Well, last Sunday was…fun?
If the Dolphins had had a collective alarm clock that day, it would have gone off around 12:30, with a cheery voice message stating, “Good morning! It is Sunday, October 15th, and you are now down 14-0 to one of the worst teams in the National Football League! Enjoy your afternoon!!”
Whatever the reason Miami looked confused to be playing an actual football game through nearly the entire first quarter, they did indeed wake up. From the final few minutes of the 1st quarter, they outscored the Panthers 42-7 the rest of the way, reminding us of the stunning potency of their offense and upping their season record to 5-1, their best opening to a season since 2002.
Allow me to now puff my chest out a tad in reviewing my prediction from last week. Not only did I predict the win (not that impressive), but I nearly nailed the exact score. Sure, that first quarter was something I never imagined, but the game generally played out right along the lines I expected:
driftinscotty’s Straight Up Picks for the 2023 Season
|Game #||Opponent||Prediction||Outcome||My Straight Up Season Record|
|Game #||Opponent||Prediction||Outcome||My Straight Up Season Record|
|1||@Chargers||L, 27-24||W, 36-34||0-1|
|2||@Patriots||W, 27-20||W, 24-17||1-1|
|3||Broncos||W, 34-17||W, 70-20||2-1|
|4||@Bills||W, 34-24||L, 48-20||2-2|
|5||Giants||W, 41-17||W, 31-14||3-2|
|6||Panthers||W, 41-20||W, 42-21||4-2|
So the Dolphins did what they were supposed to these last two weeks against clearly inferior opponents with combined records now of 1-11. On to their next real test against a legitimately good team, the Philadelphia Eagles. The Fins’ last measuring stick game – three weeks ago in Buffalo – did not exactly go well. Buffalo was mostly healthy, completely locked in, and essentially did to Miami what Miami just did to Carolina. This next Sunday in Philadelphia, our Dolphins have a chance to shake some of the “pretender” stink off of them by either beating the defending NFC champions or at least making them work really hard for a home win.
We know Philadelphia charged hard all the way to the Super Bowl last year, and they’re off to a 5-1 start this year. How do they stack up to the Dolphins right now?
Tale of the Tape
Here’s where the Fins and Birds teams rank in key team stats:
Key Team Stats for Miami & Philadelphia
|Stat Per Game||Dolphins||Eagles|
|Stat Per Game||Dolphins||Eagles|
|Passing Yards||316.8 (1st)||245 (9th)|
|Rushing Yards||181.8 (1st)||150 (2nd)|
|Points Scored||37.2 (1st)||25.8 (7th)|
|Pass Yards Allowed||229.2 (19th)||232.2 (20th)|
|Run Yards Allowed||114.5 (19th)||65.8 (2nd)|
|Points Allowed||26 (25th)||20.7 (16th)|
|Net Turnovers||-4 (25th)||-1 (tie 16th)|
|Against Penalty Yards||50.8 (16th)||46 (9th)|
The Dolphins’ numbers shouldn’t be a big surprise to us fans. Offense? Completely killing it, in every way. Defense? Hey, check out this sweet Zach Thomas throwback jersey I just bought! Really though, the defensive rankings are gradually creeping in the right direction, and the points allowed per game is partially due to a few pick-sixes by the offense. The defense has talent, including some big-play guys, but as a complete unit? Still working on it; hence the bottom-half rankings.
The Eagles’ offensive numbers may not be as eye-popping as the Fins, but they are no joke. Top 10 in all major areas, with a #2 ranking in rushing yards per game. They’ve pounded a few teams on the ground this year, for sure. The defensive stats suggest a group that may not be great on the whole but still boasts the #2 spot in stopping the run. Given that the Dolphins are #1 in rushing yards, this sets up a fun “Juggernaut versus The Blob” situation.
I did take a closer look at one stat out of curiosity: net turnovers. There’s a clear discrepancy between the teams that favors the Eagles, who rank 16th compared to the Fins’ 25th. However, of the Eagles’ eight total takeaways, six of them have been fumble recoveries. Fumbles are basically the cryptocurrency of NFL turnovers - you don’t want to put much stock in them since they are wildly fickle and unreliable. Just in case anyone thinks that Miami is at a massive disadvantage in this department. They really aren’t. Neither team has been intercepting passes much this year.
Those are the numbers. What might the Eagles' last two games tell us?
Philadelphia’s Last Two Games: at Rams and at Jets
Week 4: Two weeks ago, the Eagles flew out to LA to face the “maybe they’re good again?” Rams. Philly beat out a steady offensive drive early to get off to a 7-0 lead, only for their defense to play a little soft and allow Matthew Stafford and the Rams to respond in kind. Things bogged down for most of the 2nd quarter, until the final 3 minutes saw a flurry of activity. Eagles get a field goal with 2:15 left. The Rams then race down the field in six plays and a minute and 43 seconds to score a touchdown. The Eagles then used the remaining 32 seconds to hit two deep strikes, get into the red zone, and then score a TD of their own as time expired. Halftime score: 17-14, Eagles. The third quarter was a grinder, with neither team scoring. The Eagles used the latter half of the 3rd to construct an eternal, 17-play (yes - 17!), 83-yard drive than ran into the 4th quarter and ended in another TD to put them up 20-14. At this point, the middling overall talent and few ideas the Rams had on offense were snuffed out by Philadelphia’s defense, which limited them to only 51 total yards and zero points over the final 12-plus minutes of the game. The Eagles tacked on a field goal in the middle of this, putting a bow on their 23-14 win and improving their record to 5-0.
Week 5: Last Sunday, Philly played an odd one in the Meadowlands against the New York Jets. After the Eagles' defense kept the Jets' opening possession to a sad 5-play, 12-yard drive, Jalen Hurts and the offense ground out a 19-play(!), 91-yard touchdown drive to go up 7-0 towards the end of the 1st quarter. The Jets responded with a respectable 50-yard drive ending in a field goal and then picked off Jalen Hurts several plays into the ensuing Eagles possession. They didn’t capitalize with any points, but the Eagles did with a relatively quick-strike touchdown drive to put Philly up 14-3. New York put together another decent drive that stalled, ending in another field goal. Continuing the evening theme of keeping the Jets' hopes alive, the Eagles coughed up the ball on a D’Andre Swift fumble, which the Jets converted into another field goal. Halftime score: 14-9, Eagles. The second half was basically Philadelphia’s offense regressing even worse, thanks partially to stout defense by New York and partially by some highly questionable decisions by Jalen Hurts and head coach Nick Sirianni. To cut to the chase: with a 14-12 lead, under three minutes to play, and only needing to get one or two more first downs to ice an ugly win, Jalen Hurts threw a horrible “how did he NOT see that linebacker?” interception. That pick was returned all the way to the Eagles 8-yard line. The Philly defense conceded the score in order to preserve time for their offense, allowing the Jets to run it in and take a 20-14 lead on a made 2-point conversion. With a little over 1:30 left and at least some chance to pull off a game-winning TD drive, Nick Sirianni made a few odd calls on the final drive, punctuated by the decision on 4th and 7 (still with well over a minute left to play) to have Hurts launch a Hail Mary into triple coverage. It predictably didn’t work, and the Jets were able to kneel it out for the upset win. Eagles take their first loss of the season and drop to 5-1.
Many things that stood out to me from watching these two games:
- When they’re rolling, the Eagles offense is more than happy to string together time-gobbling drives that can crush an opposing defense’s energy and soul. One part of this is the oh-so-chic (and annoying) “Brotherly Shove” that basically means death if they get to 3rd or 4th and under 3 yards. (Sidenote: I predict that, sometime soon, the Eagles will exploit this play’s effectiveness and predictability to fake out a defense and throw a short route that the receiver takes all the way to the house). Rotational depth will play big here.
- Jalen Hurts is very solid with opening scripts and playing a conservative game that utilizes the middle of the field. He is prone to serious blunders when pressured, though, as long as you can keep him from scampering outside the numbers (much easier said than done). Bradley Chubb and Jaelen Phillips, I’m looking at you fellas.
- Eagles receiver A.J. Brown is a monster. If X is healthy, his services will be needed here.
- Philadelphia’s O line is still very good, but they may be losing a small step. Perhaps due to their two best linemen – Lane Johnson and Travis Kelce – getting longer in the tooth. They’re definitely still a top-10 group but maybe not quite the elite unit they’ve been in recent years. In the two recent games, they lost some steam by the time the 4th quarter rolled around. See the last sentence of note #2.
- Philly’s defense is stout, especially the line. The loss to the Jets wasn’t on the defense, whose only obvious shortcoming was not knowing how to stifle wide receiver Garrett Wilson – not an uncommon problem for opposing defenses. That said, they will leave opposing offenses room to maneuver in the middle part of the field. Tua, Hill, and Waddle may have some room to work here.
- The Eagles' backfield is also solid, but they will give up a few big plays downfield. They did it against both the Rams and the Jets – two offenses that inflicted several wounds on themselves but still hit on a few big gainers in their games against Philly. Also see the last sentence of #5.
- Total side note: I hate to say it, but the Jets are kind of a problem. We have several weeks before we face them, but right now they are not withering in the wake of the loss of Aaron Rodgers. Zach Wilson still sucks, but most of the rest of that team isn’t to be dismissed.
Weirdly, from watching their last two games, the Eagles are sort of in the same place as a few other Super Bowl favorites right now. They’ve allowed a middle-of-season lack of focus to sink in that might belie a return to excellent form in December and January. It’s the same script that the Chiefs have followed for three years now, and the Bills have done for the last two years. The question is: which Eagles team will Miami face in Philadelphia next week?
While that question won’t be answered for another few days, we can look at how the primary units stack up to each other.
Dolphins Offense vs. Eagles Defense: Look, the Eagles defense is good. No getting around it. Their line has happily wreaked havoc on O lines, quarterbacks, and running backs thus far this season. But here are two areas of hope: (1) the Eagles opponents this year: Patriots, Vikings, Buccaneers, Commanders, Rams, and Jets. Very few decent O lines among that bunch, and a few of them actually put up respectable point totals against the Eagles' D. The Dolphins' O line and running game are better than any of those teams by a good margin. (2) The Dolphins are THE number one offense in the league, with freakish speed all over both the wide receiver and running back rooms. I expect the Eagles to force Tua and the offense to be a bit more patient than they usually would be. However, the Patriots tried the same thing in New England back in week 2, when their defense was still healthy and looking good. McDaniel and Tua picked their spots and did just fine that week, putting up 389 total yards and 24 points. The offense has only gotten better since then, so I think they can move the ball well enough this Sunday. Advantage: Dolphins
Dolphins Defense vs. Eagles Offense: This is tricky. The Eagles offense looked a bit wonky two weeks ago against the Rams, and they completely emptied their clips into their own feet last Sunday against the Jets. I have a suspicion that Jalen Hurts and the offense will be working hard to get back to the well-balanced unit that they had running late in 2022 but has only surfaced a couple of times this year. Vic Fangio’s defense has looked better in recent weeks, but they were against two of the absolute worst offenses in the NFL. The Fins’ run defense will be better than what Philly has faced in a while, but the overall defense doesn’t seem to have completely gelled – something that usually takes a full season for Vic Fangio-coached squads. Though they haven’t looked it lately, I have a feeling that the Eagles' offense will put on a better face and stress Miami’s defense. I don’t think Philly will go berserk on them or anything, but they’ll look more like the defending NFC champs than they did the last two weeks. Advantage: Eagles
Special Teams, Coaching, and Other Factors
Special Teams: Pretty simple, really. The Eagles' special teams is pretty good; the Dolphins’ isn’t. Miami hasn’t been tragic in this department, but the punter is well below average, and the teams seem to give up around one bad chunk return a game. Placekicker Jason Sanders hasn’t been asked to kick too many field goals (since the offense usually just scores touchdowns), and he’s been very average at making them. Meanwhile, Eagles place kicker Jake Elliot has been very reliable, and Philly’s punt coverage has been solid. Advantage: Eagles
Coaching: Both Nick Sirianni and Mike McDaniel are two of the best young coaches in the game. This one comes down to something simple for me: Sirianni has led his team to wins over good opponents in big games. Mike McDaniel hasn’t yet. I will put forth that Sirianni and his Eagles racked up a bunch of wins – including their two playoff wins – mostly against really bad or really injured teams. Still, they have pulled off some solid wins against a few good opponents, and they do have two playoff wins. McDaniel hasn’t cleared that hurdle just yet, so I’m giving Sirianni a slight nod right now. Slight advantage: Eagles
Locale: It’s in Philadelphia, and it’s the prime-time Sunday Night Football match of the week. It looks like it will be on the chilly side, probably in the low 50s or high 40s, which may slightly favor the cold-weather Eagles. I lived in the Philly area for over 14 years, and I can confirm what you probably already believe – their fans will be out in force, rabid, and making life as difficult as possible for our Dolphins. The Fins have shown to be a good road team this year, bagging wins in LA against the Chargers and in New England, but this will be a much stiffer test. Advantage: Eagles
Injuries: Both teams have concerns here, but they both seemed to get significantly healthier as this week wore on. While both squads had several key starters limited or not practicing early, many of those players look to be ready to go on Sunday night. The only regular starter (not including guys who have been on IR for a while, like Terron Armstead) who has been ruled out is Eagles free safety Reed Blankenship. The Dolphins may have a bit more to worry about, with high-performing starting center Connor Williams, ace CB Xavien Howard, and powerful FB Alec Ingold all listed as questionable. On the whole, though, the teams will be able to run their main guys out there without causing any extra discrepancy between the clubs.
X-Factors: I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate that the Eagles lost to the Jets last Sunday. It was not only a loss but their first loss on the season after starting 5-0. It was not only their first loss, but it was a really ugly loss where they wounded themselves as much or more than the Jets' defensive front did. It wasn’t only an ugly loss, but it was an ugly loss with hordes of obnoxious Jets fans taunting them all the way out of town. I see all of these elements as the kindling and firewood that the Philadelphia Eagles will ignite under themselves all week long. I envision this being not unlike week 4 against the Bills, when the Dolphins were getting showered with praise in the wake of their historic 70-20 drubbing of Denver the previous week, while the Bills were getting ignored. The Bills came out with the focus of Liam Niesen in a revenge flick, and they completely outplayed the Dolphins in Buffalo. While Miami can find some motivation in the fact that they haven’t really beaten a legitimately good team under Mike McDaniel, the Eagles have the motivation to prove that they aren’t the chumps who showed their backsides in the Meadowlands last week. They have to be chomping at the bit to show that they’re vastly superior to what they showed last week. In short, the Dolphins better be ready to get Philadelphia’s very best game on Sunday night.
Prediction: Dolphins 24, Eagles 27
Look, it won’t shock me if our Fins pull off a win here. They have the talent to do it, and the offensive talent and cohesion are there. I just don’t like the combination of a road game in very hostile territory, Philly coming off an embarrassing loss, the opponents’ recent history of success in big games, and the Dolphins’ still-under-construction defensive synergy. It’s just too hard for me to predict a win here when we really haven’t seen a McDaniel team pull it off yet. It will happen at some point soon, I’m sure, and this might be the game they do it. But predictions built on “might”s are dogs that just don’t hunt. I was wrong the last time I predicted a Fins loss back in week 1 against the Chargers. I hope I’m wrong again.
What do you think, fellow Fins fans? Are you a little queasy about this game, like I am? Or are you feeling like our guys will pull off a really nice road win? Put it in the comments below.