Ahead of Sunday’s matchup, we reached out to The Phinsider’s Kevin Nogle to answer our most-pressing questions about the Dolphins.
Kevin left no stone unturned, so let’s go ahead and dive on in.
1.) After picking 5th in the 2020 draft, did Dolphins expect anything close to the success that they’ve seen this season or were they expecting 2020 to be just another necessary step in the rebuild?
I thought the team would look better this year, even if that meant a worse record. The Dolphins played hard late in the year in 2019 and it scored them several surprising victories. This year was supposed to be the year that they moved from tearing the roster down to the studs and foundation to a team that is starting to put the walls back on the house and looking competitive. I think the team felt like they could compete and win this year. I think fans just wanted to be in games and maybe get a few surprising wins. I predicted somewhere around 6-8 wins this year. This has been a great surprise, and hopefully they can keep it up.
2.) Tua Tagovailoa has started two games and he’s 2-0 as the team’s starter. In his first win over the Rams, the defense and special teams units played a huge role, but in the win over Arizona, Tua showed he has what it takes. What is the current hype like around Tua this early into his professional career?
It is funny because I think all of us as fans know this is a rookie going into his third start. After years of having hope to have found the piece to replace Dan Marino, we are not ready to say we have that guy yet, but we sure are getting closer to that declaration. The final two minutes of the New York Jets game, when Tua made his debut, viewership in South Florida increased by over 30,000 people, just because fans wanted to see him. The resale market in tickets has jumped since the Dolphins made the quarterback change. Jerseys and t-shirt sales are up. The fan base is ready for Tua to become a superstar, and they are buying into it. At the same time, though, that knowledge of him being a rookie means an understanding that he is going to make mistakes and that you cannot declare him the greatest or a bust based on one play or one game. This odd combination of excitement and patience is funny to watch, but it also feels like, for the first time in a long time, Dolphins fans are all in on a quarterback, while understanding he still needs time to grow.
3.) Brian Flores has been aggressive with his defensive unit. He’s blitzing a ton and it’s working out more often than not. What about the Dolphins defense allows them to be successful when sending the house?
The first part is, I think the team has just bought in on everything Flores and the coaching staff does. Dating back to last year when there was so much “Tank for Tua” talk, Flores refused to allow it around the team. When he benched Josh Rosen and went back to Ryan Fitzpatrick, it showed the team was not interested in giving Rosen a long audition at the expense of winning. The team bought in and they won at the end of the year. This year, they came out knowing who Flores is as a coach and ready to support everything he does. Even the move from Fitzpatrick, who was winning, to Tagovailoa was supported because the players had seen Tagovailoa in practice and trusted Flores. They know he is going to put them in position to succeed if they go do their jobs.
Second, Xavien Howard and Byron Jones are just an amazing duo at cornerback. It is a pick your poison type of situation. Do you force the ball into a tiny window when Jones is blanketing a receiver, or do you throw toward the receiver who is maybe a little more open, but has Howard and his ball-hawk nature hanging around? Having both of them on the field and playing at a high level has completely changed the Dolphins’ defense.
Finally, I think it is the disguise the defense uses. Right now, they will line up with nine players at the line of scrimmage, leaving Howard and Jones seemingly on islands, then bail out at the snap and suddenly have Christian Wilkins standing in the middle of the field intercepting passes. Emmanuel Ogbah has been a surprise as a pass rusher, and he is leading the charge to the quarterback on nearly every drop-back.
4.) If you were the Chargers offensive/defensive coordinators, how would you attack the Dolphins in order to maximize the chance for a victory?
On offense, move Herbert. The Dolphins have struggled with running quarterbacks. Last week, Kyler Murray ran for 106 yards with a 9.8 yards per attempt average. It has been a problem for a while, and the Chargers need to force the Dolphins to prove they can stop it. After that, stick to running the ball in general. Miami’s defense is meant to stop the pass, but they can get caught up in pass rush, not set the edge, and allow big gains on the ground.
On defense, disguise the pressure and keep getting after Tagovailoa. He is a rookie and he will make mistakes. With the injury to Preston Williams landing him on IR, the Dolphins receiver corps gets thin fast. You need to keep DeVante Parker covered and get pressure on Tagovailoa to see how he responds. The Dolphins are still looking for a running game, so sell out against the pass early and see if you can force turnovers and bad decisions.
5.) Give us a quick summary of how you think Sunday’s game will go and top it off with a final score prediction.
I am guessing this becomes a shootout, with both teams offense effectively moving the ball. I think, for the Dolphins, Mike Gesicki could have a big game as the Chargers focus on Parker. The Dolphins defense and special teams have shown they can make plays, so they could be a factor at some point. I worry about Herbert’s running, which I know he has not done a lot, but I think he is more effective on the ground than people realize. I think Miami comes away with the win, but I think it might be close in a high scoring game. I will say something along the line of 38-35.