The Dolphins Must Play Up to Their Competition Sunday
Throughout the 2020 season and most of the past decade, the Dolphins have mirrored their competition. We have seen performances against the Rams and Cardinals where Miami plays their best football, but we have seen outings against the Broncos, Jets, and Bengals where they play down to their competition. This Sunday, when Patrick Mahomes and the 11-1 Kansas City Chiefs come to town, the Fins must look like the team that competes with the best. This game can get ugly quickly if the Dolphins come out like they have the past three weeks. Over the last three games, Miami has scored 13, 20, and 19 points, which is an average of 17.3 points per game.
If anyone thinks that will be good enough to beat the high-powered Chiefs, they are sadly mistaken. The Dolphins will most likely have to double that average to be able to win in week 14. Good news for Miami, Tua, and the offense seemed to pick up some steam in the second half of their contest with Cincinnati. More good news, DeVante Parker, Mack Hollins, and Xavien Howard were not suspended for their altercation in week 13 and will all suit up this weekend. Tua Tagovailoa, who is coming off his best game as a pro, will look to build off his strong performance with a more up-tempo and no-huddle offense. Tua’s streak of 136 consecutive passes without an interception is the fourth-longest in Miami Dolphins history. His five straight starts without an interception are tied for the longest in team history. Tua has flirted with a few interceptions in his starts this season, but penalties or booth reviews have negated all. These statistics should not surprise anyone since Tua only threw 11 picks at Alabama in 32 games.
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Against the Bengals, Tagovailoa got rid of the ball in 2.38 seconds, second-fastest in week 13 only behind Philip Rivers. This meant Tua trusted his eyes, found open receivers, and did not allow himself to get sacked. The offensive line was much improved last week, and it was the first time in franchise history that three rookies started a game. This unit will be called to do the same against the Chiefs if left guard Ereck Flowers cannot suit up after suffering what looked like a painful ankle injury. The offense outgained the Bengals by 210 total yards (406 to 196), which is the first time they have outgained an opponent by at least 200 yards since January 3, 2016, against the Patriots. Miami is currently #1 in the AFC East in point differential at +91, where New England ranks #2 with a +19 point differential. Some could argue the Dolphins are playing like the most complete team in the division.
Miami’s defense has been lights out over the last 8 games and will face its toughest task when the reigning Super Bowl champs visit Hard Rock Stadium. Patrick Mahomes is a generational talent and is putting together another MVP campaign. The Chiefs have an endless amount of weapons on offense and a head coach that gets the most out of his players. Kansas City’s top two weapons, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, have 111 passes thrown their way, and both average 9.25 targets per game. That means that out of the 38 passes Mahomes throws per game on average, 18.5 of them go to Kelce and Hill. The Dolphins’ top priority is to limit the explosive plays and keep Hill and Kelce under control. Both Hill and Kelce already have over 1,000 yards receiving and average around 90 yards per game.
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Thankfully for the Dolphins, they have one of, if not the best cornerback in the league to try to limit Hill’s production. Xavien Howard leads the NFL with 8 interceptions and has picked off a pass in four straight games. Howard does not just intercept passes; he truly locks down opposing wide receivers. Howard is 3rdin the NFL in completion percentage allowed (37.7%), and opposing QB’s have a passer rating of just 48.9 when targeting Howard this season. Not only has Howard played at an All-Pro level in 2020, but cornerback Nik Needham has also blossomed into a tremendous slot CB as well. Needham has picked off passes in back-to-back weeks and has virtually erased opposing slot wideouts in recent weeks. Over the last month-plus, Needham has matched up against Cooper Kupp, Keenan Allen, Jamison Crowder, and Tyler Boyd. In those games, Nik has allowed only 8 receptions on 14 targets for 86 yards, 0 TDs, and 1 interception. With Byron Jones on one side of the field, and Xavien Howard on the other, Needham might be “picked on” by Patrick Mahomes this Sunday, and the second-year player must continue his great play. The Dolphins are tied with the LA Rams for first in the NFL for the fewest touchdown passes allowed with 14 this season. Miami has also forced a turnover in 18 consecutive games, which is the longest active streak in the league. Both of these will be put to the test this week against Patrick Mahomes.
To go along with great cornerback play, Emmanuel Ogbah has been outstanding as well. In the last 4 weeks, Ogbah leads all edge defenders with 20 quarterback pressures, and his 53 QB pressures in 2020 ranks fourth-best. He is tied for 8thin sacks and QB hits, and his 23 run stops are 14th. It is safe to say Emmanuel Ogbah is a complete football player and a huge reason for Miami’s recent success. Ogbah will be facing his former team this Sunday, which can come with an added sense of determination. Another key position for Miami this weekend will be the safety group. Eric Rowe, a.k.a., the tight end eraser, will have to be just that when facing Travis Kelce. Kelce trails only D.K. Metcalf in receiving yards this season, which is absurd for a tight end. In week 5 against the 49ers, Rowe held George Kittle to 4 catches for only 44 yards in the Dolphins’ 43-17 victory.
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If Rowe can have a similar game in week 14, the Dolphins will be in good shape. As for Bobby McCain, he is quietly putting together a solid season. McCain has 38 combined tackles this season with only one missed tackle attempt. His one missed tackle is the best in the NFL among all safeties and must continue to do so. With the countless weapons for KC, missed tackles can turn into huge plays for the Chiefs and put Miami into a hole. Miami’s defense is based on trusting their cornerbacks to win their assignments while putting pressure on quarterbacks and forcing them into bad decisions.
Although you cannot bank on Mahomes making bad decisions (only 2 INT’s this season), Miami can continue to play man-to-man coverage against the Chiefs. Opposing QB’s versus the Dolphins man-to-man coverage has struggled this season. QB’s are 89/163 (54.6%) for 1,172 yards, 9 TD’s, 5 INT’s, and 15 sacks. If you disregard the first matchup against the Bills when Byron Jones left the game on the opening drive, QB’s are 74/139 (53.2%) for 873 yards, 5 TD’s, 5 INTs, and 15 sacks.
Week 14 is not only a huge opportunity for Miami to prove they can play with the best in the league, but to increase their post-season hopes. Miami enters its last month of the season with two home games and ends with two road games. The Dolphins will certainly be an underdog against the Chiefs and will have their hands full. The Chiefs have the best offense in the league, while the Dolphins have one of the best defenses. The Dolphins have only allowed 10 points on opening drives this entire season and are 7-0 when leading after the third quarter of games. There is no denying that the Chiefs will score points, but the Dolphins must limit KC’s playmakers to have a chance in this game. A “bend but don’t break” mentality will be Miami’s defense’s main focus in week 14. Holding the Chiefs to field goal attempts will increase the likelihood of a victory.
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As for the offense, Miami must score 30+ points and keep Patrick Mahomes off the field. Three and outs and settling for field goals will hurt both Miami’s momentum and will not be good enough to win. The Dolphins are facing their toughest test of the season and must show fight. The Dolphins are 9-16 against playoff teams in the final quarter of the season from 2004-2019. Eight of those nine wins have come against the Patriots, meaning Miami is just 1-10 against the rest of the NFL. The Dolphins must come out rolling on Sunday like they have all season. Miami currently has a +80 point differential in the first half of games, tied for third-best. This will be a four-quarter game and a nail bitter to the end.
If Tua Tagovailoa blossoms into the quarterback we think he can be, the matchup between the Dolphins and Chiefs can be something we see a lot of over the next few seasons. Tua is faced with a huge opportunity to keep up with Patrick Mahomes on Sunday. Win, lose, or draw, by 4:00 on Sunday evening, we will know a lot about the Miami Dolphins. We will know if they can compete with the best teams in the league or if there is still a lot of work.