The Sunday That Was: Miami Dolphins 35, Bears 32
Another Sunday, another Dolphins win that had me guzzling adult beverages throughout just to numb the anxiety. This is a healthy sports relationship, right? Right?
Our Dolphins once again showed why so many of us fans are equal parts excited and jittery about the 2022 iteration of our beloved team. The passing offense once again hummed. It was good enough to overcome the complete inability of the defense to stop Justin Fields, who had what was easily his best all-around day as an NFL quarterback. There have been some nice breakdowns in other posts on the site, so I won’t bother with the details. Instead, just a few reflections in the wake of the win:
For the first time in nearly forever, the offense is by far the most reliably excellent part of this team. Using pro-football-reference.com’s Simple Rating System, the Fins’ offense is currently ranked 11th in points and 6th in yards. The last time the Dolphins finished a season top-10 in either one of those categories? 2001. Before that, it was 1995. The offense with Tua under center and Tyreek Hill and Jalen Waddle out there is at the level where they can lead a squad with obvious issues into a Wildcard berth. Though I think it’s proven that Tua still is not the greatest deep-ball passer, he’s good enough in that area and outstanding in enough other areas that only the very best, most well-rounded defenses will be able to stifle it. On top of all that, it’s just a blast to watch. We Fins fans truly have not seen such an entertaining Dolphins passing game since the days of Dan The Man over two decades ago.
The other stuff with this team? There are concerns. There’s a paragraph dedicated to special teams further down this post. The run game took a bit of a step back against the Bears. The defense is something that I came away from the Bears game in a panic over, seeing as how Justin Fields went berserk on Sunday, literally setting an NFL rushing record for quarterbacks. Seriously. The Dolphins defense let Fields run for more yards in a regular season game than Michael Vick ever did. Or Lamar Jackson. Or Colin Kaepernick. That’s insane. I will say these two things, though: (1) after listening to some sober analysis by folks like film junky and Dolphins fan Kyle Crabbs and rewatching the game, the defense was actually OK when it came to nearly everything aside from Justin Fields. (2) The Dolphins won’t be facing another QB running threat like Fields again this season. That aside, I am also starting to worry about Mike McDaniel’s ability to orchestrate a 2-minute offense. The end of the second half on Sunday was another example in his young career of poor clock management and organization, at least before they crossed midfield and were more assured of being in scoring position. That sort of sloppiness will cost you against good opponents, unless your team is outstanding in several other areas of the game. Right now, this Dolphins team doesn’t have that many clear strengths.
All that said, they did pull off the road win against a Bears team that looks like its young QB is finding his stride and will likely gallop across the foreheads of several more teams before this season is done. Miami was far more disciplined in terms of penalties compared to the previous few weeks. What’s more, had a bogus pass interference not been called near the end of the third quarter, Xavien Howard would have had a key interception that would likely have sealed the game and led to a much more convincing final score. Now, our Dolphins sit at 6-3 after nine games for only the 3rd time in the 21st century. My general predictions have been mostly accurate, in terms of wins and losses, though more cockeyed in terms of guessing the scores and point spreads:
2022 Game Predictions
|1||Patriots||W, 31-17||W, 20-7|
|2||@Ravens||W, 27-24||W, 42-38|
|3||Bills||L, 34-27||W, 21-19|
|4||@Bengals||L, 27-24||L, 27-15|
|5||@Jets||W, 23-20||L, 40-17|
|7||Steelers||W, 27-16||W, 16-10|
|8||@Lions||W, 27-20||W, 31-27|
|9||@Bears||W, 34-17||W, 35-32|
Next up are the Cleveland Browns. Let’s look at what’s in store as the Brownies make the trip down to South Beach, where our Dolphins get to play host for the first time in three weeks:
Let’s look at those numbers:
Dolphins & Browns Team Stats
|Passing Yards||293.6 (2nd)||221.1 (16th)|
|Rushing Yards||86.9 (29th)||164.6 (3rd)|
|Points Scored||23.7 (10th)||25 (7th)|
|Pass Yards Allowed||245.9 (23rd)||208.3 (15th)|
|Run Yards Allowed||117.4 (15th)||123.1 (22nd)|
|Points Allowed||24.9 (tie 24th)||24.9 (tie 24th)|
|Net Turnovers||-3 (tie 22nd)||-4 (tie 25th)|
|Against Penalty Yards||50.4 (20th)||51.6 (21st)|
In terms of overall season stats, these teams have this is common: each has one main aspect of the game in which they are elite. With the Dolphins, it’s the passing game. With Cleveland, the running game. In every other area, they’ve been average to below average. However, another area where they are similar is that their recent couple of weeks indicate teams that are making strides in certain areas.
Cleveland Browns’ Last Two Games: Week 7 at Ravens; Week 8 vs. Bengals
I normally try to watch the upcoming opponents’ two previous games, but this wasn’t an option this time. You know – life stuff. My summaries here are going off on the box scores at pro-football-reference.com and various video summaries online.
In week 7, the Browns went into Baltimore and scrapped a bit with their AFC North Division rival, only to come away with a 23-20 loss. They hung onto a 10-6 lead well into the 2nd quarter, only to fall behind 13-10 at the half. In the second half, the Ravens came out and methodically went on a TD drive to go up 20-10 halfway through the 3rd. The Browns eventually responded with a field goal toward the end of that quarter, making it 20-13. But the Ravens went on a little drive good enough to get the ever-reliable Tucker into his range and make a 55-yard kick to put B-More back up, 23-13 with 11:29 left. The Browns came right back, though, taking barely two minutes to engineer a touchdown drive and get the score back to 23-20. That was all anyone wrote, though, as both defenses locked in and prevented the opposing offenses from doing much of anything for the rest of the game, aside from the Ravens giving the Browns a shot at a late, desperation 61-yard field goal, but it was blocked. Cleveland did finish with more total yards than Baltimore, 336 to 254, but they also had two turnovers to the Ravens’ one. The Browns’ turnovers included a fatal one at the end of the game when deep in Ravens’ territory, wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones caught a pass and was nearing the end zone when he coughed it up, ending the Browns’ comeback hopes and dropping the team to 2-5.
The following week, the Browns got to host another division rival, this time the defending AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals. This one did not go at all as one would assume on paper. Going into this game, the Bengals had been looking a bit more the 2021 AFC Champs – two wins over the Saints and Falcons, with Joe Burrow and the passing game getting more consistent and sometimes downright scary. Well, the Browns’ commentary on that narrative was basically to usher the Bengals into their home and then repeatedly slug them in the stomach with a nail bat. After tussling to a 0-0 score at the end of one quarter, the Browns chalked up their hands and went to work for the rest of the game. Jacoby Brissett went a solid 17-of-23 passing for 278 yards, one TD and one interception. But it was on the ground where the Browns wore out Cincy, running the ball a whopping 44 times, gaining 172 yards and three touchdowns. On the other side, the Browns defense limited the Ja’marr Chase-less Bengals passing attack to a manageable 232 yards, 2 TDs and one INT. It was far worse on the ground, where Cincinnati only ran the ball ten times for a pathetic 36 yards. Part of this was that the Bengals were playing from two scores down for the entire second half, but it was just as much about Bengals head coach Zac Taylor’s utter disdain for the run in the first half, when the score clearly justified sticking with the running game, at least a little bit. Mostly, this game was an exhibition of what Cleveland’s two-headed running monster of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt can do if you let them. This satisfying win got the Browns to 3-5 on the season.
Last week was the Browns’ bye week, so they’ll be on two-weeks’ rest when they face off against our Fins.
Dolphins Offense vs. Browns Defense
The Browns defense is not to be taken lightly. Sure, their season numbers aren’t great, and they’ve had a few rough games. Still, their last two games they only surrendered 254 total yards to the Ravens’ dangerous offense and an even more impressive 229 yards to the Bengals. Even though the Bengals were playing without superstar wideout Ja’Marr Chase, that’s no joke. All Pro Myles Garrett is playing every bit as well as he ever has, and the rest of the defense has shown to be opportunistic in recent weeks. They’re starting to force more turnovers, along with shutting down what opposing offenses do well. Most notable from the highlights was a defense that made up for in intensity and effort what they may lack in overall talent. They seemed highly motivated last week at home against the division rival Bengals.
All of this said, I still like our offense here. In virtually every way, the entire offense has just grown better and better in each of the last three weeks. Hill and Waddle continue to be historically awesome. The offensive line is only improving in their pass protection and even in run protection, though to a lesser extent. Jeff Wilson took exactly zero time to make an impact in both the running and passing game. While the Browns capitalize on opponents’ mistakes, this offense just doesn’t make many at this point. They may not put up video game numbers against Cleveland, but they should move the ball well enough.
Dolphins Defense vs. Browns Offense
There are a few similarities between the Cleveland offense and the offense that Miami faced in Chicago last Sunday: quarterbacks with certain limitations; less-than-dynamic offensive play-calling; no passing game to speak of; but a very stout running attack. The Browns have more in terms of a good offensive line and at least one threat at wide receiver in Amari Cooper, with third-year man Donovan Peoples-Jones starting to flash more and more. But Jacoby Brissett is simply not the threat that an improving Justin Fields is. While the Fins defense gave up a head-shaking 252 rushing yards last week, it was Justin Fields’ freakish running ability that accounted for the vast majority of those. Take out Fields’ 15 runs for 178(!) yards, and the rest of the Bears running attack was 25 carries for 74 yards – an average of 2.96 yards per carry. And guess what? Jacoby Brissett isn’t in the same galaxy as Fields when it comes to running ability (he’s averaged just under 18 rushing yards per game this season). On the flip side, the Browns running backs are far better than the Bears. The duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, running behind a solid O-line, has been pummeling defenses into submission this season. It’s a good thing for them, too, since the Browns passing game is nothing special. The most yards they’ve passed for in their eight games was last week’s 268 against the Bengals.
The Fins’ defense has been bipolar thus far this season, generally being quite strong at home and mostly dreadful on the road. I’ll get into some of this later, but the one consistent strength has been stopping traditional running games, especially those that try to run between the tackles. In contrast with last week, when the defense got repeatedly gashed by the scrambling Justin Fields, I see the defensive front having better luck keeping the Browns run game at or a little below their averages. Cleveland will be able run the ball, but not as easily as they have for much of this season. This, in turn, should put a little more pressure on Jacoby Brissett and the passing game. Despite a thin defensive backfield, I think the Dolphins still have enough to keep Brissett from being anything more than what he has been for his seven-year career: just a guy.
I think this area is actually a push. The strengths and weaknesses here mirror each other, which becomes a stalemate.
Special Teams, Coaching, Injuries, and other Variables
Jason Sanders alone makes special teams a full-blown worry these days. As outstanding as he was in 2020, he’s a well below-average place kicker now. You could actually see it last season, when he wasn’t quite as bad, but was missing relatively routine kicks or just barely making them. Whereas he was drilling everything dead center in 2020 – even the 50-plus yard field goals – almost none of his kicks are down the center anymore. He’s missing extra points. He’s leaving kickoffs short, leading to some unnecessary big returns. He’s missing 29-yard field goals. It’s a liability. Fortunately, the punter Thomas Morestead is still doing fine work, and the coverage team is holding its own. The Browns seem to be run-of-the-mill in these departments, so no real advantage here for either team.
Coaching is probably about even, too. McDaniel has been showing some “new head coach” areas of weakness, but his overall report card is good, and he’s clearly brought the thunder on the offensive side of the ball. Greg Stefanski’s team has regressed this year, compared to the previous two years of hopeful growth, but he seems to be rallying his troops to find wins in ways that were different from previous seasons. This one is a push.
Injuries. The ghost of cornerback Byron Jones aside, the Dolphins overall health continues to improve. The Friday injury report lists only TE Hunter Long as OUT, with 4 other players as QUESTIONABLE: LT Terron Armstead, QB Teddy Bridgewater, TE Tanner Connor, and RT Austin Jackson. Armstead is the only one who would be a major concern, if this weren’t the same pattern he’s followed for a solid month now. Everyone else is a go for Miami. The Browns are also rather healthy, although they will continue to be without key starters tight end David Njoku and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. Cleveland looks like they will have ace defensive back Denzel Ward back after several games out, as well. In other words, these two teams will be as close to full strength as an NFL can hope at this point in the season.
The game is in Miami, which has the intrinsic value of the home fans, who have plenty of reasons to show up and hype up their team. It’s looking like we shouldn’t expect the heat and humidity to play 12th man this Sunday, at least not quite as much as we’ve seen for most home games this season. But the Fins are 3-1 this year at Hard Rock, where the defense has played far better than on the road, for reasons that nobody can seem to discern. The Browns, meanwhile, are 1-2 on the road, with their lone victory coming in week 1 against the lowly Carolina Panthers. They did play a tough, tightly-contested loss in Baltimore two weeks ago, but they’re yet to prove that they can win on the road. Advantage: Miami.
One clear advantage Cleveland has is that they are coming off their bye week, so they will be well-rested. That’s always an advantage.
The final, rather unusual intangible floating around out there is the looming return of DeShaun Watson to the field. I’m not even going to attempt to dig into the bottomless pit of unsavoriness regarding the reasons behind Watson’s suspension and the Browns’ throwing a quarter of a billion dollars at him. Just from a football standpoint, though, Watson is scheduled to return to practice next Monday, and he is eligible to take over the quarterbacking duties as early as Cleveland’s December 4th, week 13 game in Houston. The Browns players have to be thinking that if they can just keep their record within a game or so of .500, Watson’s return could give them the late-season jolt to push them into a Wildcard spot. It makes the skin crawl to think that any sort of “hope” resides in the form of someone like Watson, but the rest of the Browns will use anything to maximize their motivation to keep playing hard.
Prediction: Dolphins 34, Browns 27
I’ve been hoping for a nice, easy win for ages now, but I don’t think I’ll get my wish this week. I see this one as a tough, back-and-forth battle where two very different offenses stress the opposing defenses enough to make for an entertaining/nerve-wracking game that comes down to the final minutes. In the end, I think our Fins have just a little bit more in terms of offense and overall talent to win their fourth in a row.
How do you feel about this one? Do our Fins fall into a trap game here? Win a knuckle-duster? Blow out the Brownies? Weigh in down in the comments, and as always: Fins up!!