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Miami Dolphins

Dolphins Down Saints – Preseason Game 4 Recap, Starting QB Announced

Travis Wingfield

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Fitzpatrick named opening day starter, exhibition season is in the rear view, now the fun (or the pain) begins

Stat Dolphins Saints
Total Yards 345 305
Rushing 117 124
Passing 228 181
Penalties 6 (54 yards) 4 (35 yards)
3rd/4thDown 8/15 6/12
Sacks For 2 1
TOP 33:17 26:43

 

Brian Flores announced that Ryan Fitzpatrick, not Josh Rosen, would start the season opener against the Ravens.

Prior to Coach’s announcement, the most pertinent takeaways from tonight’s game occurred before the 8 PM kickoff. Miami’s massive list of inactives featured all the players you would expect, but also some that might’ve been thought to sit on the bubble.

The length of that list is visually comical, but two stand out above the rest.

Like Jomal Wiltz.

For those privy to my daily training camp updates, this is not a surprise. Wiltz regularly ran with the first-team, as a nickel corner, while Minkah Fitzpatrick cross-trained at safety. Wiltz came over from the Patriots practice squad last season where he worked with new Dolphins Cornerbacks Coach Josh Boyer.

Wiltz is on the 53-man roster.

Like Chris Lammons.

On the fourth day of camp, a group of largely unknowns began to work in behind Bobby McCain in that deep center field safety role. Montre Hartage, Wiltz, and Lammons were the ones vying for backup duty. Since that time, Lammons has been featured on primary special teams units, he’s made plays in the games, and he’s been all over the defensive formation.

Lammons is on the 53-man roster.

The others on this list are either injured or veterans with utter job security. Allen Hurns stands out as another interesting name, however. He doesn’t have any reported injuries and is considered a bubble player, at best.

A tip of the cap to Head Coach Brian Flores, he delegated play-calling duties to the two holdovers from the Adam Gase regime — Eric Studesville and Tony Oden.

Studesville was active throwing some wrinkles at the Saints. Miami operated out of a heavy package (sixth offensive lineman) in the second quarter, and schemed open a touchdown at the end of the half.

Let’s go position-by-position.

Quarterback

Flores announced immediately after the game that Ryan Fitzpatrick would start opening day against the Ravens. Rosen outperformed the veteran in the preseason games, but Flores referenced the same ideals that led him to this decision all throughout camp.

Communication, leadership, and the understanding of the offense. Rosen isn’t there yet, and that’s okay. It’s better for Rosen to play when he’s ready than it is to throw him to the wolves for the hell of it.

Now, if Rosen isn’t playing after the bye week (barring a miracle 3-1, or even 2-2 start) then that’s a separate issue.

In the interim, Jake Rudock played really well in New Orleans. The pass protection was the best it has been all preseason, but it wasn’t without its warts. On those plays with compromised pockets, when Rudock had to go off-script, he made magic. Free of turnovers, Rudock passed for 229 yards, a touchdown, only took one sack, and posted a passer rating of 109.7.

Running Backs

Considering the minimal investment into the position this offseason (last chance Mark Walton, a seventh-round pick, a UDFA signing and an AAF signing) Miami has a deep stable of backs. Walton shook free from Cincinnati because of legal troubles, but he’s been on the straight and narrow ever since.

Walton is light on his feet, excels in pass protection, he can flex out as a receiver, and he will pack a punch every now-and-then.

Chandler Cox made a crushing block in that video, a regular occurrence this preseason.

Patrick Laird’s passing game prowess has been relatively concealed this preseason, but the UDFA — and lock to make the roster — showcased his best trait tonight.

Wide Receiver

Albert Wilson was back in action for the first time since Last October, and it was glorious. Wilson uncovered on his patented over route, made a contested catch, and did his trademark move-the-chains dance.

Isaiah Ford has to make this team. His nuance to find soft spots in the zone, to recognize the leverage and landmarks of the defenders, and quickly show his numbers to the quarterback will go a long way in this scheme. He’s still the sixth receiver, but expect Miami to find a way to make room.

Brice Butler made an impressive stab going to the ground on a pass off his body. Butler belongs in the NFL, but he’s going to get caught in a numbers game in Miami.

Reece Horn caught a touchdown (first video in this thread) and undrafted rookie T.J. Rahming plays at a different speed — he stood out in this game both as a receiver and returner.

Tight End

Chris Myarick was a late add to the roster this summer. An undrafted free agent from Temple, Myarick has the makeup Miami will prefer at the position, including some sneaky seam busting skills. Myarick finished the night with five grabs — on five targets — for 70 yards. He should find his way onto the practice squad.

Offensive Line

Only one starter played in the game, and he had more issues. Shaq Calhoun is struggling in his pass sets, often lunging and chasing a man into the backfield. He did, however, hit a gorgeous reach block to wall off a front-side zone run.

The rest of the starting group featured Zach Sterup, Kyle Fuller, Chris Reed and Isaiah Prince.

Reed belongs on the starting five. He has a penchant for getting in space and he’s the best pass protector among all Dolphins interior linemen.

After that, your guess is as good as mine for how Miami will construct the rest of the group. Sterup and Prince aren’t ready for primetime and Fuller’s promotion gives us a clue into the pecking order, but he’s best served as a developmental player.

Prince does have some desirable traits, primarily his work in the running game. He often finds work at the second level, and his length can mask his heavy feet at times.

Defensive Line

Miami’s plan in this game was pretty cut and dry. Fewer games, fewer blitzes, and a scheme designed to create one-on-one opportunities magnified Miami’s lack of pure pass rushers.

Jonathan Ledbetter saw significant time as an edge rusher; he was in the backfield a couple of times, but that’s not his bread and butter.

Joey Mbu was disruptive throughout most of the night. He’s more apt for the two-gap scheme than the recently cut Akeem Spence — perhaps that move was made to get Mbu onto the roster.

Dewayne Hendrix has collapsed the edge of pockets all preseason. He’s a bubble guy, but it’ll be tough to keep him off of the roster.

Nate Orchard found another sack, forced a holding call, and was probably Miami’s best rusher in the game, yet again.

Linebackers

Tre Watson had a big opportunity tonight, but it wasn’t his best showing. Serving as the primary backup stack linebacker to Raekwon McMillan, he was frequently caught in the wash, and had his issues getting depth in some Tampa-2 coverage looks.

Nick DeLuca is likely to make the backend of the roster, and his work as a SAM backer was impressive for the second straight week.

Cornerback

This group was likely playing for the final cornerback job on the opening day roster. If I had to make a choice, Cornell Armstrong would get the nod. He welcomes contact, he’s valuable as a special teams player, and he was quiet in coverage (a good thing for a corner).

Torry McTyer was beat for a touchdown, but his tackling and will were both a joy to watch. He’s not afraid to stick his nose in, and that does not go unnoticed on this staff.

Despite a late gamble gone wrong, Nik Needham had his best game of the preseason. His footwork and competitive toughness are worth keeping around for development — sometimes fans expect too much from these small school kids making huge jumps in competition-level.

Safety

Maurice Smith figures to be next in line after T.J. McDonald was cut. Smith had a great coverage rep where he lined up over a flexed out tight end (our old pal, A.J. Derby), disrupted the route and completely took Derby out of the play.

Montre Hartage was late coming over on a safety splitter in two-deep coverage, but that was the first time I noted him as have issues on the back end — he’s probably on the 53-man roster.

Special Teams

We don’t usually talk about kickers on this blog, but Jason Sanders is absolute aces, and Matt Haack was booming the ball tonight.

One sentence, that’s infinity times more than we’ve given before.

Recap

The most encouraging aspect of the game tonight was the overall preparation of the team. Miami came out hot, and played with better energy than the Saints — a testament to the coaching staff.

Miami possessed the ball for all but three snaps on the opening series (23 plays to New Orleans’ 3). Eric Studesville did a great job with the offensive calls and the framework of Miami’s offense was on display — run the ball, utilize play action, involve the backs in the passing game.

Surprise veteran cuts, and potential Jadeveon Clowney trade aside, the decisions for the 53-man roster are relatively obvious. Miami has to make 31 more cuts between now and 4 PM Eastern on Saturday, and the human element of the game is always difficult.

We will have you covered on cut-down day tracking every move Miami makes. Plus, on the podcast that partners with this article, we’ll go over some potential options from cuts around the league and who Miami could pursue, as well as discuss Flores’ decision to start Fitzpatrick. Additionally, we’ll discuss the weekend’s slate of college football quarterback prospects.

The preseason is over! Football is back!

@WingfieldNFL

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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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