Welcome back, Fins fans!
After enjoying a much-deserved bye week, the Miami Dolphins (3-3) will play host to the Los Angeles Rams (5-2) on the heels of a dominant display on Monday Night Football, defeating the Chicago Bears by a score of 24-10.
The Fins enter Week 8 with sole possession of second place in the AFC East following the third loss in as many weeks for the New England Patriots (2-4). It was looking like The Dolphins were going to get a gift from the New York Jets (0-7) in the form of an upset win as they outplayed the Buffalo Bills (5-2) for most of the contest, but ultimately fell short. Is anyone surprised?
This week will serve as a litmus test to see how good this Dolphins team really is, especially in the trenches as the Miami offensive line will have to deal with the best defender in the NFL, DT Aaron Donald.
Rough prospects for QB Tua Tagovailoa’s highly-anticipated first career start, but with two weeks of full preparation under his belt, I’m sure he’ll be ready to put his best foot forward.
That said, let’s preview the action for Sunday’s game, and see what the Fins must do to get the Tua era off to a hot start in South Beach.
As always, questions or comments? Let me know on Twitter – @Donny_Diablo7.
When? Where? What Else?
Miami will welcome the visiting Los Angeles Rams to Hard Rock Stadium this Sunday with kickoff slated for 1:00 PM EST. Forecasts at the start of the game show mixed clouds and sun with scattered thunderstorms, a high of 83 degrees, 10-15 MPH winds, and an 81% humidity index with a 40% chance of rain.
The Fins haven’t performed that well at Hard Rock Stadium this year, opening home play with back-to-back losses (NE and SEA) before beating the Jets in Week 6 to improve their home record to 1-2.
Against the best division in football in the NFC West, Miami currently holds a 1-1 record with their aforementioned loss to the Seattle Seahawks compounded with a dominating 43-17 road win against the San Francisco 49ers.
The two clubs have met 13 times all in the regular season, with Miami holding a dominant 11-2 record all-time. The Fins have won the last four matchups between the teams, dating back to the 2004 season.
Miami has not yet faced the Rams under head coach Sean McVay, but they did fare well against QB Jared Goff the last time the two teams faced off in 2016. In that game, the Fins limited the rookie to 17-of-31 (59%) and 134 yards.
Tale of the Tape
Miami Dolphins (3-3):
Before enjoying their bye week, Miami took care of business against Gang Green, grounding the Jets with a 24-0 shutout win.
It was the first shutout for the team since the 2014 season against the then-San Diego Chargers, Given how often these teams play each other, it was surprisingly the first shutout win against the Jets since the 1983 AFC Championship game.
While the defense played out of its mind, considering this was Fitz’s last game as a starter, let’s focus on him one last glorious time.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick delivered the quintessential “FitzMagic” game in what we now know was his last hurrah for the Dolphins. Fitz’s gunslinging mentality has been a staple during his 16-year career, and it was on full display, completing 18-of-27 attempts for 191 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions.
Fitzpatrick dealt early scores to TE Adam Shaheen and WR Preston Williams to give the Fins a 14-0 lead that was never threatened. Shortly after, Fitzpatrick connected with TE Durham Smythe to secure the first-half hat trick. Being such a nice guy, Fitz probably knew his tight ends wouldn’t get to play on “National Tight End Day,” so he had to make sure they got in on the fun.
Things got hairy on the team’s ensuing drive, as Fitzpatrick tossed his first interception of the game on a red zone pass into triple coverage intended for TE Mike Gesicki. In pure Fitz fashion, he was the one who made the tackle on Jets DB Brian Poole.
Fitz’s second interception came on a deep pass attempt intended for Preston Williams, intercepted by DB Marcus Maye, which will be forever known as the “Butt Interception.” If you didn’t see it, you can find the highlight here, but essentially, Maye juggled the underthrown ball before pinning it on his buttock to secure the circus grab.
Both of these plays happened due to Fitzpatrick’s aggressiveness, obviously a double-edged sword from time to time. On the other hand, it’s what makes Fitz fun, and Dolphins fans will be sad to see him go. His contributions to the team were paramount in the culture shift under head coach Brian Flores, setting the team up for a bright future with Tua.
Also, did you guys know he went to Harvard?
Los Angeles Rams (5-2):
The Rams bounced back after their Week 6 loss to the 49ers to the tune of a 24-10 statement win against the Chicago Bears.
Much of the talk entering the game surrounded the Bears and their excellent defensive unit, but it was the Rams who found themselves winning behind a great ground attack, complementary defensive play, and the foot of punter Johnny Hekker.
Quarterback Jared Goff played a very efficient game, completing 22-of-33 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns, the first of which went to WR Josh Reynolds on the team’s second drive to give the Rams an early 7-0 lead.
Goff’s second touchdown was essentially the nail in the coffin for the Bears, finding TE Gerald Everett in the end zone on the heels of a Taylor Rapp interception, giving the Rams an insurmountable 24-3 lead with how well their defense was playing to that point.
In between, the Rams relied on a ground-and-pound attack featuring running backs Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown. Neither back reached the century mark on the ground, but the two men combined for 121 yards and a touchdown on 25 rush attempts. Taking both performances into account, they averaged a healthy 4.8 YPC, and were crucial in winning the time of possession battle.
Defensively, the Rams held the Bears offense out of the end zone for the duration of the contest, as the Bears defense delivered their only trip to the end zone on an Eddie Jackson scoop-and-score when the game was out of reach. The defense ceded just 279 total yards, with a paltry 49 yards on the ground as a team and just three first-half points.
Bears QB Nick Foles‘ rough outing (28-of-40, 261 yards, zero TDs, two INTs) was a byproduct of the duress he was under all night. The Rams defense, led by OLB Leonard Floyd (6 tackles, two sacks, three QB hits), sacked Foles four times and pressured him on 37.2% of his drop-backs, according to NFL.com’s Next Gen Stats.
The diverse looks and blitz schemes forced Foles to miss on a myriad of opportunities, notably on a third-quarter pass intended for WR Darnell Mooney that would have been a 95-yard touchdown, had the Bears been able to pick up the blitz.
“I just didn’t have enough time, because of the nickel pressure, to really step and throw it,” Foles said. “I actually had to throw it right when he’s starting his break. They did a really nice job disguising the blitz. At that time, our call was different.”
Foles’ two interceptions were a big catalyst in the Rams victory, the first being the aforementioned Rapp interception that set up Everett’s score in the third quarter.
The second occurred after a Rams three-and-out following the Bears’ defensive score, with the Bears fighting for their last breath. Foles once again was under heavy pressure, threw up a prayer to TE Jimmy Graham, and was subsequently intercepted by CB Jalen Ramsey. The interception closed the game, and was the first of the year for the three-time Pro Bowler.
The Bears defense was aided by the Bears offense starting at the 16-yard line on average. This was largely in part to the true MVP of the game, Johnny Hekker. Hekker essentially won the field position battle with five punts downed inside the 10-yard line, which allowed the Rams defense to put a stranglehold on Chicago’s offensive efforts.
Head to Head
Jared Goff vs. DC Josh Boyer: Defensive coordinator Josh Boyer secured his first-ever shutout against the Jets, but is now faced with a Rams offense ranking sixth in the league in total yards, according to Pro Football Reference. Goff has thrown for a respectable 12 touchdowns but has shown a penchant for throwing interceptions as of late, tossing four interceptions in seven games. He also struggles under pressure; dating back to the 2019 season, Goff’s average yards-per-attempt when under pressure is a paltry 3.9 yards, as opposed to 8.2 yards when not under duress, according to Football Outsiders. If Boyer can continue to dial up pressure like he has recently, Miami has a great shot to win, and I’m not hopping off the Boyer hype train until he gives me a reason to do so. EDGE: Dolphins
Miami Offensive Line vs. Los Angeles Defensive Line: The Fins have fared pretty well across the offensive line this season particularly in the interior positions. That said, the Rams have some monsters across their D-line, led by longtime stalwarts Michael Brockers and Aaron Donald. While Brockers doesn’t stuff the stat sheet, he is integral in his run-stopping role and has been paramount for their 10th-ranked run defense (100.4 YPG). Donald, on the other hand, has been a menace, second in the league with 8.0 sacks (Myles Garrett, 9.0). Donald also leads the league with 26 QB pressures this season on an absurd 68% double-team rate. This is the most important matchup of the game with Tua making his first start, but ultimately, I think they will be too much to handle, especially taking into account the absence of starting OT Austin Jackson on IR. EDGE: Rams
Rams Skill Positions vs. Dolphins Coverage: This game features a surprising amount of star power, with the Rams led by receivers Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, while corners Xavien Howard and Byron Jones have been gaining some national notoriety for the Fins. When on the field together since Week 5, the duo has locked down opposing receivers. Jones and Howard have been targeted a combined 22 times and given six receptions for 69 yards, two INTs and three PBUs, per Travis Wingfield. With the Miami defensive line also getting consistent pressure up front, it’ll make life easier on the back end for the Fins as well with not having to cover the Rams’ weapons as long. This is a big test, but I think Miami is well prepared. EDGE: Dolphins
What Must Happen
- Make Tua comfortable early on: Playing against a defense featuring the likes of Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey is a tall order for any quarterback, let alone one making his first start; but, here we are. Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey needs to get Tua into the flow of the game early with some easy play calls, short passes, screens, etc., to ease the nerves he’ll be feeling, having not played in a game in over a year.
- Keep Gaskin involved in the passing game: The Fins need to get the ball in Myles Gaskin’s hands, and utilize him in the passing game, particularly out of the backfield. This not only opens things up for Miami’s other playmakers, but will alleviate pressure from the Rams D-line if they are caught slipping once on a screen or short pass out of the backfield.
- Don’t let Aaron Donald wreck the game: This is a lot easier said than done, but if Miami is going to upset the Rams, it starts with containing Donald. As the statistics show, just double-teaming him isn’t going to do the trick, and Donald is going to make his plays. How the Miami offensive line responds will be paramount to the outcome of this game.
- Get Gesicki back in the fold: After coming out of the gate on fire to start the year, TE Mike Gesicki has gone cold. Gesicki has been targeted less than three times in 3-of-4 of Miami’s games, dating back to Week 2. Gesicki is a sure handed target, and can serve as Tua’s security blanket if given more opportunities.
- Tua Tagovailoa vs. Micah Kiser
- Solomon Kindley/Ereck Flowers/Ted Karras vs. Aaron Donald/Michael Brockers
- Devante Parker vs. Jalen Ramsey
- Xavien Howard/Byron Jones vs. Cooper Kupp/Robert Woods
- Jerome Baker vs. Jared Goff
This is the beginning of a new era for the Dolphins with Tua Tagovailoa under center. It is something I’ve said a ton, but Miami fans are ready for their first franchise quarterback since Dan Marino, and I truly believe Tua will be that guy.
Every rookie experiences some growing pains, and Tua will be no different. With just a few plays at the end of Miami’s last game, and no preseason action under his belt, it’s hard to predict how he will perform when the bullets start flying for real.
Obviously, the hype of the rookie’s first start is going to be the main storyline, but this is also a huge opportunity for the Fins to prove they are a contender for a postseason spot, moving forward. With two weeks of preparation, I feel Tua will play well enough to win, but the brunt of this game is going to fall on how the team plays around him.
That said, I have faith in the rest of the Dolphins team to this point, following back-to-back wins, and I believe they will put the NFL on notice and extend their streak to three in a row.
Prediction: Dolphins win, 27-23
(Featured Image Credit: MiamiDolphins.com)