miami Dolphins

Taco Charlton: New Acquisition Analysis

Travis Wingfield

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Dolphins go back to the 2017 first round defensive end well, claim Charlton from waivers

The 2017 Dolphins were, sadly, one of the more anticipated teams this organization has assembled in recent memory. Fresh off a surprise 10-win season, heading into year-two of the new system, and bevy of players returning from injury had fans feeling optimistic.

Patching up the perceived holes on the roster — like the defensive end position — started with an atrocious Andre Branch extension, and ended on the draft’s opening night with a handful of edge rusher prospects ripe for picking.

Derek Barnett came off the board before Miami could pluck the future Super Bowl hero, but everyone else was available. Jonathan Allen was selected five picks ahead of the Dolphins, but he was billed more as a three and five-technique inside player, not a true edge rusher.

That left Charles Harris, Taco Charlton, Tak McKinley and T.J. Watt. Two of those players are off to sterling starts in their young careers — the other two are nearing their respective last legs, and both are now Miami Dolphins.

Charlton received his release from the Cowboys earlier this week after an under-whelming 34-game stay in Big D. Taco’s snap count is revealing of the feeling about the player among the Dallas staff.

 

Year Taco Charlton Defensive Snaps Played (% of Cowboys’ Defensive Snaps)
2017 399 (38.2%)
2018 401 (39.2%)
2019 0

 

A 40-percent snap-taker is typically indicative of one of two things for an edge player. He’s either a situational savant — whether that’s to support the run game or pin his ears back and get after the quarterback — or that he’s the second option in the rotation, A.K.A. a backup.

Charlton’s production suggests that he was the latter, and only because of his draft status. His descent into a game day inactive signaled the end of his time with the club that drafted him.

Rumors of a trade were speculated as the reason Charlton was a healthy scratch for the season’s first two games, but Head Coach Jason Garrett referred to the numbers game. “We have 10 guys on the active roster on the defensive line and we dressed eight for the game. It felt like the guys we had up there gave us the best chance,” Garrett said via a report from Bloggin’ The Boys.

Still, we have 800 reps to look at to figure out where it went wrong for Charlton, and if he possesses a legitimate shot to fit this scheme and carve out spot in the future plans of the NFL’s most steadfast rebuild operation.

First, let’s start with the type of player Charlton was supposed to be coming out of Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan program.

The Dolphins are a team that adheres strongly to prototypes all over the field, but particularly in the trenches. Explosive metrics aren’t nearly as important as length, strength, read-and-react skillsets, intelligence to process and execute a variety of roles (stunts, twists, slants, picks), and most importantly, playing with heavy hands.

His fit begins with his build. At 6’6’’, 270-pounds with 34.5-inch arms, Charlton looks like plenty of defensive ends in a Brian Flores (Bill Belichick defense) before him. Charlton doesn’t check off all those boxes from the previous paragraph, but he hits enough of the buzz words to justify a flier.

This from Lance Zierlein of NFL Media.

That immediate get-off and quickness would’ve suited him better in Miami’s wide-9 alignment under Matt Burke. The length will benefit him, especially as he forces tackles to quickly get into their pass sets. The challenge will be developing a secondary move to work back inside and underneath the tackle.

The glowing praise for his twist, bend, and lower-body control will serve him well in a defense that will stunt, stunt, and stunt some more.

Most of all, the length will help him excel in this scheme as a run defender. To lock out and hold the point of attack are keys, and those are areas that put Charlton on the map as a first-round prospect.

The weaknesses from that blurb are alarming. Getting washed out of his gap by power and allowing blockers into his frame will earn him a quick ticket right out of town — those are the departments where the surprise cuts in Nate Orchard and Dewayne Hendrix struggled.

Lack of consistency, takes plays off, needs a coach that will push him — those are the final takeaways from Zierlein’s conversation with an anonymous AFC Executive.

If there’s any one thing you can point to with Flores as far as his football acumen — this excludes leadership and communication — it’s his ability to coach football (novel idea, huh?) This feels like a Flores pet project.

Let’s get into some of Charlton’s Dallas tenure, starting with his metrics from Pro Football Focus.

Charlton has 38 total pressures in his two years as a pro (4 sacks, 8 hits, 26 hurries). He compiled those numbers on 464 pass rush reps, a pressure on 8.2% of his pass rush snaps — not good. His 4.1 weighted pass rush productivity mark in 2018 ranked 132ndamong all edge rushers.

Charlton missed four tackles on 34 opportunities — an 11.8 missed tackle percentage, also not good. He made 23 run-stops on 346 snaps against the ground game. That mark — 6.6% — landed Charlton at 73rd among edge defenders in 2018, and 143rd in 2017.

The majority of Charlton’s work came from the right side of the defensive line (position vacated by Robert Quinn, currently held by a cast of many in Miami). Charlton lined up for pass rushing situations on the right side for 67.3% of his total reps.

Now, for the tape.

If Charlton can piece together the finer points of his game and develop a better arsenal or rush moves, he’ll stick as a building block. The decreased workload this year, his lack of production dating back to college, and inconsistencies makes one wonder about the drive and work habits.

We’ll quickly find out about the character of Charlton. If he embraces this opportunity, it’s a great landing spot for him. If not, he’ll be back on the unemployment line in short order.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Josh Rosen Named Starting QB vs Cowboys; Claim DE Taco Charlton

Chris Kowalewski

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Only minutes after the Miami Dolphins’ Week 2 loss against the Patriots, Head Coach Brian Flores maintained that Ryan Fitzpatrick was the starting quarterback… “Right now”.

By Thursday afternoon, it became clear that “right now” had passed as Josh Rosen was announced to take over the starting QB position ahead of Miami’s first road trip this Sunday against the Cowboys.

Fans had caught intermittent glimpses of Rosen’s abilities through the preseason and he has seen the field during replacement duty in Weeks 1 and 2, so far completing 8/21 passes for 102 yards, 2 INTs and a 38.1% completion percentage.

While Rosen has not yet led the Dolphins to regular season points, the second year passer will find his opportunity to do so in Dallas and the Dolphins will be able to make further evaluation of 2018’s tenth overall pick.

Ryan Fitzpatrick’s veteran standing and experience had given him the early advantage, but the time has arrived in for the Dolphins to see what the future may bring – if anything – for Josh Rosen in Miami.

Whilst the national attention seems to be focused on Chris Grier’s rebuild of the roster, the Dolphins have claimed former first round pick, DE Taco Charlton, released by the Cowboys on Wednesday.

Charlton was the Dallas Cowboys’ first round selection in 2017, having played in 27 games (7 starts) and registered 4.0 sacks and 47 combined tackles.

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Miami Dolphins

Dolphins Cowboys Week Three Preview

Travis Wingfield

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Dolphins Search to Stop the Bleeding in Big D

Who: Dolphins (0-2) at Cowboys (2-0)
When: Sunday September 22, 1:00 PM East
Where: AT&T Stadium — Arlington, TX
Weather: Dome
Vegas Slant: Dolphins +21

The hits keep coming for Miami. Another prominent fixture of the roster has been jettisoned, and another loaded team is on the docket for the downtrodden Dolphins.

This current iteration of the Dallas Cowboys is akin to what Miami hopes to build in a couple years’ time — stout trench play, emerging young quarterback, and star-studded skill positions.

Three touchdown underdogs for the second consecutive week, the Dolphins are introducing college point-spreads into the National Football League. Miami’s 19-point home handicap last week was the biggest such spread for a host team since the 2007 season, and the Dolphins are now channeling the 2013 Broncos-Jaguars game that climbed up over 25 points before betting closed.

The Dolphins were far more competitive last week, even if the scoreboard didn’t show it. Contributions from star Cornerback Xavien Howard, upstart Linebacker Jerome Baker, and surprising recent addition Vince Biegel were the silver linings in the 43-point thrashing; we’re looking for more of those in Dallas.

The Scheme:

Offense:

The switch from Scott Linehan to Kellen Moore might’ve been the biggest upgrade in the NFL this offseason. Moore, a coach’s son that made it to the NFL for his cerebral prowess at the quarterback position, is dressing up Dallas’ offense with disguise, misdirection, and tendency breakers.

Dallas varies it’s running scheme, but the talent to execute simple gap-schemes and power concepts allows Moore to get creative with the play action game. Cowboys players praise Moore for his nuance and emphasis on getting players in position to exhibit their best traits.

Scheming chunk-plays in the passing game, running the football to keep the offense on schedule, and devising red zone concepts to free up pass catchers in the condensed area already has Moore’s name circulating as the next hot head coaching candidate.

Defense:

On top of impeccable front-seven talent, the Cowboys borrow concepts from some of the most accomplished, revolutionary defensive schemes in the history of the league. Rod Marinelli still carries the title of Defensive Coordinator, but it’s a co-op with he and the up-and-coming Kris Richard.

With elements of the Tampa-2 from Marinelli’s days with the Bucs — and more recently in Chicago — fused with Richard’s rendition of the wildly popular scheme originated by Pete Carroll, Dallas is successful in a multitude of packages and pre-snap disguises.

Creating one-on-one rush opportunities from their elite pass rushers, while playing a variety of cover-3, 2, and 1 on the back-end, the Cowboys can apply pressure while dropping seven — the ultimate goal of every NFL defense.

Look for Chad O’Shea to attack this defense with more in-breaking routes. That means high-low and drive concepts (designed to displace zone coverage and attack the middle of cover-1 and Tampa-2 defenses) and seam shots with the Cowboys drop two deep.

The Players:

Offense:

Dak Prescott is off to an MVP-caliber beginning to his 2019 season. Prescott handles pressure in two ways — the type of pressure applied by ferocious fronts, and the pressure of big moments. He’s accurate, creates opportunities off-script, and allows Kellen Moore to utilize designed runs.

Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Then there’s Zeke Elliot, who’s just getting rolling. Zeke, behind arguably the NFL’s best offensive line with the healthy Travis Frederic, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith and La’El Collins, Dallas can line up and push teams off the football.

The Dolphins must get big showings from Davon Godchaux and Christian Wilkins to hold the point-of-attack and free up Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan to meet Zeke in the hole.

Amari Cooper is one of the game’s best route runners, and he pairs that with size and speed. He’ll be a tough matchup for Miami, unless Xavien Howard wants to travel with the Cowboys play maker. That opens up another bag of worms, especially as Miami will be working in a new safety alongside corner-convert, Bobby McCain.

Jason Witten is back, but he serves mostly as an additional lineman and the forgotten man in the red zone (as far as the defense is concerned, Witten has two touchdowns already on plays that schemed him wide open). Michael Gallup will miss this game while the resurgent Randal Cobb will help keep the Miami defense honest horizontally in the misdirection game.

Defense:

Jaylon Smith leads the defense with his instinctive, urgent playing style that pairs well with uncommon physical traits. He and Leighton Vander Esch set the tone in the middle of the Dallas defense, and a lot of the scheme is designed to free these two up to wreak havoc. Smith’s athleticism allows Marinelli to keep the Tampa-2 concept alive.

Demarcus Lawrence is set to have a field day. Miami haven’t been able to block anybody this year, and now will have to handle one of the game’s best pass rushers against deafening crowd noise.

Byron Jones has fallen out of favor in Dallas. The dependable Jeff Heath, and the underrated Xavier Woods make it so, while Chidobe Awuzie locks down the opposition’s number one receiver. Dallas’ vulnerability in this position group from the perimeter corner position opposite Awuzie. Jones has been playing corner to pair with slot specialist Jourdan Lewis and Awuzie.

If Miami can create one-on-one passing opportunities into the boundary, look for O’Shea to attack vertically and hope to steal some points — the best bet here is likely Preston Williams.

The Medical:

The Concerns:

Quite literally all over the football field. Dallas can line up with power and milk the Dolphins defense dry. They can attack vertically, or in the controlled passing game with well-timed shot plays built into the offense, all on top of exceptional red zone production in the early going of 2019.

Demarcus Lawrence leads the team in pressures, but he’s only pulled the quarterback down once — that ties the team lead. This Cowboys pass rush is going to be champing at the bit to pad those stats, and there’s no reason to think Miami can handle the relentless pressure, even without blitzing.

The Opportunities:

Special teams might be the one area Miami can spark some magic. The Dolphins are off to a slow start in this department as well, but Jakeem Grant’s big-play ability will be needed if Miami are to pull the miracle upset.

Finding vertical shots — whether it’s Mike Gesicki splitting the Tampa-2, Preston Williams winning an outside release into the boundary without safety help, or getting a fly-by from Grant, Miami needs some fireworks.

The Projected Outcome:

The game plan came together defensively in the first half against the Patriots, but it’s a challenge for even the league’s best stop-units to carry a lifeless offense. Unless the Dolphins can finally sustain some drives and convert in the red zone, this game will get out of hand. It’s doubtful Miami can do that, so look for an aggressive offense that tries to hit the big play.

Dallas just has too much star power and excellent coordinators for Miami to pick them off — or even cover.

Dolphins 6
Cowboys 31

@WingfieldNFL

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