What if I say I’m not like the others?
What if I say I’m not just another one of your plays?
You’re the pretender
What if I say that I will never surrender?
The Foo Fighters - “The Pretender”
Can Dave Grohl say that about the 2020 Miami Dolphins and get away with it?
Let’s find out.
Little High, Little Low
We’ve seen every version of the Dolphins that the world has to offer: Ryan Fitzpatrick led stat padders, Tua Tagovailoa led technicians, Fitz led down-to-the-wire let downs, Tua led non-starters, and Reid Sinnett led Superbowl champs (you just wait).
It’s kind of like any movie involving clones. Which one is the real one? Do we have to shoot all of them to be sure?
Author’s Note: Always shoot them all. Even if you do shoot the clone, your mind will never let you believe it. It’ll eat away at you forever. Better to be safe and go Rambo down the line.
What I love about this year’s team is that the individual groups have shown a ceiling above any team I can remember in recent years. Unfortunately, it’s not often all at once. In flashes we’ve witnessed excellent QB play by both Tua and Fitz (fight amongst yourselves, I don’t care), some solid running back performances by Gaskin, great receiving days by Parker and Gesicki, and capable pass protection from the OL.
If the offense were to put all of those peaks together at once, I dare say they’d be dangerous.
Defensively we get games of dominant pass rushing from Ogbah et al, run stuffing from Van Noy and company, and turnovers galore from DMX and friends.
When they all show up at the same time, to which we’ve bore witness, they’re top flight.
Even the special teams unit has shown the ability to be (hhahahahahaha) special. Please, tip the wait staff. Sanders is inhuman and Haack is on cruise control.
They can turn the tide of a game with 3 pointers and field flipping each and every week.
So why aren’t we undefeated?
The Steelers have shown you don’t even need to be very good to be undefeated, so what gives?
The Dolphins have the uncanny ability to only bring a portion of their best. What often separates the great teams from the contenders and the contenders from the pretenders is consistency. It’s rare to see a truly dominant team lay an egg just like it’s rare to see a team led by Adam Gase win a game. That comes both from having a high ceiling, as I believe our current team has, while also having a high floor, which our current team is working on.
We’re early on in the Flores era and really only in year 2 of a total rebuild. The fact that we’re sitting at 8-4 is, to me, remarkable. I had an 8 game high for this season coming in and I was high when I said that. I was planning on being happy with 6.
No matter what your expectations were or how you feel the team has done until now, the Week 14 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs is a fantastic benchmark to gauge the state of the team. From my perspective, it’s simple: beat the Chiefs and the Dolphins are for real. Lose to the Chiefs and the Dolphins are still ahead of schedule with some work to do, but can’t rightfully be called contenders yet, which is still totally fine for where we are in the timeline. But boy, I’d love to be for real.
Open Your Eyes
In Week 13, Denver showed a glimpse of the blueprint for defeating Kansas City. Point by point, Miami can mimic their strategy and improve where the Broncos fell short:
1) Apply pressure up the middle
Wilkins, Seiler, Roberts, and Van Noy can bring the heat up the gut with Ogbah and Lawson holding down the edges. The interior guys have 11 sacks among them while Ogbah and Lawson have combined for 12. So the potential is there.
2) Have enough speed on the outside to contain Mahomes’ escape attempts
The 3-4 alignment could help somewhat here, but I think this task will often fall to Jerome Baker since he’s our quickest LB. Working in some plays with Rowe and McCain closer to the box, spying Mahomes with someone, or bringing pressure from CBs might help out too, but whatever we do, it’d be nice to not see a mobile QB rush for 300 yards.
3) Dole out a heavy dose of the running game
Chan Gailey desperately wants this to work as illustrated by his never ending dive plays to whoever’s lined up at RB regardless of size, strength, or success. The Chiefs’ defense is 6th against the run, but just gave up 170 yds on the ground to Denver. I realize Denver beat us (gross), but they aren’t very good. So that gives me some hope that if Gailey calls plays that actually lend themselves to the RBs asked to run them (like maybe have Gaskin work off tackle once in a while), we might get somewhere here.
4) Employ some reverses and jet sweep motion
Just use Jakeem Grant like Denver did K.J. Hamler and see if he can’t break one for 80. Satan knows he won’t catch an 80 yard bomb (I joke, Jakeem, but srsly).
5) Don’t punt back to the Chiefs offense down 3 with 6:00 minutes to go
That would be a silly thing to do. Brian Flores isn’t Vic Fangio, so I trust we’ll be okay on this front.
I also think there are a few things the Dolphins have going for them that Denver doesn’t:
1) We don’t have an INT machine at QB
This is where Tua could make a big difference. Now I know he’s had the Irish-est of luck so far with defenders dropping would-be interceptions, but the stat line confirms he hasn’t thrown one yet. If he can be efficient and take care of the ball like he has so far, that’ll be huge. I’d argue that if he were starting for Denver last week, they win that game.
2) Our secondary can lock down opposing teams’ receivers
The Chiefs have a ton of weapons catching the ball, sure. But (as Sern has dutifully pointed out in the past) Eric Rowe can erase tight ends and I think he can handle even the great Travis Kelce. Le’Veon Bell hasn’t been himself as a receiving threat out of the backfield. Sammy Watkins is solid, but I trust our corners to take care of him. Then there’s Tyreek Hill. Fast as they come, no doubt. But based on his awareness of what a catch is, maybe we shouldn’t be as afraid of him as his fiancee and son are.
3) If all else fails, Brian Flores will take care of it himself
Did you see him come onto the field during the Bengals ‘brawl’? He will run out there and kill each and every Chief single handedly and I don’t think anyone would dare try to stop him. Glad he’s on our side.
(Author’s Note: I think Logan Paul will throw harder punches than the players who were ejected did during that mess.)
All that being said, the Chiefs are a great team, so Miami could follow the optimal strategy to a tee and still go down. But at least they’d go down swinging. If the Dolphins manage to win any which way but loose (hell, even loose, I’m not picky) I’ll officially believe that they, like Pinocchio before them, are a real boy. Was that the analogy I was using? Who cares.
Beat the Chiefs!