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.
Miami Dolphins Sign Tight End Michael Roberts
The Miami Dolphins are beginning to bulk up the depth of their roster as they head into free agency.
According to Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network, the Dolphins have signed tight end Michael Roberts. The exact terms of the contract are currently unknown.
#Dolphins are signing former #Lions TE Michael Roberts, source says. Roberts had four workouts the past week and more on the docket but will sign with Miami. Missed last season with a shoulder injury that nixed a trade to the #Patriots. Healthy now. 3 TDs in 2018 and can block.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) February 19, 2020
Originally a 4th-round pick by the Detroit Lions, Roberts has served mostly as a backup tight end; accumulating 146 yards on 13 receptions in 23 active games between 2017-2018.
Roberts was placed on injured-reserve towards the end of the 2018 season with a shoulder injury, and was traded to the New England Patriots for a conditional 2020 7th-round pick prior to the 2019 season. Due to medical reasons, the trade was voided a couple of days later.
The Green Bay Packers claimed Roberts off of waivers, but he was subsequently released by the Packers two days later for failing a physical. Roberts was not active for any games in 2019.
Signing Roberts doesn’t necessarily mean the Dolphins aren’t going to pursue tight ends in free agency or in the draft. Mike Gesicki is the only “lock” to make the 2020 roster, as Durham Smythe‘s blocking ability might not survive if the Dolphins find themselves in an advantageous situation at the position.
Look at this as a way for Miami to get ahead of evaluations.
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) June 13, 2019
A second Dolphins mock draft from someone who doesn’t watch football
(Locked On Dolphins) – Last week, Person A dazzled us with their blind mock draft, and now we’re back with the next entry in the series.
Person B is ready to go with their mock.
Keep in mind that all the blind mock draft contributors have little to no knowledge of the NFL.
I had all the contributors standardize their boards and the process so that everyone was on an even playing field.
They all used The Draft Network’s mock draft simulator with seven rounds, the predictive board, and had to choose the players manually.
Without further ado, here’s Person B’s mock draft.
(1) 5. Tua Tagovailoa – QB, Alabama
(1) 18. J.K. Dobbins – RB, Ohio State
(1) 26. Terrell Lewis – Edge, Alabama
(2) 39. Lloyd Cushenberry III – iOL, LSU
(2) 56. Xavier McKinney – S, Alabama
(3) 70. Rashard Lawrence – iDL, LSU
(5) 135. Chase Claypool – WR, Notre Dame
(5) 144. Justin Herron – OT, Wake Forest
(5) 147. Terrell Burgess – S, Utah
(6) 165. Lamar Jackson – CB, Nebraska
(6) 177. Jacob Breeland – TE, Oregon
(7) 223. David Reese II – LB, Florida
As I did with Person A, I reached out to Person B to get their reasoning behind the selections.
Me: “I noticed that you took Tua [Tagovailoa]. What led you to that decision with the fifth pick?”
Person B: “I knew the Dolphins wanted to get a QB, and Tua has been talked about so much that I just went with him.”
Me: “Which of your other selections did you feel particularly good about?”
Person B: “I need you to send me the link to my draft. I forgot who I picked since it took five attempts.”
[resends mock draft to Person B]
“I like my J.K. Dobbins pick. O-H-. And Rashard Lawrence. Because I figure he’s pretty good since LSU was really good this year.”
Me: “Your picks are really good. I’d put yours ahead of Person A. But it’s almost suspiciously good. Did you put your thumb on the scale somewhere along the line?”
Person B: “Well, by my 5th attempt (1 and 2: I didn’t select manual mode, 3: I didn’t pick 7 rounds from the drop-down menu, 4: I completed, but the site froze, and I lost everything), I figured out that I should probably pick from the top of the list first because if you don’t then those players just go like hotcakes.
So, I just matched up the positions the Dolphins needed to fill with the players highest on the list, and if I recognized a name or team, I would select them over someone I had never heard of.”
Me: “OK, well, we’re all out of time. Do you have any parting messages for Dolphins fans?”
Person B: “Well, I think the Dolphins are on the right track, and I hope that all of the true blue fans who have hung in with them for all these years will get to see another Super Bowl in the near future. GO FINS!”
And that wraps things up with Person B.
What are your thoughts on Person B’s mock draft? Leave a comment or tweet your thoughts at me directly on Twitter (@DIGITYnodoubt).
Tune in next time for Person C’s mock…
Top 5 Miami Dolphins of 2019
The Miami Dolphins weren’t supposed to be a productive team in 2019.
A team meant to lose every game somehow ended up with a 5-11 record; simultaneously sabotaging their draft status and leaving us with a promising future at the same time.
Brian Flores, the former scout, scoured the transaction wire every day in an attempt to uncover potential “acorns” – as one former general manager infamously put it. And with a keen eye for development, his constant shuffling and retooling paid off for him.
You might think a 5-11 team wouldn’t have too many options for a Top 5 list, but the Dolphins were littered with productive “surprises”. Most have promising futures, while some have already solidified themselves as perennial starters.
Take a look at our top 5 Miami Dolphins of 2019 down below. If you’d like to see who made our list of top 5 most disappointing players of 2019, click here.
5) Davon Godchaux
After two elite seasons, we’ve come to expect nothing less out of Davon Godchaux.
Starting 16 games for the second year in a row, Godchaux has continued to ascend as one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. If the Dolphins weren’t so busy staying out of the lime light, Godchaux would be a household name across the nation.
His 52 solo tackles were tied for the most in the NFL among interior defensive linemen. His 2 sacks, 75 total tackles and 7 QB hits are all improvements over his 2018 campaign, which already had fans clamoring to extend the young, former 5th-round pick.
Though some might point to Miami’s overall defensive rushing numbers as a sign that Godchaux (and Christian Wilkins) weren’t good at their jobs, that’s wildly misleading. Godchaux was stout in the middle of the defensive line; inadvertently tasked with absorbing double teams and giving players like Vince Biegel or Jerome Baker room to blitz.
davon GODchaux is a disruptive force. this play never had a chance. pic.twitter.com/Icc92mJhCA
— josh houtz (@houtz) December 31, 2019
It’s quite possible that Godchaux is lower than he should be on this list, simply because we take his performance for granted.
4) Mike Gesicki
I’m going to hold my hand up high and admit that I thought Mike Gesicki was going to be an absolute bust for the Miami Dolphins.
More-notorious for not staying on his feet than Brian Hartline, Gesicki overcame a (very) rough rookie season and turned into a reliable seam threat for Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Gesicki finished the year with 51 receptions, 570 receiving yards (an 11.2 yards-per-reception average) and five touchdowns – the first of his career. He proved to be a mismatch against linebackers; and whether he lines up in the slot or on the outside, the Dolphins are going to take advantage each time they see him 1-on-1 against an LB.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) November 3, 2019
Athletic and deceptively quicker than we might realize, Gesicki honed his route running and displayed a much better catch radius than what we saw his rookie year. The image of Brent Grimes wide-eyed after Gesicki went up for a touchdown says more than a thousand words – but if nothing else, it tells us that the Miami Dolphins have a legitimate tight end.
— Mr. Smith 👑 (@ChrisSmithPFN) December 2, 2019
3) Vince Biegel
Vince Biegel came to Miami as a complete afterthought.
The Dolphins traded incumbent linebacker Kiko Alonso to the New Orleans Saints in an effort to alleviate cap space in 2020. In return, they received a little-known, former 4th-round pick who was about to play for his third team in 3 years.
For all the grief we’ve given Chris Grier over his scouting, we have to give him a ton of credit for this one. Saying the Saints got fleeced is an understatement.
In 13 games (4 starts) with the Saints, Alonso recorded 31 tackles, 0 sacks, 3 tackles for a loss (TFL) and 2 QB Hits.
In 15 games (10 starts), Biegel accumulated 57 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 7 TFL, 13 QB Hits and an interception to boot.
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) December 15, 2019
Biegel was such a force at linebacker, that Dolphins fans forgot he was going to be a free agent this offseason and just assumed they had him for years to come. Most of us hope the Dolphins find a way to keep Biegel around at a reasonable (yet worthy) price.
The growth he, Raekwon McMillan and Jerome Baker can make with another year together could all together eliminate the need to use assets on a linebacker in the near-future. Especially when the team will get Andrew Van Ginkel back for a full, healthy season.
2) Jerome Baker
Arguably Chris Grier’s best draft pick, Jerome Baker has evolved into one of the best all-around linebackers in the league. You can consider that an overstatement, but his versatility, durability and play-making ability make him a prime candidate to burst into the national spotlight in 2020.
I hate losing more than I like winning.
— Jerome Baker Jr. (@Lastname_Baker) February 7, 2020
Baker and Eric Rowe were the only players who logged over 1,000 snaps last season (1,079 for Baker, 1,071 for Rowe).
After a rookie season that showed a ton of promise, Baker’s sophomore season ended with 124 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 5 QB hits, 2 forced fumbles, 4 passes defended and 1 interception. Versatile in coverage, as a spy, diagnosing the run, and when he blitzes, Baker may be the real Swiss-Army knife of this Dolphins’ defense.
Jerome Baker is one of the more fun delayed rushers in the league. Poor Hoyer 😅 pic.twitter.com/ddrxfwTbHi
— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) November 11, 2019
The biggest question we now have to ask is: what do the Miami Dolphins do with Jerome Baker? He’s still two years away from free agency, but if his 2020 season is any improvement over what we’ve seen, Baker is going to command A LOT of money when he enters the final year of his rookie deal.
Don’t let Baker turn into another Olivier Vernon, Jarvis Landry or Lamar Miller. Pay the talent you successfully scouted and maintain a sense of culture and camaraderie.
Christian Wilkins came to the Miami Dolphins with a ton of charisma and a jovial personality unmatched by any top draft pick that came before him.
From the moment the 315lbs linebacker did a split after Clemson won their national championship in 2018, to the time he had Roger Goodell go up for a chest bump after he was drafted, Wilkins was a beloved figure.
Dolphins first-round pick Christian Wilkins said he doesn’t have a car. He’s borrowing his girlfriends car and is in the market for one. He’s super cheap so dealerships might want to holla for a sponsorship/advertisement deal. Maybe he can do a split in a commercial. pic.twitter.com/d8aZbZd5Y4
— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) July 26, 2019
But personality can only take you so far, and when the season started Wilkins needed to back up his charity work and infectious smile with the brutality necessary to win at the line of scrimmage. And boy did he live up to it.
Wilkins may not have finished with the most-gaudy numbers, but they’re still impressive nonetheless. For his rookie season, Wilkins totaled 56 tackles, 2 sacks and 2 passes defended. He’s caught every pass ever thrown to him (1), and it even resulted in a touchdown.
His 888 total snaps (between defense, special teams and the 2 he accumulated on offense) are noteworthy for a rookie defensive tackle.
The other 1st-round defensive linemen drafted in 2019 finished with:
- Quinnen Williams (3rd-overall): 577 total snaps
- Clelin Ferrell (4th): 716 snaps
- Ed Oliver (9th): 572 snaps
- Wilkins (13th): 888 snaps
- Brian Burns (16th): 609 snaps
- Dexter Lawrence (17th): 866 snaps
- Jeffery Simmons (19th): 368 snaps
- Montez Sweat (26th): 817 snaps
- Jerry Tillery (28th): 436 snaps
The 2019 draft class was stacked on the defensive line, and yet, the Dolphins may have managed to draft the best one of the bunch midway through the round.
The Miami Dolphins signed Nik Needham as an undrafted free agent with the hope that he would provide depth for a position group that already featured plenty of expensive and starting-caliber players within it.
Instead, the Dolphins add another commodity to that list.
Competing for playing time with players like Xavien Howard, Eric Rowe, Bobby McCain, Minkah Fitzpatrick and a plethora of other roster invitees, Needham had an excellent camp, but found himself just missing the final 53-man roster.
That didn’t stop him from honing his craft and earning a promotion from the practice squad one day before the Dolphins were set to take on the Washington Redskins in Week 6.
Needham went on to start the final 11 games of the season, and ended the year with 2 interceptions, 11 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 1 sack and 54 total tackles.
YEAR ☝🏾 pic.twitter.com/gJj1BYQqyr
— Nik Needham (@FoetyGlock) February 14, 2020
As a rookie cornerback, you’re expected to be picked on, but Needham was bullied by the refs more than he was by opposing quarterbacks. Questionable calls against Needham towards the end of the year put a slight damper on his otherwise stellar season.
Though in the eyes of some Dolphins fans, that erroneous (non-existent) pass interference penalty that was overturned on the final drive during the New York Jets loss was a blessing in disguise.
1) DeVante Parker
It may have taken slightly longer than we originally hoped, but Ryan Fitzpatrick’s aggressive style highlighted just how elite DeVante Parker can be when you just throw him the damn ball.
Previously marred by the occasional health concern and offensive schemes that didn’t cater to his skillset, Parker was deemed a “bust” by most Dolphins fans. Drafted 14th-overall in the 2014 NFL draft, Parker was expected to transcend the offense. Instead, bubble screens became the focal point for an offense that was littered with deep threat specialists (Parker, Kenny Stills and Jakeem Grant).
DeVante Parker, my goodness! pic.twitter.com/9BpxYtrs9J
— Sports Notes (@TheSportsNotes) September 8, 2019
Parker’s recent 4-year, $40m extension is a reward not only for the production Parker put up in 2019, but for the potential Parker still has left in him.
In 16 games this past season (the first time he’s been active for 16 games his entire career), Parker caught 72 passes for 1,202 yards and 9 touchdowns. In his four years prior to 2019, Parker caught a combined 163 passes for 2,217 yards and 9 TDs.
As long as he can stay healthy, and the Dolphins don’t revert back to a scared, anemic offense, you can expect annual 1,000 yard seasons from the team’s #1 receiver.
- Miami Dolphins Sign Tight End Michael Roberts February 19, 2020
- A second Dolphins mock draft from someone who doesn’t watch football February 19, 2020
- Top 5 Miami Dolphins of 2019 February 14, 2020
- A Miami Dolphins mock draft from someone who doesn’t watch football February 12, 2020
- Top 5 Most Disappointing Miami Dolphins of 2019 February 10, 2020