No sugar-coating this: losing Jaelen Phillips sucks. It’s a real blow to a defense that had really been rounding into excellent form. Seriously – with Phillips playing at a Pro Bowl level, it was showing out as a top-5 defensive unit in the NFL. That said, I’m finding solace in a few areas after the Black Friday game:
- There are some decent options to take up the massive slack left by Phillips’ absence. Van Ginkel and Ogbah should mitigate the loss to a certain extent. They won’t be able to provide the threat that Phillips did, but they should be able to prevent a terribly steep drop-off.
- The rest of the defense is still very much intact, and they’ve been balling out for several weeks now.
- The offense, despite still missing a couple of starting offensive linemen, have shown that they can move the ball very effectively even when Tua is not playing his best against a good defense.
To that last point, the team rallied quite effectively to overcome some shaky play (and a bad Tua pick-6) in the first half to ultimately bury the Jets. This got the team to 8-3, still in the top spot in the AFC East and now sitting on a 2.5-game lead over 2nd place Buffalo. This win kept me right in line with the team, as far as straight up predictions go:
driftinscotty’s Straight-Up Predictions for 2023
|My Straight Up Season Record
|My Straight Up Season Record
With the Bills losing to Philly on Sunday and dropping to 6-6, things are lined up really well for the Fins to take the division crown.
First thing’s first, though. This Sunday, Miami goes up to Washington to face the 4-8 Washington Commanders. How do they stack up?
Tale of the Tape
Team Stats for Miami & Washington
|Stat Per Game
|Stat Per Game
|Pass Yards Allowed
|Run Yards Allowed
|-5 (tie 23rd)
|Against Penalty Yards
The team stats are remarkably disparate. Miami’s galactically awesome offensive numbers have tapered in the last few weeks, but the team is still ranked 1st or 2nd in all three main areas. Even when they haven’t put up 30+ points, they’ve moved the ball very well, using a balanced approach. The defense continues to give up fewer and fewer yards, and the points allowed per game ranking of 23rd is still deceiving, since a chunk of those points in recent weeks have come off of interceptions returned for touchdowns – absolutely no fault of the defense. The penalties per game have also gotten better and better, though the net turnovers continue to be very bland.
Washington, on the other hand, boasts some lamentable team stats. Aside from being 9th in passing yards, thanks to QB Sam Howell’s gunslinger abilities and a solid receiving corps, their offense struggles to run the ball and score points. The defense is far worse, giving up the 3rd most passing yards and the most points per game in the NFL. They’ve also been worst in the league in turnover differential. The one “bright” spot is that they are at least disciplined enough to clock in at the 4th-lowest penalty yards per game.
Just from these numbers, the Dolphins look to be the far superior team. Do the Commanders have anything in their bag to pull off a highly unlikely upset? I watched their last two games to see.
Washington in Weeks 11 and 12: vs New York Giants and at Dallas
Week 11: vs New York Giants: This game was…something. With a chance to keep themselves alive in the Wildcard hunt, the 4-6 Commanders hosted the 2-8 Giants. Seems like a perfect opportunity to get to one game within .500 for Washington, right? Well, Washington set the wonky tone early in this one. Their defensive line commenced to harassing Giants QB Tommy DeVito early, getting to him repeatedly on the first series and forcing a punt. The Commanders’ offense repaid this by fumbling the ball over to New York, who then capitalized on a breakdown by the Commanders’ secondary for a long touchdown. And this was essentially the theme of the entire afternoon: Washington defense plays well up front and gets the ball to the offense. Offense drives a bit before turning the ball over. The Giants capitalize and score over a short field. Rinse and repeat about five times. Seriously. The Commanders turned the ball over SIX TIMES in this game - three fumbles and three Howell INTs. Amazingly, they were only down 24-19 with a chance to still win the game with a little over two minutes left. But of course, as they were around mid-field the final and game-ending interception was converted by New York into a pick-6 that ended the game. Despite outgaining the Giants, 403 yards to 294, Washington dropped to 4-7 and all but killed their chances at the playoffs.
Week 12: at Dallas Cowboys: The final score of this game was a bit deceiving. The two teams tussled a bit through the first quarter, with Dallas up 7-0. In the second, Washington got a field goal before Dallas responded with another TD and looked to be taking control of the game. Then the Commanders put together a solid drive (aided by a couple of Dallas penalties) that ended in a TD to get the score to 14-10, Dallas and under two minutes in the half. But the Cowboys drove down the field quickly for another TD, missing the PAT but holding a 20-10 lead at the half. The third quarter was more tussling, with neither team scoring. A few minutes into the 4th quarter, Dallas put together a field goal drive to go up 23-10, still very much within striking distance of a Washington team that was generally moving the ball well. However, on their own 30-yard line, Washington went for it on a 4th-and-1 with a failed pass play, and that was the virtual death knell. Dak Prescott led the Cowboys offense to another touchdown to put them up 31-10. With the faintest of hopes and just under seven minutes left, Washington went hurry-up and drove into Dallas territory, only to come up short on another 4th-and-1. The ultimate kill shot came not long after on a Prescott deep pass for another TD, putting the game well out of reach at 38-10. After a pick-6 on the ensuing drive, the Commanders lost 45-10 and drop to 4-8 on the season. Any chance at a Wildcard is purely mathematical at this point, and would rely on a ton of things beyond their control.
My takeaways from these two losses:
- Sam Howell does put the “sling” in “gunslinger.” The guy has a live arm, and there’s a reason that he’s put up the 5th most passing yards per game in the NFL so far. Thing is, while he’s tied for 10th in touchdowns (18), he’s also tied with Josh Allen for the most interceptions (13). He is not afraid to rip the ball to his receivers, and he’ll put together some nice series and drives. He’ll also have a few real head-scratching throws every game, very much in the spirit of Ryan Fitzpatrick. He can also run quite well, as stout as he is, so defenses have to account for when he escapes from the pocket. And he has to do this quite a bit because…
- Washington’s offensive line is super erratic. Like their QB, they’ll play well for several snaps and sometimes even a full series or two, but then they’ll get obliterated, sometimes with nary a pass rush. This sends Howell scrambling for life and reverting to his worst instincts at times.
- The Commanders’ defensive line is still pretty good. They can get pressure against weaker offensive lines like the Giants. That said, this can be counteracted when opposing offenses run a bit of hurry-up and have QBs who can get rid of the ball quickly, a la Dak Prescott and even Tommy DeVito in certain parts of the Giants game.
- Washington’s secondary is similar to the offensive line - erratic. In several points of the Giants game and in the latter stages of the Cowboys game, there were massive holes open for DeVito and Prescott to find their receivers. It looked a lot like they were playing a zone defense that the Commanders’ DBs themselves haven’t come close to mastering.
So we’re looking at a very discombobulated Washington squad right now. How do they match up specifically against the Dolphins?
Miami vs Washington Unit Matchups
Dolphins Offense vs Commanders Defense: It’s been pretty clear in recent weeks that the Dolphins offense is a different animal without their two starting guards or rookie running back De’Von Achane. Opposing defensive lines have broken through a bit more readily, forcing Tua into some bad decisions. Still, the offense has shifted its philosophy enough to be quite effective. Against a very stout Jets defense, they continued to pound the ball on the ground with Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr., easily overcoming a relatively pedestrian passing day from Tua Tagovailoa. The Commanders’ pass defense is good but not quite at the level of the Jets, so I expect a bounce-back performance in this area, which should also make things easier for the run game. I expect Washington to break through for a sack or two, but it’s hard for me to see how they stop the well-balanced offense that we’ve seen from Miami recently. Major advantage: Dolphins.
Dolphins Defense vs Commanders Offense: This would be a clearer analysis had stud pass rusher Jaelen Phillips not been lost for the season last week. Still, I think Miami’s defense boasts enough talent to keep a lid on the passing attack that Sam Howell and the Washington receivers bring to the table. I don’t think they completely shut down Howell, but I see at least one interception coming from this, just given Howell’s propensity to chuck the ball when under duress, often with little regard for coverage. Miami’s run defense has developed into one of the very best in the game. Against a poor Commanders run game, I don’t see Washington getting much there, either. And while Howell has often looked good when the games are close, he take a few too many chances when playing from behind. Advantage: Dolphins.
Special Teams, Coaching, and Other Factors
Special Teams: Miami’s special teams acquitted itself slightly better last week, and Jason Sanders has kicked better as of late, but it’s still a bland part of the team. They currently rate among the bottom quarter in the NFL. Washington isn’t much better, really. Advantage: NONE
Coaching: Ron Rivera is rounding into a modern-day Jeff Fisher more and more with every passing week, though he might be a very pale imitation of even Fisher’s perennial mediocrity as a head coach. In his fifth season at Washington’s helm, they have only a vague semblance of an identity on either side of the ball, and they continue to come up short in all major areas. New OC Eric Bienemy has overseen an improvement in the Commanders’ offense, but it still looks like a work in progress. Mike McDaniel, on the other hand, came into the season as one of the best young head coaches in the game, and he’s recently been showing signs of making necessary adjustments to the offense to instill a welcome balance. Having defensive guru Vic Fangio’s system now in full swing only adds to the coaching advantage Miami has here. Advantage: Dolphins.
Locale: Miami will be heading up to play this one in Washington, the second-to-last of its “cold weather” games in the 2023 regular season (the other being in Baltimore in week 17). As of writing, the forecast is for a cool afternoon with temperatures in the high 50s, with a chance for a little rain. Given the potency of the Fins’ run game, this doesn’t worry me as much, especially with the expected return of Achane. One area of concern, however, is the Dolphins’ recent propensity for fumbles – something which rain never helps. Hopefully, this will be an area of focus for the coaching staff during this week’s preparations.
Injuries: It’s simple with Washington - they won’t be missing anyone who they hadn’t already been missing for the last two or more weeks. The Dolphins injury listed started the week with 18(!) players on it. Fortunately, by Friday, only six players were listed as less than “full go.” The major concerns are Terron Armstead and Jevon Holland being questionable, but I was extremely happy to see Rob Hunt and De’Von Achane full participants by Friday. This could spell real doom for most defenses for the rest of the season.
X-Factors: A few minor things in this realm. First is that the Dolphins are now in complete control of the AFC East, and it’s very much theirs to lose. They handled that pressure well against the Jets last week, even overcoming the would-be upset-triggering pick-6 late in the first half and then dominating the second half to win handily and get to 8-3. The pressure will mount on them, based on the expectation that they lock up the division title in the coming weeks. Fortunately, McDaniel has guided his teams to wins over clearly inferior opponents for his entire tenure (Fun fact: McDaniel’s teams have only lost 3 games in which they were favored – all in 2022, one in which Tua was out). The other potential intangible is that Washington has only the faintest hope of keeping its barely visible Wildcard hopes alive, and it’s reasonable to assume that Ron Rivera’s job hangs in the balance. They were clearly desperate enough to can defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio after last week’s fourth-quarter meltdown in Dallas, putting those tasks back on Ron Rivera’s already overflowing plate. If the Commanders have any last little bit of panic energy left, it will have to show up in this game in the form of risky play calls and a nothing-left-to-lose approach. Even beyond that, they’ll have to play their absolute best game of the season. Little reminder of the four teams that Washington has beat this year: Arizona, Denver (back in September when they were utter trash), Atlanta, and New England.
Prediction: Dolphins 27, Commanders 10
I would be calling for an even more decisive victory here, if not for the weather reports. This one might end up a slightly sloppy affair, which may offer Washington a better chance to hang around. Overall, though, I can’t envision them doing enough to truly pull off and upset. Miami’s defense is just playing too well, and McDaniel has been toning down some of the unnecessarily cute play calls on offense. This one may play out a bit like the Commanders’ Thanksgiving game in Dallas, where it’s within reach until the 4th quarter before Miami pulls away.
How are you feeling about this one, fellow Fins fans? Another solid win? A blowout that sends Ron Rivera packing? Does Washington have a real shot at the upset here? Throw those predictions and comments down below.