Everywhere Tyreek Hill will be on Sunday night, the Eagles will follow—and that could be, wincingly, quite literal. The visiting Miami Dolphins have the most potent offense in the NFL, averaging an NFL-high 498.7 yards and 37. 2 points per game, which is over 100 yards ahead of the No. 2 offensive team in the NFL, the Eagles, who average 395.0 yards per contest, and slightly under a touchdown better than the No. 2-scoring team in the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers, who average 30.7 points a game.
At the hub of the Dolphins’ attack is the speedy Hill, who leads the NFL in receiving with 814 yards in receptions over six games, which is the most by a receiver over the first six games of a season in the Super Bowl era. Hill also leads the NFL in yards per catch (in six games), averaging 19.4 yards over 42 receptions, which is tied for third in the NFL with the Eagles’ A.J. Brown and Los Angeles Chargers’ Keenan Allen.
As a team, Miami has an NFL-high seven touchdowns from scrimmage of 40-plus yards, which ties an NFL record over the first six games of a season since the NFL and AFL officially merged in 1970. Hill has scored four of Miami’s seven 40-plus yard TDs.
What the Eagles will need to do is get physical with Hill at the line of scrimmage. That means no free releases or no free access to Hill, which means no one will be eight yards down field waiting for Hill to run at them, and eventually by them. The Eagles will need to disrupt Hill’s routes by bumping him early, getting in his grill at the line of scrimmage and making him work to get open. It could wear down Hill, who is a thick 5-foot-10, 185 pounds. Eagles’ corners Darius Slay, who is 6-foot, 200 pounds, and James Bradberry, who is 6-1, 209, certainly have the size to lean on Hill, but can they keep up with Hill?
It is highly doubtful.
How will the Eagles deal with that speed, not only from Hill, but from opposite receiver Jaylen Waddle, who is looking to score a touchdown for a third-straight game and running backs De’Von Achane and Raheem Mostert? Studious-looking Dolphins’ head coach Mike McDaniel likes to spread the field and force one-on-one matchups.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a (speed) mismatch but one thing that we always want to pride ourselves on defense is playing physical,” stressed Eagles’ defensive coordinator Sean Desai. “And in my experience, even going back to my days at Temple and coaching special teams, speed can hurt you, but physicality can hurt speed. We want to be able to counteract that and we want to be able to swarm the ball carriers and run and make sure we are around the ball as much as we can be and bring in a lot of bodies around the ball and try to get back to create some turnovers and getting the ball out as well.”
The Eagles will be heavily reliant on their defensive front. Miami was a little banged up on the offensive line, but center Connor Williams, who has been dealing with a groin problem, practiced on Thursday after sitting out on Wednesday. On the Eagles’ side, a large concern is the status of safety Reed Blankenship, who suffered a rib injury after getting nailed with a blindside block last Sunday in the Eagles’ loss to the New York Jets. Blankenship, who has plugged a great many mistakes for the Eagles, did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. It seems unlikely Blankenship will play on Sunday, possibly opening the door for energetic rookie Sydney Brown to make his first NFL start—getting a crash course in NFL secondary play against the fastest team in the NFL.
The key on Sunday night will be pressure. In the Buffalo Bills’ 48-20 win over Miami on Oct. 1, Buffalo sacked Dolphins’ quarterback Tua Tagovailoa four times and hit him nine times. Miami was held to 49 yards of total offense in the second half of that game, which Williams sat, replaced by Liam Eichenberg, who never played center in the NFL before this season. Eichenberg has made considerable gains at center since then.
As for Hill, he keeps piling up numbers. He had six catches for 163 yards and a TD last week in the Dolphins’ 42-21 victory at Carolina, becoming the first player to have 150-plus receiving yards in four of his team’s first six games. According to the NFL record books, Hill needs just 86 receiving yards against the Eagles to become the fourth player in NFL history to reach 900 receiving yards in the first seven games—and first receiver in 62 years to do so, joining Charlie Hennigan (1,044 receiving yards in 1961) and Hall of Famers Elroy Hirsch (961 in 1951) and Don Hutson (915 in 1942).
Joseph Santoliquito is a hall of fame, award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written feature stories for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, which appeared on SportsCenter. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.