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Miami Dolphins

Phins Finally Break Through – Dolphins Jets Recap

Travis Wingfield

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Adam Gase’s return results in a similar ending, only this time, for the opposition

Parades don’t run for teams that win one game in eight tries. They certainty don’t construct a collection of extravagant floats for hard-fought, narrow defeats. But the last three games were a testament to Brian Flores and his coaching staff, a sign that this team was improving with each game.

Sunday, with Adam Gase standing on the exposed visitor’s sideline at Hard Rock Stadium, the Miami Dolphins broke through like screaming banshees with an emphatic victory — the first in the career of Coach Flores.

 

Stat Dolphins Jets
Total Yards 316 321
Rushing 50 83
Passing 266 238
Penalties 6 (51 yards) 10 (105 yards)
3rd / 4thDown 6/12 (50%) 7/16 (43.8%)
Sacks For 3 4
TOP 31:14 28:46

 

This week’s recap column will be a departure from the norm. Sitting in the press box, I don’t have the luxury of rewinding and breaking down the individual plays. I did, however, gain access to the Dolphins locker room post-game, Brian Flores’ presser, and best of all…Adam Gase deflecting legitimate questions…from the visitor’s press room.

The Game

Offense

For the longest time, the Miami Dolphins were short on talent at the offensive skill positions. Chris Chambers and O.J. McDuffie are great Dolphins, but those two are essentially the only blips on the receiver-radar since the days of Clayton and Duper.

Enter Preston Williams. Re-enter Devante Parker.

The Dolphins have a pair of long, athletic, sneaky-fast leapers that play above the rim. Williams was uncoverable prior to a knee injury that has been classified as a sprain. He left the game — before the knee injury — with an apparent wrist sprain. Williams returned to make another catch, and draw a pass interference to extend a Dolphins field goal drive in the third quarter.

Williams finished five catches, 72 yards and two touchdowns.

Devante Parker caught the other Ryan Fitzpatrick touchdown pass (3 for the day). Parker was rolling with a 100% catch rate prior to a drop in the middle of the second quarter. Then, with a play designed to expose a one-on-one matchup for Parker into the boundary, the former first-round pick made a one-handed touchdown catch by the pylon.

Parker caught four for 57 yards and the one score.

Speaking of mismatches, welcome to dominance, Mike Gesicki. Post-game, I asked the six-foot-six Adonis how much confidence it gives him to know the Jets were rotating players in to try to stop him. He said his confidence level is growing each week this season, and it shows.

Gesicki caught all six of his targets for 95 yards, has surpassed his 2018 yardage total, and is one reception away from matching his rookie-season total. The Jets started with linebacker James Burgess, then tasked their best cover-corner (slot, Bryan Poole), to slow the tight end, but the result didn’t change.

Defense

My Twitter mentions were flooded with comments about Adam Gase out-coaching Brian Flores immediately after the Jets opening drive ended in the end zone, but that would be the last time Gase ever saw his team cross the goal line at Hard Rock Stadium (safe to say — he gone! at the end of the year).

Flores’ defense responded with three sacks, nine QB hits, 18 points allowed and an 85.4 passer rating for the Jets turnover-prone quarterback.

One of those sacks came from Christian Wilkins, the first of his career. He dominated for sixty minutes, but it was his personality that was most recognizable. Wilkins sprinted from the sideline to greet Williams in the end zone after his first touchdown. He failed in an attempt to high-hurdle Nik Needham after the rookie cornerback’s first career sack, and he threw a chest bump Matt Haack’s way after the lefty pinned a punt inside the 10-yard-line.

Davon Godchaux was the third Dolphin to sack Sam Darnold, but it was a clean rush from Linebacker Raekwon McMillan that spooked Darnold into an end zone interception.

Jomal Wiltz snagged his first career pick, and the Dolphins makeshift secondary limited the Jets’ passing game to 6.67 yards-per-pass.

Wiltz only plays at one speed — pedal to the metal — and had the best game of his career. In addition to the interception, he made six solo tackles and assisted on three others. Needham also had six solo tackles and three assists.

The tackling machine on the team remains McMillan. He was a part of eight tackles and found himself as the focal point of a few pressure packages.

Coaches Post-Game

Entering Adam Gase’s post-game presser, I had an idea what I was walking in to, but I didn’t expect it to be a verbatim, carbon copy of transcripts from his Miami days.

Gase deflected blame at every turn. He excused the Jets poor performance as a result of negative plays, second-down-and-long, and… wait for it… penalties, which are a direct reflection of the Head Coach. Details matter, and so when you see a team lack organization, even in the way they line up to stretch pre-game, it makes sense that you have an undisciplined football team.

On the other side, the Dolphins Head Coach is the antithesis of the coach roaming the visitor’s sideline. On Thursday’s Locked On Dolphins, I talked about Flores’ ability to relate to his players, and how his message resonates with the team. Flores’ message certainly resonates with yours truly, as he dedicated this victory to his late mother, and it certainly made me tear up as I thought about my mom and her untimely death.

The gravitational pull Flores has on his players was never more apparent than in his post-game locker room address. In the video below, you’ll hear coach ask the players a rhetorical question, and the entire 53-man roster responds with an emphatic, “yes sir!”

If you’ve ever seen Joe Philbin, Adam Gase, or most coaches in the league ask those types of questions, participation is usually voluntary, and mostly ignored.

Locker Room and Channing Crowder

Channing Crowder is the coolest human being I have ever met. Fun, jovial, and full of great stories, he fulfilled his promise to tell me the details behind the 2008 fight with Patriots Tackle Matt Light, which led to Crowder’s ejection from that game.

Unfortunately, I’m unable to relay the details of that story, but let’s just say that Channing came to each game equipped with specific, tailored smack talk, and his homework on Light’s backstory paid off.

Christian Wilkins exuberance is no joke, and entirely genuine. His on-field celebration led down the tunnel and into the locker room, where he was letting everyone know the speakers in the dressing room belonged to the rookie. We didn’t get to hear the song, but even 15 minutes after entering, the players were still bouncing around when media were finally granted access.

Vince Biegel is just as entertaining behind the microphone as he is on the field. Biegel accessed full-on psycho mode prior to kick off by jumping around and slapping himself on the helmet. Then, during a television timeout, the Hard Rock Stadium audio engineer played House of Pain’s Jump Around. If you’re unfamiliar with Wisconsin Badger football, they play that song between the third and fourth quarters at Camp Randall Stadium, and the entire audience participates in “jumping around.”

I asked Biegel what it was like to hear that song in the pro’s, and an ear-to-ear grin broke out on his face. I’ll have more details on his audio from the locker room on today’s coinciding podcast.

The Plan

The downside of this season has been the 1-7 record, and that is still exactly who this Dolphins team are, a bad football team. The upside comes via experience for the young players. That, in addition to establishing a culture of “next man up,” is the foundation this youthful squad requires.

See, where the Cleveland Browns went wrong, was in dropping the star players into the lineup before the leadership had been developed. Freddie Kitchens is rumored to be on the hot seat as the Browns close up the first half of the season with a porous 2-6 record, as his team is one of the league’s least disciplined units.

Miami is in the process of developing the bottom end of the roster; a portion of the roster that can round out the special teams’ units, and provide the ‘Phins with capable players that can step in, in the event of an injury to a starter.

Then, from the top, Miami can use it’s $130 million in available cap space, and multiple premium draft picks to import star power, creating a perfect meld of widespread experience with a singular mission.

It’s a linear approach that exemplifies ownership’s desire to build a sustained winner.

That, coupled with the fact that hiring Brian Flores was unequivocally (my opinion) the right decision, leads me to believe the other side of this rebuild is going to result in the most glorious professional football South Florida has seen since Dan Marino was turning Jim Carey into a movie star.

@WingfieldNFL

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Jeff Couch

    November 4, 2019 at 10:58 am

    Excellent write up, I was able to watch the game from home being as i’m in NJ and was so happy to see a roster built from hungry, young, barely known players playing their hearts out to get the first victory in the new regime. I got married Friday, best man is a huge jets fan and wished me the dolphins winning a Superbowl in my lifetime in his speech. Little did he know he blessed me with the best gift for this years football, a smack down against the jets and Adam Gase. Keep up the amazing work and i’m looking forward to the podcast!

  2. Avatar

    Daniel Gainey

    November 5, 2019 at 11:48 am

    You hit on a lot of good points there. I really believe that we finally have a competent coaching staff and that if Grier and company can score big in the draft and free agency, we will be a top team. I’d like to see them spend this years draft on a QB, DE, and multiple Offensive linemen. We need to build the trenches first. It’s so easy to get caught up in the glamour positions, but nothing is more important than being able to field a balanced offense, and that starts with the 5 up front. In free agency we can look for skill position players that other teams can’t afford. Next years draft will be a chance fill whatever holes remain and acquire solid backups and beef up the back end of the 53. I feel like 2002 will be the year we start our runs deep into the playoffs.
    I hope the arrival of little Cam won’t keep you from attending training camp next year. With the incoming flood of talent, it should be memorable. Come on down and I’ll buy you lunch.

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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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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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