The Philadelphia Eagles (5-6) and Miami Dolphins (2-9) are set to play at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday. In order to preview this Week 13 matchup, I reached out to our associates over at The Phinsider. The keen Kevin Nogle (@KevinNogle) kindly took the time to respond to my questions about the upcoming game. Let’s take a look at his answers. Also, don’t forget to check out my side of the Q&A exchange over at TP.
1 - As a big Sixers fan, I can appreciate tanking. To what extent are Dolphins fans embracing the tank?
It has been fairly calm the last couple of weeks, but there was anger among the fanbase early in the year. There are three distinct groups among the fans as the team moves through what is a tear-down year. The first is a group where the fans really wanted Miami to go 0-16 to ensure they got the first overall pick - losing was the only way. There is a group that would become vocal and angered after every loss because they only want wins. And there is a third group who wants a win on game day, but understands the losses as part of a brighter future. The two wins sent both of the extreme groups into a frenzy, with the 0-16 group really frustrated about “pointless” wins that will only “hurt” when the Dolphins do not get a top pick.
Now that we are a couple of weeks away from those wins, and Tua Tagovialoa is injured (which may be the bigger part of this), it seems like everyone is just along for the ride now. The weekly SB Nation FanPulse confidence survey peaked a couple of weeks ago - with the wins - and now seems to be settling in at about 2/3 of the fan base is confident in the direction of the team. For a 2-9 team to have 67 percent of the fans confident, it seems like we as a whole are accepting what 2019 is for the Dolphins and looking forward to the future.
2 - The Dolphins were competitive for a bit there — playing some close games and even winning two — before looking bad again. What happened?
I think it is really Brian Flores holding the team together. The first couple of weeks of the season, the Dolphins looked like the worst team in the league and were badly blown out. Then they started being competitive for the first half of games but then falling apart in the second. Now, they appear to be fighting throughout the entire game. I think Flores, in his first year as a head coach, has gotten the players to realize that the “tanking” story is a media, fan, and maybe front office thing. It is not in the locker room, and it is not on the field. The coaches and players want to win, and they are now playing like they want to win. I think Flores has shown, in admittedly a small sample size, that he is a coach who can develop players. The Dolphins have undrafted free agents starting and playing well for the most part. They are not about to become Pro Bowl selections or anything, but they are becoming reliable players who can either start or be depth options for next year.
3 - What is the Dolphins’ greatest strength?
Before the season, I would have told you it is the secondary. They have a ton of talent in the secondary, and they are going to make up for the lack of pass rush because of the depth and talent in the back end of the defense. Xavien Howard, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Reshad Jones, Bobby McCain, and T.J. McDonald would be able to hold up, with players like Eric Rowe and, possibly once completely healthy, Cordrea Tankersley able to provide support. Now, Howard is on IR, Fitzpatrick was traded to the Steelers, Jones and McCain are on IR, McDonald was released and has not signed anywhere, Rowe is having to play safety (and actually doing a decent job there), and Tankersley never came off the Physically Unable to Perform list. The secondary did not become what it should have been for this season.
That probably leaves Miami’s youth as their strongest point for the year. While it is not going to help them win a lot of games, the Dolphins are the youngest team in the league and they are getting a lot of those younger players a ton of experience this season. Whether through the “tank” or injuries, Miami has players who would likely not be seeing a lot of playing time elsewhere in the league, so the coaches are definitely going to have evaluations on players who likely become depth pieces over the next few seasons. These younger guys are hungry and are going out there looking to prove themselves each week. It is not a great situation, but in a season where next year is the focus, it is not a bad situation either.
4 - If you were trying to beat the Dolphins, how would you attack them on both offense and defense?
The line of scrimmage is a mess right now. The Dolphins are probably going to have their ninth different offensive line this week, which shows how impressive that group has been this year. Just keep up the pressure on the offensive line. They are constantly playing in the backfield, so you will have success there - both getting after Ryan Fitzpatrick and stopping the run game.
On defense, the line is not much better. Opponents seem to be able to get them back into the second level way too easily, and there is no pass rush right now. Taco Charlton has been injured lately, and he really is the only true threat right now. Charles Harris will have a flash moment every now and then, but it is rare. Christian Wilkins is a rookie playing interior defensive line, so he is still learning and he is not playing a position where he is going to dominate a stat sheet. The Eagles should be able to run the ball straight at Miami’s defense, which opens up the passing game - and we already talked about the secondary.
5 - Who wins this game and why? Score prediction? And what do you want to see the Dolphins do in the 2020 NFL Draft?
Eagles should win, just because the loss by the Dallas Cowboys should give them the motivation to get to a tie in the NFC East. I think the Dolphins will keep this closer than some people expect, I will go with a ten-point Eagles lead, right on where the spread is right now. I will go with 31-21 final, with the Eagles winning.
As for the Draft, I think it all comes down to Tagovialoa’s medical updates. I think Miami, who has around 13 picks in the Draft (counting projected compensatory picks and presumed conditional picks) as well as over $100 million in salary cap space, could look to select Tua and sit him for a year as he recovers from his hip injury. They could look to sign a starter in free agency (Teddy Bridgewater is the top name being floated right now given Miami’s interest in him last offseason) and just give Tua a redshirt season as a rookie. That would probably be the ideal plan at quarterback, though there are plenty of rookies Miami could select if they do not trust Tua’s hip. I do not think the Dolphins are going to be looking wide receiver much in this draft, so on offense I think quarterback, running back, and a ton of offensive line choices are on the board. For the defense, edge rusher and cornerback must be addressed.