Who: Dolphins (6-6) vs. Patriots (9-3)
When: December 9 – 1:00 East
Where: Hard Rock Stadium – Miami Gardens, FL
Weather: 80 degrees, 81% humidity, 60% chance rain, thunderstorms, 19 MPH wind
Vegas Slant: Patriots -8
If all goes according to plan for the Patriots, Sunday will mark the team’s 10th consecutive division title – an NFL record. It’s fitting that Bill Belichick’s squad can put the AFC East to bed in a building that has provided the biggest obstacle to the two-decade reign of the Patriots.
For Miami’s 2018 season to remain relevant, the Dolphins will have to register the fifth win in the last six years, at home, over New England. Fresh off a tightly contested victory over a fellow AFC East rival, the Dolphins know they’ll have to bring their A-game.
Asked about defending Josh Allen compared to Tom Brady post-game, Jerome Baker simply said, “Tom [is] Tom.” The respect for the legendary quarterback among the Dolphins’ defensive players is unanimous.
Though Brady is experiencing something of a decline this season, it would be foolish to expect this iteration of the Miami defense to put the screws to the five-time Super Bowl Champion.
Prior to their annual pilgrimage south last season, Belichick ran practices inside a controlled environment with the heat blasting in. This year, however, the Pats will practice outside in the 32-degree frosty Foxboro weather.
Pigeonholing this Patriots attack is perhaps the most disingenuous act a scout, writer, or anyone involved in football can do. Traditionally, the deployment of personnel and play calling tends to vary from week-to-week.
This Pats team might be different than those we’ve grown accustomed to, however. What hasn’t changed, is Belichick’s penchant for zigging while the rest of the league zags. In the new NFL, full of spread offenses and 50 passes per game, New England is throwing it back to 1998 in a way that would make Jon Gruden jealous.
New England uses 21-personnel second most of any team in football. With more balance than perhaps ever before, the Patriots offense presents challenges that the Miami defense has not been able to deal with dating back to this pre-season.
Shrouded in disguise and mystery, the Patriots offense wants to accomplish two things: run the football successfully and take the underneath options that are afforded by today’s NFL mandate.
As they are want to do, New England finds success in ways other teams can’t comprehend. Every good defense in the NFL unleashes an elite pass rusher, but not the Pats. Driven by smart, instinctive players in the back-seven, New England puts the clamps on opposing offenses when things become condensed in the red zone.
Matt Patricia is gone, but the scheme won’t deviate a whole lot from what Belichick has always done. The Pats defense will mix coverages, press receivers at the line-of-scrimmage and take away the best player on the opposing offense.
Pressure packages are few and far between, but Trey Flowers and company are disciplined in their rush schemes and find ways to create pressure with or without committing an extra body to bring pressure.
Combo and hybrid coverages are executed as well as any team in the league which, conveniently for New England, is the best way to beat Ryan Tannehill.
Tannehill must identify the Patriots ever-changing defensive fronts and get into the correct play at the line of scrimmage. In the first meeting back in September, Miami’s answer for the Patriots dropping seven or eight into coverage was deep, low-percentage shots.
It would behoove the Dolphins to work the middle, intermediate portions of the field – preferably with receivers and tight ends that offer size over speed.
On yesterday’s Locked on Dolphins podcast, Mark Schofield described the precarious trajectory of Brady’s age-41 season. Brady hit a valley in a loss at Tennessee, but has since climbed into more of a plateau. Brady’s interception rate and passer rating are at their lowest since 2013 while his YPA hasn’t dipped this much since 2015.
James Devlin’s two touchdowns on Sunday provide a variety of issues for this Dolphins defense. His versatility, along with Sony Michel (112 yards in the first meeting) might make the running game Miami’s primary focus.
New England’s offensive line is healthy and playing at a high level. Dante Scarnecchia’s group surrendered just six pressures in Sunday’s win – five of which were mere hurries. The Pats interior is perhaps the best trio in football, but the tackles are both susceptible to the match-ups they will face Sunday.
Miami MUST win the Cam Wake v. Marcus Cannon and Robert Quinn v. Trent Brown match-ups.
Rob Gronkowski is more name than production at this stage. He has been slowed by a variety of injuries, taking away the most valuable asset Brady has come to know since Randy Moss.
Josh Gordon is Pro Football Focus’ 35th ranked receiver and Julian Edelman is 47th. Gordon is the big-play threat averaging 17 yards per catch while Edelman eats up the underneath coverage at 11.4 YPC. If Xavien Howard can’t play, Gordon could have a breakout showing.
Devin McCourty has been the straw that stirs the New England drink for nearly a decade. He exemplifies that message of fundamental football in New England with just three missed tackles the entire season.
Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon round out the trio of the Patriots’ dime package at the position – Harmon allows a reception into his coverage area every 32.8 snaps.
Cornerback Stephone Gilmore has been worth every penny of his free-agent contract signed prior to the 2017 season. Quarterbacks targeting Gilmore have a passer rating of just 72.3 on the season.
Lawrence Guy has been a force this year with the 12th highest run-stop percentage among interior linemen. 20 of his 29 tackles have been within two yards of the line-of-scrimmage. Guy and Malcolm Brown make up a formidable tandem up front for New England’s multiple defensive fronts.
Trey Flowers is the Pats’ premiere edge rusher. Though Adrian Clayborn’s Pass Rush Productivity is higher (8.2%), Flowers leads the team with six sacks.
New England uses linebackers sparingly, but the two top choices are Kyle Van Noy (727 snaps) and Dont’a Hightower (572 snaps). They rank 58th and 62nd, respectively, according to PFF.
— Morey Hershgordon (@MHershgordon) December 5, 2018
Whether it was Carolina and Baltimore in the pre-season, or the Patriots back in September, the use of a fullback creates a multitude of problems for this Dolphins wide-9 scheme. Sony Michel had clear lanes to run through the last meeting and the inability to match up with the Patriots heavy-personnel raises concerns.
Miami had an advantage on the Patriots receivers with Xavien Howard in the line-up – but his highly questionable status for Sunday should strike fear in Dolphins Fans.
No longer an oddity, but rather a regularity, the Pats don’t like going to Miami. The change in climate calls for a 50-degree swing from Boston to Miami. If the Dolphins can establish a running game, they could pull the upset.
Miami must come up with an entirely new plan from the one devised back in the September meeting. Involving the tight ends, Devante Parker and even Brice Butler attacking between the numbers is the best way to soften up the Patriot defense.
This may sound like a given, but Miami’s offense has to convert red zone opportunities at a better rate than New England.
The Projected Result:
Everything about this game (from a match-up standpoint) points to the Patriots. The ability to attack the suspect linebacker-play with 21 or 12-personnel, the potential absence of Howard, things don’t look great for Miami.
On the other side of the ledger, the Miami meltdowns are a very real element for Brady and the Pats. Brady is 7-9 as a starter in Miami and, with a trip to Pittsburgh on deck, New England has bigger fish to fry than the swimming mammals of South Florida.
Adam Gase’s teams compete at Hard Rock Stadium regardless of the completion. There is a lot of bad blood between these teams and Miami always gets up for what amounts to the team’s annual “Super Bowl.”
The spread should be in the double digits, but history favors Miami and pushes it down to a one-score affair (-8). Miami covers that spread and has a chance to win the game late, but this one-score game tilts in favor of the road team.
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.
— mike fisher ✭ (@fishsports) September 18, 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
- Tank Tracker Vol. 1: Miami Dolphins lose 2nd game, Minkah traded September 18, 2019
- Agree with it or Not, Miami Maximized Value in the Fire Sale September 18, 2019
Miami Dolphins2 days ago
Agree with it or Not, Miami Maximized Value in the Fire Sale
Miami Dolphins2 weeks ago
Staff Predictions: Miami Dolphins 2019 season record
NFL Draft2 weeks ago
Scouting College Football’s Top 2020 Quarterbacks – Week 2
Miami Dolphins3 days ago
Miami Dolphins Tank Central – Draft Pick Tracker