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Dolphins vs. Broncos preview: A closer look at Denver from Mile High Report

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins travel to Colorado for a Week 11 showdown with the Denver Broncos this weekend. Miami was originally scheduled to have their bye week this weekend, an open weekend splitting the two New York Jets games for this year. COVID-19 scheduling changes, however, moved Miami’s first Jets game and their bye week to earlier in the season, giving the team games against the Los Angeles Chargers last week and the Broncos this week.

Miami seems to have successfully navigated the changes, coming into this final adjustment on a five-game winning streak, with a 6-3 overall record, and having shifted from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback. In a strange season, Miami continues to find ways to adapt and overcome.

This week, what should they expect from the Broncos? How will they have to adapt and what will they have to overcome? It starts with the quarterback position in Denver, where it is unclear if Drew Lock, who is dealing with a ribs injury, will be available or if the team will rely on Brett Rypien as the starter.

To get a better idea of what to expect from the Broncos this weekend, I had a chance to speak with Just_JoRo from Mile High Report, SB Nation’s Broncos team site, and started with what Miami should expect from Rypien if he starts.

Sounds like Drew Lock may not be available for this weekend’s game, either because his injured ribs will not let him play or because the Broncos are being smart and letting him have a week off to fully recover even if he could play. I would presume Lock being out would mean Brett Rypien would start, with Jeff Driskel as the backup. What can Dolphins fans expect to see from Rypien?

If Rypien plays, I expect Shurmur to lean on the quick game more than he has with Lock under center. Against the Jets he looked very reliant on his first read and I worried about how a defense like Bill Belichick’s would defend him. New York didn’t have much of a pass rush and Rypien looked mostly solid managing the pocket. While his arm talent isn’t close to Lock’s, he threw with anticipation against the Jets which allowed for his receivers to make plays. there’s a decent chance he’ll put a few in harms way because he did not seem to have a firm grasp on his own limitations yet. That bit him a couple times in his first start earlier this year.

The offensive line for Denver has been, we will say, shaky this year. The Dolphins have been an attacking defense, with disguised blitzes and pressure coming from different locations. Where should Miami target their attack and what has been the biggest issues with the line this season?

The Broncos’ offense has remained intact for the most part this season, with the exceptions at WR1, QB1, and RT. Calvin Anderson was the fourth person to try and replace Ja’Wuan James at right tackle last week and it went about how you’d expect. As I write this, Demar Dotson looks like he may play and that’d be huge. Regardless, Lloyd Cushenberry struggling through his rookie season creates a glaring hole at the center of the Broncos’ line. Taking a half step back, there’s some merit to the complaints many fans have had about the protection calls this year. Whether it be Pat Shurmur, Mike Munchak, or the personnel, Denver’s been horrid against the blitz and especially simulated pressures this year. I expect the Dolphins to feast.

Going back to look at the game against the Raiders last week, Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay should be major factors in Denver’s offense and it felt like they were not; Gordon finished with 11 carries for 46 yards and Lindsay had four carries for two yards. Is the lack of trusting the running game a factor of the offensive line, or is it something else? Should Miami expect to see more of Gordon and Lindsay this week?

It’s a bit of everything. Early in the game when the score was close the Raiders were getting penetration at will, especially when Lindsay was on the field. Even as this happened, Shurmur did try to establish the run. Before the two minute drive to end the half, Lock threw the ball 18 times while the backs ran it 11. Things began to snowball away from them after the half, which led to Gordon playing so much more than Lindsay because the coaching staff prefers him on passing downs. This week it will really depend on the situation and if/where they’re having success. Whether it’s Lock or Rypien, I do think they try to play ground and pound more than recently. Miami has to be expecting it though and they’ve been quite good against the run this year.

I feel like Bryce Callahan should get more recognition than he probably does, maybe in part because he missed all of last year. He seems to be fully recovered and playing like a top-level cornerback this year. Is that a valid assessment? Should Dolphins fans expect to see him matched up with DeVante Parker all game?

It’s definitely valid, Callahan’s looked like a Pro Bowler all season long. Philosophically, the Broncos’ head coach prefers to play his corners by side and doesn’t lean on mirroring across the formation. Realistically, Callahan’s the one consistent corner on the roster and it makes sense to try and erase Parker as he’s easily the most dangerous wide receiver. Last week he moved to the boundary after playing mostly nickel in recent weeks, so it’s hard to say definitively if Fangio will try and match him up.

Miami’s running game has been odd this year, with Jordan Howard signed to solve last year’s struggles, only to see him do absolutely nothing this season, leading to him being waived this week. Matt Breida was also acquired this offseason, and he has been solid but nothing spectacular. Myles Gaskin has been a solid runner, but he is not a speed guy, and he is not a power guy; plus he is on injured reserve. We have seen Salvon Ahmed the last couple of weeks, and he has actually looked pretty good. That is all a long-winded way of saying, I have no idea what to expect from the ground game for the Dolphins, despite the team needing to establish it in order to keep some of the pressure of Tua Tagovailoa. Can Miami run against the Broncos, and how would you attack the Denver defense?

Early this season I would have told you no as the Broncos had an elite run defense. That’s fallen apart over this past month due to injuries and Covid. Alexander Johnson is an elite run defender and I’d be surprised if he didn’t get a few stuffs, but with Shelby Harris likely to miss the game, the Broncos will be down to their fourth defensive tackle, a rookie, DeShawn and Sylvester Williams. When opponents could find success through the air or create misdirection up front, they’ve found big plays on the ground. Josh Jacobs had a bunch success on zone runs by cutting back against the grain after the second level began to pursue. The Raiders also mashed Denver a few times on gap concepts like Power. If Tua Tagovailoa can force the safeties to respect the deep ball, I expect that to continue.