This could be the final week of Miami Dolphins football this season... unless they can pull an upset on the road against the defending Super Bowl champions in frigid temperatures this Saturday night. By my count, that’s five different narratives (road game, good opponent, late season, cold temperatures, prime time) that they can put to rest (or at least quiet) in one game. Mike McDaniel has preached that adversity equals opportunity for this entire season and those words could ring especially true after this contest.
While they’re facing a Chiefs team that hasn’t looked like their usual selves this season, don’t expect it to be easy. The Chiefs are tough in Arrowhead, have a fantastic defense, and will be playing with the best playoff quarterback (currently) in the NFL. How can Miami pull off this upset and reignite a season that has lost it’s spark?
Play Clean Offensive Football
Execution, execution, execution.... it’s been the story of this offense cooling off over the last month and some change of the season. It’s difficult to nail down the exact issues that this offense has run into, because it changes from game to game. It also isn’t a consistent problem for them. One play or drive, they can look like a flawless offensive machine. The next, they can look like a pop warner squad with their mistakes or mental lapses. Poor execution was also the story of their loss against this Chiefs team earlier in the regular season.
Offensive miscues were the difference in this game. There were missed throws, drops, fumbles, lapses in protection... it was all across the board. This team can play with anyone, but they need to learn how to consistently execute to take that next step. pic.twitter.com/llZ8PKUQa0— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) November 7, 2023
At this time of the season, every team’s goal is to be playing their best football. That means keeping your focus and avoiding big mistakes almost more than anything else. Now it’s only fair to give Steve Spagnuolo and this defense their due credit, they’re one of the best in all of football. His particular brand of defensive football is about pressure. They aren’t the most blitz happy team in the NFL (7th highest blitz rate), but they’re one of the most successful (2nd highest pressure rate & sack total).
That’s because Spagnuolo uses more exotic looks to confuse protection. If you want to see some cool stuff just watch every play from a KC game where they bring five or more players. You’ll see plays where there is absolutely no indication that a blitz is coming and further more no indication of who is coming. On top of generating negative plays, it makes the offense uncomfortable and speeds up the quarterback’s internal clock.
There was a lot made of that miscommunication between Cedric Wilson and Tua Tagovailoa on 3rd down at the end of the last Chiefs/Dolphins game in Germany. It feels like an “aw-shucks” moment for the offense, but that was the product of speeding up Tua’s internal clock and getting the ball out of his hands before he wanted. In order to have success in this game, the top priority needs to be dealing with pressure. There are a few ways to do that, but given the temperatures this weekend in KC, one has to think they’ll prioritize running the football against this athletic (but somewhat undersized) front.
Will the Defense Show up Again?
Last week we contemplated whether or not this defense could continue to play good football with the multitude of injuries they had accumulated. They didn’t play a perfect game against Buffalo, but they gave their team several chances to win. They lost (at least) two more starters coming into this Kansas City game. The last time they squared off against Kansas City, their defensive line had a pretty dominant performance. We saw star edge defenders Jaelan Phillips and Bradley Chubb especially impact the Kansas City offense.
The defense came to play in this game. This is kind of what I expected from Fangio. Like I said earlier in the season, the ability to improve and adapt is what separates great coordinators. #FinsUp pic.twitter.com/9ozvvmIZd4— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) November 7, 2023
Well, incase you’ve been living under a rock the last couple of weeks, those two wont be playing in this game. To add onto that they’ve also lost Andrew Van Ginkel and Cam Goode at the edge position. They’ve added some interesting veteran players to fill in at edge in Justin Houston, Bruce Irvin, Malik Reed, (and a few weeks ago Melvin Ingram). Can they turn back the clock and give this team a chance in Kansas City this weekend?
Of all the edges they added this past week, I have to think Justin Houston has the best chance to really impact the game in KC (especially as a pass rusher). This is from his last playoff appearance (2022 WC as a Raven). #FinsUp pic.twitter.com/OqkDW1287a— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) January 11, 2024
Melvin Ingram has been playing the last three weeks (he was added after Phillips went down), so you have to imagine he’ll be leading this group of new players. Out of the other three, Justin Houston is the one that has the most encouraging recent experience. He was a main contributor on the Baltimore Ravens last year and registered three pressures with a sack in their wild card game against the Bengals (video above). Houston spent the first portion of the season with the Panthers, but landed on injury reserve after their week 8 win over the Texans. He later requested his release in order to sign with a contending club down the stretch (hence his presence in Miami).
The biggest surprise of their situation at edge is Emmanuel Ogbah’s lack of impact. Last week in Buffalo was the first time all season he topped 30 defensive snaps... and that is likely due to them losing Van Ginkel and Goode in the midst of that game. In his prime Miami years, Ogbah may not have been a dominant pass rusher, but he had heavy hands and a nose for the football. At 30 years of age, he is their youngest edge defender currently on the active roster but he feels like the forgotten man. Maybe that will change this weekend?
For the last two weeks, I’ve predicted a hard fought Miami Dolphins win. They’ve had two opportunities to prove that this isn’t a “same old Dolphins” kind of team. Last week, they had victory in their grasp. If the offense didn’t completely stall in the second half, they likely cruise to victory over their division rival. But McDermott called a better second half than McDaniel and the offense failed to execute when they needed it the most.
You have to think the offense will have Waddle and Mostert back for this upcoming game. They’re still missing Connor Williams (who is a fantastic center), but that’s the only majorly impactful injury on that side of the ball (Rob Jones isn’t much of a drop off from Wynn). The defense will play another quality game against the Chiefs, even if it isn’t quite as good as their last. That means this game will come down to Miami’s offense.
This is where the rubber meets the road. They’ve put a ton of money and effort into building this offense into one of the league’s best. They were number one in yards per game and number two in points per game to conclude the regular season. The Chiefs have a good defense and the weather is going to be brutal... but there is zero reason why they can’t out-perform the Chiefs and power this team to a win.
I’ll admit, I’ve put my fan goggles on for the last two predictions. While this is a game these Dolphins can absolutely win, has anyone seen anything over the last two weeks to make you truly confident that they pull this one off on the road? I haven’t, and that’s why I’m predicting that the Dolphins will lose another hard fought game 21-17 against the defending Super Bowl Champions. With that said, PLEASE prove me wrong... prove everyone wrong and show us that this isn’t the same old Dolphins.