Searching for consecutive wins, Dolphins will need its best game yet
Who: Dolphins (1-7) at Colts (5-3)
When: Sunday November 10, 4:05 East
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium — Indianapolis, IN
Vegas Slant: Colts -10.5 (Dolphins FPI chance to win — 10%)
One year ago, the future of the Dolphins organization began to turn in the fourth quarter of a game in Indianapolis. With a two-score, in the final period, the Miami offense stalled out with its tail between its legs. It was the start of a five-game stretch that ultimately led to the demise of Adam Gase in Miami, and the initial shovel in the ground of the current, proverbial rebuild.
Now, fresh off the team’s first win since the Miami Miracle, Brian Flores looks to continue a progression of improved play, that spans four weeks, and begin his first winning streak. Back-to-back victories will be a challenge, regardless of who starts under center for the Colts.
Indianapolis are in advanced stages of what Miami hopes to build. Chris Ballard reconstructed the program, nearly from the ground up, by collecting draft picks and committing to a singular, focused vision that values the same traits Flores is partial to in his beliefs.
Tough, smart, disciplined, and capable of handling the nitty-gritty aspects that make football what it is, a game of physicality. Tackling, blocking, and defeating blocks are the keys to a Colts technically-sound operation, which makes regular winners of a team that is always in close contests.
While Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard winding up on the all-pro team in their rookie seasons is an absolute feather in Ballard’s cap, curating the bottom of the roster has made the Colts almost impervious to the injury bug. Developing a culture and mindset of 53 players all capable of contributing is exactly the vision Flores and his team in Miami foresee.
Indianapolis had it made in the shade with those principals, considering they were paired with an elite quarterback. But that quarterback shocked the football world and called it a career just before the 2019 season kicked off.
The post-Andrew Luck era has turned the Colts into a new-aged version of Tony Sparano’s Dolphins teams. Quality defense, conservative passing game supported by a good offensive line and ground game, and a white knuckle affair each Sunday.
Now, potentially without its starting quarterback, the Colts could be right back in same, weekly brawl with the 1-7 Miami Dolphins.
With variations of the West Coach system, and plenty of analytics-drive principles from his time under Doug Pederson, Frank Reich is regarded as one of the best offensive minds in football. The best play-callers filter through the same route concepts with regularity, but create disguise and deception with pre-snap window dressing.
That’s the name of Reich’s attack. The Colts can go four verticals from 13-personnell, or they can run the football from empty sets. Taking advantage of the box count to create one-on-one matchups up front, or generating beneficial perimeter matchups makes life easy on the Indianapolis quarterbacks.
Indianapolis are a predominant 11-personnel attack. Operating with three receivers on 72% of its offensive snaps, there is a lack of variety for all other packages save for one, 12-personnel. The Colts go two tights 23% of the time, leaving just 5% to scatter across all other groupings (with 4% going towards 13-personnel).
Few teams have more balance than Reich’s Colts. Indianapolis has a run-pass ratio of 47-53. The Colts offense ranks 23rd in yards-per-play, 19th in yards-per-carry, 22nd in yards-per-pass, and 16th in scoring.
Matt Eberflus was on the staff before Reich, and that relationship has blossomed in a way that no pundit could’ve forecasted. Added during the brief Josh McDaniels era, Reich kept Eberflus on, and he has transformed the Colts defense.
Indianapolis ranks 17th in scoring defense. Last year, Eberflus’ unit ranked 10th, this after ranking no higher than 26th the previous three seasons in total defense.
The Colts get it done on this side by playing coverage. Blitzing at a rate of 24.2%, only six teams bring an extra rusher on fewer occasions than Indianapolis.
The coverage packages vary greatly. With three capable safeties on the roster, some of Indianapolis’ nickel packages bring a third safety on the field over a third corner. They operate out of dime with regularity as well — six defensive backs played more than 50% of the snaps in the Pittsburgh game.
There aren’t many teams, if any, that can say their best player is a guard. For the Colts, Quenton Nelson is the focal point of Indy’s multiple run packages, and the isolated man in many-a-pass protection looks. Nelson, Braden Smith, Ryan Kelly, Mark Glowinski and Anthony Castonzo make up perhaps the best line in football.
Kelly left the Pittsburgh game with an injury, making for a banged up Colts offense. Jacoby Brissett also left last week’s game with a knee injury, and T.Y. Hilton didn’t make the trip. Now, even more than before, the Colts will rely on the running game, and place the burden on the shoulders of Marlon Mack.
Mack plays more than 60% of the Colts offensive downs, and has chewed up 679 rushing yards at the mid-way point of the season. He’s a tough, downhill runner that averages 4.4 yards-per-pop, and that’s a pretty consistent measure. When Indy wants to throw, they go to second-year back, Nyheim Hines.
The primary 11 and 12-personnel looks are a product of three, versatile tight ends. The offense funnels through Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron and Mo Alie-Cox — the triumvirate have played 77%, 34%, and 30% of the offensive snaps, respectively.
Darius Leonard is in the midst of a sophomore slump falling off from his all-pro production, during his rookie season, across the board. He’s still the leader of the Colts defense, but it’s been more of a collective effort this season.
Malik Hooker is healthy, and giving the Colts the player they thought they were getting in the first-round of the draft a couple of years back. He, along with Marvell Tell and Kenny Moore at the corner positions, have helped solidify a good Colts secondary.
The edge pressure had been much better this season with the addition of Justin Houston, and the emergence of Kemoko Turay, but the latter is out for the season with an ankle injury. In Turay’s absence, Houston has stepped it up big time. He has 33 quarterback pressures on 246 pass rush downs (13.4% pressure rate).
This is a difficult matchup. The Colts will certainly look to shorten this game and control the time-of-possession with a run-game Miami are not equipped to stop. If the Dolphins have any modicum of success against the run, long down-and-distances can allow Miami to matchup and send heavy pressure at Brian Hoyer, who’s not adept at dealing with a quality pass rush.
On offense, look for Miami to involve their breakthrough tight end in some pre-determined matchup creations. If Mike Gesicki can exploit the Colts base defense, it could force sub-package ‘backer Bobby Okereke onto the field, then Miami can try to generate a run game from there.
Again, it’s a difficult matchup for the road team. There’s no reason to think the Colts won’t run the football 30 times without much resistance from Miami. This is probably the best line in football, and the marriage of running game and play action concepts from 12 and 13-personnel packages could expose Miami’s under-manned defense.
The Projected Outcome:
The win against the Jets was a massive monkey off the backs of all the coaches and players, but the message of complacency has already been drilled in by Brian Flores. It sounds funny to say that a one-win outfit might be satisfied, but it’s a great test to see how the team handles success. We’ve seen them play hard through adversity, but the biggest challenge in this league is getting back to the grind after victories.
If I’ve learned anything from a half of a season from Flores, there’s no way he lets this team rest on one measly win. I’d expect nothing short of another spirited, competitive game from Miami. Still, on the road against a talented roster, that’s too much for this team to overcome, at least at this stage of the rebuild.
There’s A Fine Line Between Being A Genius & Being Dumb in the NFL
Think Brian Flores & Chris Grier aren’t smart?
After successfully navigating through all of the pre-draft smokescreens better than teenagers can survive the high school rumor mill, the Miami Dolphins are in a position to flourish for the next decade.
Yes, it’s something we’ve said before almost annually, but this time, there’s a clear foundation that will allow the roots of this franchise to prosper.
We’ve Heard This Before
Tony Sparano blossomed under the Bill Parcells‘ coaching tree in Dallas, bringing with him an aura of prominence and a pedigree for smash mouth football.
After a miraculous 10-game turnaround that took Miami from #1 overall in the draft to division winners, fans felt they had the proper leadership in place.
That was soon debunked when the Dolphins followed an 11-5 (2008) season with 7-9 (2009), 7-9 (2010) and 6-10 (2011). It’s not that any of us feel that Sparano was a bad coach, but it was more-than-evident that he was handicapped at the quarterback position.
The Dolphins go 11-5 in 2008 because their quarterback was the runner-up in the MVP race, and they falter to 7-9 after that because they decided to build around Chad Henne.
I really though back in 2011 after the first opening drive of the season that it was the Dolphins year. This drive by Chad Henne was BEAUTIFUL. pic.twitter.com/dt7WlZoINy
— Cedrick Allen (@SeeCeddyRun) April 16, 2020
Good coach, but poor coaching decisions.
From there, the Dolphins hired one of the best human beings on the planet – Joe Philbin. The notorious problem with Philbin was: he couldn’t lead a football team.
Failing to rein in Vontae Davis‘ hangovers, everything regarding Richie Incognito, the Chad Ochocinco saga (check out this damning ESPN article from 2012, which gives you a glimpse into how the player’s felt about Philbin early on), and all of the Mike Wallace drama. Those football teams had some decent talent, yet were never better than a mediocre 8-8 in Philbin’s 4 years.
Great person, but terrible with people.
Adam Gase then took a 1-4 season and made the playoffs at 10-6. All the optimism surrounding Ryan Tannehill seemed justified, and we were ecstatic for the future. But we came to learn that Gase’s coaching talents resembled more of a glorified offensive coordinator, which left players feelings ostracized and without a sense of direction – especially those on defense.
Like Philbin, Gase wanted a group of players that followed him, rather than developing a strategy that tailored to his players’ strengths. He traded away (or failed to re-sign) productive players drafted by Grier in years past, just because he couldn’t handle them.
After a 10-6 start to his coaching career (2016), we watched our hopes dwindle to 6-10 (2017) – accompanied with $10m worth of embarrassing Jay Cutler highlights – and then 7-9 (2018) after the “quarterback guru” couldn’t get any production out of a 2019 Pro Bowl & AFC Championship quarterback in Ryan Tannehill.
Jay Cutler really sold his involvement in the Wildcat 😂 pic.twitter.com/WsjyRHyzoC
— NFL on ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsNFL) October 1, 2017
Offensive visionary, but he couldn’t see past his own shortcomings.
So Why is This Different?
This would be the definition of insanity….if it meant that we were following the same trend.
Yes, we understand the eternal caveat that we won’t know for sure until we see the results, but after a successful 2019 – and a stellar 2020 draft that features plenty of starting potential – we’re not going too far out on a limb to say that they have our trust.
Going into a vital 2020 NFL draft where the team held 3 first-round picks, the Miami Dolphins’ future rested solely on the leis of Tua Tagovailoa. For months we were on edge, because, as Dolphins fans, we just figured they would screw it up. But once they secured their quarterback of the future, the plan was simple: protect him.
Not only was the plan to build a wall in front of him, but Grier and Flores identified that some of these positions take more time to develop than others. Rarely do offensive and defensive linemen jump right in and become dominant players. The difference between pancaking teenagers in college to moving a mountain-of-a-man in the NFL is colossal.
The 18th pick in April's draft turns 21 today! https://t.co/teEPyKtGSe
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) August 11, 2020
Rookies go through such a strenuous process to improve their draft stock – immediately after completing a full college season – that they are burned out by the time their rookie year is over. That’s exactly what happened to Michael Deiter towards the end of last season; it’s no surprise we see their performance start to slide after putting in so much work throughout the year.
Drafting Austin Jackson (18th-overall pick), Robert Hunt (39th), and Solomon Kindley (111th) means Miami is giving their rookies time to grow before being asked to protect their most-important asset since Dan Marino.
The Miami Dolphins have drafted a possibly transcendent QB, traded for an explosive, young, proven NFL RB, taken potential studs at LT and RT, added depth and strength to DL and interior OL and taken two talented, versatile DBs. How’s your draft going?
— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) April 25, 2020
Instead of a trying to learn the nuances of the NFL with a rookie quarterback, they can learn how an offensive play is properly setup, executed and audibled under a veteran, Ryan Fitzpatrick.
When it comes time to protect Tua Tagovailoa in 2021, they won’t have to worry if they understood the protection, if they’ll make a rookie mistake, or if they’ll naively and unintentionally do something embarrassing or costly. They’ll be able to focus on executing the play properly, giving Tua an ample amount of time to handle his own “rookie” adjustments.
With Raekwon Davis, the Dolphins acquire another player at a position that tends to need some time to grow. This move makes me wonder what the future holds for Davon Godchaux, who is expected to receive a very nice payday in free agency after this season, but for now, Miami can rely heavily on Godchaux and their 2019 1st-round pick, Christian Wilkins. Davis has the opportunity to learn under these two as he prepares to take on a much bigger role in 2021.
With their final 1st-round pick, Miami selected another young player at a cornerstone position. The adjustments rookie cornerbacks need to make when guarding an NFL receiver are somewhat substantial, and Noah Igbinoghene will be able to learn and make these adjustments while covering the opponent’s third or forth receiver – with the added security that he has an array of established and Pro Bowl veterans behind him.
This might hint at an ugly and somewhat inconsistent 2020 season, as roughly half of this roster is new to the team, but all of these young players will start to excel as Tua begins to transition into our full-time starting quarterback.
Which means the Miami Dolphins are ready to make a legitimate playoff run in 2021.
Is it possible all of these risks falter? Of course! Austin Jackson just turned 21 years old, and he wasn’t viewed as the best left tackle in college last season – he is a projection. Noah Igbinoghene wasn’t viewed as a 1st-round caliber cornerback, as most “experts” think he’s restricted to covering the slot rather than becoming a boundary corner. And then you have the general, inevitable fact that some of these picks just won’t pan out.
Austin Jackson is young. He needs time to develop his technique and his play strength. I don't think he's ready to start in the NFL right now. He's got the talent to develop into something special, but a bunch of these "high upside, raw technique" guys don't get better in the NFL
— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) April 24, 2020
But we watched players like Mike Gesicki, DeVante Parker, Raekwon McMillan, Vince Biegel and Nik Needham take the “next step” under Brian Flores stewardship. It only makes us wonder who he’ll coach up next.
Now that Flores is more-comfortable as a sophomore coach, and the team understands his “win no matter what” philosophy, Miami should naturally thrive in year two….right?
Like all of these other coaches before him, Flores is an absolute genius after year one. And like all those coaches before him, he’s one season away from looking like a dunce.
Dolphins Waive TE Michael Roberts
As the doors of the Dolphins’ training facility open to the newly signed rookie class, they close for another former Miami-hopeful after an active weekend of roster moves.
The Miami Dolphins have today waived TE Michael Roberts.
We have been awarded CB Javaris Davis from Kansas City and have waived/non-football injury TE Michael Roberts. We have also placed the following players on the reserve/COVID-19 list: LS Blake Ferguson, DT Benito Jones and CB Cordrea Tankersley. pic.twitter.com/0l3CD2H4Rv
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) July 27, 2020
Roberts began his NFL career in 2017 out of Toledo as a 4th round pick of the Detroit Lions, possessing ideal measurements (6’5”, 265lb) for a playmaking TE.
A shoulder injury in December 2018 cut short Roberts’ time in Detroit and he was waived by the Lions following a failed physical as part of an attempted trade with the New England Patriots and subsequently waived quickly again after being picked up by the Green Bay Packers.
Roberts underwent reconstruction of the injured left shoulder in August 2019, having struggled both physically and mentally as his career path veered away from his dreams. Signed by the Dolphins in February 2020, it was hoped that Roberts could revive his NFL career in Miami’s TE room, competing with Durham Smythe for the TE2 spot behind Mike Gesicki.
At only 26 years old, it remains to be seen whether the young TE will be able to regain full health and return to the game, but the craziness of 2020 only puts further hurdles in his path as training camp rosters are reduced across the league to 80 players in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Don’t expect Brian Flores and his staff to sit on their hands when it comes to competition – 2019 highlighted on a regularly churning roster of names being given a chance to succeed – and this approach is expected to continue at certain positions. As such, Saturday’s news that former Chicago Bears’ TE Adam Shaheen had been acquired by the Dolphins ensures that healthy competition can continue to spread through the roster, and proves the willingness of the front office to give chances to promising players who may not have achieved during their first NFL stop.
In A Perfect World, Tua Tagovailoa Doesn’t Start a Single Game
If everything goes right, Tua Tagovailoa isn’t going to start a single game for the Miami Dolphins in 2020.
Nope, you didn’t misread that last sentence. Tua Tagovailoa riding the bench is the best thing that could happen to the Miami Dolphins this season, and if you think otherwise, then you haven’t been paying attention to what Brian Flores has been preaching since his arrival.
The obvious factor everyone is taking into consideration is the health of Tua’s hip. And while that definitely plays a part, it has minimal affect on his playing time. You see, barring a trade, Tua is the third-best quarterback on the roster right now.
Combine his inexperience, a COVID-restricted offseason, and that pesky hip injury, and it’s safe to say our questions have already been answered.
The Better Player Plays
With this team, it’s no secret that playing time is awarded based on a player’s performance both in games and during practice. It doesn’t matter where you were drafted or how much money you’re making, if you aren’t better than the athlete next to you, you aren’t playing.
In fact, didn’t we just go through a very similar situation last year when the Dolphins acquired Josh Rosen from the Arizona Cardinals for a 2nd-round draft pick?
We all assumed that Ryan Fitzpatrick was keeping the seat warm until Rosen – a top-10 draft pick one season prior – was ready, but when Flores had the opportunity to simultaneously give a young quarterback experience and tank for Tua, he did neither. Instead, opting to (nearly) sabotage the opportunity to draft Tagovailoa and win as many games as possible with Fitzpatrick.
Not only did Brian Flores refuse to do anything he felt would not give his team the best chance to win, and not only were free agents impressed, but they got their QB. They got Tua. A new era for the Miami Dolphins.
— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) April 24, 2020
Rosen has much more upside than Fitzpatrick, but he couldn’t muster more than 197 snaps under center last season.
Just like that, the culture was set. Flores wasn’t fucking around – it was win at all costs, and the players bought in. One season later, that mantra certainly hasn’t changed.
Tua has more talent and better quarterback traits than Fitzpatrick and Rosen (probably combined), so there’s no arguing which quarterback we want to build a franchise around, but who is going to win the team more games this season?
I don’t doubt that Tua is a football genius that will pick up a playbook quickly, but knowing your plays and executing against an NFL defense are two completely different things.
Fitzpatrick has been in the league for 15 years while Tua has been in the league for 14 weeks; there is A LOT Tua has to learn before he can make the kind of reads Fitzpatrick can instinctively make after 139 starts in the NFL.
Josh Rosen may not evolve into an elite, franchise-saving quarterback, but he’s not terrible either. Two years of experience and a season-worth of starts (16) under his belt gives him an instant edge over Tua. The only thing that levels Rosen with Tagovailoa is they’re both learning Chan Gailey‘s offense for the first time – and for Rosen, this would be his 4th different offense in the past 4 years.
Otherwise, Rosen already has a rapport with the coaching staff, the medical staff, all of the workers in the building, and the receivers on this roster. In other words, he’s comfortable in his surroundings while Tua is trying to get acclimated to a brand new life.
There are going to be growing pains and a learning curve – two things we admittedly need Tua to experience in order to evolve. But the question becomes, when can Miami afford to experience those “opportunities”? Certainly not if they believe they are…
The Miami Dolphins – and most importantly, Brian Flores – believe they are in a position to make a legitimate playoff run.
Scoff however much you’d like at the notion that this team, one year removed from being “the worst team in the NFL”, is on a cusp of making a playoff appearance, but don’t tell anyone in the Dolphins’ organization that you think that.
A remastered secondary, a veteran presence among the front-7, an entirely new offensive line, and real, productive running backs means the Dolphins are all-but-guaranteed to improve on their 5-11 record.
Yards & TDs Given Up Over The Past 2 Seasons
Richard Sherman 713 / 3
Byron Jones 981 / 5
Joe Haden 1,068 / 9
Tre White 1,087 / 2
Stephon Gilmore 1,117 / 5
Darius Slay 1,214 / 9
Marcus Peters 1,376 / 12
Jalen Ramsey 1,405 / 4
Marshon Lattimore 1,492 / 6
Jaire Alexander 1,649 / 8
— A Fan’s Edition (@AFansEdition) July 23, 2020
In fact, the only thing holding them back from a legitimate playoff run is the quarterback position.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has won more than 6 games as a starter just once in his career, and Rosen only has 3 wins to his name (none as a Dolphin). If the team falters, it’s because these two quarterbacks couldn’t carry a well-built football team to the playoffs.
And that’s where the disappointment of another lost season is met with hope for the future. It won’t be until the Dolphins are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs that the team will trot Tua Tagovailoa out onto the field.
Waiting until so late in the season checks off every single box you need. It gives him time to:
- Learn his way around the NFL
- Understand the playbook better
- Observe the game from the sideline
- Gain chemistry with his receivers
Oh, and it also helps ensure that his hip is healthy, because…
I’m Sure He’s Healthy…
Being stuck inside during an international pandemic may have made it seem like a lifetime ago, but it’s only been three short months since we all clamored to a 14 minute video of Tua Tagovailoa throwing scripted passes; our eyes inexplicably glued to a man’s hips, unscientifically judging whether or not he was healthy. Try explaining that one to your significant other.
While we are all thrilled with recent medical reports and first-hand accounts from the quarterback himself, it would be downright idiotic to mess around with a hip injury.
The only reason Tua Tagovailoa was available at the 5th-overall pick was because of the uncertainty surrounding his hip, those concerns don’t suddenly disappear just because he’s on your roster and we’re excited to see our prized possession play.
Let his hip heal and let him practice against a secondary that includes Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, Bobby McCain, Brandon Jones, Noah Igbinoghene, and Eric Rowe. He’s going to learn just how quickly throwing lanes close and how tight they are to begin with.
Don’t convince yourself that Tua has to start games this rookie season to be the elite quarterback he’s projected to be. Patrick Mahomes started one game his rookie year. Aaron Rodgers didn’t start until his forth season in the NFL. If all of the hype is real, then his career will be just fine.
The plan isn’t to count moral victories, but to win football games – and Tua Tagovailoa gives the Miami Dolphins the best chance to do that for the foreseeable future. But for now, Ryan Fitzpatrick is your starting quarterback, and until Josh Rosen relinquishes the job as backup, it won’t be Tua’s until 2021. Mission Accomplished.
- There’s A Fine Line Between Being A Genius & Being Dumb in the NFL August 12, 2020
- Dolphins Waive TE Michael Roberts July 27, 2020
- In A Perfect World, Tua Tagovailoa Doesn’t Start a Single Game July 27, 2020
- Miami Dolphins Trade for Tight End Adam Shaheen July 25, 2020
- Miami Dolphins’ Jones and Howard land in top 10 CB rankings June 24, 2020