Well, I think it’s safe to say that no one, including myself, expected this game to be as big as it is at the beginning of the season. I’m fairly certain I even highlighted this as an easy ‘W’ for the Chiefs in my season preview.
But yet, here we are.
Miami has come on strong as a potential playoff contender sitting at 8-4, a far cry from their 5-11 finish a year ago. Despite some struggles from rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa, much of the Dolphins’ success has come from their defense, which will have to continue if they wish to slow down Kansas City’s top-flight offense.
This game will be a battle of strengths and a battle of weaknesses, as the Chiefs come in with the No. 1 overall offense in the league, which also averages the second-most points per game; while the Dolphins come in allowing the second-least points per game and are tied for the second-most takeaways in the NFL. On the flipside, KC rides a middle-of-the-pack defense that has been exposed more often than not, and the Dolphins come in with a similar but more positive situation on offense.
Vegas has the odds at Kansas City -7, and even as someone who covers the team, I think it’s high. So, how close will the game be?
First, What Does Miami Do Well?
As we established, Miami has one of the best defenses in the NFL, led by Defensive Player of the Year contender CB Xavien Howard, who leads the league with eight interceptions, one above his previous career high. On the other side of the field is former Dallas Cowboy, Byron Jones, a converted safety-turned-zone specialist, giving the Dolphins the perfect scheme on the perimeter to stifle the Chiefs passing attack. Aiding these two in the defensive backfield are safeties Eric Rowe and Bobby McCain, which creates a excellent zone-based defense in Miami. Brian Flores also likes to utilize a five-rusher man blitz on third-and-long, something the Chiefs have been able to exploit nearly all season.
Rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa is slowly getting his footing in the NFL, and has led the team to some of the best success they’ve had in years. Through six starts, he’s posted game-manager stats, averaging just over 150 yards a game and throwing seven touchdowns.
However, it’s plays like this that show why he’s the future in Miami:
Tua also has yet to throw his first NFL interception, another sign of the rookie QB’s high floor. If Kansas City doesn’t button up, Tua may very well have his breakout game against the Chiefs.
So, What’s the Game Plan?
For the first time in this iteration of the previews I get to dive into the Chiefs offense and how to attack such a sturdy pass defense, and with the sieve that is Steve Spagnuolo’s crew, I’ll have their coverage per usual.
Starting With Offense
The Dolphins employ a zone 3-4 odd defense, but still run their CBs in man coverage in long yardage situations, which plays heavily into the Chiefs’ favor. All one has to do is look at the game film from the Week 3 matchup against Baltimore to see how the Chiefs decimated the third-down blitz.
Mahomes was 10-of-13 on third down that night, and is currently the best QB in the NFL against the blitz. With the speed on the perimeter, if Flores decides to send the house, it could very well work in Kansas City’s favor.
But, more often than not, the Chiefs will see a zone look from the Dolphins, and this is where the Chiefs need to use their speed to spread the defense horizontally and employ the same strategy Jon Gruden used to almost sweep the Chiefs this season. Those shallow zone coverages can be beat easily by drag concepts, screens, and slants, all of which could be taken to the house with the top-end speed of Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, and Sammy Watkins. This will also open up the middle seam for Travis Kelce and Clyde Edwards-Helaire to thrive in space.
Once that’s taken care of, defensive adjustments will open up the vertical passing game once again. Andy Reid would be wise to make the play-action a credible threat in order to take advantage of these coverages.
And the Defense?
Basic football skills. Learning how to tackle ball carriers and filling gaps. These are some of the things the Chiefs are the absolute worst at.
Now, due to the Dolphins’ subpar offensive line, the deficiencies in the secondary should be fairly well-covered by the play of the KC front-four, headlined by Chris Jones, Mike Pennel, and Frank Clark. However, the Chiefs needs to learn to take advantage of the holes given to them by that defensive line, and to be able to bring down ball carriers and wrap up when tackling. The Chiefs have had way too many games in which they were run on at-will and seemingly couldn’t tackle ball carriers. I don’t know if Spagnuolo needs to go out there and put the pads on like Vrabel does, but something needs to change.
Now, as for their scheme…
The Dolphins have one main threat in DeVante Parker, and outside of that, the cupboard seems bare. Preston Williams and Mike Gesicki aren’t exactly world beaters, and the Dolphins’ ground game tends to be average on a good day. The key to bottling up Parker is letting both starting CBs L’Jarius Sneed and Bashaud Breeland play their respective sides of the field, roll with two-deep safeties that shadow him on the backend, and then play a mid-shallow zone concept with their linebackers in order to keep the ball in front of the defense. If the Chiefs can do that, they have a chance to really stifle the Dolphins passing attack.
For the first time in a long time, the Chiefs may have a real challenger going up against their offense this week. Not only will it provide a test for the Chiefs, but it will present a barometer for where exactly the Dolphins are at among the 2020 Wild Card contenders. Despite all of this, I still think KC gets yet another big win in South Beach.
Final Score: 27-24 Chiefs