The Philadelphia Eagles are hosting the Miami Dolphins at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday Night Football. In order to preview this Week 7 matchup between these two teams, I reached out to our enemies over at The Phinsider. The keen Kevin Nogle kindly took the time to answer my questions about this upcoming battle. Let’s take a look at the answers. [For my answers to questions about the Eagles, check out TP.]
1 - The Dolphins are crazy good on offense! Who or what is the biggest reason for their success?
Tua Tagovailoa is clearly reaching the potential that had Miami select him with the fifth-overall pick. He is decisive, he is confident, and he is executing the offense to perfection. He is the front-runner for MVP right now, and he definitely deserves to be in consideration. As long has he stays healthy - and that is obviously going to always be a concern, but that is true of any player - the Dolphins offense should be able to operate at this ridiculous level.
Of course, it is not all Tagovailoa. The Miami track team is just ridiculous. Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, and Raheem Mostert are giving Tagovailoa so many options on every play that it is hard for opposing defenses to know who to cover or who to stop. Add in wide receiver Braxton Berrios becoming a pretty solid possession-type of receiver and tight end Durham Smythe developing into an all-around tight end that fits the offensive scheme, and there are just so many pieces. And that does not even include running back De’Von Achane, who is averaging over 12 yards per carry and is fourth in the league in rushing yards despite only playing 2.5 games this season, who is on injured reserve right now. Plus, Miami has yet to have wide receiver Chase Claypool make his team debut after trading for him two weeks ago from the Chicago Bears. The Dolphins have just built pieces.
The offensive line is a wonderful surprise this year as well. Even without Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead and center Connor Williams the last several weeks, the line is blocking and blocking well. This was probably the biggest area of concern for the Dolphins heading into the season, but they have stepped up and are getting the job done.
Finally, head coach Mike McDaniel’s offense is now in its second year with the team, so players feel a lot more confident in it. Hill admitted earlier this year that he played a lot of last year just relying on athleticism and working to build the chemistry with Tagovailoa. This year, they are clearly all on the same page. And, McDaniel is doing a better job calling the plays as well. He came up a as a run-game coordinator, but strayed from the run last year with the Dolphins. This year, he has said he will get back to running the ball more, and the Dolphins are doing it. He is getting the plays in faster, giving more time for the crazy amount of motions Miami’s offense uses, and allowing Tagovailoa more time to scan the field and decipher the defense.
I try to remain very level-headed when it comes to these “behind enemy lines” type of discussions, because just going on and on about how great the Dolphins are does not really help opposing fans understand the team, and I do not want it to come across as if I only see the positive. With this offense, though, there just is a lot of positive right now.
2 - Vic Fangio might’ve been the Eagles’ defensive coordinator had the Arizona Cardinals not tampered with Jonathan Gannon. To what extent are Dolphins fans satisfied with the Dolphins’ defense?
Honestly, a little frustrated right now. The defense just has not been as good as we all expected coming into the season. A big part of that was the loss of cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who has now returned to practice, but is still a few weeks away from returning. Then I think there has just been some growing pains as Miami moved from the Brian Flores/Josh Boyer man-to-man, blitz-heavy attack into the Fangio zone-scheme. The Dolphins lack a true nose tackle - Raekwon Davis is a solid defensive tackle, but he is built more to play as a one- or three-technique than a true zero.
Add in defensive tackle Christian Wilkins’ “hold in” this summer, with Fangio saying last week he thinks it resulted in Wilkins needing to shake off some rust and get back up to full speed, and there have been issues on the defense.
They are starting to round into form, and Wilkins has looked more like the player we are used to seeing, but it is still a working in progress. Ramsey coming back in a couple of weeks should help, but there are clearly some defensive issues that still need to be worked out. I could see Miami looking primarily front seven in next year’s draft, especially if they are focusing on a nose tackle, to try to continue to build on Fangio’s system.
3 - If you were Nick Sirianni, how would you go about attacking the Dolphins on offense and on defense?
Run the ball. Run it straight at the Dolphins and make them prove they can stop it. If Miami is able to just start pass rushing every play, that is where the strength of the defense comes into play. Establish the run to make the defenders have to think and react, rather than just attack.
Also, use Hurts’ ability to run. Miami has for years struggled with running quarterbacks - and when you are in a division with Josh Allen, that is not a good weakness to have. The Dolphins have to remain disciplined in their pass rush and contain Hurts, because if he gets free, they will struggle to stop him.
On defense, create pressure with four so you can clog up the middle of the field with linebackers. The deep ball is always a threat with Hill and Waddle, but Miami makes their money with slants and in-routes. They want to get the ball into the hands of their play makers, then let them do damage. Miami’s offense is not based on Tagovailoa zipping a two-yard pass every time - no matter what Stephen A. Smith wants to say - but they will attack the middle of the field in the five- to ten-yard range repeatedly until the safeties move up, then use the deep ball over the top. If the linebackers can stay in the passing lanes, they can force Miami to have to adjust their attack. Also tell the defensive line to get their hands up. Shrink the passing windows for Tagovailoa. Even if you are not getting to the quarterback, getting the hands up will disrupt a lot of Miami’s quick-passing plays.
4 - Can you name an unsung player on offense and defense for Eagles fans to watch out for?
On offense, Smythe might be a good candidate. The Dolphins are not going to turn into a tight end led offense, but he is doing so much that is working for the team right now that he is worthy of a mention. He can work as a possession receiver, but it is his blocking right now that is really key for the team. A great example of what Smythe is doing right now is on Miami’s first touchdown last week. Tagovailoa threw a pass into the flat for Mostert, with Smythe coming back to make the block that allowed Mostert to walk into the endzone. It was not a huge hit or anything, but it was Smythe being in the right place, recognizing what needed to be done, and making it happen:
Mostert may have scored, but this feels like Smythe’s touchdown.— The Phinsider (@thephinsider) October 15, 2023
Running back Salvon Ahmed could also play a role in this game. The team has discussed how, when comparing Ahmed to Achane on film, they often cannot tell the difference without looking at the shoes being worn. That sounds great, but Achane was clearly dominating before his injury, while Ahmed has not had that kind of performance yet. He looked really strong in camp and the preseason, so the potential is there. But we will have to watch to see if it happens.
On defense, linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel is starting to pick up some notoriety, and he leads the team in sacks, but he is not yet a household name. He is used all across the linebacker group, but he is best when he is allowed to be a pass rusher. With Jaelan Phillips likely seeing an increased snap count this week - he was limited last week as he returned from injury - Van Ginkel may see some of this playing time reduced, but he is definitely someone to watch when he is on the field.
Someone else to watch is second-year cornerback Kader Kohou. An undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M - Commerce, Kohou has been asked to start for much of his first two seasons. He is probably best as the nickel cornerback, playing in the slot, but he has played outside opposite Xavien Howard as well. The coaches seem to use him interchangeably with Eli Apple as they await Ramsey’s return,.so he could be in multiple roles throughout the day. He has had some really strong performances, but he has also had some days he would like to forget. How Kohou is playing may determine the success or lack thereof for the Dolphins.
5 - Who wins this game and why? With DraftKings Sportsbook listing the Eagles as 2.5-point home favorites, what’s your score prediction? And what are your expectations for the rest of this Dolphins season?
I think I am going to homer pick this one. I think these two teams are both destined for deep playoff runs, and this could be the first of two meetings for them if everything goes right on both sides, but I have to believe the Dolphins can win this game. Too many people are pointing to the Dolphins’ loss to the Bill and saying that is the only “good” team they have played this year. Coming away with a road win over the reigning NFC champions would silence a lot of the doubters, and the Dolphins know that.
Of course, there are plenty of storylines the Eagles want to erase as well - rebounding after losing last week, Hurts vs. Tagovailoa, Fangio, etc.
I think this game probably becomes a shootout, with both offenses looking to prove they are the best in the league. The difference probably comes down to Miami forcing a Hurts interception, giving the Dolphins the slight edge. I would say something like 34-28 - a high-total, one-score game.
Like I said, I think both of these teams are set up for success this year. Miami winning a playoff game for the first time since 2000 would be nice - but I do not know that one playoff win is really the goal at this point. If the offense can keep this up, an AFC Championship game appearance could become the expectation and Super Bowl appearance (or win?) a realistic idea. After years of answering that question with “compete for a wild card berth” and “learn to win this year, then compete next year,” that was a really refreshing answer to give.