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Miami Dolphins

The Savior – Ryan Tannehill

Travis Wingfield

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August 3, 2017: The seventh practice of the new football season. Fresh off a playoff run that laid an eight-year drought to rest, the Miami Dolphins were branded as a team on the rise.

When starting quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, went to the turf on a routine scramble drill, Miami’s hopes for a playoff encore went down with him.

Miami was saddled with three options:

1.) Proceed with backup Matt Moore.

2.) Inquire about the ever-polarizing Colin Kaepernick.

3.) Convince Jay Cutler to give up a studio gig, and saddle up for one last ride.

Options 1 and 2 were never options in the mind of Adam Gase. Hindsight has taught us that Kaepernick has proven to be an untouchable commodity throughout the 2017 season, and Matt Moore had started just three games in his previous five seasons.

Gase’s prior work-history with Jay Cutler made the most sense. The much-maligned former Bears and Broncos quarterback agreed, and the Smokin’ Jay brand made its way to South Beach.

Two months later, the Dolphins offense has yet to find its footing.

Scoring just 15.2 points per game (last in the NFL) and averaging just 4.5 yards per play (31st in the NFL), Miami’s offense is a shell of what it was in 2016.

Under Ryan Tannehill, the 8-5 Dolphins averaged 22.7 points per game (17th in the NFL) and 5.8 yards per play (7th in the NFL).

Jarvis Landry’s yards per reception went from a career best (12.1) in 2016, to a career worst (7.7) in 2017.

Kenny Stills yards per reception number is down 4.9 yards. Even Jay Cutler’s favorite receiver, Devante Parker, has seen a slight regression in his average.

Tannehill’s absence isn’t felt exclusively via the aerial attack – the ground game has had its share of struggles. In 2016, running back Jay Ajayi averaged 4.9 yards per carry. In 2017, that number dropped a yard and a half to a paltry 3.4.

Numbers typically only tell part of the story when it comes to football. Context is paramount when dealing with this esoteric sport. The Dolphins made three changes to the offensive personnel from the end of 2016 to this season:

Anthony Steen in for Branden Albert (Jesse Davis now because of an injury to Steen).

Julius Thomas in for Jordan Cameron/Dion Sims.

– Jay Cutler in for the injured Ryan Tannehill.

While Steen and Thomas haven’t had particularly good years in 2017, their predecessors hardly turned in quality film.

The answer for the decline of the offense is glaringly obvious – it’s the quarterback change. Dolphins fans never truly appreciated Ryan Tannehill and what he meant for the organization. Before Tannehill, the Dolphins had just one quarterback start back-to-back opening days since Jay Fiedler in the 2003 and 2004 seasons (Chad Pennington 2008-2009).

Tannehill started five consecutive opening day games from 2012-2016.

Aug 10, 2017; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) is seen prior to a game against the Atlanta Falcons at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The elusive quarterback (who just so happened to moonlight as a receiver in college) mitigated some of the black holes along the offensive line. Last year, Adam Gase cut Billy Turner, Dallas Thomas and Jamil Douglass, and he swung the hammer on all three, on the same day.

Combing back through previous years’ film conjures up haunting memories of just how bad some of the groups that played in front of him were.

Still, the offensive production never came close to the dip in production occurring in 2017.

Quarterbacks have long been described as the most important position in sports. If a case study were ever necessary to prove this theory, 2017 would be the year to examine. The drop-off in production isn’t just impacting the Miami Dolphins. The Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers went from contenders, to afterthoughts, after losing their respective starting quarterbacks.

Aside from the numbers, what are the big differences between Tannehill and Cutler? The laundry list is large, and ever-apparent on film. Mechanically and athletically, Tannehill is a far superior player. The decision making, the poise, all of these traits took considerable dips when #6 took the place of #17.

The lesser known aspect of the offensive struggles, are the quarterback’s ability to contribute in the running game. No one has ever mistaken Ryan Tannehill for a shifty runner. However, his straight-line-speed, and ability to chew up yards with his legs, presents an added element that defenses have to account for.

In 2014, offensive coordinator, Bill Lazor, utilized Tannehill’s athleticism with the en vogue scheme of the time, the zone read. Coming from the Chip Kelly coaching tree, Lazor featured a high percentage of run-pass-options (RPOs).

Below are a few GIFs from a game played in Denver in December of 2014. Tannehill went back and forth with Peyton Manning in an old-west-style-shootout. The Dolphins loosened up a formidable Broncos defense with variations of zone-read and misdirection, and forced the Broncos to account for the extra body in the running game with designed quarterback keepers.

 

The threat of the quarterback keeping the football and sneaking out the backdoor on the weak side changes the way the defense attacks the running game. The outside zone scheme that Clyde Christensen brought to Miami, and heavily featured Jay Ajayi, thrived with Tannehill under center. It puts the linebacker’s feet in cinderblocks, and is the leading cause of false steps.

With Jay Cutler, the defense had no respect for the quarterback keeper, and allowed teams to fire off with A-gap blitz after A-gap blitz. Disrupting the timing and mesh-point of the outside zone scheme, Ajayi was constantly met behind the line of scrimmage.

GIF – Without the threat of the quarterback pulling it back, the defense can collapse the backside:

GIF -It isn’t exclusive to Jay Cutler — the same thing happened in Baltimore when Matt Moore was under-center:

Once the linebackers start respecting the quarterback run, that’s when play-action, bootlegs and rolling pockets can become even more effective. Rather than the defense flowing as one-way-traffic, the threat of misdirection and play action forces the defense to protect against each direction — both vertically and horizontally.

GIF- Tannehill’s athleticism allows the offense to leave a man unblocked since the quarterback is capable of creating his own throwing lane:

From his rookie year, a speed out to the boundary for a touchdown. This throw requires a short angle. Again, a mobile quarterbacks is required to get to the spot:

And, of course, escaping pressure on a standard five-step drop off play action:

Notice the linebackers. False steps are any steps taken that lead a player away from the action of the play. An athletic quarterback allows play callers to keep those linebackers in precarious situations throughout the course of a game.

When there is no threat of the quarterback winning with his legs, the defense can play fast and more aggressive.

GIF – If the defense doesn’t respect the ball fake, misdirection only slows the offense down.

Mechanically, Ryan Tannehill is as sharp as they come. His feet are always moving to stay in a threatening position, he squares his shoulders to his target, and he can let it rip from awkward arm angles when necessary.

GIF – Feet are always shuffling and following his eyes, shoulders squaring up to his target, searching for a passing lane. Perfect quarterbacking:

GIF – This incorporates everything. Zone read PA holds the LB, Tannehill slides away from pressure and into an open passing lane, and the throw is absolutely perfect moving to his left:

GIF – Pressure in his face, has to change the arm slot to deliver the football – no problem:

GIF – And here are some unbelievable gifted throws just as an added bonus:

Despite taking frequent abuse, (third most his quarterbacks since entering the league in 2012), Tannehill has never seen “ghosts” in the pocket. He always stands tall and climbs up the pocket as he surveys his options. In 2016, he improved his ability to recognize pressure early in the development of the play, and flee to either side. Unlike stationary pocket passers, Tannehill still presents a threat to throw regardless of which direction he is moving.

Jay Cutler, on the other hand, is not exactly a bastion of sound-mechanics. Below are a few GIFs showing poor footwork, as well as his propensity to drift in the pocket and take himself out of the play.

GIF – Any coach will tell you that you can point to feet when a throw isn’t accurate. Swings his hip wide open, no drive off the back leg.

In 2016, Tannehill flashed his play making ability on third down, and the Dolphins started piling up wins as a result.

During Miami’s 7-1 run last year, prior to Tannehill’s season ending knee injury, the Dolphins quarterback was man-possessed on the “money” down.

In those eight games, Tannehill completed 41/68 passes for 590 yards, 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions on third down.

From an efficiency stand-point, that’s good for 8.68 yards per pass, a 9% touchdown rate, and a 3% interception rate. His passer rating on those downs was 105.6. For comparison’s sake, from 2012-2016 (since Tannehill entered the league), the best in football on that all-important-down, was Aaron Rodgers – his rating, 105.9.

Any scout will advise looking at how a quarterback performs on 3rd and 6 or longer. This is when windows are tighter, the pass rush is fiercer, and the volume is turned up by the opposing crowd. In these particular scenarios, the league average conversion rate is right around 30%. Tannehill converted 43% of his 3rd and 6+ opportunities during that eight game stretch.

A lot of measurements can be used in the case against Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins record in games he starts is just 37-40. Before 2016, his volume statistics were never all that impressive. Both of these arguments require a certain deal of context, and 2017 should be all the context Dolphins fans need.

Ryan Tannehill’s tenure with the Miami Dolphins is one that, to this point, is remembered as average – nothing special. Dolphins fans have been longing for the next “guy” ever since Dan Marino’s last game in 1999.

One could reasonably ascertain that Tannehill’s numbers, compared to the numbers of the offense in 2017 would be proof enough that he’s been something of a miracle worker given his surrounding cast. His talent jumps off the film, the flash plays are simply brilliant, and he was finally starting to put together consistency prior to the knee injury.

Still, there remains a large contingency of Phins fans that are imploring the Dolphins brass to seek his replacement.

Perhaps 2018’s return, and Tannehill’s empathic vengeance on the entire league, will finally put the debate to rest.

But probably not.

@WingfieldNFL

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Nb901

    November 16, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    Interesting. But the fact is… Tannehill is not elite. He is an 8 -9 win QB. I want elite. Unless the dolphins build an elite defense (not easy to do) all we can ever hope for, with Tannehill as QB is 8-9 wins and every once in awhile get lucky and sneak in as a wild card

    • Avatar

      zeke

      November 16, 2017 at 3:02 pm

      Yeah, that’s kind of how team sports work. Go through the past 2 decades of SB winners and tell me how many of them did not have a top or even an average defense to work with? Hell, go through all of the SB winners and see how many, I’m willing to bet it’s less than 5 if that.

      Wilson, Eli, Peyton, Brady, Brees, Ben and others would never have won those titles without the defense. But you expect Tannehill to be some miracle worker and do it by himself while playing behind quite possibly the worst o-line situation ever and a bottom ranked defense….gotcha.

      I’m willing to bet you didn’t know that in the 14′ season, Tannehill gave the team a late lead against GB and Det and in both games the defense allowed a game winning drive to lose them. They would have been 10-6 if not for those blown leads. Another one in 15′ against Carolina which would have them at 9 wins and others in his rookie season.

      The only QB’s in the game right now that get their teams to the playoffs just from their talent alone is Rodgers, Stafford and soon to be Wentz. Goes to show how important the whole team is when you get that far.

    • Travis Wingfield

      Travis Wingfield

      November 16, 2017 at 6:50 pm

      There are two elite quarterbacks in this league. They don’t exactly grow on trees.

  2. Avatar

    zeke

    November 16, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    Everything I’ve been saying since his second year in the league. Well done, sir.

    He is by far the most underrated/underappreciated QB in the game. It drove me nuts that fans and the media kept writing this kid off like he was a nobody and I’m willing to bet none of them ever watched any games he’s played in or understood that the team was just so bad. All they did was just look at the record and draw their conclusions from that, or another way of putting it, the easy way out. This year should silence all of the critics about how vital he is to that team and what he could do for another team….but it won’t, like you said.

    Put Tannehill on teams like the Jags or the Vikings and he’s going to win a SB sooner than later. IF he gets cut or Miami throws trade feelers out there, I would be on the phone in a heartbeat if I’m one of those teams.

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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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