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.
Taco Charlton: New Acquisition Analysis
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)|
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.
Quick Taco Charlton film thread. Looking at the applicable traits that make him a potential fit in Miami’s scheme, where he needs to get better, and why coaching can make a difference.
First, the get-off paired with lateral agility will suit him well in a stunt-heavy defense. pic.twitter.com/Qgd0kzPzlp
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) September 19, 2019
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.
Josh Rosen Named Starting QB vs Cowboys; Claim DE Taco Charlton
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.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 19, 2019
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.
Dolphins have claimed former Cowboys DE Taco Charlton, source confirms. Charlton was Dallas 2017 first-round pick who the team waived Wednesday.
— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) September 19, 2019
The Dolphins are getting Taco Charlton for a bargain: 2 years, $2.5M.
— Adam Beasley (@AdamHBeasley) September 19, 2019
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.
Dolphins Cowboys Week Three Preview
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Jeff Kolb (@JeffKolbFOX4) September 20, 2019
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.
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.
- Taco Charlton: New Acquisition Analysis September 19, 2019
- Josh Rosen Named Starting QB vs Cowboys; Claim DE Taco Charlton September 19, 2019
- Dolphins Cowboys Week Three Preview September 19, 2019
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