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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|CB Prince Amukamara||Limited|
|LG Eric Kush||Limited|
|WR Anthony Miller||Full|
|CB Marcus Cooper||DNP|
|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|
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.
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.
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.
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.
Miami Dolphins Place Jake Brendel on IR; Sign Hroniss Grasu
Their players don’t just go on injured-reserve, they do it twice in the same season.
The Miami Dolphins official social media account announced that the team has placed center Jake Brendel on injured-reserve, ending his 2018 season. To fill the available roster spot, the Dolphins signed offensive guard Hroniss Grasu.
We have signed center/guard Hroniss Grasu and placed center Jake Brendel on injured reserve.
Full Release: https://t.co/hjVo1uaU4I
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) December 12, 2018
Brendel was first placed on injured-reserve with a calf injury prior to the start of the season. He was one of two players that received the IR tag with the ‘ability to return’; this meant that Brendel was eligible to return after Week 8. Since his return, Brendel started 3 games and was active for 4.
Earlier this week in practice, Brendel re-injured the same calf that originally put him on IR. Strategically speaking, we’re at the point in the season where players will be placed on IR simply due to the fact that they’re unable to recover in time to effectively play again this season. Miami has three games remaining and they essentially have to win out (or only lose to the Minnesota Vikings next week) if they want to make the playoffs. The team can’t afford to hold a roster spot hostage for a player who’s less-than 100%.
With Brendel hitting injured-reserve, the Dolphins now have 12 players out for the year. It’s too bad we’re talking about the number of players on injured-reserve and not 12 Angry Men, because the only thing we can speculate at this point is how unlucky the Dolphins’ health has been this season.
The empty roster spot left by Brendel has been filled by former Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens offensive guard Hroniss Grasu.
Grasu was selected by the Bears with the 71st-overall pick (3rd-round) in the 2015 NFL draft. He started 8 games that season for Adam Gase‘s offense, but since then has only started 5. He played for the Bears from 2015-2017, though he missed the 2016 after being placed on injured-reserve. Grasu was signed by the Ravens this past September and was active for 3 games (making 1 start). He was released by the team on November 24th.
From one Hr to another: cheers, mate!
Squeezing Miami’s Tight Ends for Anything They’ve Got
Adam Gase, a hobbled Ryan Tannehill and the rest of the Miami Dolphins have been tasked with operating an offense that has received minimal production from its tight ends. As the team is currently constructed, the playbook, in essence, centers around their two starting running backs, the three starting wide receivers that are healthy and that’s it.
That’s all they can scheme around.
As an opposing defense, you’re well aware that the tight end position is effectively eliminated in Miami’s offense – it’s not a personnel group you have to scheme for.
- You have a banged up Kenny Stills you have to watch, though you really only need to keep him in your peripheral vision as Miami isn’t going to maximize Stills’ speed and Tannehill’s deep ball with the quarterback’s injured shoulder.
- You can monitor DeVante Parker, but his lack-of-enthusiasm helps keep his freakish athleticism at bay.
- You can be on the lookout for Danny Amendola, but you’re probably content allowing the underneath reception (though at 9.8 yards per reception, why aren’t we getting Amendola the ball more on those crucial 3rd-down plays?)
All of the injuries aside, it’s hard to discount the voids created by Miami’s nonexistent production from the tight end position. When Laremy Tunsil goes down in the Cincinnati Bengals game, it’s the perfect time to utilize a tight end for quick passes. All those 3rd-and-short situations – where Miami runs a mind-boggling play – could be eliminated if Miami had a legitimate tight end that could box out an opposing defender on a quick hit. At the very least, a tight end that poses even a minuscule threat would make a defense hesitant to send an extra blitzer or blanket a receiver.
Mike Gesicki catches the ball at the 33 facing sideways and winds up at the 31 facing backwards. pic.twitter.com/aGrzIF3jR8
— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) October 26, 2018
Running this offense without your tight ends is like trying to drive your car without power steering. Of course you can do it, but you’re going to have a difficult time driving it.
The fall of this position started back in training camp, when one of the most underrated Dolphins, MarQueis Gray, suffered a torn achilles and was placed on injured-reserve.
Fans initially thought this was an omen for Mike Gesicki, as they clamored for the possibility of having an Olympic-caliber tight end playing with Ryan Tannehill – a quarterback known to utilize the tight end position well.
At a glance, you would think Miami’s tight ends were going to be extremely productive. Up to this point in 2018, Miami rewarded one of their tight ends with a contract extension and spent 2nd and 4th-round assets to bulk up the position. How could this season have gone so poorly for a group that, at the very least, was supposed to be average?
Tight ends predominantly see a spike in production from their rookie years to their sophomore seasons, and this is the one saving grace each of us optimistically have for Gesicki to turn it around. On tape, he doesn’t look the part. But you don’t want to write a player off this quickly. Check out some active tight ends and their growth from Year 1 to Year 2:
When going through the list, the only tight end I came across that saw a dip in production from Year 1 to Year 2 was Jordan Reed of the Washington Redskins. His stats were: 45/499/3 in 2017 and 50/465/0 in 2018…really not the biggest dropoff (I’m sure there are other tight ends who saw a drop in production, but after going through half the league, Reed was the only one that applied).
Problem is, are we confident Mike Gesicki is going to be a tight end that makes this jump? Look at where Gesicki (and Durham Smythe) stack up with other rookie tight ends:
We all thought Miami was going to have a 1-2 punch with Gesicki as a receiver and Smythe as a blocker; and so far, half of the duo has held their end of the bargain. Smythe has performed very well when asked to block on the line. He’s had some misses this year, but for a rookie tight end being tasked with blocking an elite defensive end at times, we can’t really complain much. What the team is missing is the other half of that duet.
Coming into 2018, we understood that Gesicki would need some seasoning before he could become a legitimate blocker. And to an extent, we were quite content if Gesicki didn’t block too well, just as long as he was making plays on 3rd-down and in the red zone. We all thought he was the missing component this offense needed to finally be effective in the red zone. Instead, we’d probably be better off stacking the line with 6 offensive linemen.
Mike Gesicki’s challenging rookie season continues. He falls down, then all hell breaks loose when Tannehill tries to proceed through his progressions. Lucky not to get picked. pic.twitter.com/6mcfIU9XFD
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) November 27, 2018
The wildcard of the bunch is Nick O’Leary. The Dolphins have played him at both tight end and fullback, giving them flexibility and the ability to maximize his roster spot. But going into 2019, does anyone think any of these tight ends are safe? Check out the disparity in snap counts from the first week of the season until Week 14:
— Tom Kislingbury (@TomDegenerate) December 11, 2018
It’s evident which player this team trusts. Or, at the very least, which player they believe they can get any kind of production out of. He’s also the only player that wasn’t on the roster at the beginning of the season – telling you just how far the other players have fallen.
This team might need to fire Matt Burke. It might need to overhaul the defensive line or even the linebacking unit. The Dolphins might even need a new starting quarterback in 2019. But one thing we can certainly say is that Miami definitely needs a productive tight end; otherwise, this offense is about as stagnant, stale and unsuccessful as you’ve seen it this season.
— Barstool Penn State (@PSUBarstool) October 14, 2018
Ryan Tannehill’s Late Season Surge is Nothing New
Adversity is the Dolphins QB’s Biggest Weapon
The divisive topic of tanking filters its way through the fan bases of all mediocre franchises. The discussion about whether it’s healthier to lose and climb the draft board, or to establish a winning culture, reverberates for the perpetual .500 purgatory of the NFL.
Every time Dolphins fans are ready to prepare for what’s next at quarterback, Ryan Tannehill rises from the ashes and plays at an elite level.
The statistics are there. After a 1-4 start and a sub-90 passer rating in 2016, fans turned to Notre Dame tape to scout DeShone Kizer. They peeped the ultra-exciting Patrick Mahomes making jaw-dropping off-script plays at Texas Tech.
All those discussions became moot when Tannehill ripped off a stretch of eight games in which Miami went 7-1. During that time, Tannehill posted a 101.5 passer rating and fell back into the good graces of Dolphins fans.
Bruce Arians’ famous quote preaches patience while installing a new scheme. “It takes about eight weeks before things start to become second nature.”
If that’s true, Tannehill has been ahead of that curve.
Two games ahead of the pace, Tannehill finds his groove in the sixth game. In a 2016 win over Pittsburgh, Tannehill posted his highest single game passer rating of the year, and would top that high-water mark four times in the next seven games.
The 2018 season is shaping up very similarly. After a strong start, then stumbling in games four and five, Tannehill is back with a vengeance.
The Dolphins are 2-1 since Tannehill’s return and the veteran, held together by duct tape and Band-Aids, is posting career highs. His passer rating post-return is a ridiculous 129.9. He’s averaging a smidge under 9 yards-per-pass. He’s completing a fraction under 70% of his passes and throwing touchdowns at clip of 11.7%.
The numbers. The wins. The quantifiable metrics are all fun and an easy shortcut to display Tannehill’s recent success, but the it’s the complete control of the offense that best showcases Tannehill’s growth.
Watch this video with the audio on to see an example of Tannehill’s command at the line-of-scrimmage.
Alpha Louis. Alpha poker. Some new cadences and the quick count. Whatever it takes to play Sunday, Tannehill’s gotta do it. He is feeling it right now. 🔈 on. pic.twitter.com/09gyN9mKQJ
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) December 12, 2018
Perhaps the time away from the game, and the return from a reconstructed knee, was a detriment to his development within this offense.
Tannehill is dealing with yet another injury, but if he wants to prove this theory, he has every opportunity. Miami can run the table and jump back into the post-season under Ryan Tannehill’s guidance.
After all, last time, he wasn’t healthy enough to finish what he started.