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Dolphins Bills Week 11 Preview

Travis Wingfield

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Dolphins playing for third straight victory, that’s called a winning streak

Who: Dolphins (2-7) vs. Bills (6-3)
When: Sunday November 17, 1:00 East
Where: Hard Rock Stadium – Miami Gardens, FL
Weather: 76 degrees, partly cloudy, 10% precipitation, 61% humidity
Vegas Slant: Dolphins +6

DolphinsBills

Just one month ago the Dolphins departed for Buffalo and the sixth game of the 2019 NFL season. Heading into the house of a one-loss division rival, Vegas pegged the Phins as three-score underdogs. Accounting for home field (home team is always given a three-point bump), handicappers felt the Bills were 14 points better than Miami.

Now, after four games, two victories, and a point-differential of -11 (compared to -138 through the first five games), Vegas thinks a whole five points better of the Dolphins.

This, despite losing star Cornerback Xavien Howard, promising rookie Receiver Preston Williams, and top two rushers on the season during that span.

The message from Brian Flores has been consistent since he first addressed the team in February. The Dolphins were looking for disciplined, smart, tough football players with resiliency ingrained into their DNA. That message helped keep together a locker room despite historically awful figures clouding the rookie head coach’s debut season.

On the other side, a Buffalo team that’s on the verge of reeling after a 6-2 start to the season. A loss in Miami would derail the Bills playoff train, sending Sean McDermott’s squad to 6-4 ahead of its most difficult stretch of games this season.

With dates in Dallas, Pittsburgh, and New England, and home games against Baltimore, Denver and the Jets, this is a must-win game for Buffalo.

For Miami, a victory solidifies that the team won’t pick first in April’s draft. A step further, looking ahead at Miami’s schedule, there could be a run in there for the Phins. Dates in Cleveland, and with both New York disasters, are sandwiched by home contests with the Eagles and Bengals.

If Flores manages five or six wins with this team, he should be factored into the Coach of the Year discussion. We’ll put that argument on ice until Miami beats Buffalo.

The Scheme:

Offense:

For years, Buffalo brought ex-Dolphins back to South Florida and relied on those players to capture victory in Miami. Now, the Bills return a familiar face under the offensive head set, Brian Daboll.

Daboll brings the 25th-ranked offense (24th in passing, 12th in rushing, and 25th in scoring) to Miami where he hopes to have more success than his previous two outings against this scheme. Bill Belichick and the Patriots held Buffalo to 10 points in a September meeting, while Brian Flores’ squad had the Bills in single digits (9 points) entering the fourth quarter of the October showdown. All hell broke loose in the fourth quarter with turnovers and an onside kick returned for six.

Daboll shines when it comes to the red zone, a feather in the cap earned via the running game. The utilization of Josh Allen in heavy packages, in accordance with the downhill style of Frank Gore, gives Daboll a numbers-advantage in these condensed areas.

Outside the red zone, look for Buffalo to stretch the field both vertically and horizontally. Play action deep shots and mesh concepts with long-developing drag routes help the Bills capitalize on its team speed.

Defense:

The Bills offense isn’t the star of this 6-3 operation, but rather the defense. Sean McDermott’s side ranks 3rd in overall defense (3rd against the pass, 21st stopping the run, and 3rd in points allowed).

Buffalo’s talented defense gets it done with effort. They fly to the ball. They bait and trap on the back end and blitz relentlessly up front. The Bills 32.4% blitz rate ranks 11th in football, but remain largely ineffective rushing the passer. Buffalo’s 21.1% pressure rate and 6.3% quarterback knockdown rate both rank 24th in the league.

Buffalo’s 75 missed tackles are tied for fifth-most in the NFL. That’ll be the focal point of Miami’s game plan; getting the ball on the perimeter and creating opportunities for some of the elusive pass catchers.

Going vertically likely isn’t an option. The Dolphins have just two plays of over 40 yards this season, and only four more that eclipse 30 yards. Buffalo are the only team that haven’t allowed a 100-yard receiver, and Miami haven’t put a pass catcher over the century mark this season.

The Players:

Offense:

Josh Allen is a fascinating dichotomy at the position. His accuracy concerns are still there, and they’ll never go away, but it’s Miami’s ability to defend Josh Allen, the runner, that will determine the outcome in this game.

He’s toned it down this year in the rushing department, as his season-high is just 46 yards, but last year he torched Miami for 230 on the ground in the two games. Allen is completing a higher percentage of passes, as Buffalo as brought in more short-area winners to the receiving corps, but he’s still under 60% completion.

John Brown stretches the field for Buffalo, but he’s not a one-trick pony. His lowest catch total this year was four receptions, and the fewest receiving output is 51 yards. He’s been consistent, and half of his four touchdowns came on rushing attempts.

Buffalo’s use of 11-personnel is right in-line with league average (63% for Buffalo, 60% league average). They check in below average in 12-personnel, but well over average in 21-personnel, meaning plenty of two-back sets with Devin Singletary and Frank Gore sharing the backfield. They’ll also deploy a fullback — Patrick DiMarco — with relative frequency. He played 16% of the snaps Sunday in Cleveland.

Defense:

Tremaine Edmunds was a target for Miami in the same draft that yielded Minkah Fitzpatrick. Now, Edmunds is staring for the Bills, and never leaving the field. Playing 100% of his team’s snaps through five games, Edmunds also ranks 29th among all linebackers according to PFF. He’s long, disrupts passing lanes, and makes a handful of plays against the run every game.

Tre’Davious White leads one of the game’s best defensive backfields. He’s a feisty, physical corner that challenges the receiver at the line of scrimmage, at the top of the route, and at the catch point. He’s exceptional at funneling routes into his help, and his help is one of the game’s best safety tandems.

Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer rank 12th and 15th respectively according to PFF. The pair has a two interceptions on the season and will look to pad those stats in this game against a gun-slinger quarterback in Fitzpatrick.

Jordan Phillips is getting more playing time with Harrison Phillips on the shelf, and he’s made the most of it. No defensive tackle in football has more sacks than former the Miami Dolphin.

The Medical:

Bills Injuries: None to report

The Opportunities:

Fans in Buffalo are upset by the minimal number of carries for Devin Singletary and Frank Gore. With 323 quarterback drop backs, and 67 rushing attempts by Allen, Buffalo only hands the ball off to its tailbacks 30.4% of the time.

Forcing Josh Allen into early down incompletions, Miami can unleash its blitz package on third down and put the clamps on the NFL’s 21st-ranked third-down offense.

Offensively, the Dolphins have to exploit Buffalo’s biggest weaknesses — tackling, and any cornerback not named Tre’Davious White. Expect White to lock up Devante Parker, and perhaps Albert Wilson’s breakthrough performance of the 2019 season (season-high of 22 yards this season) is on the way.

The Concerns:

Turnovers are always the first concern with a Ryan Fitzpatrick-led team. His interception in the red zone back in October was the turning point of Miami’s loss in Buffalo. The Bills only have six interceptions on the season, but the secondary is a sleeping giant with White, Poyer and Hyde.

Giving Buffalo short fields is asking for disaster. Daboll’s offense ranks third in red zone conversion rate, and the first meeting was put on ice after a Preston Williams fumble set the Bills up inside the 20-yard-line.

The Projected Outcome:

Suddenly, there’s hope for good football for Miami. The balance is still delicate, however. While it benefits the team’s search for the franchise quarterback to pick as high as possible in April, the wins continue to build faith in Brian Flores and his staff.

This will be a close game, that’s just how these two teams matchup. Expect three quarters of these rivals exchanging blows, and then one or two big plays to swing the momentum late.

In this case, I’m predicting those big plays occur for the road team.

Dolphins 16
Bills 22

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Turning the Machine in the Right Direction

Kevin Dern

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Nearly a year ago, 11 months to be precise, I wrote this piece for Locked On Dolphins:  “Small, Important Steps in the Right Direction”.  It was me opining on what I felt like were a series of small steps Miami, specifically Chris Grier and the front office had taken in the right direction just after the Draft.  At the time, Miami had accumulated a Draft Pick haul of a: 1st rounder, two 2nd rounders, a 3rd, two 4ths, a 5th, two 6ths, and two 7ths.  We know war chest has expanded, and Miami’s sure to put that to effective use in just over a month at the 2020 NFL Draft.

So, where are Miami now?

Well, that’s an interesting question, but I’ll attempt to answer it.  With a haul of 11 free agents, counting TE Michael Roberts who was signed before the new League Year, Miami’s managed to fill some of the holes the exited 2019 with.  Perhaps most important, despite shelling out big money deals, all of them are structured in smart, team-friendly ways.  Kudos to Chris Grier and Brandon Shore for that.  It’ll pay dividends down the road.

With the Draft still a month away, at least as things stand with the COVID-19 outbreak right now, Miami’s needs have become clearer.  Quarterback was always and still is the top priority for the Draft.  Running Back is a need still, and there’s a plethora of top notch backs in this year’s class.  Offensive Line, obviously.  Miami can use help across the board there.  With the defensive free agent signings, I’m not sure edge defenders are a need anymore, but I think Miami will still bargain shop there.  Safety, specifically free safety, and a true nose tackle round out the needs list.  At lest in my mind.

With 14 picks, and Miami probably won’t use all of them to make actual picks – I think some get used in trade ups and some get pushed to 2021 – Miami will likely be able to fill that remaining chunk of needs, which is a great place to be in.  Perhaps Miami still shops around a bit in free agency, maybe for O-line depth or a cheap running back, but I think the focus now narrows to the Draft.  Since that’s next month, let’s review the free agent crop.

Free Agent Fits
Our pal Travis Wingfield has done plenty of in-depth reporting on all of Miami’s free agent signings, so I’m going to give you my broad stroke takes on what Miami’s added this past week.

Edge Setters
Miami added defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah to help set the edge against the run.  Kyle Van Noy is an outside linebacker with a sneaky amount of strength and ability to play with heavy hands and good leverage who can help set the edge too.  What this means for Miami’s defense is that we’ll likely see more 4-man defensive fronts.  Remember, when Brian Flores called the Patriots defense in 2018 his most used for formations were:

4-2-5 (307 snaps)

3-3-5 (226 snaps)*

3-2-6 (132 snaps)

4-3 (97 snaps)

* With the 3-3-5 package, there’s really two versions: The Bear front and the slide front.  The Bear front typically included bigger defensive lineman to cover the opponents G-C-G with Hightower and Trey Flowers or Kyle Van Noy on edges, with Van Noy or Elandon Roberts off-ball.  Think of the slide front as really a 4-2 front, but you have an OLB playing as a stand-up DE.

A potential hidden bonus here is that both Lawson and Ogbah have some experience playing in stand-up OLB/DE roles.  Shaq Lawson did it some at Clemson and Ogbah had some limited experience in doing so last year with the Chiefs.  I think Ogbah was used primarily as a rusher as I haven’t seen snaps of him dropping into coverage from that spot.  But he’s been aligned there.

With the additions of Lawson, Ogbah and Van Noy, Miami’s going to try and be able to find analogs similar to Van Noy himself, more on that in a minute; Ogbah compares pretty well in play style to how the Pats used Adrian Clayborn and Deatrich Wise that year; and Lawson’s versatility might lend him to be used in some, and I stress some, of the capacities in which they used Trey Flowers.  With Van Noy, in 2019 he was almost an exclusive on-the-LOS edge LB.  In 2018, his duties between being an edge player and off-ball linebacker were about 50-50.  I don’t know that we’ll see that, but I think Van Noy’s snaps won’t be as an exclusive edge – he’s so versatile in how he can be used.

As much as I love Khalid Kareem and really like guys like K’Lavon Chaisson, Curtis Weaver, Yetur Gross-Matos, and Marlon Davidson I have a difficult time picturing Miami spending a top-level resource on an edge defender.  I think they’ll take a stab on a guy that falls or try and find value later on like Trevis Gipson, Jason Strowbridge, Chauncey Rivers, James Smith-Williams, etc.

No Fly Zone Southeast
I’ll admit, I in no way shape or form saw Miami going after someone like Byron Jones.  In fact, I wonder if the Patriots franchise tagging Joe Thuney meant that money Miami might’ve offered to him was “freed up” to pursue other options.  And man, did Miami get a nice player in Jones.  Yes, he doesn’t have a ton of interceptions, but he does have 20 PBUs the past two years, and 44 for his career – nearly nine a year.

I’m a little dumbfounded that so many Dolfans think this signing means that Xavien Howard is on the trade block.  Why would he be? Why would you dismantle a CB tandem this good? I get that X had the legal issue, but that was dismissed.  I feel like if Miami wanted him gone, he’d have been gone by now.

What it means having a tandem like Byron and X is that you have a pair of corners that excel at press, can play off man, can both play on either side of the formation, and both can travel to the slot.  That gives them some really nice flexibility and the opportunity to get creative with coverages.  I’ll be really intrigued if they add a FS that allows Bobby McCain to play in the slot more, like he did in 2015-17.  Miami could disguise a lot if that becomes an option.

When you combine Jones with the additions of Lawson and Ogbah up front, and Van Noy as someone who can play on the LOS or off-ball, you have to tip your cap to Miami for adding help at all three levels of the defense.

Depth and Special Teams
Miami apparently isn’t bringing back Walt Aikens, who was their best special teamer the past few seasons.  Instead, Miami opted to bring in a trio of damn good special teamers, two of whom were captains.  The one that wasn’t, Elandon Roberts, figures to get a chance to play in some packages on defense, just as he did with New England, and is a core special teams guy.  It wouldn’t surprise me if he ate some of Chandler Cox’s reps as a fullback either.  He’ll be fun to watch on whichever unit he’s getting snaps at.

Kamu Grugier-Hill, a fellow 6th round pick mate of the 2016 Patriots Class with Ted Karras and Elandon Roberts, is an intriguing player.  While he might have been a better fit for Miami’s previous staff under Gase and Burke, he’s a fantastic special teamer and has shown well as a blitzer and coverage linebacker.  His presence probably means guys like Sam Eguavoen and Calvin Munson are in the danger zone.

Clayton Fejedelem is more a like-for-like replacement for Aikens.  A hard-hitting safety who’s a demon on special teams.  Fejedelem probably won’t get a lot of looks on defense, especially if Miami ends up drafting another safety, but the bonus with Fejedelem, as compared to Aikens, is if you have to call on him to play on defense, he’s going to be better equipped to handle it.

Improving the Ground Game
I’ll admit, with Ereck Flowers being the first reported signing of free agency, I was a little worried the ghosts of Jeff Ireland and Mike Tannenbaum were summoned by the Tequesta.  Flowers reputation carries stains, but he played well the second half of 2019 as LG for the Redskins.  I hope Miami leaves him there.  Ted Karras comes over after playing as center for the Patriots in 2019.  He’s a bigger guy than Daniel Kilgore.  He’s smart.  He’s tough.  He struggles a little in space and with power.  I do wonder if Michael Deiter gets a shot to compete with him at the C spot with Flowers at LG, where Deiter played last year.

Both Flowers and Karras will get the opportunity to block for newly signed running back Jordan Howard (a favorite of my wife’s as he’s a fellow Indiana Hoosier).  Howard’s a bigger back at 225lbs, but he’s more well rounded than he is a power back.  He can catch and be a weapon in the pass game.  He’s also pretty savvy with inside and outside zone runs.  With Chan Gailey and Eric Studesville working on the ground game, Howard’s sure to get plenty of use.

Tight end Michael Roberts has played just 12 games over the past three seasons due to injuries and poor play.  He was traded to the Patriots last year but failed a physical cancelling the trade.  Detroit waived him and he was claimed by Green Bay but failed a physical there.  He battled weight gain, depression and had his left shoulder surgically repaired.  More of a blocking TE, he roasted the Dolphins in 2018, naturally, when Detroit came to Miami.  If Roberts plays up to his potential, I think he’s got the ability to challenge Durham Smythe for that #2 TE role – being an inline TE.

Prepping for April
While the Draft won’t have the party that Vegas would’ve offered, that’s the next major step for Chris Grier.  Miami needs to get the Draft right.  We’re talking 2017 Saints right.  We’re talking 2019 Raiders right.  Miami has the opportunity to inject a lot of talent, in addition to the quarterback, into this team.

Go figure that the year Miami as FINALLY loaded up on picks, the COVID-19 breakout has forced Pro Days and 30 Visits to mostly be cancelled.  And unless something drastically changes in the next few weeks, Miami and the rest of the league aren’t going to have as much operating information as they normally do.  Miami will have to rely more on scouting than in the past.

The outbreak also likely puts a dent into each team’s offseason program.  Teams will have to head into their offseason programs storming to get ready for the season.  Let’s hope Miami doesn’t have a truncated offseason like they did in 2011 under Tony Sparano, which lead to an 0-7 start.

For now, with quarantines in place, there’s likely not going to be a lot happening for the Dolphins between now and the Draft.  Hunker down.  Watch tape (Game Pass is free).  Familiarize yourself with Flores’s scheme.  Watch “Humble and Hungry” – I highly recommend it! But above all, stay safe.  We can get through this together.

The Machine
You may recall Travis and I made a trip to Miami last year for the Bengals-Dolphins game.  We were credentialed for it, meaning we were members of the media for that day.  I think one of the most lasting impressions I have from that trip is just how many pieces work to create the “machine” that is each NFL team.  Miami have a lot of great people in place.

I’d only ever been to one other Dolphins game in Miami.  That was back in 2010.  I don’t remember what Hard Rock Stadium was called at the time; it’s had many different iterations since it was Joe Robbie Stadium.  But I remember walking around that stadium thinking it was dumpy.  And I’d been to some dumpy stadiums – Old RFK Stadium for a Washington Nationals Game, whatever they call the Coliseum where the Raiders played, and the A’s still call home.  Riverfront Stadium – the stadium of my youth.  These were the stadiums that Hard Rock rivaled in 2010.

What Mr. Ross and Tom Garfinkel have done to the place is INCREDIBLE! I’ve been to Lucas Oil Stadium and the renovated version of Lambeau Field (2010 and 2016).  Those two places are crown jewels.  Hard Rock Stadium as it stands right now is nicer than both!

Miami’s building a fantastic new team headquarters and training complex.  Travis and I stopped by Team HQ in Davie on our trip to pick up a parking pass for the game.  The current HQ is nice (I live in Cincinnati and drive by Paul Brown Stadium daily on my way to work – that’s my comparison, but Miami’s is nicer), but it’s small.  This new place is going to be world-class.

Brian Flores the Head Coach.  While it’s only been a year with him at the helm, just by being in his presence, hearing him speak and listening to what the players said about him – there’s not a man in that building that wouldn’t run to the TNT Wall for him.  Miami’s finally got the Head Coach they’ve longed for since Don Shula strode the sidelines.

The Dolphins have added 11 pieces so far, and the have the opportunity to select a new franchise quarterback in a month.  If Chris Grier, Marvin Allen, Reggie McKenzie, Brian Flores, the staff, and the scouts get this right Miami’s going to have built one hell of a machine.  Just in time for the post-Tom Brady Era in the AFC East.

It’s a wonderful time to be a Dolfan!  All is certainly not right in the world.  Not by a longshot.  But in these trying times where we all need to cling to some form of solace, the Dolphins are providing one.  It’s a small part of my everyday life, but it’s one of my favorite parts.  Always has been.  Always will be.  FinsUp!

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Miami Dolphins

Free agency opens; Reshad Jones, Mike Hull lead Miami Dolphins cuts

Shawn Digity

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Miami Dolphins
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

MIAMI (Locked On Dolphins) – While the two-day legal tampering period has already been underway, free agency officially opened on Wednesday at 4 p.m.

Since many of the heavy-hitting signs and trades have already been announced, the start of the new league year will be more about ratifying all those moves.

The Miami Dolphins, at the time of writing, have announced 10 free agency moves.

And with that, there has been the consequential announcement of cutdowns to counterbalance the roster spots of incoming players.

Reshad Jones leads the list and is also the only technical release, but the Dolphins had already announced that.

Jones was going into his 11th season and spent the first 10 with the Dolphins.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Jones sign with a new team in the coming days of free agency.

Nearly half a dozen players were also waived: wide receiver T.J. Rahming, cornerback Rashard Causey, tackle Chidi Okeke, interior offensive lineman Evan Brown, defensive lineman Kendrick Norton, and linebacker Mike Hull.

Rahming, Causey, and Okeke spent the 2019 season as practice squad members.

Brown saw playing time late in the 2019 season but had been plucked off the Giants practice squad.

Hull might be the most interesting name on the list. He had been a scrappy ‘backer presence for the Dolphins after signing with the team as a UDFA in 2015.

Hull re-signed with the Dolphins last spring.

But he spent the 2019 season on the Physically Unable to Perform list with a knee injury and didn’t play.

Norton was also kept on the team during the 2019 season by way of the Non-Football Injury list after a car accident last summer.

 

 

 

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Bring On Another Ex-Patriot, Sign LB Elandon Roberts

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins are loading up on leadership. If there’s one thing the Dolphins have made a priority this offseason, it’s adding smart, determined football players to their team. Under Brian Flores‘ stewardship, I doubt we ever see a broken locker room again.

According to Cameron Wolfe of ESPN, the Miami Dolphins are signing linebacker Elandon Roberts to a contract. Financial details are currently unknown.

Roberts is yet another ex-New England Patriot to leave Boston this offseason for warmer pastures down south, following fellow-linebacker Kyle Van Noy, and the recent addition of (center) Ted Karras earlier today.

Originally drafted as a 6th-round pick by the New England Patriots in 2016, Roberts has primarily served as a special teams ace, while also serving as depth at linebacker.

If you were impressed by Biegel’s production last season, you will be pleased with the type of versatility Roberts brings. Over the past four seasons, Roberts has been active for 60 games (starting 33 of them), and has accumulated 4 sacks, 6 passes defended, 206 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss and 14 QB Hits.

Roberts is stout against the run, something the Dolphins have lacked over the past couple of seasons.

If you were curious what all the additions at linebacker meant for Vince Biegel, this doesn’t make things any clearer. Biegel is tendered at a “cheap” rate next season, so there’s no need to trade him or let him walk, but with the additions of Roberts and Kamu Grugier-Hill so far this offseason, it seems snap counts are becoming sparser.

Right now, the Dolphins currently have the following linebackers on their roster for 2020:

  • Chase Allen
  • Jerome Baker
  • Vince Biegel
  • Jake Carlock
  • James Crawford
  • Jamal Davis II
  • Sam Eguavoen
  • Terrill Hanks
  • Trent Harris
  • Mike Hull
  • Deon Lacy
  • Raekwon McMillan
  • Calvin Munson
  • Andrew Van Ginkel

They recently added:

  • Kyle Van Noy
  • Elandon Roberts
  • Kamu Grugier-Hill

Sam Eguavoen was a budding linebacker and special teams player for the Dolphins last season, but it looks like he’ll need to have an excellent training camp to remain on the team. It’ll also be interesting to see what this means for last year’s 5th-round pick, Andrew Van Ginkel.

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