With all the Deshaun Watson rumors looming large, Miami Dolphins fans are feeling a range of emotions. From angst to full-blown apathy, it’s hard to deny anyone’s experience. It’s easy to forget we have a game against a divisional foe on Sunday. I’m trying my best to lock in on the matchup and shut out the drama. This game will be a true litmus test and give us a look into the mental makeup of the team and its leadership.
While I’m by no means predicting an upset, I tend to agree with Matt, in thinking that this team may just surprise us. The Dolphins will be overmatched at nearly every position: linebackers, secondary, quarterback, receivers, etc. With the talent gap well known, the question becomes, will the young leaders step up and make timely plays? A more important follow-up question beckons, will the coaches trust players enough to make plays?
I’m begging George Godsey and the offensive staff to design some deep throws to Jaylen Waddle. He has demonstrated the ability to get separation and move after the catch, yet coaches refuse to unleash him. Waddle’s route tree resembles more of a stump than a tree…almost all slants and screens. His average depth of target (ADOT) is a pathetic 5.8 yards. This ranks 60th out of 63 receivers who have seen at least 30 targets, according to ftnfantasy.com. For reference, DeVante Parker is doubling Waddle’s ADOT at 12.9 yards, and Mike Gesicki ranks 4th amongst tight ends with an ADOT of 9.8 yards. This shows that Miami’s coordinators aren’t completely allergic to designing downfield throws.
Meanwhile, Waddle ranks 11th in the league in yards after catch, flashing his ability to make plays with the ball in his hands. His usage runs in stark contrast with the lightning rod we saw in college and the vision we saw for him coming into the season. Granted, pass blocking has been awful, so linemen need to dig deep and give time for extended routes to develop. The onus is still on coordinators to plan deep throw(s) early in the game to keep Buffalo’s play-making safeties honest.
When it comes to Tua, I’ve been impressed with his play these past two weeks. He has shown poise navigating the pocket in the face of intense pressure. I recently saw a graph that charted the sack rate of all starting NFL quarterbacks vs their offensive lines’ PFF.com pass-blocking grade. Tua’s plot on the graph fell in the far bottom-left quadrant, meaning that despite the Dolphins’ league-worst pass-blocking grade, he has still taken the fewest sacks per play of any quarterback. Say what you will about PFF, but they have Tua graded as the 15th best quarterback thus far, with a score of 80.9. He ranks above notable players like Matt Stafford and Patrick Mahomes and is just one slot behind Aaron Rodgers.
At this point, the o-line is what it is…an unmitigated mess. They aren’t going to magically transform into the mid-2010s Packers as far as pass-blocking is concerned. So, once again, lots of responsibility rests with coaches to scheme to get Tua into a lather in the first half (beyond the opening drive) to keep the Dolphins within striking distance. It stands to reason that the Dolphins are coming off two sub-par opponents, but you can only play who’s in front of you. After handicapping the matchup, Tua still beat expectations. Sunday will mark a return to a team that has dealt him the worst beatings of his young career (both literally and figuratively), yet he feels like a much different player compared to the gun-shy quarterback we saw last season.
As for the defense, it is time to let Jaelan Phillips loose. He was limited to 15 snaps against Atlanta because of an ankle injury sustained in practice last week. He was a full participant in practice Thursday. Brennan Scarlett has been adequate, but Flores needs to expedite Phillips’ slow onboarding process so that we can properly evaluate the first-rounder. In limited action, Phillips has logged 15 quarterback pressures in 168 attempts, according to PFF.com. This equates to a pressure percentage of 9%. This is in line with other splashy rookies Azeez Ojulari, Odafe Oweh, and Gregory Rousseau. The Dolphins will need their best athletes on the field to get after Josh Allen and this is a prime opportunity for Phillips to break out.
With veteran Jason McCourty on IR, Nik Needham and Jevon Holland will see more work in his absence. Needham should fill in on nickel packages. He has markedly improved this season, but I’m still seeing flashbacks of him eating Isaiah McKenzie’s dust in week 17 last season. The promising rookie Holland will be tested deep by Emmanuel Sanders and Stefon Diggs, likely more than he was in week 2 when Buffalo ran at will and had no reason to open it up. Hopefully, there won’t be any major lapses like on the bomb to Russell Gage last week.
Buffalo has had their way with Miami the last four years and the deck is still stacked in their favor. The game is in Orchard Park. The Bills are the healthier team. They are coming off a tough Monday night loss and have had two weeks to prepare ways to attack Miami’s weaknesses, while the Dolphins have been mired in trade drama. All the excuses are there. It’s up to the young leaders (looking at you Tua and Christian Wilkins) to rally the team and say the hell with all the noise, let’s play for each other. They do this, and we fans will be with them in spirit.