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Dolphins Jets Week Nine Preview

Travis Wingfield

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Football’s Most Futile Operations Clash in South Florida

Who: Dolphins (0-7) vs. Jets (1-6)
When: Sunday November 3, 1:00 East
Where: Hard Rock Stadium — Miami Gardens, FL
Weather: 83 degrees, scattered thunderstorms (40% precipitation)
Vegas Slant: Dolphins +3

DolphinsJets

Several shades of green and nearly the entirety of America’s eastern coast separate two of the NFL’s longest, most bitter rivals — the Miami Dolphins and the New York Stej.

As the century unfolds, my own personal disdain for teams around the league has dissipated. Maturity, the Dolphins’ own futility, and working in the journalism field all probably play a part in my softened edges as a football fan, but one particular team still evokes a feeling of utter revulsion.

The Stej.

So much so, that I can’t even bring myself to correctly spell the name. From the empty promises of Rex Ryan, to the current laughing stock under a former Dolphins Head Coach, it’s simply too easy to hate the AFC East’s most perennial bottom-feeder.

This rivalry has seen everything. AFC Championship Games, the Fake Spike, the Monday Night Meltdown — after 106 meetings, only three games separate the all-time score of this series (54-51-1, in favor of the Jest).

Yet, Sunday in Miami, the rivalry takes on a whole new meaning. Dolphins fans have their eyes set steadfast on next April’s first pick.

Jets fans want Adam Gase gone worse than Miami wanted Cam Cameron’s dismissal at the conclusion of the 2007 season. And if Gase loses this one, as a road favorite, it could be the last game he ever serves in the big chair in this league.

The Dolphins are up first in a six-game stretch of very winnable games for the Stej. A win on Sunday could spark a mini-run and accomplish two goals for Miami:

1.) Puts the team closer to the first pick in the draft, and
2.) Keeps Gase in charge in Jersey for another year

Nobody holds a grudge quite like Adam Gase — evident by his 2017 decision to attempt an onside-kick in a blowout over his former boss in Denver — and he will surely bring his best effort with him for the reunion trip to South Florida.

The Scheme:

Offense:

This portion of the preview serves as a pleasant reminder that we don’t have to dissect Gase’s system any longer — at least not for the home team. The story is the same; no utilization of analytics, a conservative approach that replaces creativity in the run game with screen passes, and an offense that constantly throws the football short of the sticks.

All offseason, Gase talked about the abilities of Sam Darnold and how his presence afforded the coach to be more aggressive. Still, the Jets offense ranks near the bottom in air-yards, and every major offensive category.

Gase’s run scheme became more diverse in 2018 when the Phins hired Eric Studesville to coordinate the rushing attack, but with Le’Veon Bell in New York, Gase reverts back to exclusive zone concepts. Plenty of outside zone, complemented by split-zone, the Jets have operated in two-back sets this year, but mainly in short-yardage. That’s also the situation where the Jets unveil some gap-scheme runs.

The passing game will feature a lot of three-by-one alignments where the Jets will try to capitalize on backside isolation, and three-man combinations to the play-side that are designed to free up one receiver.

Late last season, Gase started deploying more 12-personnel, but was almost exclusively an 11-personnel offense prior to the bye week. This year, with the Jets, he’s down to 68% in 11-personnel. The second most-frequent package is 12-personell, checking in at a clip of 12% of the offensive calls.

Defense:

Gregg Williams might be the only NFL personality more stubborn than Gase. Operating primarily from a traditional 3-4 base, the Jets will often leave two or three linebackers on the field regardless of the offensive personnel.

The way Williams diversifies his proverbial portfolio comes through pressure packages. He’s going to blitz, blitz, and then blitz some more. Sending an extra rusher at a 41.6%-clip, only the Ravens and Bucs blitz more than Williams. He’ll dial up zero-pressure (no safety help), and use his best player (Jamal Adams) in a variety of roles down around the line-of-scrimmage.

Using edge pressure will create one-on-one opportunities inside for Quinnen Williams. Jordan Jenkins gets plenty of opportunities as the overhang, outside backer in odd fronts.

The Players:

Offense:

Sam Darnold entered the NFL Draft with one big question mark — ball security. Darnold has played in 17 games as a pro, and he’s committed 31 turnover opportunities (interceptions and fumbles). The only way Miami can stay in games, with this current roster, is to take the football away, and Darnold is the man to oblige them.

Still, Darnold offers a sharp post-snap mind. Despite seeing ghosts against this same defensive scheme as Miami (with the opposite end of the spectrum from a talent standpoint), Darnold could have a bounce back game. He’ll have to displace the Miami defenders with his eyes and body-positioning in the pocket, something he’s more than capable of doing. The Dolphins inability to create pressure all year should serve the Jets offense well.

The Jets are one of the few offensive lines in the league that makes Miami look decent up front. Adding three, past-their-prime veterans to the group was the most Adam Gase thing ever, and now he’s paying the price. Kelechi Osemele was cut after the team tried to force him to play through a serious shoulder injury, and Ryan Kalil and Alex Lewis are proving why they were cut (or about to be cut before a trade) by their former teams. Chuma Edoga is a rookie, so he has an excuse, but Brandon Shell has been a bad tackle for years. Kelvin Beachum could return to the lineup this week.

Robbie Anderson was not dealt at the deadline, and that could be the most consequential aspect of the week as it relates to the game Sunday. Anderson is a dangerous deep threat, and running on a secondary that has been stripped down to its bare bones could create vertical opportunities.

The forecast calls for rain, and that should mean a considerable workload for Le’Veon Bell. Gase once had to force an assistant to remind him to feed Jay Ajayi during a two-game stretch where the back picked up nearly 450 rushing yards, so who knows if Gase will figure it out?

Defense:

Jamal Adams is New York’s best player, and he was almost shipped off on Tuesday. Fortunately, for the fans of the tank, he’ll play Sunday, and very likely destroy multiple plays. Adams is a game-wrecker. He changes the way teams call protection up front, and acts as an additional ‘backer in the run-game. Ryan Fitzpatrick will have to I.D. Adams on every play.

Adams’ counterpart, Marcus Maye, has had a strong 2019 season. Teams are finding little success when targeting him in coverage (47.9 passer rating against), but he will miss his fair share of tackles.

Quinnen Williams and Steve McClendon are both mountains in the middle of the Jets defense. If Daniel Kilgore returns to the lineup, things could get dicey for Miami up the gut. Kilgore has always struggled with power and that pair for the Jets provides plenty of it. Miami will have to double either of these guys to move them off the point.

McClendon is a questionable to play, and in his place is the Jets highest-graded player (PFF) this season, Folorunso Fatukasi. The 2018 sixth-round pick has only given the Jets 151 snaps this season, with six of his seven tackles coming on run stops.

Trumaine Johnson and Daryl Roberts make up perhaps the league’s worst perimeter tandem, but Brian Poole has been steady in the slot.

The Medical:

The Opportunities:

Preston Williams and Devante Parker have been two of Miami’s best performers this season, operating primarily outside. Those matchups against the Jets horrendous cornerback play could provide some shot-plays for an offense that ranks last in scoring.

Defensively, if the Phins are to win, they’ll have to take the ball away. Getting pressure on Darnold is the first step, and Miami’s varietal blitz package will have to make up for a lack of pure pass rushers up front.

The Concerns:

Running the ball is going to be a challenge. The matchup for Miami inside is not beneficial for the home team, and neither is Miami’s defensive matchup against the Jets skill players. Jamison Crowder is going to be force-fed while Gase looks to scheme up deep shots to Robbie Anderson, building off of that short game.

The Projected Outcome:

The rain in the forecast is entirely fitting for this game. A pair of hated rivals that probably prefer the other side to come out victorious, the motivation might be the deciding factor in this one. Just like he did when he was in Miami, Gase tends to save a lot of his best stuff for the game he perceives to be most important (Patriots all three years here, and now this one for a self-serving ego-maniac).

The grudge, the conditions, and Miami coming off a short week — plus an emotional letdown — points in favor of the road team.

I see no reason to expect this game to follow any other script than the one we’ve seen the last two weeks. Miami starts off strong, and the game slowly fades out of reach by the middle of the fourth quarter.

Dolphins 13
Jets 26

@WingfieldNFL

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Dan Estebanez

    November 3, 2019 at 8:55 pm

    Question for Podcast from a non-tweeter.

    Hi Travis. Are you changing your feelings at all about Matt Haack? Guy has been booming the crap out of the ball when we are deep in our end and from midfield he has pinned the other team inside their ten like 3 x times in last 2 x games? For a specialist I think we could do worse.

    Also wondering if you noticed in camp how much work Reed got at center? Boehme seems to have trouble anchoring at center while not so much at guard. I would think there is a technique nuance to doing it at center which would if you’d like to talk about this I’m interesting in being educated on the subject.

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Miami Dolphins

There’s A Fine Line Between Being A Genius & Being Dumb in the NFL

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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Miami Dolphins

Dolphins Waive TE Michael Roberts

Chris Kowalewski

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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.

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.

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Miami Dolphins

In A Perfect World, Tua Tagovailoa Doesn’t Start a Single Game

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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…

Playoff Bound

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.

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.

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