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Miami Dolphins

The Aftermath: Dolphins 10, Chargers 30

Travis Wingfield

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Snap counts, grades, draft order update, quarter-poll checkpoint, all things fallout from another lopsided loss

Foreword:

As we develop a weekly content schedule for the season, I wanted something to bridge the gap between the Sunday night game breakdown column and the Tuesday film review. So, here we are with a smorgasbord of information, statistics, snap counts, and whatever is prudent to the Dolphins game from the Sunday prior.

We’ll dive into the game data from Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Reference, grab some quotes from the player’s and coach’s pressers, and continue to provide the most comprehensive coverage on the Miami Dolphins you can find.

Dolphins-Chargers

Team Stats

In a season where the first half of games is for evaluation, and the second half for tanking, the numbers are a bit skewed. That’s not meant to be some head-in-the-sand comment, this team is really bad, but a lot of the historic stat compilation is coming at the end of games.

The Dolphins held the Chargers to just 2.6 yards per carry on Sunday, bringing the season average down to 4.8 — 25th in the NFL.

Passing defense, while not great, is also free from the cellar. Allowing 10.3 yards per pass is bad, but there are three teams that allow more (Miami ranks 29th). The Dolphins do, however, rank dead last in quarterback hits with 11.

Miami are still significantly beyond the pack in scoring defense. Miami’s 40.8 points per game is 11 points worse than the 31st ranked team (Washington). Miami’s third down defense is better, however. The Dolphins are allowing 57.8% conversions on the money down. Washington is at 63% conversion allowed rate on third down.

Miami’s passing offense is better than Adam Gase’s Jets and the Kirk Cousin-led Vikings. Collectively, nobody has thrown more interceptions than the Dolphins (7) and only the Cardinals have surrendered more sacks (18 for Miami).

The Dolphins team passer rating is 12.6 points lower than the 31st-ranked Bills (52.5 for Miami).

With 207 rushing yards, four teams have had less working in the ground game — though two of those teams play tonight. Miami’s three yards per carry average is 30th in the league.

Miami’s six points per game are dead last, five points lower than the next worst team (the Jets) in football. The Dolphins are averaging less than a touchdown per game (6.5 points). Third down and red zone woes are a major contributor.

The Dolphins are converting only 26% of its third down attempts, and have scored just one touchdown on six trips inside the opposition’s 20-yard-line.

Dolphins Offense:

Snap Counts:

 

Player Snaps (% of Offensive Snaps)
QB Josh Rosen 52 (100%)
RB Kenyan Drake 28 (54%)
RB Mark Walton 13 (25%)
RB Kalen Ballage 8 (15%)
FB Chandler Cox 1 (2%)
WR Preston Williams 43 (83%)
WR Devante Parker 43 (83%)
WR Jakeem Grant 22 (42%)
WR Isaiah Ford 15 (29%)
LT J’Marcus Webb 52 (100%)
LG Michael Deiter 52 (100%)
C Daniel Kilgore 52 (100%)
RG Evan Boehm 52 (100%)
RT Isaiah Prince 52 (100%)
TE Durham Smythe 37 (71%)
TE Mike Gesicki 26 (50%)
TE Nick O’Leary 24 (46%)

 

 

It’s important to note the shift in running back workload. It appears as though Mark Walton has supplanted Kalen Ballage as the primary backup to Kenyan Drake, and rightfully so. Ballage’s 2.9 yards per target in the passing game (which features as many drops as receptions, 3) is a determent to what this team wants to be offensively.

Ballage’s rushing prowess hasn’t been any better. His 29 yards on 19 carries leave him bottom of the NFL in average (1.53). Walton is at 3.9 yards per carry and 5.8 yards per target.

Kenyan Drake is in the neighborhood of Walton, with a significantly greater workload, both in rushing and receiving average. Drake is averaging a full yard below his career average at 3.6 yards per carry, but perhaps the improved offensive line can change that trend.

For the third game this season, the Dolphins starting five went wire-to-wire. Daniel Kilgore received the best pass blocking grade of any Dolphin this season. With zero pressures surrendered, Kilgore’s 82.6 PFF grade measures in the above average category (plus-starter).

The Cowboys picked up five sacks, but only two were attributed to the offensive line. Isaiah Prince was the guilty party for one, and he led Miami with 4 pressures on the quarterback, though the other three were hurries, not hits. Prince did register the highest run blocking grade on the team, however.

Next was Evan Boehm (pronounced like the famed Batman villain, only with an M). Pro Football Focus did not love his performance as much as I did, he allowed two hits and a hurry, but no sacks.

Michael Deiter didn’t receive glowing grades by any stretch, but his lone pressure allowed was a hit on Josh Rosen.

PFF tabbed Rosen with two of the five sacks, which jives with my film study. The Josh Rosen Charting Project will be up later this evening, but it was his best day statistically. For the first time, Rosen surpassed 50% completion (70.8%), and seven yards per attempt (7.5 YPA).

Rosen’s passer rating (57.5) is dead last among 33 qualifying quarterbacks. The same is true of completion percentage (51.2%). His yards-per-attempt ranks 32nd (5.7), his touchdown percentage ranks 31st (1.2), and interception rate is 29th (3.6%).

Preston Williams had another dropped pass Sunday. The Dolphins receiving corps as a whole has been massively disappointing. Miami pass catchers rank as follows in yards-per-route-run:

Preston Williams – 58th
Devante Parker – 86th
Jakeem Grant – 136th

Devante Parker caught all four of his targets for 70 yards — a 17.5 yard-per-target mark.

Durham Smythe had an excellent run-blocking day — he received the second best grade behind Prince on the offense.

Dolphins Defense:

Snap Counts:

 

Player Snaps (% of Defensive Snaps)
DL Davon Godchaux 55 (82%)
DL Taco Charlton 48 (72%)
DL Avery Moss 47 (70%)
DL Christian Wilkins 41 (61%)
DL John Jenkins 13 (19%)
LB Jerome Baker 67 (100%)
LB Sam Eguavoen 49 (73%)
LB Raekwon McMillan 43 (64%)
LB Charles Harris 26 (39%)
LB Vince Biegel 11 (16%)
LB Trent Harris 11 (16%)
CB Xavien Howard 67 (100%)
CB Eric Rowe 67 (100%)
CB Ken Webster 29 (43%)
CB Johnson Bademosi 13 (19%)
S Steven Parker 66 (99%)
S Reshad Jones 66 (99%)
S Doug Middleton 16 (24%)
S Walt Aikens 2 (3%)

 

Raekwon McMillan is back after missing almost all of camp with an injury, and he’s playing at the same level he left off on in 2018. McMillan, PFF’s best overall run-defending linebacker from October onward last season is in the mix again. He’s the website’s third highest-graded run defender with the fifth-best run-stop percentage among linebackers.

Jerome Baker and Sam Eguavoen need to catch up. Baker, everyone’s pick for breakout star, has struggled through four games. After finishing last on the defense in PFF grade last week, Baker comes in 17th out of 19. He allowed all four passes in his coverage area to go complete for 61 yards. Three of his five tackles were run stops.

Eguavoen can’t defeat a block, and he’s getting steamrolled when he tries. He was the 18th-graded Dolphin on defense with all three of his targets going complete (34 yards), one hurry on 13 pass rush attempts and just two tackles (one run stop).

Christian Wilkins had his best game, according to PFF. He made only one run stop and had a hurry as a pass rusher.

Taco Charlton arrived in a big way. His sack this week was more about winning as a pass rusher than the one in Dallas where he cleaned up a good bit of coverage from the Dolphins secondary. Charlton made three run-stops and put an additional hit on Philip Rivers.

McMillan and Charlton’s increased workload comes at the expense of Charles Harris. Harris saw his workload cut in half, and his production was about the same. Zero pressures, zero run stops for the former first-round pick.

Ken Webster prevented all but one pass from being completed. He held Rivers to 1-for-3 passing with seven yards when testing his coverage.

Xavien Howard didn’t bounce back from his bad showing in Dallas. He allowed six of seven targets to go complete for 61 yards and was hit with a pass interference penalty.

The Plan Through Four Weeks

All offseason, we speculated about what the Miami operation would look like under a new coaching staff. We’ve seen a lot of the presumed influences from the Patriots defense traveling south to Miami, but the same 3-3-5 bear front look that Patrick Graham was supposed to bring from Green Bay has not been prevalent, at all.

The philosophy to force the offense to play left handed is similar to what Brian Flores did in New England. Through four weeks, here’s how that plan has gone:

– Force Lamar Jackson to win with his arm (boy did he).
– Make the Pats offense go through any position besides the backs (183 yards by backs).
– Slow Zeke Elliot (139 yards from scrimmage).
– Make someone else besides Keenan Allen beat you (48 yards, 50% reduction in targets and yardage).

Progress is a slow burn this year, but Allen’s regression to the pack is a positive sign. Coming into Sunday, Allen had 29 catches on 42 targets. Miami cut his targets more than in half (14 per game down to 6) and almost did the same with his catches (9.67 down to 5).

Coupled with a rushing average of just 2.6 yards per carry, when the team was allowing more than five per pop, is a major improvement. Once again, lack of second half execution from the offense, turnovers, and a lopsided time-of-possession handcuffed the Dolphins defense.

When the offense can function at a professional level, and the necessary reinforcements are added next offseason, there will be a big jump in defensive production.

Tracking the offense’s tendencies is difficult because of the perpetual comeback mode from which they are playing. The ability to adapt the plan to max protect when injuries have depleted the line, to build-in safety shots by-way of vertical throws into the boundary against immediate pressure, and the willingness to alter workloads to fit the plan are all encouraging.

If the running game can show the same success it had in the first quarter of the game yesterday, then we can start to truly see Chad O’Shea’s influence.

It’s going to be a long year; we already knew that. One quarter of the way into the season and there are minimal silver linings, but enough so that you can see where this operation can get fixed over the offseason.

It’s a bye week for the Dolphins and then a massively important game in week-six. If Miami beats Washington, the race for Tua is officially on. I hate to ask you do this, Dol-fans, but the team must get to 0-5.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Week 9 Monday Morning Thoughts

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Tua Tagovailoa has IT.

Brian Flores is THE guy.

And I have to admit, Chris Grier has done a phenomenal job.

After an exciting 34-31 victory over the Arizona Cardinals (5-3), the Miami Dolphins (5-3) solidified themselves as a legitimate playoff team in the AFC. Sure, you can say we’re getting a bit cocky – we’ve watched our team falter plenty of times before. But do you get the sense that these are the same Dolphins we’ve been watching this century?

Right now, are you skeptical or optimistic?

Do you have butterflies because you’re nervous or because you’re excited?

Do you think the Dolphins are trying to survive each game or do you have confidence that they’ll win?

Coming off of 4-straight victories, it’s easy to feel like we’re on top of the world, but this team looks different. It feels different. They act different.

Below are a few thoughts following Miami’s promising 34-31 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Monday Morning Thoughts

Tua Tagovailoa is the franchise quarterback we’ve been waiting for

Admit it, when they originally ruled that throwaway an interception, you saw shades of every failed quarterback to come since Dan Marino.

That play was so comically bad that it easily could have defined Tua’s career if it didn’t pan out. Thankfully, it was ruled that the receiver’s foot was out-of-bounds and it was an incomplete pass – but imagine the memes that would have been unleashed if Miami lost this game and that play counted.

But, it didn’t count….and the Dolphins didn’t lose….and Tua Tagovailoa out-dueled Kyler Murray when it mattered most.

When the Dolphins needed a game-winning drive, Tua delivered. When Kyler Murray had an opportunity to tie it, he didn’t (along with an obscure Zane Gonzalez kick).

Tua’s elite pocket presence, accuracy, decision-making, and ball placement were all on display. And none of that accounts for the plays he made with his legs.

If you’re a Dolphins fan, you’re thrilled with what you saw. And though it’s only a small sample size, I think we can all exhale – he looks like he’s the guy.

Byron Jones is still a damn good Cornerback

After three-straight dominant performances, Byron Jones was a bit humbled this game. We’re so used to watching him shut down opposing receivers that a game like this really sticks out.

He was absolutely burned by Christian Kirk on a beautiful deep ball from Kyler Murray late in the first quarter, but that wasn’t his worse play.

Dolphins fans and Byron Jones both thought he hauled in his first interception since October, 2017. Instead, Darrell Daniels’ first career touchdown reception is one of the highlights of the year as he snatches the ball right out of Jones’ hands.

I mean, Byron Jones had that ball in his hands for an interception, and before they hit the ground Darrell Daniels steals it into his possession. AND somehow had his knee down so it would count as a catch. Crazy.

Miami’s (really, it’s Brian Flores’) now infamous “zero” boom-or-bust scheme is susceptible to the long-ball, as our corners are expected to cover their receivers 1-on-1; with no safety help behind them. So far this season, it has worked tremendously to their advantage (as seen below)

But, if your coverage isn’t on par, this will happen:

With all of that said, Byron Jones is still a great cornerback in this league. Was this a bad game? Definitely. But I don’t expect this to become a trend. Lets not take for granted the elite secondary we currently have.

Christian Wilkins should NOT stop celebrating

Just please celebrate responsibly.

One of the reasons Dolphins fans adore Christian Wilkins is because of his infectious personality. He’s notoriously running in and celebrating every offensive touchdown with his team. His trash talking is innocently intimidating. The way he pumps his team up is perfect for any locker room culture. On top of the fact that he’s a pretty good defensive tackle.

Which is why I want him to keep celebrating – and I want him to continue celebrating excessively.

Preston Williams‘ unfortunate injury during a touchdown celebration is a huge reason why professional coaches like to contain their million-dollar players. Not just on the field, but off the field as well. It makes sense, they’re valuable commodities, but Wilkins’ spirit is too valuable to douse.

If something like this happens again, then we can talk about stifling his excitement, until then….celebrate smarter.

Xavien Howard’s “penalties” tell half the story

Xavien Howard was tasked with shadowing DeAndre Hopkins, and he ended up accounting for more penalty yards (43) than receiving yards against him (30).

The real testament to Howard’s coverage throughout the game? DeAndre Hopkins, one of the best wide receivers in the league, didn’t see a single target in the first half of the game.

A couple (terrible) penalties shouldn’t overshadow the fact that Xavien Howard and Byron Jones may be the best cornerback tandem in the league.

The Miami Dolphins need a Running Back in the worst way

Jordan Howard‘s 8-yard run on the last drive of the game – which helped seal the victory – was his biggest play as a Miami Dolphin. Up to that point, I was kind of rooting for Howard to continue his 1 YPC average. If you take away that 8-yard run (EASILY his longest of the year), Howard has gained 25 rushing yards on 27 rushing attempts (0.93 YPC).

Rookie Salvon Ahmed had a solid game, with 7 carries for 38 yards (5.4 YPC). I’m not sure how reliable he is, but he can’t be worse than Howard. If Matt Breida is available for next week’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers, I’m sure Howard will once again be inactive, giving Ahmed another shot to prove himself.

We probably should have given Austin Jackson the week off

Austin Jackson returned to the lineup for the first time in 4 weeks (due to a foot injury) and was “ok”. He was beat on a few plays, but it’s evident he wasn’t 100%. I wouldn’t make any presumptions based off of this game; if anything, the reps help from an experience/mental perspective.

Jason Sanders is a stud

Jason Sanders connecting on 56 and 50-yard field goals are that much more impressive when you take into account that weird Zane Gonzalez miss (where he was short from 49 yards).

The conspiracy floating around is that the ball died (on Gonzalez’s kick) because the roof was open. Yet, Sanders made his 50+ yard field goals with room to spare.

Today’s the day we will never take Jason Sanders for granted as he surpassed Olindo Mare‘s franchise record of 19-straight field goals made.

The Miami Dolphins are going to “have to” extend Emmanuel Ogbah

I think we all would love to see a contract extension, but it’s bordering on a “necessity” at this point. Not just because we want to lock up a top-notch defensive end, but because he’s going to (rightfully) demand more financial security.

Though it always felt like he was on a one-year deal, this is technically the first year of a 2-year, $15m contract for Emmanuel Ogbah, but there’s no guaranteed money tied to 2021 – and there’s no way he’s playing like a $7.5m defensive end.

Jordan Phillips averages $10m a year with his recent contract, and I think it’s fair to say that Ogbah is worth more than that. Expect a holdout if the Dolphins don’t give him a raise and an extension this offseason. That’s not to say we should be concerned – I think Miami will look to make this extension a priority – but if they don’t see eye-to-eye expect a holdout to occur.

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Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins – A Tale of Two Franchises

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Football is a team sport.

Wins don’t individually define a quarterback’s success.

Yet everyone agrees that the only way to win in the NFL is to have a quarterback that is better than (just about) every other franchise in the sport.

Once you have an upper-echelon quarterback, then you can talk about the nuances of creating a team. Whether it’s surrounding that quarterback with the proper talent, ensuring you’ve built the right scheme around them, or complimenting them with a staunch defense to complete a championship run, developing an entire roster means nothing if you don’t have a quarterback that can lead you to the playoffs.

38 years ago, the Miami Dolphins selected a quarterback that would revolutionize the NFL.

A man decades before his time, the immediate success Dan Marino brought us – after 13 championship-caliber years with Bob Griese – shielded us from the horrors of football purgatory. Maybe it’s this curse of #13 that has us clamoring for football relevance after almost 50 years without a Super Bowl Championship.

We watched our franchise devolve from the model of perfection to a team without an identity; floundering desperately to find a viable quarterback for two decades.

And with one swift decision, the Dolphins simultaneously expunged their football idiocy of years past and exhibited the type of football prowess that should lead them to salvation.

Image Credit: South Florida Sun Sentinel

As we’re destroying the team for wasting 2nd & 5th-round picks on Josh Rosen, we’re praising them for building the foundation for future success. Gone are these false prophets of yesteryear, as the real prodigy we’ve all been yearning for is one step closer to leading the helm.

Once Tua Tagovailoa was selected 5th-overall in the 2020 NFL draft, Rosen’s exile was cemented. He was never going to have an opportunity to make it here, it was always going to be Tua Tagovailoa backing up Ryan Fitzpatrick. The grizzly, 13-year veteran handles the nuances of a young football team while the young, energetic and extremely talented rookie spends valuable time learning and developing.

That move…that single transaction…will forever symbolize the moment the Miami Dolphins transitioned from football purgatory to football relevance.

The Purgatory We Built

No one remembers the cost of a successful trade.

Off the top of your head, what did the New York Giants trade to swap Philip Rivers for Eli Manning? How much did Carson Wentz cost the Philadelphia Eagles when they traded up for him? I bet you all remember the litany of picks the Washington Football Team paid for Robert Griffin III, or how badly the Chicago Bears missed on Mitch Trubisky when they gave up a bunch of picks to move up from #3 to #2.

It’s because mistakes are always magnified for franchises that fail. As a fan base, we’ve been groomed to remember all the negative aspects of our favorite football team, because that’s all we’ve known for the better half of our adult lives.

After trudging through this wasteland for so long, we are finally ready to move past all of the detrimental mistakes that have cost us 20+ years of our lives – including the Josh Rosen trade.

Sure, you have your classics like failing to draft (and then sign) Drew Brees, drafting Ronnie Brown over Aaron Rodgers with the 2nd-overall pick, drafting Jake Long over Matt Ryan with the 1st-overall pick, and trading a 2nd-round pick for A.J. Feeley.

It’s not that the Dolphins haven’t tried, it’s just that they have failed almost mightily when doing so.

I respect that Miami was aggressive in their pursuit of Josh Rosen – or for any of the other quarterbacks they’ve attempted to put under center – but their aggression was either misguided, ill-informed, or even desperate at best.

A year prior to Rosen’s draft-day trade, another draft-day trade was occurring – one that would transcend the Baltimore Ravens organization for the prolonged future. With the 32nd pick in the draft, the Ravens selected Lamar Jackson – a quarterback some Dolphins fans wanted with the team’s 11th-overall pick.

To move back into the first round and secure a quarterback with the 5th-year option, all Baltimore had to give up was an additional 2nd-round pick (see the full trade at the end of the article).

With their draft-day trade, the Baltimore Ravens landed an MVP.
With their draft-day trade, the Miami Dolphins landed a quarterback that was released for nothing.

Again, I don’t fault the Dolphins for being aggressive, but their pursuit was often awry.

The frustrating part of all of this may be that this team actually “spent” both in assets and money, they just didn’t seem to take that extra step at the right time.

Spending 2nd-round picks was fine 3 years in a row (with Chad Henne, John Beck and Pat White), but spending 2nd-round picks then became “too much” when they could have moved up in the 2017 draft to select Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson – instead, they stayed put at #22 and drafted Charles Harris.

Think about it, Miami’s best quarterbacks since Dan Marino were:

  • Castaway by the New York Jets (and subsequently got his shoulder destroyed like everyone predicted)
  • (Allegedly) Forced upon us by Stephen Ross because he knew what a new quarterback would inject into a flat-lining brand (ie: making $$)

Between Chad Pennington and Ryan Tannehill there is 1 playoff appearance and 0 playoff wins.

There are definitive reasons why the Dolphins are executing a rebuild in 2019-2020 – after attempting to rebuild numerous times already this century – and you can say that lots of it has to do with the Head Coaches that have been in place.

Watching Ryan Tannehill lead the Tennessee Titans to the AFC Championship came was the most-conflicted I’ve felt in a long time as a Dolphins fan. I was thrilled he was able to prove himself, but frustrated that my team was once again watching from the couch.

Heck, for all the praise we give Brian Flores, he couldn’t get Minkah Fitzpatrick to buy into his system – ultimately losing a near-Defensive MVP player to an organization that has been breathing success since the Dolphins’ perfect 1972 season.

Miami hasn’t lacked talent – it’s why they’re constantly hovering around 8-8. The problem is, they lack the most important piece on the football field combined with the right leader to mold them. Which explains why they constantly sit around 8-8.

The Future We Created

But thoughts of perpetual 8-8 seasons are a thing of the past. The Dolphins may have drafted their future franchise quarterback back in April, but they officially rolled out their #1 prize just a few days ago. Coincidentally, just 3 days after Rosen was released.

The timing is likely coincidental, but who says omens have to be a bad thing?

This Dolphins team is young (thanks to Chris Grier), determined (courtesy of Brian Flores’ mindset), talented (after accumulating so many draft picks) and they’re wise beyond their years.

With a bounty of draft picks at their disposal once again in 2021, and with a franchise quarterback seemingly set to take over by season’s end, the future for the Miami Dolphins looks EXTREMELY bright.

After most “experts” predicted the Dolphins would go nearly winless – some even calling for criminal investigations to be conducted – Flores showed off his leadership and led Miami to a 5-11 record.

If the worst roster in the NFL can win 5 games, what can an improved roster accomplish?

Last year, there were too many holes on the roster to count. Now, you’re desperate to find a missing piece. In 12 months, we’ve gone from cringe-worthy to dynasty-bound in some expert’s eyes.

So have the Dolphins finally returned to football relevance?

If this team really identified the right Head Coach, and if Tua’s hip can stay healthy, then there’s no reason why the Miami Dolphins aren’t about to embark on a successful crusade that takes the rest of the NFL by storm.

Earlier this year, we lost one of the greatest leaders to ever bless our organization. In honor of the all-time wins leader, the Miami Dolphins will wear a patch signifying Don Shula’s record-setting 347 career wins.

And who knows, maybe this renaissance is Shula’s last gift to an organization – and a community – that he spent his life already giving so much to. The symbolism would be all-too coincidental otherwise.

The Baltimore Ravens/Lamar Jackson Trade:

Yes, I understand every other team passed on Jackson. I also understand the Ravens passed on him once when they selected Hayden Hurst with the 25th-overall pick that year, but Baltimore has built a championship-caliber organization over the past two decades, while the Dolphins have accomplished one playoff win – I think they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt here.

The Lamar Jackson trade can be broken down like this:

  • Baltimore traded pick 52 (2nd-round) to move up to 32nd-overall (1st)
  • Baltimore also sent Philadelphia pick 125 in the deal, but they received pick 132 in return – a downgrade of 7 spots in the 4th-round.
  • Otherwise, all Baltimore spent was a 2nd-round pick in 2019 (which ended up being pick #53).

Full trade:

Eagles Receive Picks: 52 (2nd), 125 (4th) and pick 53 (2nd) in the 2019 draft
Ravens Receive Picks: 32 (1st) and 132 (4th)

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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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