As tempting as it is to get into the deadline trades excitement, I’ll leave all that to the other writers on this site. I will fold some of the Miami Dolphins’ new additions into this breakdown, though.
Last Sunday vs. Detroit Lions
They just don’t make it easy on us, do they?
Look, that was a fun win. Seeing your team get roundly kneed in the gonads for a quarter-plus and then rallying to march back and win is entertaining. But man, would it be nice to just see our team for once jump out to an early lead and absolutely bury an opponent for 60 minutes. Frankly, it’s hard to recall the last time it happened. All the same, this was a win with several feel-good elements.
Most obvious of the positives here was quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Like many, I was fairly optimistic that he would improve his accuracy over the previous week against the Steelers, and he did not disappoint. I could go on about this, but the stats have been all over various forms of media all week, showing Tua among the NFL leaders in multiple categories, both for his game against the Lions and his overall season thus far. If he stays on this trajectory, we have a ton to be excited about in the years to come.
The defense against Detroit was worrying, at least through that first quarter and change. Here was a fun little number I dug up, though: through the first 16 minutes and 14 seconds, the Fins defense surrendered 228 total yards and 21 points to a Lions offense that was treating them like a moldy dishrag. For the remaining 43 minutes and 46 seconds of the game after Detroit’s third touchdown, though, Miami’s defense only allowed 180 more total yards and 6 more points. That is an impressive turnaround, to be sure. A better start-to-finish performance is certainly preferable, but those can be hard to come by. I’m just happy that our guys adjusted and got right in time for the offense to methodically catch up and eventually outscore the opponent.
Now our Dolphins sit at 5-3 at the near midway point of the 2022 season. Because I’m pathologically averse to allowing myself too much joy, I had to look back and see how often the 21st century Dolphins have sat at 5-3 after eight games. With that, I present this week’s wet blanket:
- 2002: finished the season 9-7 and missed the playoffs
- 2003: finished the season 10-6 and missed the playoffs
- 2014: finished the season 8-8 and missed the playoffs
- 2020: finished the season 10-6 and missed the playoffs
Only once did they have a better record after 8 games: in 2001 when they were 6-2. That season, they finished with an 11-5 record and lost their Wildcard game to the Ravens, 20-3. Fun, right? Any further questions as to why nobody invites me to their Dolphins watch parties?
Honestly, I just do this out of emotional self-preservation. I’ve gotten overhyped too many times in the past when the team gets to two or three games over .500 mid-season, only to see them peter out. That said, this is a new head coach with a very different vibe to him, and this offense feels on the verge of being something very special. Special enough to be a real threat in a playoff game or two, should they earn the chance. Last Sunday against Detroit was another step in that direction, and we have to hope the progress continues.
That brings us to the next opponent, the Chicago Bears.
Here are the rankings of the Dolphins and Bears, in terms of some key overall stats
Key Team Stats
|Passing Yards||292.5 (3rd)||126.9 (32nd)|
|Rushing Yards||88.1 (28th)||188.4 (1st)|
|Points Scored||22.3 (16th)||19.4 (23rd)|
|Pass Yards Allowed||262.1 (26th)||188 (5th)|
|Run Yards Allowed||100.6 (6th)||156 (31st)|
|Points Allowed||24 (22nd)||22.6 (19th)|
|Net Turnovers||-1 (tie 23rd)||1 (tie 13th)|
|Against Penalty Yards||52 (22nd)||41.6 (6th)|
Similar to last week’s Fins/Lions stats, these numbers speak of teams with a couple of very clear strengths but also some glaring vulnerabilities.
On our Dolphins' side, the passing game and the run defense are still among the NFL’s very best. I will point out that while the overall rushing yards per game are still bottom quartile, it has gotten markedly better in recent weeks. Through their first four games, the Fins were averaging a putrid 69.25 rushing yards per game. In the four games since, though, they’ve averaged 107 yards per. Tremendous improvement, and much more in line with the balanced offense that I’m sure Mike McDaniel envisioned for this team. The two areas of concern are the pass defense and the penalties. Some of the issues in defending the pass can be chalked up to the rash of injuries among the DBs, but the concern is there, regardless. The penalties are a real concern right now, and it got pretty ugly last week. That stuff will cost you wins against teams that aren’t the 1-6 Detroit Lions.
For the Bears, the main number that pops is that they are currently #1 in the NFL in rushing yards per game. A big chunk of these is thanks to the size and speed of their second-year quarterback Justin Fields. The 6’3”, 230-pound QB is second on the team in rushing yards, with 424 through their 8 games. The numbers also strongly suggest that the other areas of strength for Chicago are their pass defense and their discipline, seeing as they incur the 6th-fewest penalty yards per game. Their problem areas are straight-up tragic, though. Dead last in passing yards. Second to last in rushing yards allowed. These inabilities to gain yards through the air or stop opposing rushers have played a huge role in the Bears sitting on a 3-5 record, with the most “impressive” win coming against a struggling 4-4 Patriots squad.
Those are the numbers. What do the Bears look like in action, though?
Bears Week 7 vs. Pats and Week 8 vs. Cowboys
Two Sundays ago, the Bears beat the Pats 33-14, much to the schadenfreude of fans of the Dolphins and of general human decency. Even if you weren’t paying much attention to this game, the national commentary afterward came fast and loud. This was the game where Mac Jones returned from injury, looked pretty awful for a few series, and was benched for Pats fans’ October 2022 folk hero Bailey Zappe. Zappe gave Pats fans a jolt similar to a Dunkin’ large coffee spiked with crystal meth when he quickly led two touchdown drives to put the Pats up 14-10. That’s as good as it would get for New England, though, as the Bears completely shut down Zappe and the offense the rest of the way, while Chicago’s offense slowly and steadily put up 23 unanswered points on their way to the 19-point win. The most impressive stat for Chicago was that they put up a titanic 243 ground yards on 45 rushing attempts (5.4 yards per). Justin Fields was responsible for 82 of those yards – further proof that he’s a massive threat to run out of the backfield. The Bears shutting down the Pats offense is a bit less impressive, given the overall struggles that New England has had moving the ball and scoring points for most of this season.
Last Sunday, the Bears brought their one-game winning streak into Dallas to face a Cowboys team that was looking to further right their ship, with Dak Prescott’s second game back after missing several weeks due to injury. After a hot Dallas start to put the ‘Boys up 28-7, the Bears managed to claw back and keep Dallas from completely running away with this game until well into the 3rd quarter. But then a Cowboys rushing TD put Dallas up 35-23, followed shortly after by a fumble recovery returned for a TD put it at 42-23. That was about the end of it, aside from a quick exchange of touchdowns early in the fourth quarter to get to the final score of 49-29. In watching this game, the standout element was just how (overly) committed to the run the Bears are. Even late into the 3rd quarter, down by 19 points, they ran a series where they called 9 running plays versus 5 pass plays. This only confirmed what the rest of the game exhibited: that the coaching staff has very little faith in their passing game, with pretty good reason. The Bears just don’t have much of a receiving corps to speak of, and Fields is nothing special as a passer. He’s not bad, per se, but he’s nothing special. As a runner, though? You can’t screw around with this guy. He’s a slightly smaller, slightly faster version of Josh Allen, and defenses have to account for him or get gashed again and again for 8-plus yard gains. The Bears defense had trouble getting pressure without blitzing, and Dak Prescott took nice advantage of it, going an efficient 21 of 27 passing for 242 yards, 2 TDs and an INT.
That was the Bears from the previous two weeks. What should we expect from it when they host our Dolphins this Sunday?
Dolphins Offense vs. Bears Defense
This side of the ball features a blistering Miami passing game facing a Chicago pass defense that ranks 5th in the NFL in terms of passing yards allowed per game. Frankly, though, this seems to be more a function of how well teams can run against the Bears. They’re 2nd to worst in the league, and if you can just run them to death, why risk passing it? Chicago has already, in eight games, allowed four teams to rush for 176 yards or more, with three of those teams topping the 200-yard mark. This could potentially be a breakout day for a Dolphins rushing attack that was lamentable in the first four weeks but has been coming to life more in the past four games. And if they can get a decent run going, there should be plenty there for Tua, Hill, and Waddle. Against Dallas, I saw a lot of pretty soft zone being played - something that Dak Prescott and the Cowboys receivers took advantage of, and even those strong Cowboys WRs don’t have the crazy speed of the Cheetah and the Penguin. Oh, and let’s throw in new acquisition Jeff Wilson to the mix - an H-Back who did extremely well under Mike McDaniel’s offense in San Francisco the last few years, and he should be a major upgrade over the disappointing Chase Edmonds. It will be Wilson’s first game with Miami, but he should be ready to add a wrinkle or two to keep the Chicago defense that much more on their heels. Mix in that the Bears just traded away one of their few notable defenders, linebacker Roquan Smith, and we have a pretty clear picture.
Major Advantage: Dolphins
Dolphins Defense vs. Bears Offense
In another example of “strength vs. strength,” we have a very stout Fins run defense going against the most productive running offense in the entire NFL. What I saw against Dallas was a Bears rushing attack that is no fluke. They know what they’re doing in the run game, and they have a deep bag of running plays to throw at you. Mix in a strong, very mobile quarterback, and it’s going to put stress on the front seven. The Fins’ run defense has been excellent thus far, ranking 6th in the NFL in yards allowed per game. The Bears are, by the numbers, at an even higher level, and it will be a test. However, the lack of any sort of passing attack is too glaring to ignore. The Bears are literally the worst team in terms of passing yards per game. “But Scotty,” you might say, “Chicago just traded for Chase Claypool! Surely that will result in a major uptick in their aerial attack!” My response is to have you look back at how Claypool did against the Dolphins two weeks ago when he was still on the Steelers. He was targeted 8 times and had 5 receptions for a whopping 41 yards and zero touchdowns. Rookie QB Kenny Pickett tried to get his #2 receiver involved, only to have him come up very short. I’m not worried about Chase Claypool, and he is now the Bears’ best receiver. Let’s go ahead and throw in new addition, Pro Bowl-caliber defensive end Bradley Chubb, and you have a front seven who should be able to cause some very serious problems, even for an offense that has a strong, clear identity like Chicago.
Advantage: Dolphins (with the caveat that this will be a gut-check game for the defense. Fortunately, they’ve had one or two of those already. See: Week 3 against Buffalo).
Special Teams, Coaching, and Other Factors
Not much to say in terms of special teams. I’m glad Jason Sanders hit his one 45-yard field goal last week, and that the Dolphins didn’t give up any big returns to a dangerous Detroit kick return team. But we have no Jakeem Grant return threats currently, and neither do the Bears. No massive advantage one way or the other here.
I have to go with our guy Mike McD here. Matt Eberflus wasn’t handed all the fun toys that McDaniels was, and I give Eberflus credit for finding something that sort of works for his team. Still, going crazy run-heavy feels like a poor man’s version of the 2008 Dolphins Wildcat approach. It will probably keep bagging him some wins against below-average and bad teams, but I have to have serious doubts about a head coach that is afraid to allow his second-year, athletic QB let it rip through the air a lot more than Eberflus is allowing Fields to do.
The injury lists for these two teams look wildly imbalanced against the Dolphins at first glance. As of Friday’s report, though, it’s not nearly as bad as it looks for Miami. Chicago is very healthy right now, with only five players on the list, but most looking like they’ll be able to play. The Dolphins have an absurd twenty-three players listed on the report, but 16 of them were either removed from the list completely or able to fully practice on Friday. Of the remaining 7 players, the only potential concern is Jaelan Philips, who turned up on the list only on Friday but was still able to practice in a limited capacity. This team is getting healthier, and their depth and talent level still put them ahead of the Bears in terms of overall ceilings.
The weather forecast calls for a pleasant, sunny afternoon in the mid-60s. There will be wind (it is Chicago), but nothing too crazy. I trust Tua’s short and mid-level passing accuracy to mitigate any problem the Windy City environs may cause. The Bears are 3-1 at home, so they do seem to be taking advantage of the home crowd energy. Our Fins sit at 2-2 on the road, so they seem to be doing well when they travel, though the defense has been markedly worse when away from Hard Rock Stadium. The Bears do get the nod for playing at home here.
Easily the least sexy thing I want to see from the Dolphins is far fewer penalties, especially the pre-snap variety that they seemed to commit last Sunday as if they all had escalator clauses in their contracts based on committing as many as possible. I want to see evidence that the coaching staff drilled it into their heads that that garbage has to go, as it can keep an inferior opponent in a game. That’s never good when you’re in that opponent’s home stadium.
Prediction: Dolphins 34, Bears 17
Yep, I’m calling for my first full-on blowout of the season. I don’t do it often, but I feel that the stars are aligning here. Tua and the passing game looked locked in last week, with still room to improve. Mike McDaniel gets another one of “his guys” to join the offense and juice the run game. The defense adds a pass rusher who’s been playing at a Pro Bowl level thus far. The Bears seem unsure as to whether they want to bail on the 2022 season or not, and they seem very one-dimensional as a team.
I never, ever rule out an underdog team jumping up to beat a better squad, especially at home. But the only way I can see it happening is if these two things both happen: (1) Eberflus and the Bears offensive coaches decide to throw their entire conservative, antiquated playbook out the window and cut Justin Fields’ arm loose, and (2) Fields has the greatest passing day of his young NFL career. Could it happen? I suppose, but my money is on Miami riding high on last week’s offensive success and the addition of two “going for it all” players earlier in the week.
How are you all feeling? Optimistic like me? More conservative? Think I’ve been inhaling windshield wiper fluid? Let’s hear about it in the comments and see how we’re feeling. Fins Up!!
[Editor’s Note: Please join me in welcoming driftinscotty to the team as our newest front page author. You have seen his work previously in the FanPosts, but now you will be able to see him weekly here on the main page of the site.]