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Dolphins vs. Bears – Week Six Preview

Travis Wingfield

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Who: Dolphins (3-2) vs. Bears (3-1)
When: October 14, 1:00 East
Where: Hard Rock Stadium – Miami Gardens, FL
Weather: 85 degrees, 76% humidity, 40% chance of rain, scattered thunderstorms
Vegas Slant: Bears -3

Bears Off-Season Changes

Dolphins-Bears

As the calendar turns to Thursday, it’s time to put away the college quarterback scouting reports and get back to the current Miami Dolphins – a team tied for first place in the AFC East.

After an unsuccessful, traumatic two-game road trip, the Dolphins return to the friendly confines of Hard Rock Stadium – a building in which Adam Gase is winning games at a 71% clip (91% with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback).

Those 2016 and 2017 seasons are long in the rear-view mirror, just as the Patriots blowout and Bengals collapse ought to be. Miami will have to be much sharper on Sunday to get back into the winner’s circle against a talented Bears team.

If Miami continues to take care of business at home, playoffs will be on the menu come January – here’s how they can achieve step one on Sunday.

The Bears Scheme:
Offense

Matt Nagy came from the Andy Reid coaching tree, but his Bears offense has been slow to start the season. Chicago blew the doors off the Tampa Bay defense in week four, but the first three games were a mixture of poor quarterback play and crucial mistakes at key moments (sound familiar, Dolfans?)

Coming off a bye week, Nagy’s ability to self-scout will be on display in South Florida. Previously, the Bears offense featured variety both in the run and passing game. Different personnel groupings, jet-sweep action, a quarterback that’s a threat on the ground, and a passing game that occasionally gets vertical, the unit goes as far as Mitch Trubisky takes it.

Chicago may look to attack the Dolphins defense with tempo, and will certainly make good use of pre-snap shifting, motion and mixing up alignments.

Empty sets, I-formation, outside zone (complemented by split-zone), zone-read, quick screens and plenty of drive concepts in the intermediate passing game leaves Miami with plenty to study up before Sunday.

Deception and getting favorable match-ups by-way of unique skill players is the name of the game for the Bears.

Defense:

Just as Nagy does with the offense, Vic Fangio mixes up his fronts, coverages, and blitz packages as well as anyone. Fangio and Adam Gase have something of a checkered history, so it bears watching to see the game-within-the-game between these two play callers.

Prior to the Khalil Mack trade, the Bears needed pressure packages to put the quarterback under duress. Now, Fangio can create one-on-one opportunities for stalwarts like Akiem Hicks, because of Mack’s prowess.

On early downs, Chicago likes to play man with a press technique to the boundary and off/bail technique to the field side. When the offense falls behind the chains, Fangio will drop two deep and play zone.

In the Bucs game, Fangio called a lot of two-down-linemen fronts with Mack flanked by a fellow-edge rusher out of a two-point stance in a wide-alignment.

In this instance, Miami will need Laremy Tunsil and Ja’Wuan James to win the one-on-ones either on the edge, and use the back to chip and help out with interior pressure. The Dolphins have been using tight ends in pass protection with great regularity, and there’s no reason to expect that to change on Sunday.

The Players:
Offense:

Earlier, I alluded to Trubisky’s breakout performance against Tampa Bay. That game was an extremely rare blip on the radar in what has been an otherwise uninspiring 16-game career for the former Tarheel. Experience still isn’t on Trubisky’s side, and he has a propensity for missing too many lay-up throws and making turnover-worthy decisions and/or throws.

Nagy’s aim is to protect his young quarterback and he has a dazzling duo of backs to aid in that process. Tarik Cohen is the running back version of Jakeem Grant and Jordan Howard is one of the best zone runners in football.

How Miami deals with Cohen’s speed, both on early run-downs, and in the passing game will be paramount.

Allen Robinson was the big-name addition in the passing game, but complementary pieces like Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton have rounded out an impressive receiving corps.

Robinson is Trubisky’s security blanket and he will force balls in his direction (two interceptions when targeting Robinson). Miller has provided an underneath chain-moving option while Gabriel is the speedster of the group.

The highest ranked Bears receiver in yards per route run is Allen Robinson at 72nd in the NFL.

Aug 13, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) is tackled by Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake (91) during the first quarter in a preseason NFL football game at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago enters this game with a fairly clean bill of health. The offensive line has remained intact, thought Left Guard Eric Kush is questionable for the game Sunday. The strength of the group comes from Right Guard Kyle Long, Center Cody Whitehair and Left Tackle Charles Leno.

Leno hasn’t allowed a single hit on Trubisky and he’s the 25th graded run blocker for all NFL tackles according to PFF.

Whitehair has surrendered just two pressures all season (both hurries), but he’s susceptible to power and defensive tackles getting into his framework, allowing the defense to push him around.

Long has been a dynamo in his own right in pass protection but, like Whitehair, he’s been inconsistent in the ground game.

Miami’s best bet to pressure the quarterback comes at right tackle. Bobbie Massie continues to struggle with speed-rushers and Miami should have Cam Wake back for this one.

Defense:

The Chicago stop-unit ranks tops in run-defense and total-defense through four games. The passing defense ranks ninth in football, but eight interceptions are good for third best in the league.

At 24.4% of opponent’s drives ending in turnovers, the Bears are top in that category. Conversely, the exact same figure (24.4%) is the rate at which opponents score on the Chicago defense (second lowest in the league).

These gaudy ranks could’ve been attributed to facing some lackluster offenses (Seattle and Arizona in back-to-back weeks), but then the Bears derailed the Bucs previously high-flying aerial assault.

Khalil Mack is on an MVP-pace. He has a forced fumble in every game, he leads the league in pass rush productivity and is equally disruptive against the run. There isn’t a great answer for how to deal with Mack, just hope he doesn’t completely wreck the game.

Akiem Hicks is the next man in line for publicity in this Bears front. Hicks is PFF’s fourth-highest graded interior lineman. He has three sacks and four additional hits on quarterbacks. He’s an elite run-defender with 11 run-stops – tied for 12th among interior defensive linemen.

Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan each play roughly 75% of the defensive snaps. Both have excelled as the pair has combined for 25 run stops. Trevathan struggles in coverage more than Smith, though both have been formidable in that department as well.

The Chicago secondary is solid, yet unspectacular. Kyle Fuller is the most talented of the bunch, but he has the worst passer rating allowed (111.6), while Prince Amukamara is experiencing a career-resurgence with the Bears.

Slot corner Bryce Callahan has allowed 11-of-12 targeted passes to go complete, and the lone defensive win was an interception for Callahan.

The Bears can play a lot of two-deep looks because of the front seven’s dominance. Neither Adrian Amos or Eddie Jackson has missed a tackle on the season, but neither is regularly involved in the run-game.

Finding either in coverage would prove beneficial for the Dolphins as the Bears’ safety tandem has allowed 10-of-13 targeted passes to go complete.

The Medical:

Bears

Player Wednesday Status
CB Prince Amukamara Limited
LG Eric Kush Limited
WR Anthony Miller Full
CB Marcus Cooper DNP

 

Dolphins

Player Wednesday Status
DE Cam Wake DNP
DE Robert Quinn DNP
CB Bobby McCain DNP
FS T.J. McDonald DNP
DE Andre Branch Limited
LB Chase Allen Limited
TE A.J. Derby Limited
WR Devante Parker Limited
OT Laremy Tunsil Limited

The Concerns:

Mack and Hicks are capable of ruining the game on their own accord and, when they’re off, Smith and Trevathan have no trouble picking up the slack. Miami has to prevent this impressive Bears’ D from wrecking the game.

Oct 19, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) rushes the ball against the Chicago Bears during the second half at Soldier Field. Miami Dolphins defeat the Chicago Bears 27-14. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

If Miami can’t find success in the ground game when the Bears play their usual two-deep look, this contest stands to get ugly.

Defensively, for Miami, it’s the same tune every week. Matt Nagy wants to get Trey Burton and Tarik Cohen in favorable passing match-ups – if they find Kiko Alonso or Raekwon McMillan, Miami could get boat raced.

The Opportunities:

Devante Parker’s return might have a bigger impact than expected. His size should be a focal point of the intermediate passing game whether it’s attacking up the sidelines against cover-1, or the deep in-cuts against cover-2.

No team intercepts more footballs than the Dolphins. Trubisky is one of the league’s most turnover-prone quarterbacks. Baiting him and catching the football when those opportunities arise is a critical element for the Dolphin Defense.

The Keys:

1.) Pressuring Trubisky with the four-man rush, and with blitz package’s – If he has time to scan the field and identify his match-up advantages, Miami will be gashed. Matt Burke had an excellent plan against Cincinnati – he’ll need another in this game.

2.) Establishing the running game from the beginning – Miami must run the ball inside to force the Bears to collapse the edge. From there, zone read can counter that adjustment and give Miami some chunk plays in the ground game – they’ll need it.

3.) Big plays on offense – While staying on the field bodes well for Miami, their odds of matriculating the ball slowly down the field are not great. The big play has disappeared and, when the Bears get aggressive, the Dolphins need to hit on the vertical passing game.

The Projected Result:

Chicago is coming off a bye, they’re extremely healthy and riding high. Nagy saw his offensive scheme come to life the last time it took the field, and Khalil Mack is a serious problem for every offense he faces.

However, desperation often breeds results in this league. The Bears have been hearing plenty of praise the last two weeks. They will travel into a tough place to play as favorites and have the Patriots on tap next week.

Miami catches the Bears feeling themselves a little too much, and a pissed off Adam Gase dials up his best game of the year to beat his former colleague in Vic Fangio.

This game stays close until the fourth quarter when Miami hits a big play to Kenny Stills, finds the running game again, and salts the visiting team away in the blistering heat.

Bears 20
Dolphins 6

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Week 9 Monday Morning Thoughts

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Tua Tagovailoa has IT.

Brian Flores is THE guy.

And I have to admit, Chris Grier has done a phenomenal job.

After an exciting 34-31 victory over the Arizona Cardinals (5-3), the Miami Dolphins (5-3) solidified themselves as a legitimate playoff team in the AFC. Sure, you can say we’re getting a bit cocky – we’ve watched our team falter plenty of times before. But do you get the sense that these are the same Dolphins we’ve been watching this century?

Right now, are you skeptical or optimistic?

Do you have butterflies because you’re nervous or because you’re excited?

Do you think the Dolphins are trying to survive each game or do you have confidence that they’ll win?

Coming off of 4-straight victories, it’s easy to feel like we’re on top of the world, but this team looks different. It feels different. They act different.

Below are a few thoughts following Miami’s promising 34-31 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Monday Morning Thoughts

Tua Tagovailoa is the franchise quarterback we’ve been waiting for

Admit it, when they originally ruled that throwaway an interception, you saw shades of every failed quarterback to come since Dan Marino.

That play was so comically bad that it easily could have defined Tua’s career if it didn’t pan out. Thankfully, it was ruled that the receiver’s foot was out-of-bounds and it was an incomplete pass – but imagine the memes that would have been unleashed if Miami lost this game and that play counted.

But, it didn’t count….and the Dolphins didn’t lose….and Tua Tagovailoa out-dueled Kyler Murray when it mattered most.

When the Dolphins needed a game-winning drive, Tua delivered. When Kyler Murray had an opportunity to tie it, he didn’t (along with an obscure Zane Gonzalez kick).

Tua’s elite pocket presence, accuracy, decision-making, and ball placement were all on display. And none of that accounts for the plays he made with his legs.

If you’re a Dolphins fan, you’re thrilled with what you saw. And though it’s only a small sample size, I think we can all exhale – he looks like he’s the guy.

Byron Jones is still a damn good Cornerback

After three-straight dominant performances, Byron Jones was a bit humbled this game. We’re so used to watching him shut down opposing receivers that a game like this really sticks out.

He was absolutely burned by Christian Kirk on a beautiful deep ball from Kyler Murray late in the first quarter, but that wasn’t his worse play.

Dolphins fans and Byron Jones both thought he hauled in his first interception since October, 2017. Instead, Darrell Daniels’ first career touchdown reception is one of the highlights of the year as he snatches the ball right out of Jones’ hands.

I mean, Byron Jones had that ball in his hands for an interception, and before they hit the ground Darrell Daniels steals it into his possession. AND somehow had his knee down so it would count as a catch. Crazy.

Miami’s (really, it’s Brian Flores’) now infamous “zero” boom-or-bust scheme is susceptible to the long-ball, as our corners are expected to cover their receivers 1-on-1; with no safety help behind them. So far this season, it has worked tremendously to their advantage (as seen below)

But, if your coverage isn’t on par, this will happen:

With all of that said, Byron Jones is still a great cornerback in this league. Was this a bad game? Definitely. But I don’t expect this to become a trend. Lets not take for granted the elite secondary we currently have.

Christian Wilkins should NOT stop celebrating

Just please celebrate responsibly.

One of the reasons Dolphins fans adore Christian Wilkins is because of his infectious personality. He’s notoriously running in and celebrating every offensive touchdown with his team. His trash talking is innocently intimidating. The way he pumps his team up is perfect for any locker room culture. On top of the fact that he’s a pretty good defensive tackle.

Which is why I want him to keep celebrating – and I want him to continue celebrating excessively.

Preston Williams‘ unfortunate injury during a touchdown celebration is a huge reason why professional coaches like to contain their million-dollar players. Not just on the field, but off the field as well. It makes sense, they’re valuable commodities, but Wilkins’ spirit is too valuable to douse.

If something like this happens again, then we can talk about stifling his excitement, until then….celebrate smarter.

Xavien Howard’s “penalties” tell half the story

Xavien Howard was tasked with shadowing DeAndre Hopkins, and he ended up accounting for more penalty yards (43) than receiving yards against him (30).

The real testament to Howard’s coverage throughout the game? DeAndre Hopkins, one of the best wide receivers in the league, didn’t see a single target in the first half of the game.

A couple (terrible) penalties shouldn’t overshadow the fact that Xavien Howard and Byron Jones may be the best cornerback tandem in the league.

The Miami Dolphins need a Running Back in the worst way

Jordan Howard‘s 8-yard run on the last drive of the game – which helped seal the victory – was his biggest play as a Miami Dolphin. Up to that point, I was kind of rooting for Howard to continue his 1 YPC average. If you take away that 8-yard run (EASILY his longest of the year), Howard has gained 25 rushing yards on 27 rushing attempts (0.93 YPC).

Rookie Salvon Ahmed had a solid game, with 7 carries for 38 yards (5.4 YPC). I’m not sure how reliable he is, but he can’t be worse than Howard. If Matt Breida is available for next week’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers, I’m sure Howard will once again be inactive, giving Ahmed another shot to prove himself.

We probably should have given Austin Jackson the week off

Austin Jackson returned to the lineup for the first time in 4 weeks (due to a foot injury) and was “ok”. He was beat on a few plays, but it’s evident he wasn’t 100%. I wouldn’t make any presumptions based off of this game; if anything, the reps help from an experience/mental perspective.

Jason Sanders is a stud

Jason Sanders connecting on 56 and 50-yard field goals are that much more impressive when you take into account that weird Zane Gonzalez miss (where he was short from 49 yards).

The conspiracy floating around is that the ball died (on Gonzalez’s kick) because the roof was open. Yet, Sanders made his 50+ yard field goals with room to spare.

Today’s the day we will never take Jason Sanders for granted as he surpassed Olindo Mare‘s franchise record of 19-straight field goals made.

The Miami Dolphins are going to “have to” extend Emmanuel Ogbah

I think we all would love to see a contract extension, but it’s bordering on a “necessity” at this point. Not just because we want to lock up a top-notch defensive end, but because he’s going to (rightfully) demand more financial security.

Though it always felt like he was on a one-year deal, this is technically the first year of a 2-year, $15m contract for Emmanuel Ogbah, but there’s no guaranteed money tied to 2021 – and there’s no way he’s playing like a $7.5m defensive end.

Jordan Phillips averages $10m a year with his recent contract, and I think it’s fair to say that Ogbah is worth more than that. Expect a holdout if the Dolphins don’t give him a raise and an extension this offseason. That’s not to say we should be concerned – I think Miami will look to make this extension a priority – but if they don’t see eye-to-eye expect a holdout to occur.

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Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins – A Tale of Two Franchises

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Football is a team sport.

Wins don’t individually define a quarterback’s success.

Yet everyone agrees that the only way to win in the NFL is to have a quarterback that is better than (just about) every other franchise in the sport.

Once you have an upper-echelon quarterback, then you can talk about the nuances of creating a team. Whether it’s surrounding that quarterback with the proper talent, ensuring you’ve built the right scheme around them, or complimenting them with a staunch defense to complete a championship run, developing an entire roster means nothing if you don’t have a quarterback that can lead you to the playoffs.

38 years ago, the Miami Dolphins selected a quarterback that would revolutionize the NFL.

A man decades before his time, the immediate success Dan Marino brought us – after 13 championship-caliber years with Bob Griese – shielded us from the horrors of football purgatory. Maybe it’s this curse of #13 that has us clamoring for football relevance after almost 50 years without a Super Bowl Championship.

We watched our franchise devolve from the model of perfection to a team without an identity; floundering desperately to find a viable quarterback for two decades.

And with one swift decision, the Dolphins simultaneously expunged their football idiocy of years past and exhibited the type of football prowess that should lead them to salvation.

Image Credit: South Florida Sun Sentinel

As we’re destroying the team for wasting 2nd & 5th-round picks on Josh Rosen, we’re praising them for building the foundation for future success. Gone are these false prophets of yesteryear, as the real prodigy we’ve all been yearning for is one step closer to leading the helm.

Once Tua Tagovailoa was selected 5th-overall in the 2020 NFL draft, Rosen’s exile was cemented. He was never going to have an opportunity to make it here, it was always going to be Tua Tagovailoa backing up Ryan Fitzpatrick. The grizzly, 13-year veteran handles the nuances of a young football team while the young, energetic and extremely talented rookie spends valuable time learning and developing.

That move…that single transaction…will forever symbolize the moment the Miami Dolphins transitioned from football purgatory to football relevance.

The Purgatory We Built

No one remembers the cost of a successful trade.

Off the top of your head, what did the New York Giants trade to swap Philip Rivers for Eli Manning? How much did Carson Wentz cost the Philadelphia Eagles when they traded up for him? I bet you all remember the litany of picks the Washington Football Team paid for Robert Griffin III, or how badly the Chicago Bears missed on Mitch Trubisky when they gave up a bunch of picks to move up from #3 to #2.

It’s because mistakes are always magnified for franchises that fail. As a fan base, we’ve been groomed to remember all the negative aspects of our favorite football team, because that’s all we’ve known for the better half of our adult lives.

After trudging through this wasteland for so long, we are finally ready to move past all of the detrimental mistakes that have cost us 20+ years of our lives – including the Josh Rosen trade.

Sure, you have your classics like failing to draft (and then sign) Drew Brees, drafting Ronnie Brown over Aaron Rodgers with the 2nd-overall pick, drafting Jake Long over Matt Ryan with the 1st-overall pick, and trading a 2nd-round pick for A.J. Feeley.

It’s not that the Dolphins haven’t tried, it’s just that they have failed almost mightily when doing so.

I respect that Miami was aggressive in their pursuit of Josh Rosen – or for any of the other quarterbacks they’ve attempted to put under center – but their aggression was either misguided, ill-informed, or even desperate at best.

A year prior to Rosen’s draft-day trade, another draft-day trade was occurring – one that would transcend the Baltimore Ravens organization for the prolonged future. With the 32nd pick in the draft, the Ravens selected Lamar Jackson – a quarterback some Dolphins fans wanted with the team’s 11th-overall pick.

To move back into the first round and secure a quarterback with the 5th-year option, all Baltimore had to give up was an additional 2nd-round pick (see the full trade at the end of the article).

With their draft-day trade, the Baltimore Ravens landed an MVP.
With their draft-day trade, the Miami Dolphins landed a quarterback that was released for nothing.

Again, I don’t fault the Dolphins for being aggressive, but their pursuit was often awry.

The frustrating part of all of this may be that this team actually “spent” both in assets and money, they just didn’t seem to take that extra step at the right time.

Spending 2nd-round picks was fine 3 years in a row (with Chad Henne, John Beck and Pat White), but spending 2nd-round picks then became “too much” when they could have moved up in the 2017 draft to select Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson – instead, they stayed put at #22 and drafted Charles Harris.

Think about it, Miami’s best quarterbacks since Dan Marino were:

  • Castaway by the New York Jets (and subsequently got his shoulder destroyed like everyone predicted)
  • (Allegedly) Forced upon us by Stephen Ross because he knew what a new quarterback would inject into a flat-lining brand (ie: making $$)

Between Chad Pennington and Ryan Tannehill there is 1 playoff appearance and 0 playoff wins.

There are definitive reasons why the Dolphins are executing a rebuild in 2019-2020 – after attempting to rebuild numerous times already this century – and you can say that lots of it has to do with the Head Coaches that have been in place.

Watching Ryan Tannehill lead the Tennessee Titans to the AFC Championship came was the most-conflicted I’ve felt in a long time as a Dolphins fan. I was thrilled he was able to prove himself, but frustrated that my team was once again watching from the couch.

Heck, for all the praise we give Brian Flores, he couldn’t get Minkah Fitzpatrick to buy into his system – ultimately losing a near-Defensive MVP player to an organization that has been breathing success since the Dolphins’ perfect 1972 season.

Miami hasn’t lacked talent – it’s why they’re constantly hovering around 8-8. The problem is, they lack the most important piece on the football field combined with the right leader to mold them. Which explains why they constantly sit around 8-8.

The Future We Created

But thoughts of perpetual 8-8 seasons are a thing of the past. The Dolphins may have drafted their future franchise quarterback back in April, but they officially rolled out their #1 prize just a few days ago. Coincidentally, just 3 days after Rosen was released.

The timing is likely coincidental, but who says omens have to be a bad thing?

This Dolphins team is young (thanks to Chris Grier), determined (courtesy of Brian Flores’ mindset), talented (after accumulating so many draft picks) and they’re wise beyond their years.

With a bounty of draft picks at their disposal once again in 2021, and with a franchise quarterback seemingly set to take over by season’s end, the future for the Miami Dolphins looks EXTREMELY bright.

After most “experts” predicted the Dolphins would go nearly winless – some even calling for criminal investigations to be conducted – Flores showed off his leadership and led Miami to a 5-11 record.

If the worst roster in the NFL can win 5 games, what can an improved roster accomplish?

Last year, there were too many holes on the roster to count. Now, you’re desperate to find a missing piece. In 12 months, we’ve gone from cringe-worthy to dynasty-bound in some expert’s eyes.

So have the Dolphins finally returned to football relevance?

If this team really identified the right Head Coach, and if Tua’s hip can stay healthy, then there’s no reason why the Miami Dolphins aren’t about to embark on a successful crusade that takes the rest of the NFL by storm.

Earlier this year, we lost one of the greatest leaders to ever bless our organization. In honor of the all-time wins leader, the Miami Dolphins will wear a patch signifying Don Shula’s record-setting 347 career wins.

And who knows, maybe this renaissance is Shula’s last gift to an organization – and a community – that he spent his life already giving so much to. The symbolism would be all-too coincidental otherwise.

The Baltimore Ravens/Lamar Jackson Trade:

Yes, I understand every other team passed on Jackson. I also understand the Ravens passed on him once when they selected Hayden Hurst with the 25th-overall pick that year, but Baltimore has built a championship-caliber organization over the past two decades, while the Dolphins have accomplished one playoff win – I think they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt here.

The Lamar Jackson trade can be broken down like this:

  • Baltimore traded pick 52 (2nd-round) to move up to 32nd-overall (1st)
  • Baltimore also sent Philadelphia pick 125 in the deal, but they received pick 132 in return – a downgrade of 7 spots in the 4th-round.
  • Otherwise, all Baltimore spent was a 2nd-round pick in 2019 (which ended up being pick #53).

Full trade:

Eagles Receive Picks: 52 (2nd), 125 (4th) and pick 53 (2nd) in the 2019 draft
Ravens Receive Picks: 32 (1st) and 132 (4th)

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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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