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Fins Fall to Rivals, Officials – Dolphins Jets Week 14 Recap

Travis Wingfield

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Dolphins, Jets, officials all struggle Sunday in a walk-off winner for the home team

The decision to reverse an uncalled defensive pass interference on Cornerback Nik Needham is the story from an otherwise sloppy, forgettable game between two of the NFL’s oldest rivals. Yet, that call wasn’t even the most egregious decision adjudicated Sunday at the Meadowlands.

 

Stat Dolphins Jets
Total Yards 362 374
Rushing 122 112
Passing 240 262
3rd / 4thDown 4/13 (30.8%) 5/14 (35.7%)
Penalties 5 (48 yards) 5 (88 yards)
Sacks For 1 2
TOP 30:06 29:54

 

One of the just two touchdowns scored by either team was incorrectly ruled as such. Overturning an incompletion in which Demaryius Thomas failed to complete the catch on the way to the ground — because of a Needham pass break up — gave the Jets an extra four points and, ultimately, a victory.

The foul on Needham was confirmed as the correct decision by the league. It probably was, but it bailed the undeserving Jets out of a certain loss. New York was stuck in 3rd and 18 from its own 44-yard-line after Andrew Van Ginkel’s first career sack. With only 60 seconds remaining, a reception there puts the Jets into a long field situation, at best. Instead, New York were awarded a fresh set of downs and would inch closer before a 44-yard winner from Sam Ficken.

The Dolphins had many chances to overcome the hometown help, but failed to do so repeatedly. Stunningly short-handed on the offensive side (each of Miami’s top four wide receivers were out for one reason or another) Ryan Fitzpatrick couldn’t get it going on four separate trips inside the Jets 10-yard-line.

Miami entered the week as the third best red zone outfit, but followed up last week’s perfect 4-for-4 showing with a goose egg in the game’s most critical area.

With drives spanning 92, 67, 65, 62, 45, 36, and 56 yards, Miami’s ability to move the ball was rather astonishing. If we’re talking about the starting lineup the team entered training camp with, the Dolphins were on running backs number 4 and 5 Sunday, and wide receivers 5-7. One of those receivers arrive in Miami this past Thursday.

Concussions knocked Devante Parker and Albert Wilson out of the game. Michael Deiter played, but didn’t start the game, and Patrick Laird and Myles Gaskin are making a case for more significant roles in 2020.

The defense executed a bend-but-don’t-break game plan. New York put together drives of 74, 77, 62, 51 and 49 yards, but Miami also forced three punts (two three-and-outs), a turnover-on-downs, and picked off Sam Darnold for the eighth time in four career head-to-head games.

For the second time this season, Miami and its band of misfits outplayed a New York roster that was assembled for playoff contention. This time, however, Miami came up short, and it’s probably for the best. The Dolphins retain the fourth position in the 2020 NFL Draft, where a victory would have seen Miami slide all the back to the eighth spot at the close of week 14 business.

Let’s get to the individuals.

Quarterbacks

This was the worst game Ryan Fitzpatrick played in several weeks, even after it started off so strongly. Fitzpatrick was constantly under duress, and was forced to create improvisational success.

Fitzpatrick led the way in rushing with 65 yards on the ground. That brings his season total to 186 yards, just 15 behind the team’s leader in Mark Walton. Fitzpatrick aside, Miami’s three leading rushers on the season won’t contribute another yard (Kenyan Drake, Kalen Ballage and Walton) for the Dolphins this season.

Accounting for 16 of the offense’s 22 touchdowns, the only things Fitzpatrick isn’t doing are cooking the meals and flying the plane. Still, this was not his best showing. He was late and off-target on several occasions, and threw a number of interceptable passes.

The creativity off-script kept Miami in the game, just as did Fitzpatrick’s ability to quickly process the coverage, and make the corresponding play. He recognizes man coverage and a free rusher well enough to make the opposition pay with his legs, and he’s very deadly against zone looks. More on this in the wide receivers portion.

Running Backs

Patrick Laird has been a welcomed shot in the arm to a running game that’s dead on the vine. Miami’s run blocking leaves plenty to be desired, but The Intern (A.K.A. White Lightning) put together 48 yards on the ground. But he was also in the air, and everywhere, to the tune of 38 receiving yards, including an ankle-breaking sluggo route.

That was the only set of ankles Laird broke — quite literally.

Myles Gaskin didn’t have the production this week, but he showed the patience, vision and burst that made him a four-time 1,200-yard rusher at Washington. He’s a viable option next year as a change-of-pace back that can correctly identify the lanes on outside or inside zone.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Devante Parker helps Fitzpatrick beat man coverage with his leaping and big-play ability, which was on display for Parker’s second and final catch of the game. When Fitzpatrick can identify his matchups, it makes the passing game dangerous against any coverage. But when the offense is down so many players, the matchups become few-and-far between.

Parker would leave the game after his head slammed to the turf. Devante tried to shake it off, but he was clearly woozy, and would not return.

Allen Hurns is the usual security blanket for Fitzpatrick against zone coverage, and he made a number of big plays despite playing through an ailment of his own. Hurns piled up 68 yards on five catches.

Isaiah Ford received an unexpected opportunity this week and ran with it. He made some noise after the catch and picked up 92 yards on six receptions. He displayed strong hands and toughness on a number of bang-bang receptions.

Mike Gesicki did not do well to follow up his career-day against the Jets in November, but that was more of a function of New York’s defense. Gesicki ran into brackets throughout the game, and Fitzpatrick missed him the one time he uncovered in the end zone.

Offensive Line

Michael Deiter saw his 100% snap record broken Sunday by losing the starting job to Keaton Sutherland. Sutherland had some moments in the run game; he shows a penchant for engaging, turning and sealing off some nice gaps in the run game.

Deiter returned to the lineup and got some work late, including a big hold that momentarily backed Miami out of field goal range.

Jesse Davis had his best game at right tackle last week, and did not put together back-to-back performances. He struggled once again to wall off the edge in the passing game, but he did seal the edge in the ground game a few times.

Evan Boehm was back in at right guard for Shaq Calhoun, but he had his worst game as a Dolphin. Boehm was constantly over-powered or beaten with quickness.

The same was true of Daniel Kilgore at center. Kilgore is asked to reach a lot and it’s a 50/50 proposition if he’s going to get there on any given play.

Defensive Line

Just as the run game got going for the first time since October, Miami had its best run-defense day of the year. The Jets ran the ball 32 times for an average of 3.5 yards per rush.

Davon Godchaux was at the forefront of the quality day from the front. He continues to overpower guards and centers in one-on-one situations and hold the point against doubles. He also walked the Jets guards into the quarterback a couple of times.

Christian Wilkins was in on five stops, but had a lot of bad reps getting rolled out of the gap.

Gerald Willis was involved a few times putting together his best showing in his young Dolphins career. He added his first QB hit.

Charles Harris still isn’t playing very much, but he made a play possible for Vince Biegel with a strong edge forcing the split zone tight end into the ball carrier.

Linebackers

Raekwon McMillan was back to doing his thing in this game. McMillan played his best, fastest game in a number of weeks. He constantly timed up the Jets snaps and knifed into the backfield to blow up a lead block, or go directly to the source and get the ball carrier.

Jerome Baker was off to a miserable start, but really turned things around in the second half. He took after McMillan with the aggressive, reckless abandon flying in against the run and blowing up blocks.

Vince Biegel has been the most pleasant surprise to this Dolphins team. He was in on nine stops, closed down the backside on runs away from him, and held the point on runs in his direction.

Andrew Van Ginkel showed the type of rush traits this scheme calls for on his first career sack. He worked up field, engaged the blocker, kept his eyes on the quarterback, and came off to get Sam Darnold to the ground when he tried to escape.

Defensive Backs

Nik Needham was involved on two plays that arguably proved to be the difference in the game, which is unfortunate because he was excellent otherwise. Needham was involved as a tackler, he undercut routes for big break ups on third down, and he played the ball extremely well.

Steven Parker made two huge plays in this game — one for the Dolphins, and one for the Jets. He picked off Darnold driving out of his deep half position for Miami’s lone takeaway. He also inexplicably gambled on the play that put the Jets in position for a game-winning field goal.

Ken Webster had a difficult day. The Jets went after Webster relentless and he was regularly a step late.

Jomal Wiltz continues to tackle efficiently, but he too was often a step late in coverage. The same was true of Ryan Lewis.

Recap

The passion Brian Flores showed at the end of the game is difficult to ignore. Far be it from me to compare myself to Coach, but passion has fueled the entire Locked On Dolphins venture and watching that man bear his heart and soul into this is the most admirable trait I’ve seen in a Dolphins Head Coach since the Don.

Flores cares. This stuff matters to him. It effects his pride and his spirit with the Dolphins lose games, and that personality is rubbing off on his team. This Miami Dolphins squad, the one that is comprised of nearly 50% undrafted free agents — because of shipping off or losing almost half the original starters to injury — is a two-point conversion and botched officiating away from a 5-4 record post-bye.

There are still a lot of areas to fix on this roster, especially to fully execute the defensive vision of Flores, but once he gets those parts, this will be a fun team to watch.

The Dolphins are already tough, smart, and disciplined. The last piece of that puzzle is some more talent.

With 14 draft picks (6 in the top 60) and nearly $130 million in cap space, those final ingredients will arrive in March and April.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Dolphins Waive TE Michael Roberts

Chris Kowalewski

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As the doors of the Dolphins’ training facility open to the newly signed rookie class, they close for another former Miami-hopeful after an active weekend of roster moves.

The Miami Dolphins have today waived TE Michael Roberts.

Roberts began his NFL career in 2017 out of Toledo as a 4th round pick of the Detroit Lions, possessing ideal measurements (6’5”, 265lb) for a playmaking TE.

A shoulder injury in December 2018 cut short Roberts’ time in Detroit and he was waived by the Lions following a failed physical as part of an attempted trade with the New England Patriots and subsequently waived quickly again after being picked up by the Green Bay Packers.

Roberts underwent reconstruction of the injured left shoulder in August 2019, having struggled both physically and mentally as his career path veered away from his dreams. Signed by the Dolphins in February 2020, it was hoped that Roberts could revive his NFL career in Miami’s TE room, competing with Durham Smythe for the TE2 spot behind Mike Gesicki.

At only 26 years old, it remains to be seen whether the young TE will be able to regain full health and return to the game, but the craziness of 2020 only puts further hurdles in his path as training camp rosters are reduced across the league to 80 players in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Don’t expect Brian Flores and his staff to sit on their hands when it comes to competition – 2019 highlighted on a regularly churning roster of names being given a chance to succeed – and this approach is expected to continue at certain positions. As such, Saturday’s news that former Chicago Bears’ TE Adam Shaheen had been acquired by the Dolphins ensures that healthy competition can continue to spread through the roster, and proves the willingness of the front office to give chances to promising players who may not have achieved during their first NFL stop.

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Miami Dolphins

In A Perfect World, Tua Tagovailoa Doesn’t Start a Single Game

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

If everything goes right, Tua Tagovailoa isn’t going to start a single game for the Miami Dolphins in 2020.

Nope, you didn’t misread that last sentence. Tua Tagovailoa riding the bench is the best thing that could happen to the Miami Dolphins this season, and if you think otherwise, then you haven’t been paying attention to what Brian Flores has been preaching since his arrival.

The obvious factor everyone is taking into consideration is the health of Tua’s hip. And while that definitely plays a part, it has minimal affect on his playing time. You see, barring a trade, Tua is the third-best quarterback on the roster right now.

Combine his inexperience, a COVID-restricted offseason, and that pesky hip injury, and it’s safe to say our questions have already been answered.

The Better Player Plays

With this team, it’s no secret that playing time is awarded based on a player’s performance both in games and during practice. It doesn’t matter where you were drafted or how much money you’re making, if you aren’t better than the athlete next to you, you aren’t playing.

In fact, didn’t we just go through a very similar situation last year when the Dolphins acquired Josh Rosen from the Arizona Cardinals for a 2nd-round draft pick?

We all assumed that Ryan Fitzpatrick was keeping the seat warm until Rosen – a top-10 draft pick one season prior – was ready, but when Flores had the opportunity to simultaneously give a young quarterback experience and tank for Tua, he did neither. Instead, opting to (nearly) sabotage the opportunity to draft Tagovailoa and win as many games as possible with Fitzpatrick.

Rosen has much more upside than Fitzpatrick, but he couldn’t muster more than 197 snaps under center last season.

Just like that, the culture was set. Flores wasn’t fucking around – it was win at all costs, and the players bought in. One season later, that mantra certainly hasn’t changed.

Tua has more talent and better quarterback traits than Fitzpatrick and Rosen (probably combined), so there’s no arguing which quarterback we want to build a franchise around, but who is going to win the team more games this season?

I don’t doubt that Tua is a football genius that will pick up a playbook quickly, but knowing your plays and executing against an NFL defense are two completely different things.

Fitzpatrick has been in the league for 15 years while Tua has been in the league for 14 weeks; there is A LOT Tua has to learn before he can make the kind of reads Fitzpatrick can instinctively make after 139 starts in the NFL.

Josh Rosen may not evolve into an elite, franchise-saving quarterback, but he’s not terrible either. Two years of experience and a season-worth of starts (16) under his belt gives him an instant edge over Tua. The only thing that levels Rosen with Tagovailoa is they’re both learning Chan Gailey‘s offense for the first time – and for Rosen, this would be his 4th different offense in the past 4 years.

Otherwise, Rosen already has a rapport with the coaching staff, the medical staff, all of the workers in the building, and the receivers on this roster. In other words, he’s comfortable in his surroundings while Tua is trying to get acclimated to a brand new life.

There are going to be growing pains and a learning curve – two things we admittedly need Tua to experience in order to evolve. But the question becomes, when can Miami afford to experience those “opportunities”? Certainly not if they believe they are…

Playoff Bound

The Miami Dolphins – and most importantly, Brian Flores – believe they are in a position to make a legitimate playoff run.

Scoff however much you’d like at the notion that this team, one year removed from being “the worst team in the NFL”, is on a cusp of making a playoff appearance, but don’t tell anyone in the Dolphins’ organization that you think that.

A remastered secondary, a veteran presence among the front-7, an entirely new offensive line, and real, productive running backs means the Dolphins are all-but-guaranteed to improve on their 5-11 record.

In fact, the only thing holding them back from a legitimate playoff run is the quarterback position.

Ryan Fitzpatrick has won more than 6 games as a starter just once in his career, and Rosen only has 3 wins to his name (none as a Dolphin). If the team falters, it’s because these two quarterbacks couldn’t carry a well-built football team to the playoffs.

And that’s where the disappointment of another lost season is met with hope for the future. It won’t be until the Dolphins are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs that the team will trot Tua Tagovailoa out onto the field.

Waiting until so late in the season checks off every single box you need. It gives him time to:

  • Learn his way around the NFL
  • Understand the playbook better
  • Observe the game from the sideline
  • Gain chemistry with his receivers

Oh, and it also helps ensure that his hip is healthy, because…

I’m Sure He’s Healthy…

Being stuck inside during an international pandemic may have made it seem like a lifetime ago, but it’s only been three short months since we all clamored to a 14 minute video of Tua Tagovailoa throwing scripted passes; our eyes inexplicably glued to a man’s hips, unscientifically judging whether or not he was healthy. Try explaining that one to your significant other.

While we are all thrilled with recent medical reports and first-hand accounts from the quarterback himself, it would be downright idiotic to mess around with a hip injury.

The only reason Tua Tagovailoa was available at the 5th-overall pick was because of the uncertainty surrounding his hip, those concerns don’t suddenly disappear just because he’s on your roster and we’re excited to see our prized possession play.

Let his hip heal and let him practice against a secondary that includes Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, Bobby McCain, Brandon Jones, Noah Igbinoghene, and Eric Rowe. He’s going to learn just how quickly throwing lanes close and how tight they are to begin with.

Don’t convince yourself that Tua has to start games this rookie season to be the elite quarterback he’s projected to be. Patrick Mahomes started one game his rookie year. Aaron Rodgers didn’t start until his forth season in the NFL. If all of the hype is real, then his career will be just fine.

The plan isn’t to count moral victories, but to win football games – and Tua Tagovailoa gives the Miami Dolphins the best chance to do that for the foreseeable future. But for now, Ryan Fitzpatrick is your starting quarterback, and until Josh Rosen relinquishes the job as backup, it won’t be Tua’s until 2021. Mission Accomplished.

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Miami Dolphins Trade for Tight End Adam Shaheen

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

After a breakout 2019 campaign, it looks like Mike Gesicki will have some competition.

According to Pro Football Talk, the Miami Dolphins have traded a 2021 6th-round pick to the Chicago Bears for tight end Adam Shaheen.

A former 2nd-round pick (2017) out of Ashland University (Division II), Shaheen excelled during the combine, which led to an increase in his draft stock. The Bears jumped at the opportunity of molding a raw prospect, and selected Shaheen with the 45th pick in the draft. He was the 5th tight end taken in the draft that year, well above where he was originally projected when he declared for the NFL.

Though the Bears were optimistic, it seems Shaheen hasn’t lived up to his draft status. After three seasons, Shaheen has 26 receptions for 249 yards and 4 touchdowns. His playtime has diminished from 239 offensive snaps in 2017, to 160 in 2018 and 174 in 2019; with injuries playing a part the past two seasons. For comparisons sake, Durham Smythe had 482 offensive snaps last season alone (Shaheen has 573 for his career).

Shaheen became expendable after the Bears drafted Cole Kmet in the 2nd-round of the 2020 draft and signed Jimmy Graham to a 2-year contract earlier this offseason. With 8 tight ends on the Chicago Bears roster, you know something had to give. And from the perspective of a Bears’ fan, receiving any compensation for a likely roster cut is rewarding enough.

Trading a 6th-round pick means Shaheen is a favorite to win one of the backup tight end spots, should the Dolphins keep 3 on their roster.

It’s unlikely that Shaheen is a possible replacement for Smythe, as Shaheen is meant to be a receiving threat more than an in-line blocker, but there is so much untapped potential with Shaheen that it’s hard to guess what the Dolphins will receive from him.

We assume Mike Gesicki will continue to grow, but behind him, the cupboard is pretty barren. Shaheen adds much-needed depth to a tight end room that currently includes Smythe, Michael Roberts, Chris Myarick and undrafted rookie Bryce Sterk.

 

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