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State of the Miami Dolphins Franchise – September 1, 2019

Travis Wingfield

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A blockbuster trade, 10 newcomers, a war chest of future draft picks, the Dolphins are finally doing things differently

No one expected to be here. Not the fans. Not Laremy Tunsil. Not even the Miami Dolphins themselves thought about the possibility of trading one of its two, sure-fire blue chip players, and yet here we are.

As Albert Breer of the MMQB put it, Miami had no intentions to move Tunsil until Houston’s full court press turned into an offer Miami couldn’t refuse.

The lack on long-term job security turned Bill O’Brien into a mad scientist, operating free of any governing watch, spending all of his company’s future assets on immediate returns. A long day for the Texans saw a potential division favorite part with two first-round picks, two second-round picks, an all-pro defensive end, and a pair of mid-round picks on middling tailbacks (one of which occurred two weeks ago).

Miami cashed in. And while this might not have been Stephen Ross’ exact image of a teardown rebuild, the ultimate apple of his eye is now clearly within range (more on that QB in a moment).

When Ross stepped to the podium (or table, rather) on New Year’s Eve to announce the dismissal of Adam Gase and Mike Tannenbaum, and the coinciding promotion of Chris Grier, he vowed to do things differently.

Chasing the New England Patriots and their six Super Bowl titles, nine appearances in the big game, and 16 division titles in 18 years has long been a futile effort. Rather than chasing the dragon with pipedreams like Robert Quinn, Danny Amendola, and a host of failed bandage attempts over the last decade, Ross finally learned the definition of insanity.

And while his initial vision probably included a minimal regression to the mean, unique circumstances forced a pivot. Now, bottoming out to the fullest extent of the definition is the preferred mode of operation going forward.

That wasn’t the case just three weeks ago. Ross detailed his instructions to the coaching staff to “try to win,” a hilarious quote without context, no doubt. Ross continued by saying that if Miami winds up with, say, five wins, it’s OK because of Miami’s draft capital gives the team the flexibility to trade up to secure its franchise altering passer.

But now, with a war chest of future resources, Miami might be able to divide the 21 draft picks it has beyond its own, organic 2020 first-rounder about the rest of the roster. One of those picks will now have to replace fast-emerging Left Tackle Laremy Tunsil, widely argued as the best young player at his position in the league.

So Why Trade Tunsil?

The return, along with adhering to a philosophical principle, the Dolphins saw an opportunity to maximize an asset. While many fans were sent into a rage about losing the only quality part of the integral offensive line group, that very fact might be why Tunsil was deemed expendable.

On the fifth day of training camp this summer, Brian Flores answered a flurry of questions regarding the decision to move on from recently hired Offensive Line Coach Pat Flaherty.

One of those questions asked what exactly the Dolphins were looking for with the other four positions — four spots regarded as suspect, at best.

Flores’ message has never deviated from his original clichés. “Communication, working as one singular unit, not five individual parts, that’s what we’re trying to get out of those guys.”

Even if Tunsil is an elite pass protector, even if you can put him on an island with a two-way go against the game’s best pass rushers, what does that gain? What does it gain when Tunsil blocks out the sun against Khalil Mack, but the right guard-right tackle combination fails to pass-off a stunt, and pressure arrives in less than two seconds anyhow?

The roster needs a jolt of talent, there’s no doubt about that, but the offensive line was the primary culprit behind Miami’s projected hopelessness this season. That group, more so than the team itself, needed a ground-up rebuild.

Cashing in the offensive line’s greatest asset, for well above market value, puts the Dolphins in a more advantageous position to restock that group as a whole, and solidify a singular unit. Not to mention that Tunsil was only two years — at most — away from cashing in the largest lineman contract in the NFL.

Miami can now spend that money on multiple players — maybe even two linemen — and scoops up three premium picks (all top 60 picks) in the process.

Everything about this offseason has been about positioning the team for success in the future, even if the path to the future is rigged with treacherous booby traps and unmitigated suffering.

 

Draft Round Dolphins 2020 Picks Dolphins 2021 Picks
1st 2 2
2nd 2 2
3rd 2 1
4th 1 1
5th 1 1
6th 2 0
7th 1 1
Total Picks 11 0
Projected Top 50 Picks 3 3
Projected Top 100 Picks 6 6

*Miami previously held two 7th round picks in 2020, but the trade for Danny Isidora brings it back to one.

 

The happiest accident of the entire thing, Miami is a dreadful football team for the 2019 season; a season in which college football is set to send some premier quarterback prospects into the league.

Most notably, Tua Tagovailoa.

Stephen Ross professed his love for the Heisman Runner-Up and 2018 National Championship Game hero. Tagovailoa is widely regarded as the next great quarterback prospect, the best one since Andrew Luck in 2012.

All Luck did, for a previously 2-14 Colts team, was take a talent-barren club to the post-season three consecutive years. He led Indianapolis to three playoff victories and an appearance in the AFC Championship Game in 2014, his third year. Miami hasn’t done any of those three things since the 1990’s, for those keeping score at home.

The year prior, Miami and Indianapolis were competing for the right to Luck’s services. Miami started the campaign 0-6, but finished 6-4 and all the way out of the top five. The Colts wound up with Luck, the Dolphins with Ryan Tannehill, and I don’t need to tell you how different the last seven years would’ve been if Miami could’ve traded those two quarterbacks straight across.

Nothing changes the landscape of your franchise like a marquee quarterback. Nothing. There is no more direct route back to a Lombardi than an elite quarterback, and the opportunity to acquire one should not be taken lightly.

And if Miami hits that pick out of the park, and at the cost of just ONE draft pick, then the organization would have to royally screw up the next two offseason for Miami to stay in the shadows for long.

With 19 additional picks to aid Tua Tagovailoa (or Jordan Love), if the Dolphins bat just .400 on those picks, we’re talking about eight more contributing players to a core that already features some quality parts.

Parts like Jerome Baker, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Christian Wilkins.

Parts like Xavien Howard. Which brings us to the next question.

Why Did Miami Pay Xavien Howard, Acquire Josh Rosen?

As the offensive line was constructed around one elite player, and four players that probably wouldn’t start anywhere else, the defensive backfield is not in the same neighborhood.

Howard is one of, if not the game’s premiere cover corner. Minkah Fitzpatrick is one of the game’s best slot corners, and a versatile weapon. Miami are enamored with a pair of former Patriots corners in Eric Rowe and Jomal Wiltz. Reshad Jones is still here, though his future is in jeopardy, and Bobby McCain is a good player and one of the leaders of the team.

The Dolphins are only one or two parts away from putting a top-flight secondary on the field, the same was not true of the offensive line. Not by a long shot.

On the other side, the players that the secondary are trying to prevent from succeeding, sits the cursed 22-year-old, Josh Rosen.

Rosen’s chances of becoming the answer in Miami are slim. Regardless of how you feel about the kid’s talent, he’s in a position where far greater quarterbacks would struggle, and the success he would have to enjoy to push Miami off of next year’s QB class is simply unachievable.

Maybe that’s why Miami opted not to start the season with Rosen. With the knowledge that a high draft pick at quarterback is greater than a 90-percent proposition (a number pulled from thin air, but let’s be real, they’re drafting a QB), Rosen’s greatest value to the Dolphins might be on the trade market.

Jimmy Garappolo brought back the 43rd pick in the 2018 draft to the Patriots after 1.5 games of brilliance.

If Miami can hold off on playing Rosen until the circumstances are more favorable (perhaps the line gels a bit as the season wears on, and the schedule lightens up), then a few games of good tape could certainly attract a bidder.

And before you develop an ulcer at the thought of trading Rosen after he plays well, consider upside. Consider conviction. The same conviction the Chiefs showed in the 2017 draft when, despite harboring a good NFL quarterback in Alex Smith, Andy Reid went for broke and wound up with the league’s Most Valuable Player in Patrick Mahomes.

In essence, you could wind up with the best QB prospect since Luck (Tagovailoa) and yet another second-round pick (would be Miami’s fifth the next two year) if Rosen plays his price tag up to that level. Rosen’s contract along could make him attractive to another bidder, if Miami so chooses that a high draft pick is more valuable than a backup quarterback.

All of these players are assets with a price tag attached to their name. That’s a cruel truth in the National Football League, but that’s what happens in business.

Updated 53-Man Roster – Courtesy of Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald

New Additions:

OL Julién Davenport
OL Evan Boehm
OL Danny Isidora
DE Trent Harris
DE Avery Moss
LB Deon Lacey
LB Vince Biegel
CB Johnson Bademosi
CB Ken Webster
S Steven Parker
DT John Jenkins

Position Players
QB (2) Fitzpatrick, Rosen
RB (6) Drake, Ballage, Walton, Laird, Gaskin, Cox (FB)
WR (5) Wilson, Grant, Williams, Parker, Hurns
TE (3) Gesicki, O’Leary, Smythe
OL (9) Davenport, Deiter, Kilgore, Calhoun, Davis, Reed, Boehm, Isidora, Prince
Edge (5) C. Harris, Orchard, T. Harris, Ledbetter, Moss
iDL (3) Wilkins, Godchaux, Jenkins
LB (6) Baker, Eguavoen, McMillan, Van Ginkel, Biegel, Lacey
CB (6) Howard, Fitzpatrick, Rowe, Wiltz, Webster, Bademosi
S (5) McCain, Jones, Lammons, Parker, Aikens
Spec (2) Sanders, Haack

*Current as of 12:37 PM EST, 9/2 (Roster at 52 players, long-snapper)

 

Miami landed in the headlines with the draft capital returns, but the organization has quietly been churning over the bottom of the roster in search of developmental pieces. Isidora and Boehm were added prior to the blockbuster trade, and there might be a find in there as we detailed in the film study work-up.

Miami had spent time with Saints Linebacker Vince Biegel prior to the 2017 draft, both at the Senior Bowl and with a private workout.

Deon Lacy was a CFL signing to Miami last year, but he didn’t make Gase’s 53-man roster — he’s back.

Cutting Zach Sterup likely means that new addition Julién Davenport is the starting left tackle. He’s, shall we say, had his fair share of struggles.

Miami is rounding out it’s practice squad as well. Here’s the up-to-date 11-man developmental player for the Dolphins (currently only at 9).

Practice Squad

Position Player
1. QB Jake Ruddock
2. DE Dewayne Hendrix
3. LB Christian Sam
4. CB Nik Needham
5. DT Gerald Willis
6. TE Chris Myarick
7. LB Terrill Hanks
8. S Montre Hartage
9. OT Zach Sterup
10.
11. OL Durval Queiroz Neto (Exempt Status

 

The Forgotten Man in All of This

Miami departed with more than just Laremy Tunsil in the trade. The Dolphins Walter Payton Man of the Year Candidate, and leading receiver over the last three seasons was also sent to Houston.

Kenny Stills was a fixture on the South Florida community. Every time the Dolphins social media pages shared video, or photography of the team aiding in charity events, number 10 was always there. Every. Single. Time. The Dolphins are losing a good football player, but also one of the best men in the game.

Best of luck in Houston, Kenny.

Darkest Before the Dawn

This season is going to be challenging, there’s no way around that. Miami doesn’t have the makeup of a team that can compete with many others at this level, but there’s still a reason to watch.

Watch to see how Jerome Baker develops as the leader of the defense. Watch to see Xavien Howard continue his tear of intercepting footballs. Watch to see Minkah Fitzpatrick, Christian Wilkins, Kalen Ballage, Jakeem Grant, Preston Williams, Mike Geisicki, Charles Harris, and Davon Godchaux attempt to take the next step.

Watch the low-risk investments like Mark Walton, Eric Rowe, Devante Parker and how they progress.

Watch the five undrafted free agents on the current roster — Williams, Patrick LairdShaq Calhoun, Jonathan Ledbetter, and Chris Lammons.

It’s evaluation season, Dol-fans. And we’ve got 16 games to self-scout the incumbent talent, and 13 more weeks to watch a decorated college class of prospects, primarily on the offensive side of the ball.

The Browns did this two years ago. The team finished without a win in 2017 and landed the first pick in the draft. Enter Baker Mayfield. Now, after winning seven more games than the previous season, the Browns are loaded.

Cleveland used all the resources it gathered to pick up superstars like Myles Garrett, and O’Dell Beckham, and paired them with other names like Denzel Ward, David Njoku, Nick Chubb, Jarvis Landry, Olivier Vernon, Sheldon Richardson, and a laundry list of above average NFL starters.

If you were content with perpetually finishing right in the middle of the pack — in that range of seven to eight wins, and picking in the early teens every April — then perhaps this rebuild isn’t for you.

But this team is doing things differently now. They had to.

We’ll find out if it works in three years.

@WingfieldNFL

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Pat

    September 1, 2019 at 5:49 pm

    Travis,

    Terrell Hanks has been waived. We only have 6 LB’s

  2. Avatar

    Kirk Marks

    September 1, 2019 at 5:59 pm

    Travis I am all on board with this transformtion. You hit the nail on the head, the real fans will see a bright future. A season ticket holder discount would have been nice traveling from Hersey for every home game haha. Fins up

  3. Avatar

    Bill Martin

    September 1, 2019 at 6:51 pm

    I live in Toronto and I’ve just witnessed a similar dismantling of my beloved Blue Jays. They are painful to watch at times (no-hit by Verlander today), but it is exciting to watch youngsters like Guerrero Jr, Bichette, Biggio and Guierriel Jr. begin to emerge. The future looks bright for the Jays. If I see this sort of progression with the youngsters on my beloved Dolphins then I’m good with what Grier and Co. are trying to accomplish. But boy, do I feel for Rosen… another horrible, horrible OL to play behind. How is he supposed to get a fair evaluation when he’ll be running for his life most of the time.

  4. Avatar

    PapaPickett

    September 1, 2019 at 8:01 pm

    I am surprised you are defending this. There is an philosophy very foriegn to us Dolphins fans and its called overvaluing draft picks. When you hit on a pick you keep it. Thats the idea of building a team, because no matter how good you are at picking, you will miss sometimes as well. The Dolphins hit on Tunsil and traded him back in for 3 more rolls of the dice and at least one of those rolls has to be spent trying to replace Tunsil. Blow smoke anywhere you like, but keep it out of my ace. Grier just set this team back very badly and should be sued for negligence and wrecklessness when our Quarterbacks inevitably get injured.

  5. Avatar

    Tony

    September 1, 2019 at 8:49 pm

    I’m on board with the organizations current philosophy and I agree that Miami will probably draft a QB in 2020 just not the one you are talking about. For starters the notion that Tagovailoa is the best QB prospect since Luck is pure fiction. Those ratings won’t come out for another 6 months and I doubt after the combine Tua will be in that company. Couple that with the fact that
    none of the top QBs in the NFL (Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaaron Rodgers, Pat Mahomes , Ben Rothlisberger and Russell Wilson) were top 5 picks. If Rosen shows well this season I’m not sure that they take a QB with their first pick. Let some other GM who overvalues Tua such as I believe you do give Miami an RGIII type return to even further expedite the rebuild and take a QB later in round 1. Then use the added draft capital and free agency over the next 2 years to stock this roster with talent and make a run.

  6. Avatar

    Edan

    September 2, 2019 at 12:26 am

    Tua can’t play behind a bad line, that’s what happened to Luck. He retired. I totally disagree with letting go of another Richmond Webb. It will take more picks than Miami has to replace Tunsil. Not just a bad move, a terrible move. Giving Stills away another huge mistake. Houston will be really happy with both of them. 0-16 for Miami and better sign 2 Qb’s to the practice squad. They’ll be needed.

  7. Avatar

    James

    September 2, 2019 at 12:34 pm

    Another great article. Thanks for helping us all keep it in perspective.

  8. Avatar

    Damon Williams

    September 2, 2019 at 9:52 pm

    I get confused. You say that the teams fate would be different with Luck. No, Luck would have been far more injured. They built a line too late. They did what obviously Miami did with Tannehill. You cant blame him now although you can now the line that was in front of him. Until, you get protection doesnt matter who is back there. Houston certainly came to see it. Their QB couldnt even take team flights. Every QB Miami fielded in past seven years: Moore, Cutler, Tannehill were injured. You say, far greater QB would struggle behind this line, then building line first should be priority. The ball starts at the snap, oline and dline. This is were the game is won or lost imo. It’s unfair to every QB thats started for past few years. If it doesnt gel this season, the same question will be asked even with a shiny new QB.

  9. Avatar

    Jason

    September 3, 2019 at 1:15 am

    I just feel bad for Rosen, why they even traded for him is beyond me, Miami owes me money for my Rosen Jersey. Josh will be in another system for another team next year. Sorry Josh

    • Avatar

      Rockphin

      September 5, 2019 at 1:53 pm

      [email protected] Jason. You have no one to blame but yourself for purchasing a Rosen Jersey. I was going to call out Travis on his Luck / Tannehill comment but I saw Damon already did.

      I don’t think Tua will be the best of that class either.

      I disagree with Papa. I think the value of the trade far outweighed the value of Tunsil.

      Joe Thomas was the best LT in foot ball. Went to TEN straight pro-bowls. Won 44 games in 10 years.

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Miami Dolphins

Taco Charlton: New Acquisition Analysis

Travis Wingfield

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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)
2017 399 (38.2%)
2018 401 (39.2%)
2019 0

 

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.

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.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Josh Rosen Named Starting QB vs Cowboys; Claim DE Taco Charlton

Chris Kowalewski

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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.

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.

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.

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Miami Dolphins

Dolphins Cowboys Week Three Preview

Travis Wingfield

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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
Weather: Dome
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 Scheme:

Offense:

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.

Defense:

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.

The Players:

Offense:

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.

Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Defense:

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.

The Medical:

The Concerns:

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.

The Opportunities:

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.

Dolphins 6
Cowboys 31

@WingfieldNFL

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