It’s like deja vu all over again, isn’t it? Call it playing down to the competition or the Miami Dolphins being overrated, but whatever the case: they had all they could handle with an otherwise middling Chicago Bears team in Week 9. How was the score 35-32? Why did it look like SMU vs. Houston out there? Read on and be no closer to finding out.
New faces yield familiar results
For the third week in a row, the Dolphins won a nailbiter by one score. This week some new players rolled into town, while some existing players got some more opportunities. Unfortunately, those changes didn’t quite move the needle completely away from Cardiac Kids mode for Miami.
Newly acquired 19th century oil magnate and part-time pass rusher Bradley Chubb got some reps in his first game, despite barely being on the team yet. He recorded just 1 tackle, but flashed a few times on screen. It seems like it will take a little time for him to adjust, which is well and good if the expectation is that he’ll be around for years (and it is). Given what the Fins surrendered for his services, I sure expect him to both be around and be a menace for the foreseeable future.
Rookie linebacker Channing Tindall popped up as a spy on Usain Fields early in the game, never to be seen again (at least by me). Maybe I missed him, but he recorded no stats against Chicago, so probably not. Maybe he was replaced by Duke Riley, who seemed to do best with the assignment (which, for this game, was like being the best sandwich at Arby’s: still not great). With Tindall’s speed, I was hoping he’d carve out a role as a mobile quarterback wrangler and/or tight end duster. So far, so nothing. Fingers crossed that he steps up sooner than later.
On the flip side, guard Robert Jones took injured Liam Eichenberg’s spot on the left side of the offensive line and did well for himself. The line as a whole didn’t surrender a sack, which is exceedingly unlike the kind of offensive line play I’ve come to expect as a Dolphins fan. It really messes with my sense of identity.
Meanwhile, new running back Jeff Wilson looked like a great fit. He ran for 51 yards on 9 carries (versus 26 yards on the same amount from Raheem Mostert). He looked decisive and aggressive and even found the end zone on a reception in his first outing for Miami. It’s likely premature to consider him becoming RB1 over Mostert, but never say never. If nothing else, he seems poised to be a considerable part of an offense that was firing on all cylinders on Sunday.
The offense looks unstoppable, except on 4th downs
Wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle are going absolutely insane. Other contributors like Trent Sherfield, Cedrick Wilson, and the aforementioned Jeff Wilson are getting involved. And all the while Tua Tagovailoa is racking up game after game of impressive performances.
Yes; there were imperfections. Tua underthrew Jaylen Waddle on a deep route, but it still netted a PI call. He missed Waddle again deep late in the game for what would have been an all-but-guaranteed touchdown. And he and Durham Smythe combined to Benny Hill their way through a wide-open 4th down conversion.
Miami still won. Despite the defense playing like a bed of eels soaked in vegetable oil and Tua missing a pair of late-game opportunities to close things out faster, the team still managed to squeak out yet another close one. Tua navigated the pocket well and avoided big hits, which was one of the main directives coming at him after his injury. He went 21/30 (70%) for 302 yds, 3 TDs and 0 INT with a QBR of 81.4 (135.7 classic style).
Of course, everyone would love if he nailed the deep ball to Waddle and the freebie to Smythe. I assume that includes him. If he gets chances like those repeatedly and misses them repeatedly, we can all start to worry a bit. Until then, he’s playing well and well enough that any team worth its salt should win the games he starts.
Besides a couple of missed throws, the only other bugaboo on offense was converting on 4th down. Miami went for it on 4th and 6 and 4th and 1, failing to get a 1st down in both instances. Coach Mark DanMickel has to figure out how to succeed in those situations with better playcalling, better execution, or better kicking from Jason Sanders to remove the need for the attempts in the first place.
Here’s a crazy thought I just had: What if some of Tua’s ‘underthrows’ might be strategic to encourage PI?
I don’t actually think that for a second. I just never grow tired of seeing how many days in a row Tua’s arm strength can be the sole focus of Dolphinland.
Anyway. This section now.
Miami missed the boat on linebackers
The Bears came into the game opting for run plays on over 60% of their offensive play calls (and I’m not sure that those include plays that are designed passes where Justin Fields opts to run, which ups the percentage to 133%). Sunday saw Fields run for an NFL record 178 rushing yards as a quarterback. The good news is that if you remove the 61-yard touchdown run he had, he only rushed for— Moving on.
The moral is: Chicago has a one-dimensional offense and should have been stifled completely by Miami’s defense. Instead, the Fins surrendered 32 points to basically just Justin Fields by himself, with cameos by Cole Kmet and Darnell Mooney. The Bears are my NFC team, so I’ve seen all of their games this season. Fields is skilled (and getting noticeably more comfortable the more starts he gets), but the Bears’ offensive line was the NFL worst coming in. An awful offensive line and a team overly dedicated to the run should be very easy to overcome.
Alas, the Dolphins’ defense was dominated on the ground and wasn’t all that great against the air attack, either. Mobile quarterbacks, tight ends, and QB sneaks on 1-yard-to-go plays have destroyed the Fins my whole life. The commonality among them all? They are all aspects that can be negated by good linebackers.
Miami has neglected the linebacker position since the days of Zach ‘The Last Unicorn’ Thomas. This year’s trade deadline seemed like a magnificent opportunity to add talent to a group that sorely needs it when the very same Bears as the Bears from Sunday were looking to move Roquan Smith. It’s impossible to say if Miami ever really had the opportunity to get Smith, but he would have gone a long way to helping the Dolphins D.
However, the Fins can infuse talent or improve play at the middle level of the defense, they need to figure it out. Not every opposing quarterback will be like Justin Fields, but at least one of them will be like Josh Allen.
Special teams is certainly special
Sometimes the Dolphins’ Special Teams is special like the dictionary definition: “held in particular esteem”. Other times, they’re more like Gronk in a USAA commercial.
When Darren Rizzi was Miami’s Special Teams Coordinator, it seemed like they could be viewed as an afterthought in the best way possible. I never had to worry about them getting the job done. This past week had flashes of those days with Thomas Morestead’s late game 51 yard punt and Jaelan Phillips’ blocked punt to set up the scoop-and-score from The Ginkster himself.
Then, as the fans’ trust was placed back in their most special of teams, Jason Sanders was like naaaaah, check it, and missed a 29-yard field goal. It was his first miss inside 50 this season, but it was also inside 30. It appeared to shake the team’s confidence in him enough to forego field goal attempts for the rest of the game. It remains to be seen if that will have a lasting impact on Sanders or the coaching staff’s belief in him, but he needs to have a swift turnaround to avoid some major risk in the offseason.
This Fins roster could go a long way if they get out of their own way
It’s been a long, long while since I’ve trusted the Dolphins enough to believe. The last three weeks have had me dipping into my reservoir of doubt, only to be dragged kicking and screaming up to the surface.
This Dolphins team feels different than it has felt since maybe the teams of the Marino era. The high-flying offense can keep them in any game, even one where the defense decides to try out being matadors to enrich themselves culturally. Incredibly, that same defense has shown it can dominate when it feels like it. The overall roster has a decent balance of veterans and youth and, at least in theory, players should start returning from injuries to further bolster the groups.
Miami’s coaching staff has young and inexperienced guys in new roles, such as, I don’t know, the Head Coach, to pick one at random. All of the coaches have room to improve and have shown signs of doing so. Penalties have been cleaned up lately, which points to an ability to handle problems as they arise. There are still some last bits to take care of (like clock management, 4th down playcalling, and replacing what’s worked all game with uber-conservative nonsense near the end, just to name a few), which all come down to overthinking and lack of experience. I have no reason to doubt that they can fix those issues as they go and get the Great Miami Machine humming into the postseason.
If not, I might inch a little closer to being a Bears fan. And it seems really cold up there.
Will Josh Boyer be fired into the sun? Will Tua be replaced with a wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man? Will the team calmly and rationally make necessary adjustments within their existing personnel and come out with a decisive victory against Cleveland? The world may never know. Predict the future in the comments below.