Miami Dolphins Week 9 Preview: Arizona Cardinals

I cant believe we’re already past the midway point of the season, but time flies when you’re having fun.

This week, the Miami Dolphins (4-3) will visit the upstart Arizona Cardinals (5-2), who are coming off a much-deserved bye week after upsetting the Seattle Seahawks (6-1) in Week 7.

Last week, the Fins won on the backs of their defense, and they’re going to need another strong performance to limit the likes of QB Kyler Murray and WR DeAndre Hopkins.

Let’s take a look at what must happen for the Fins to secure another win this week.

As always, questions or comments? Let me know on Twitter – @Donny_Diablo7


When? Where? What Else?

State Farm Stadium
Photo Credit: State Farm

The Fins will be flying across the country, taking on the Cardinals at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Kickoff is slated for 4:25 PM EST, with forecasts showing partly cloudy skies, a high of 66 degrees, 10-15 MPH winds, and just a 10% chance of rain. Odds are, the retractable roof of the stadium will be open.

Miami has fared well on the road thus far; after dropping the first road game against the New England Patriots, Miami has won back-to-back road games (JAX and SF) to improve their record to 2-1.

The Fins will once again do battle with yet another NFC West opponent. The Dolphins enter their last matchup with a West foe holding a 2-1 record as well. The Fins have outscored NFC West opponents by a score of 96-65.

Miami hasn’t had the pleasure of facing off against Murray in his young career to this point, but holds a 9-3 record against Arizona all time since 1972 according to Pro Football Reference.

Miami won the last matchup between these two teams in 2016, 26-23, in a sloppy game in which both teams combined for 7 turnovers and 21 penalties. Let’s hope this affair is a little cleaner, at least for Miami.


Tale of the Tape

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Photo Credit: Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins (4-3):

The Fins defense made sure QB Tua Tagovailoa’s debut went off without a hitch last week, as they led the team in a dominating effort against the Los Angeles Rams, winning by a score of 28-17.

The offense couldn’t get much going, and only registered 145 yards and just 8 first downs as a team. On the flip side, outside of the early blunder from Tua on his first pass attempt, they played mistake-free football and did enough to win.

After allowing DT Aaron Donald (3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF) and DT Michael Brockers to pummel Tua on his first pass attempt resulting in a fumble, the O-line rebounded, keeping Tua clean for the rest of the afternoon.

Tua would finish the game completing 12-of-22 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. He completed the first touchdown pass of his career to WR Devante Parker (1 catch, 3 yards, TD), which ended up being the tightest window-throw completion on the year, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

It wasn’t an eye-popping performance by any means, but Tua wasn’t asked to do much throwing the football due to the lead provided by the Miami defense.

Outside of a 4-yard Robert Woods rushing touchdown set up by Tua’s fumble, the defense made life very difficult for QB Jared Goff (35-of-61, 351 yards, TD, 2 INTs, 2 fumbles) and the Rams offense. The defense essentially won this game in the first half, forcing 4 turnovers, and holding the Rams to just 10 first-half points.

Miami scored 28 unanswered points before L.A. added a field goal to carry the 28-10 score into half time. The Fins were led by their defensive line, as DL Christian Wilkins, (3 tackles, 1 INT), DE Emmanuel Ogbah (1 tackle, 1 sack, 1 FF), and DE Shaq Lawson (3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF) were the main proponents of these turnovers.

Wilkins’ interception set up Tua’s first touchdown to Parker, while Ogbah and Lawson each registered a strip-sack, with Ogbah’s returned 78 yards to the house by LB Andrew Van Ginkel. The Fins almost scored on Lawson’s forced fumble as well, but LB Kyle Van Noy was tripped up at the goal line. Running back Myles Gaskin (18 rush, 47 yards, TD, 3 rec., 16 yards, fumble) took it from there, giving the Fins a 28-7 lead.

Contributions from WR/returner Jakeem Grant were a boon as well, as Grant returned his only punt return 88 yards for a score, and his only kick return for 47 yards. Grant is electric with the football — the poor man’s Tyreek Hill, if you will. I would love to see him get more touches moving forward.

WR DeAndre Hopkins (left) and QB Kyler Murray
Photo Credit: Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals (5-2):

The Arizona Cardinals (5-2) are riding a three-game win streak, and currently stand at second place in the NFC West after prevailing against the Seattle Seahawks (6-1) by a score of 37-34 on Sunday Night Football.

It was a wild back-and-forth game that featured over 1,000 yards of total offense between both teams. Arizona was never truly in control until after the first intermission, finally securing their first and only lead after an exhausting overtime. Great teams win close games like these, and it could serve as a springboard for Arizona in becoming one of the league’s upper-echelon teams.

It looked like Seattle would run away with this one early, but the Cardinals rebounded from a slow start on both sides of the ball.

The defense allowed QB Russell Wilson (35-of-50, 388 yards, 3 TD’s, 3 INT’s) to connect with WR Tyler Lockett for a 34-yard strike on the first play of the game that served as a precursor for how his night would go.

Arizona simply had no answer for the Wilson-Lockett duo, as they would account for 15 receptions on 20 targets for 200 yards and three touchdowns.

Seattle would add a field goal to extend the lead to 10-0, before Murray connected with DeAndre Hopkins (10 catches, 103 yards, TD) on a beautiful 35-yard scoring strike to get the Cardinals back in the game. Murray would go on to complete 34-of-48 pass attempts for 360 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception while adding 67 yards and another score on the ground.

The teams went blow-for-blow over the next 3 quarters, Seattle held the lead for the entire game until a Zane Gonzalez 44-yard field goal knotted the score at 34-all, heading into the overtime period.

This is when things got really crazy. The Cardinals were denied by a beautiful defensive stop on Seattle’s first OT possession before disaster struck. As Arizona drove down the field, Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury elected to kick a game-winning field goal on 2nd-and-15.

Kingsbury would then use a timeout, and Gonzalez missed the following kick, putting the ball back in the hands of Wilson and the Seahawks. The game looked like it was over when Wilson finally connected with the more-often-than-not blanketed WR D.K. Metcalf (2 catches, 23 yards) for a 48-yard winning touchdown.

Luckily for Arizona, the play was called back, and rookie LB Isaiah Simmons would intercept Wilson on the next play. Murray then drove Arizona into field goal range; this time, Gonzalez was true from 48 yards out to secure the Cardinals’ upset victory.

It is worth noting, Arizona will more than likely be without starting running back — and former Dolphin — Kenyan Drake this week after suffering an ankle injury in the win. Backup RB Chase Edmonds should be the lead man this week against the Fins.


Head to Head

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Former Dolphin CB Byron Maxwell corrals former Cardinals RB David Johnson. December 11th, 2016
Photo Credit: Miami Dolphins

Kyler Murray vs. DC Josh Boyer: The last time Defensive Coordinator Josh Boyer was matched up against a running quarterback was against Cam Newton and the New England Patriots in Week 1, with less than stellar results, to put it lightly. Obviously, Boyer and the defense have come a long way since then, but not against the rush. The 2019 first-overall pick has been putting up video game numbers recently and should definitely be in the MVP conversation. The one negative aspect of Murray’s game this year is his penchant for throwing interceptions, as he’s thrown at least one in 5-of-7 games. Even so, I believe Murray’s prowess with his legs will give him the nod in this one. EDGE: Cardinals

Cardinals Offensive Line vs. Miami Defensive Line: A lot of the credit for Miami’s three-game win streak should be credited to the performance of the defensive line. Miami has registered 19 sacks on the year (9th), with 10.5 coming from Wilkins (1.0), Ogbah (6.0, Lawson (2.0), and DE Zach Sieler (1.5). This unit stepped up big in the win last week, and is now tasked with facing an offensive line ranking third in the NFL in lowest sack percentage (3.4%) while allowing the least amount of pressure (10.3%) of any team this season, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Some of this is skewed by Murray’s ability to evade pressure himself, but it is nonetheless still very impressive. That said, it’s hard for me to bet against arguably the most impressive positional group for the Fins; hopefully, they make me look smart once again. EDGE: Dolphins

Cardinals Skill Positions vs. Dolphins Coverage: The defense will be tasked with covering, in my opinion, the best receiver in the NFL in Hopkins, with WR Christian Kirk coming on as of late, scoring touchdowns in back-to-back games. Murray has been aggressive in taking shots down the field this year, an area in which the secondary has improved in but is still susceptible. After being torched last week by receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp (18 catches, 195 yards, 2 TDs combined) and Miami’s struggles covering running backs out of the backfield, it’s hard for me to pick the Fins this week even with how well CB Xavien Howard and CB Byron Jones have played together. EDGE: Cardinals


What Must Happen

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Photo Credit: Miami Dolphins
  • Limit the deep ball: After harping on this the first few weeks of the year, this, once again, is a must for the Dolphins to win this game. Murray was the best quarterback in the NFL in 2019 on deep balls, completing 61% of his attempts, according to Football Outsiders, and he has picked up where he left off this year with the addition of Hopkins.
  • Lean on the tight ends/WR Preston Williams: With CB Patrick Peterson assumingly tasked with shadowing Parker, it is important for Tua to rely on his big-bodied targets in passing situations.
  • Take shots down the field: Facing an Arizona offense currently ranked second in the league in scoring, Miami is going to have capitalize on some deep balls of their own to win this game.
  • Get pressure with the D-Line: The Fins defensive line has been terrorizing quarterbacks as of late, and it is crucial they find a way to disrupt Murray without having to blitz as frequently as they have been.

Prediction

Last week, the Fins won despite not getting much production on the offensive side of the ball. That needs to change this week if Miami is going to extend their winning streak, and I believe it will.

I know Miami’s defense currently ranks first in the league in scoring defense, but they struggle against dual-threat quarterbacks. Despite facing a tougher overall defense this week, the game script will call for more passing opportunities for Tua and the Fins to keep pace in what I think will be a high scoring affair.

If Tua and the offense can get it going, improve on third down, and extend drives to keep Arizona off the field, they’ll have a good chance. On the flip side, this is the toughest test for the defense they have faced to this point in the year. Finding a way to pressure Murray, and capitalizing on his mistakes will be the recipe for winning this game.

Given how good Murray has been to this point, I sadly think he’ll be the difference in a closely-contested game.

Prediction: Cardinals win, 31-27

(Featured Image Credit: Miami Dolphins)

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