Miami Dolphins Week 1 Temperature Check
In a year like any other and in and NFL Offseason that was more unique than any I can remember, somehow, someway we’ve managed to reach Week 1 of the NFL Regular Season. I’m not sure what everyone’s “normal” looks like these days, but as a current resident of southeast Indiana in a town 25 miles west of Cincinnati, we’ve had high school football back for three weeks now. My brother-in-law is the Special Teams Coordinator and Receivers Coach of the local team and two weeks ago I went to check out their home opener. It certainly wasn’t the most exciting game I’ve ever seen. They won 14-7 in a game that was more bad offense than the good defense on both sides. But damn, it felt good to see football being played. Real, live football!
Watching a few college games the past two weekends seemed normal-ish, despite some games with limited or no fans present. And now, here we are a few days from our beloved Miami Dolphins taking on the New England Patriots. It still doesn’t quite seem real to me. But come Sunday at 1 pm, it will be.
I know I haven’t written much – this is only my fourth article since joining the team at DolphinsTalk.com in July. I’ve had a lot to say, but oftentimes it didn’t feel right given everything else going on in the country, and sometimes I just haven’t had time. But I do this week, and I felt like doing a brain dump recapping some of the offseason topics and leading up to the game day was the best way for me to get everything out. So here goes!
Initially, I was surprised, but impressed with the flurry of moves the Dolphins made. The first day alone consisting of Ereck Flowers, Shaq Lawson, Clayton Fejedelem, Byron Jones, and Kyle Van Noy was enough in my mind to say, “Yeah, Miami did pretty well.” But to add all the rest, well, that was unexpected, but they were moves that make sense. I was hesitant about the Ereck Flowers deal at first, but after going on my deep dive into the interior line a few weeks ago, I feel damn good about that deal. Ted Karras too. Shaq Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah give Miami a pair of defensive ends that can set a hard edge, stop the run, rush with power, AND speed. And make no mistake, they’ll play a lot. Adding Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts gave Miami two players at the second level with experience in Brian Flores’s defense, and I think you could make a strong case for Byron Jones being the best free agent available. Miami added him to the secondary. They also added two special teams captains – Clayton Fejedelem and Kamu Grugier-Hill – to replace Walt Aikens, and Kavon Frazier ended up a special teams captain for Miami. Jordan Howard should be a good fit for Chan Gailey’s run game, and he’s shown good hands in the passing game throughout his career. There’s an adage that General Managers want to go into the week before the Draft “Being able to play a game that week if they had to”. I think Chris Grier, Brandon Shore, Coach Flores, and the staff accomplished that goal.
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) September 8, 2020
Looking back, all the moves Miami made prior to the 2019 season seem to send a smoke signal up that their guy was Tua Tagovailoa. After all, Joe Burrow didn’t become the Joe Burrow we know until the 2019 season was completed. Miami ended up picking fifth. I was actually in the press box at Hard Rock Stadium when Miami beat Cincinnati to lock that in. Fast forward to April, and I think you have to give kudos to Chris Grier for sitting at five, not trading up, and still getting Tua Tagovailoa. That’s a huge deal! While I don’t think Tua Tagovailoa is as good as say, Andrew Luck was coming out of Stanford, I don’t think he’s that far away from that mark. Obviously the hip is a concern. But I think he’s a great fit for Chan Gailey’s offensive concepts, many of which are similar to things he ran at ‘Bama. From that point on, Miami seemed to have a theme: physicality. Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt, and Solomon Kindley were added to the line. Raekwon Davis and Jason Strowbridge were added to the defensive front. Noah Igbinoghene is a physical press corner. Brandon Jones is able to play a multitude of different roles and is a great open-field tackler. Matt Breida for a 5th rounder? Sure! Curtis Weaver was a good value dice roll. More on that later. Miami replaced Taybor Pepper with the best long-snapper in the country, and I think that was an issue for Jason Sanders last year going from John Denney to Pepper. And to top it off, Malcolm Perry made the team as a 7th rounder.
While we’ve yet to see any of these guys take a snap, Miami figures to get production from this class. Jackson and Kindley are starters. Blake Ferguson is the long-snapper. Raekwon Davis and Noah Igbinoghene will play a lot. I think we’ll see Jones and Hunt sprinkled in more and more as the weeks go by, and eventually, Tua will take over.
Trades and Such
Miami tried to wheel and deal this offseason quite a bit. They traded bust Charles Harris to Atlanta. They traded a 5th round pick for Matt Breida, effectively swapping Kenyan Drake for Breida. They traded a conditional seventh-rounder for Adam Shaheen. They traded Raekwon McMillan to Las Vegas and in a separate deal, traded for Lynn Bowden from Las Vegas. They also tried to trade Kalen Ballage and Josh Rosen. And of course, they waived Curtis Weaver and didn’t bring him back to IR.
It seems like Chris Grier caught an inordinate amount of flak for some of these moves. Fans tend to gloss over Miami’s salary cap position (7th most in the NFL headed into 2020) or stockpile of draft picks (10 in 2021 depending on some conditional picks) or that he correctly stood pat at five for Tua. I get it. Most Dolfans suffer from BDFS, Battered Dolphin Fan Syndrome, and I admit, I do at times as well. But I think fans tend to forget that Chris Grier’s made these moves serving a new coaching staff that employs a new offense and defense.
Drake, Harris, McMillan, and Ballage were all acquired to suit Adam Gase and Matt Burke. Those pieces didn’t fit as well with Brian Flores. Rather than sitting on his hands waiting for guys to develop, that not happening, and getting nothing for them (Ahem, Jeff Ireland), Grier tried to rectify those situations. Breida for Drake. Roberts and Grugier-Hill for McMillan. Adding a top 100 draft pick to replace Curtis Weaver. I think you can be objectionable and see that Grier did his best to clean up bad fits in new schemes. And in an offseason hampered by Covid-19 where you couldn’t hold as many meetings, Pro Days were few and far between, and only so many private “30 Visits” were held, I think you can afford to have one slip upon taking a dice roll on Curtis Weaver in the fifth round. It’s not that big of a deal, especially when you see other teams releasing 1st and 2nd round picks a year later – Giants and Chiefs respectively. Things happen. Misses happen. Sometimes guys just get beaten out by someone better suited to a particular scheme, like Raekwon McMillan with Elandon Roberts. Sometimes guys don’t perform well or get hurt, like Curtis Weaver. It sucks, but it happens.
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) September 8, 2020
I had several conversations with Dolfans over the weekend about some of those moves, and I basically said what I wrote above. I don’t think they’re huge “misses” on Chris Grier’s part, especially when he’s been able to get something in return and/or has stockpiled picks in future years. I’m not a Chris Grier apologist, as I think he’s made his fair share of mistakes…or at least what appear to be mistakes on the surface…since he took over as GM in 2016. But last year and this offseason have been the only time period he’s had not working under Mike Tannenbaum. I think Chris Grier’s been a good servant to his coaches and their schematic needs.
Where I would criticize him is perhaps being too conservative in early rounds. Perhaps the Charles Harris miss stings a bit every year and he and his team want to make sure they get early-round picks right. Christian Wilkins is a good player. But I think you’ll have to compare him to Jeffrey Simmons to get a real gauge. I think Wilkins will prove himself worthy, but it’s something to keep in mind. And perhaps 2020 is showing Grier’s risky side. Tua’s hip, Austin Jackson and Noah Igbinoghene are two of the youngest players in the league, Robert Hunt is from the Sun Belt Conference, Raekwon Davis’s production declined two years straight, etc. Time will prove how good those moves turn out or not.
While we wait on that, I do think it’s fair to ding him for the Josh Rosen scenario. I get that Miami had to do something in the 2019 offseason. You can’t take Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jake Rudock, and only those two guys, into camp with you. The compensation used doesn’t bother me as much. The opportunity cost being a Juan Thornhill, DK Metcalf, Terry McLaurin, or Chase Winovich. I think you can find players like those in nearly every Draft, and as I wrote before, Grier’s got another boatload of picks in 2020.
Where I find a problem is the evaluation of Josh Rosen. Why was he the guy Miami traded for? Why not someone else? Yes, availability plays a part, but what made them want Rosen to the point they forked over a 2nd round pick? Miami got back their 5th round pick in that trade by trading away Kenyan Drake, and in turn, used that pick to trade for Matt Breida. Rosen had completed just 55.2% of his passes (217 of 393), had a TD: INT ratio of 11:14, only had 5.8YPA, and was sacked a whopping 45 times. He actually fared worse in his short stint in Miami, completing just 53.2% of his passes, a 1:5 TD: INT ratio had a 5.2YPA and was sacked 16 times in 3 starts.
Put another way, Josh Rosen in 13 starts, managed to get the Arizona Cardinals the number one overall pick in 2019. In three starts for Miami, he managed one touchdown pass. Josh Rosen wasn’t good at either stop. And with the money he had left on his contract, no wonder no team wanted to trade for him, let alone claim him on waivers.
And yet, people wanted to keep this guy? Why? I don’t think he’s suddenly going to develop by being a practice squad quarterback. He wasn’t good. And if you’re wondering about him being a “Covid QB” or third QB or whatever you want to call it, and him being better than Jake Rudock. My question is, if you’re to that point, hasn’t something likely gone wrong enough to where it’s not going to matter? I tend to think so.
It was a bad trade. I think Miami made the correct evaluation and tried to get something for him. They didn’t have any takers and moved on. Better than to let the situation linger, in my opinion. And, for what it’s worth, it seems like Grier and Flores have decided that if a player doesn’t fit what they want, they’ll move on and find someone else that will. I think that’s ballsy but will likely prove to be smart business.
I don’t know what word or words best describe the offseason the Dolphins, the NFL, and all of us just went through. Long? Grueling? Unique? Sad? Maddening? I think for me it was a combination of all four. For me as a Dolfan, it was long but entertaining. Unique but inspiring. I don’t like to make record predictions, so I won’t. I think it’s entirely possible that Miami could be worlds better as a team than they were in 2019, but still end up at 7-9. There are additional unknowns this year with Covid, travel, attendance on top of what on paper is a difficult schedule. You’ve got the top two defenses in points allowed right out of the gate in New England and Buffalo. You have back-to-back west of the Mississippi games to San Francisco, both also in top 10 in points allowed last year, and it’d seem unlikely, due to COVID, you’d want to camp the team somewhere out there as Miami did in 2016 when they played the Chargers and Rams back-to-back. Miami also gets to play Patrick Mahomes, Kyler Murray, and Russell Wilson. Lucky us.
Too many variables we don’t know enough about yet, especially with no preseason. I do know that Brian Flores had some fun at our expense with his Depth Chart and listing the defense in a 3-4. I know that’s what Miami ran a good chunk of the time after their bye last year. But I think that was out of necessity, and what we saw schematically the first four weeks is more true to what Coach Flo and Josh Boyer will bring to the table. Consider that in 2018 when in charge of the Pats D, these were their most used groupings:
HALF DOLLAR – 30 personnel (3 DL, 0 LB, 8 DBs) – 1 Snap
QUARTER – 40 personnel (4 DL, 0 LB, 7 DBs) – 3 Snaps
QUARTER – 31 personnel (3 DL, 1 LB, 7 DBs) – 45 Snaps
QUARTER – 22 personnel (2 DL, 2 LBs, 7 DBs) – 41 Snaps
DIME – 41 personnel (4 DL, 1 LB, 6 DBs) – 82 Snaps
DIME – 32 personnel (3 DL, 2 LBs, 6 DBs) – 162 Snaps
DIME – 23 personnel (2 DL, 3LBs, 6 DBs) – 1 Snap
NICKEL – 42 personnel (4 DL, 2 LBs, 5 DBs) – 307 Snaps
NICKEL – 33 personnel (3 DL, 3 LBs, 5 DBs) – 226 Snaps
BASE – 52 personnel (5 DL, 2 LBs, 4 DBs) – 12 Snaps
BASE – 43 personnel (4 DL, 3 LBs, 4 DBs) – 97 Snaps
BASE – 34 personnel (3 DL, 4 LBs, 4 DBs) – 13 Snaps
HEAVY – 53 personnel (5 DL, 3 LBs, 3 DBs) – 1 Snap
HEAVY – 63 personnel (6 DL, 3 LBs, 2 DBs) – 7 Snaps
HEAVY – 64 personnel (6 DL, 4 LBs, 1 DB) – 3 Snaps
These were compiled by Chris Kouffman (@ckparrot). As you can see, the 3-4 was seldom used. I’d venture Miami will use it more than 13 snaps, but it won’t be as often as they did a year ago. Not with DEs like Shaq Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah. And if you think Shaq Lawson is a LB, then I’ve got a beautiful mountain view chalet for sale in Lawrenceburg, Indiana!
I will make two non-record predictions though. Miami’s run game will be much improved. It almost has to be considering Ryan Fitzpatrick was the leading rusher a year ago. And I’ll wager that Miami’s defense, which was 30th in total defense and 32nd in points allowed last year, makes a jump and is at least in the top half (16th or better) in the league in both categories.
When’s Tua Time you ask? I don’t know. Simple as that. But, that four-game run against a Derwin James-less Chargers, the Rams, Cardinals, and Jets followed with a bye and Jets-Bengals the two weeks after looks like a fin stretch to me. Unless Miami’s sitting at 6-0 or 5-1 going into that Chargers game, I think we’ll see Tua’s first start somewhere in that stretch.
To sign off here, I’m thrilled that football is back this year, even if it’s going to look and sound a little different. I think Miami’s going to play improved football from 2019, and I suspect the team this year will improve considerably from Week 1 to Week 17. I love that there are things to watch for this year other than your favorite Mock Draft site. Tua. Do the O-line rookies develop? How good is the defense? What parts still need attention? That gets me fired up! I hope you’re as ready for Sunday at 1 pm as I am. Fins Up!