The Week That Was
No sugar-coating it. That sucked.
A loss to the Bills in Buffalo wasn’t going to shock me. But looking so utterly outclassed like our Dolphins did on Sunday? That was as depressing as it was surprising. It has me fighting hard against the “same ol’ Dolphins” feelings that have emerged from the deeper recesses of my fandom.
I won’t bother with a blow-by-blow, since those are handled well in other articles here on the site. A few general observations about the 48-20 loss, though:
- Not having Jaelen Phillips, Connor Williams, and several other starters hurt. Losing Terron Armstead for the second half was yet another sharp blow. I’m not sure that their presence would have prevented the loss, but their absence was masterfully exploited by Sean McDermott and his players. I have faith that a healthier Dolphins team will be able to put up a much better fight when they meet again in the final week season.
- The Bills completely exposed just about every weakness that Miami has right now. The good news is that the Bills are one of the very few teams in the NFL with the talent, coaching, and experience to do this. For now, the Bills handed the Fins a list of several items that should be on their to-do list for the 2024 season. To me, linebacker continues to be the most glaring need.
- The Bills were as locked in and ready to play this game as I’ve ever seen a team. I have to think that all the hype that the Dolphins received the previous week had been sticking in their collective craw, and they used that as motivation to remind everyone of just which team has owned the AFC East for the last three years.
- Mike McDaniel is a really good young coach, but he has things to learn about in-game adjustments and decision-making.
With the loss, my heady prediction went right down the commode:
driftinscotty’s Straight Up Predictions for 2023
|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|
The good news for now is that the Fins have a nice “get right” opportunity this Sunday, as they host the Giants at home in Hard Rock. How do they stack up?
Tale of the Tape
Another NFL week on the books, so another week of data to clarify the general trends for these two squads:
Key Team Stats for Dolphins & Giants
|Stat Per Game||Dolphins||Giants|
|Stat Per Game||Dolphins||Giants|
|Passing Yards||334.3 (1st)||158 (30th)|
|Rushing Yards||176.8 (1st)||94 (23rd)|
|Points Scored||37.5 (1st)||11.5 (32nd)|
|Pass Yards Allowed||251 (25th)||207.8 (15th)|
|Run Yards Allowed||123.5 (22nd)||133.8 (25th)|
|Points Allowed||29.8 (28th)||30.5 (30th)|
|Net Turnovers||0 (tied 15th)||-8 (30th)|
|Against Penalty Yards||59.3 (22nd)||57.3 (20th)|
Lots of things are striking to me in these numbers, not least of which is how dramatically different the Giants are than the Fins’ opponent last week, the Bills. While we can still slap the “it’s early” caveat on these for another week or two, it’s fair to say that the Giants offense has been dreadful. Yes, they have played a couple of tough defenses in the Cowboys and 49ers. But they’ve also played the Cardinals and Seahawks – not exactly a Great Wall of defensive prowess. The only game the Giants offense put up more than 248 total yards was against the Arizona Cardinals - a bottom-third defense so far.
Does the recent tape on the Giants suggest that maybe they’re not as bad as their record or numbers suggest? Let’s take a look.
The Giants Last Two Games: at Niners and Seahawks
Two Thursdays ago, the Giants went to San Francisco to get handed a 30-12 beating in which the scoring narrative belies just how dominated New York was. The Giants mucked things up enough through the first quarter to keep the score at 3-3. The second quarter was all Niners, as Brock Purdy and the offense scored a pair of touchdowns six minutes apart, while the Giants managed a meager three points just before the half expired. New York did manage to score a touchdown five minutes into the second half, making the score an intriguing 17-12. The Giants defense sort of kept the Niners offense in check for a while after that, limiting them to a couple of field goals over the next 16 minutes of game time. The problem was that New York’s offense was all but moving backward at this point. San Francisco put them out of their misery on a 27-yard TD pass to Deebo Samuel with 5:58 left in the game. That was that. Giants lose 30-12 and drop to 1-2.
This past Monday, the Giants had a chance to right their ship a bit by returning to Jersey to host the Seahawks, a decent but not world-beating team by any means. This game was almost unwatchable, thanks to infinite stoppages due to penalties, replay reviews, chippiness, and a general lack of flow from either offense. The Seahawks' offense got out of their own way enough to score two touchdowns in the first half, while the Giants posted a meager field goal. After a slow start to the second half, the Giants actually put together a solid drive to get deep within Seattle territory, only for Daniel Jones to throw a pick that got returned 97 yards the other way for a touchdown to put the Seahawks up 20-3 with a minute left in the third quarter. The fourth quarter was another slog, with the only score being a Seattle field goal with 5:26 left in the game. The Giants posted a number of ugly stats, but two of them tell the tale: only 248 total yards of offense and eleven – that’s right, eleven – sacks surrendered. On the relatively positive side, the New York defense held Seattle to only 281 yards of offense.
My two general takeaways from these games:
- The Giants defense is serviceable, even decent at times. The backfield certainly has its issues, looking lost at times and leaving receivers plenty of room to maneuver. Still, their decent front seven seem to be capable, and they tend to start games strong. After the first quarter, though, the overall defense regresses a bit into a “bend don’t break” mode. For many teams, that’s enough to get by and be a decent team. For the Giants, this is a massive problem because…
- The offense is horrid. Their banged-up offensive line is currently an absolute sieve that may get QB Daniel Jones killed. Not helping is the fact that their receivers can’t seem to get any separation at all, forcing Jones to go into “GTFO” mode and run, even on the rare occasion that he has more than 1.5 seconds to survey the field and throw.
So the Giants have been having a rough go of it. How do their main units stack up against Miami?
Dolphins Offense vs Giants Defense
The Giants defense isn’t fantastic, but it isn’t a lost cause. Their front will put some pressure on QBs if you let them, which can force some lesser QBs into mistakes. But their run defense has been extremely poor due to bad gap integrity. While their pass defense numbers look OK, some of that is because opposing teams know they don’t need to force the passing game - you can run just fine against this team. I can see the Dolphins offense having a great “get right” game here, where Mostert and/or Achane help set up and complement the passing game very nicely. It’s hard to see the Giants’ DBs keeping up with Tua and his top-flight receivers over the course of a game. Sidenote shoutout to Austin Jackson, who’s so far been quietly playing a really solid right tackle (Tua’s blindside) - if there were a “redeemed former draft bust” award in the NFL, he would be very high in the running. Major Advantage: Dolphins
Dolphins Defense vs Giants Offense
After seeming to be getting on track in weeks 2 and 3 against the Patriots and Broncos, respectively, the Dolphins' defense got abused by the Bills last week. Now, some of this was the absence of starters Jaelen Phillips and Deshon Elliot (Elliot had quietly been doing quite well). But a lot of it was some poor matchup decisions by Vic Fangio, exploited perfectly by a very talented and experienced Bills offense (maybe not a great idea to put Kader Kohou on a remote island against one of the best WRs in the game. I love Kader, but that was too big an ask). Call me crazy, but I don’t see the Giants capable of doing anything of the sort. Their offensive line is still beat up, as is Saquon Barkley. Their receivers don’t seem to be able to get any sort of separation. This all forces Daniel Jones to perpetually try to pull rabbits out of his hat, which ends up like Pixar’s Presto for him. The chances are looking good to get Phillips and Elliot back. The Fins’ defense hasn’t shown enough for me to think that they’ll completely shut down this offense, even as bad as it is, but I also don’t see New York’s offense having any sort of breakout here. Slight Advantage: Dolphins
Special Teams, Coaching, and Other Factors
Special Teams: The Dolphins special teams are still pretty bad. But guess what? The Giants are quite probably a little worse. Between these two squads, expect a few missed field goals and/or extra points, with the Giants to possibly mix in a few really boneheaded penalties during punts or kickoffs (they had three of them in the Seattle game alone). Braxton Barrios continues to show very reliable kick and punt return skills, so if there’s any edge to be had, that’s probably where it lies. Ever-So-Slight Advantage: Dolphins
Coaching: Last week showed us that Mike McDaniel is still learning. He’s a very good coach, but there were a few gaffes against Buffalo, and he reverted away from the run at a couple of inopportune moments when the game was still within reach. It also remains to be seen if his oversight of much more senior coach Vic Fangio will yield the desired and presumed progress on defense. Still, the overall results have been solid. Brian Daboll, also a second-year HC, is struggling a bit after a deceptive first season that saw him get into a Wildcard game and actually expose the ever-enigmatic Vikings. It was a season reminiscent of the 2016 Dolphins, with an actual playoff win added for window dressing. Major injuries haven’t helped Daboll this season, but right now there is very little about this Giants team that seems to be working right. It showed last week when Daboll showed visible disgust at a bad Daniel Jones pick-6 and took it out on an innocent Google tablet. Advantage: Dolphins
Injuries: The Giants offense right now is essentially the Antietem medical tent, circa September, 1862. This group does look on paper like it could be a functional offense when healthy, but they’re nowhere near healthy right now, particularly their line. Top-notch LT Andrew Thomas and starting center John Michael Schmitz have been ruled out, as well as backup center Shane Lemieux. Saqoun Barkley may play after practicing this week, though it was in a limited capacity. Not ideal. The Dolphins were missing several starters last week, from both sides of the ball, but a few of them look likely to return. The loss of Terron Armstead is unfortunate, but at least Kendall Lamm has been solid filling in. The big one to me is getting Connor Williams back at center, as backup Liam Eichenberg was a disaster in nearly every aspect against Buffalo. We’re used to the several bad snaps from Williams every game, but at least Williams is an outstanding blocker. Eichenberg got continuously abused by the ferocious Bills’ front seven repeatedly last week, and the Giants are good enough in that arena to cause a few problems. Williams was back and listed as “limited” in practices throughout the week, and hopefully he’ll be well enough to get back out there. Deshon Elliot looks likely to return at strong safety, as does Jaelan Phillips at defensive end.
Climate: Looking like a pleasant day, and perhaps just sunny and humid enough to cause the Giants to sweat a little more over there on the visitors’ sideline.
X-Factors: The Giants are certainly desperate to somehow begin looking like something other than a punching bag for all but the worst teams in the NFL. That desperation can sometimes propel teams to play above themselves. This would often make for a key ingredient for a weaker squad to snipe a better one in a textbook “trap game” scenario. This would be a much more possible scenario had the Dolphins not just gotten their cleats blown off by division rival Buffalo last week. I have to think that Miami will be ready for action after being force-fed a Golden Corral quantity of humble pie the week prior. Oh, and it’s Zach Thomas honorific week at Hard Rock. If they can’t pull out a win for this, then what are we even doing this for?
Prediction: Dolphins 41, Giants 17
That might seem like a lot of points to predict against a defense that does have some merit. However, I see the Fins offense as doing just fine against the pass rush and taking full advantage of the New York DBs’ shortcomings. As far as the Fins’ defensive end of things, I sense that it’s still going to be a few weeks before the “Fagnio System” really takes root, but the Giants offense is such a mess that I think they’ll be able to get away with some mistakes without it causing any real problems. Think about it like this: if the Giants score 17 points, it would be nearly 6 points above their season average so far. Seems about right.
What do you think? Do our Fins get back on track, or are we in for a blind-side sucker punch this Sunday? Get the comments going.