The Miami Dolphins are sitting at 8-3, two and a half games ahead of the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East. They face an inconsistent Washington Commanders team on the road in potentially rainy conditions this Sunday afternoon before a three-game stretch at home. Taking care of business in this game will be vitally important to their playoff seeding. Let’s look at what this Commanders squad does well and where Miami should be able to press their advantage.
Get After Howell
It’s hard to get a real bead on this offense and Sam Howell. If you turn on the tape, you’ll immediately be impressed with some of the throws this guy can make. Concurrently, you’ll be disgusted with some of the decisions he makes and the sacks he takes (did not mean to rhyme there). This isn’t something unusual for a younger quarterback to struggle with. It usually takes time for their processing to catch up to their physical talents in the NFL.
Howell has already taken 55 sacks this season, 15 more than the next QB (rookie Bryce Young). The Commander’s offense has also dropped back more than any other team in the NFL (over 53 more dropbacks than the next passer). It is an incredibly odd way to bring along your young quarterback who is still learning the nuances of the position. Amazingly, he hasn’t missed time this season, but this isn’t a sustainable model in the long term.
Top-5 Passing Offense vs Worst Pass Defense
The Commanders’ imbalance has something to do with their defense’s inability to stop opposing offenses. This has been a strange development for this Commander’s squad. Coming into the season, you wouldn’t have been wrong to expect this defense to thrive under Jack Del Rio (who has since been fired along with defensive backs coach Brent Vieselmeyer). Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Kendall Fuller, Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen, Kamren Curl... they came into 2023 with some solid players on the defensive side of the ball.
The Commanders have some talented players on defense, but they've been gashed through the air this season. Their pass rush has especially struggled since moving on from Chase Young and Montez Sweat. #FinsUp pic.twitter.com/7TjU6GiEDK— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) December 1, 2023
It turns out that once you start shipping off some of your best players, your defense may begin to struggle. It has been well-publicized that the Commanders were struggling to resign star pass rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat. Both were moved before the trade deadline and in the most unsurprising development of the year, the pass rush has looked poor since.
Couple that with some below-average play on the backend, and you have the worst pass defense in the NFL. The Commanders have given up the most yards (3,175) and touchdowns (28) through the air in the NFL this year. They give up a ton of chunk plays and haven’t forced nearly enough turnovers to stay in most of these games. Ron Rivera will be taking over defensive playcalling duties after Del Rio’s dismissal, so maybe that change will give them a bump this week?
Protect the Football in Bad Conditions
It looks like there should be some rainy conditions this weekend around FedEx field. Luckily it should be fairly warm, but the Miami offense will be dealing with wet and muddy conditions for the majority of this game. While we’ve focused on the Commander’s poor pass defense, it may be in Miami’s better interest to keep the ball on the ground against their marginally better run defense.
When this offense (and team) has underachieved, it has been tied to turnovers from the offense. This will be a great opportunity to play a clean game. There is always a heightened chance that the ball will be punched out when dealing with these rainy conditions, but the Miami offense needs to ensure they make the right decisions and play smart football on the road.
This feels like a really bad matchup for the Washington Commanders. Even without Jaelan Phillips, this is a team that can get after the quarterback. They also have players on the back end who are adept at forcing turnovers. One name to keep an eye on coming into this contest is safety Jevon Holland. He’s missed a few practices this week and is such a huge part of this defense. I like Brandon Jones (and their other reserve safeties), but I think it’s a pretty large step down from Holland to these players in this Fangio scheme.
The Commanders are an extremely unpredictable squad. Sam Howell can look like two completely different quarterbacks from one play to the next, but no matter what this guy can sling it. That gives the Commanders a puncher’s chance week in and week out. They’ve fired Jack Del Rio, so the defense could take a step in either direction... we just don’t know. With that said Miami is the more talented squad by a comfortable margin. They’ll take care of business in this one in a surprisingly competitive 28-21 road victory.