Who: Dolphins (0-0) vs. Ravens (0-0)
When: September 8, 1:00 PM East
Where: Hard Rock Stadium — Miami Gardens, FL
Weather: 89 degrees, 68% humidity, 10% chance precipitation
Vegas Slant: Dolphins +6.5
Last year, I wrote a preamble in the week-one preview piece that focused on hope. Hope for silencing the critics, returning to January football, and ending the nearly two-decade drought without a post-season win.
One trip around the sun changes everything. Only 21 players from last year’s team survived the lap around the galaxy — 60% turnover.
A multi-year approach to team building makes for some difficult days in the interim, as the team plans to construct a better tomorrow. Yet, regardless of how much Dolphins fans want this season to come and go as quickly, and as painless as possible, 16 football games must be played — starting with Sunday against those damn Ravens (responsible for 50% of Miami’s playoff exits this century).
Despite all of Miami’s perceived shortcomings, Hard Rock Stadium remains a miserable place for visitors. Since Miami begun play under the renovated canopy in 2016, the team is 16-6 in its home park.
Brian Flores might’ve made his Dolphins debut more challenging by eating into that built-in advantage. Miami’s roster has 13 players that were not here this time last week. Any resident of South Florida knows that there’s an acclimation period for newcomers, as that muggy humidity instantly robs the best conditioned athletes of their breath.
As the Ravens melt in their unshaded sideline, Miami will need to effectively run the football, and stop the run to have a chance.
After six years as the Ravens Linebackers Coach, Don “Wink” Martindale took over the Baltimore defense in 2018 and led the unit to a number-two ranking — both in points allowed and total defense.
Any team the Dolphins play will present an opportunity to bring pressure relentlessly, but that is already the M.O. of this Baltimore defense.
Similarities between Martindale’s defense and Flores’ plan exist, primarily in masking pre-snap coverage and pressure looks. With multiple fronts, gap options for the blitzers, and an emphasis on disrupting the timing in the passing game, Baltimore will see Miami’s line as a vulnerable unit primed for exposing.
The addition of Earl Thomas in the secondary gives Martindale even more freedom. Thomas’ proclivity for finding tells in the offensive formation, paired with his unrivaled range, means the Ravens can dial-up man-free coverage and commit extra bodies in the rush scheme.
It’ll be up to Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant to uncover quickly and present an immediate target to Ryan Fitzpatrick. If the first read isn’t there, it’s not likely that the Miami signal-caller will have time to get to his second.
Offensively, Greg Roman brings a lot of intrigue to this revamped Ravens attack. Roman was the architect behind the 49ers momentary revolutionary offense with Colin Kaepernick at the controls — he wouldn’t happen to have a similar player at that spot, would he?
He does. And Baltimore are going to add wrinkles to an already explosive, league-leading rushing attack that utilizes the quarterback as its most integral part. Lamar Jackson stresses each gap of the defense, inflicts indecision with misdirection, and his occasional chunk-gain in the passing game gives the defense plenty to think about.
With a combination of zone-read and classic power concepts, Miami will need to hit their keys early and do its best to hem Jackson in the pocket. Raekwon McMillan’s availability is a major factor in this game — these are the contests he’s built for.
A lot of names worthy of making the game day program are now gone. In their place, unheralded players capable of wrecking any offensive plan.
It starts up front. Linebacker Patrick Onwuasor is as difficult to block as his name is tough to pronounce. His 17.4 pass-rush-productivity mark in 2018 ranked second behind qualifying players behind only Indianapolis’ Darius Leonard. He can pick his spots against a pair of vulnerable Dolphins tackles, not to mention a reshuffled group in the post-Laremy Tunsil era.
His partner in crime, Matthew Judon, ranked 23rd among edge rushers in that category, while sub-package ‘backer Tyus Bowser ranked 18th.
Baltimore’s linebacker freedom comes from sheer size, power at the point-of-attack, and the ability to absorb double teams. Brandon Williams has been an issue for Miami since he entered the league while Michael Pierce outpaced Williams in run-stop percentage. The Dolphins inexperienced interior, paired with problems against power, does not bode well in this regard.
The secondary is the best positon group on the team. Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey all challenge routes at the critical points (line-of-scrimmage, top of the route, and catch-point). They all have terrific recovery speed, ball skills, and are each willing to stick their nose into the pile for a tackle. Then, of course, there’s Earl Thomas, who needs no introduction.
Preston Williams, or Devante Parker, need to make a vertical impact early to keep this defense honest. These X-types should get an opportunity against man-coverage into the boundary without safety help.
An infusion of speed makes this unit as intriguing as any in the NFL. On top of Jackson’s 695 rushing yards in seven games, Baltimore has a legitimate homerun threat in rookie receiver Hollywood Brown, and a change-of-pace lightning bolt back in rookie Justice Hill.
It’s the perfect melding of styles that makes this offense dangerous. Where Baltimore can burn you with speed, they can run power down your throat just as effectively. Mark Ingram is the new hammer. He’s an instinctive back that will pairs well with Baltimore’s multiplicity in the running game. Gus Edwards had a big rookie year, he’ll contribute as well.
The tight ends, perhaps the most under-rated group in the league, gives Jackson’s run-heavy offense a perfect play-action compliment. Mark Andrews is a difficult cover between the numbers, and he and Hayden Hurst take a lot of pride in clearing lanes in the ground game.
Ronnie Stanley (Left Tackle) allowed just 17 pressures last season and Orlando Brown (Right Tackle) just 16, with only one of those resulting in a hit on the quarterback for Brown.
The guard play is more than adequate in its own right, spearheaded by perennial pro-bowler Marshal Yanda. The center position is where Baltimore are vulnerable. Matt Skura struggled to take over for Ryan Jensen after he left for Tampa Bay last year in free agency.
Just about everywhere. Baltimore presents multiple issues to this under-maned Dolphins roster. Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram can balance a steady running game, Mark Andrews provides a test to Miami’s re-made safety pairing, and Hollywood Brown is a touchdown waiting to strike.
On defense, the Ravens pressure packages are simply more than Miami can handle. Even if the plan was to line up and win one-on-one matchups, Baltimore would still apply pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick — who’s more than likely to put some balls in play for that aggressive secondary.
Rookies Michel Deiter and Shaq Calhoun are still slated to start at the guard positions. The pair struggled immensely in pass pro this preseason, and Baltimore’s complex rush scheme doesn’t make things any easier.
Some way, somehow, the Dolphins have to run the ball successfully. They need to accomplish that, and go against some tendencies with first down passes, and using the Ravens aggressiveness against them.
Chad O’Shea comes from an offense with an extensive package of screens; some well-timed calls in that department could spring Jakeem Grant, Albert Wilson, or Kenyan Drake on a big play.
The Projected Result:
These teams are trending in opposite directions. Baltimore, fresh off a division title in Lamar Jackson’s rookie year, are looking to take the training wheels off of his offense and expand his incredibly gifted skill set.
Miami wants to control both lines-of-scrimmage, but they’re playing a team far more equipped to win that style of game.
This game might stay close for the first half, but Baltimore eventually turns it into a laugher.
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