The Colts face the Miami Dolphins this week in a showdown of 5-5 teams to see who can emerge as a potential wild card team and who will fall back. Given the Colts tenuous spot in the playoff race, this game is a big deal and will determine if the team can stay in the division race as well as the playoff hunt.
In order to get an idea about what we would be facing this weekend, I reached out to the Phinsider and heard from Kevin Nogle, who was kind enough to take time to educate us about this Dolphins team and what we can expect in this contest.
With the news that Ryan Tannehill will start on Sunday, how does his return impact what the Dolphins offense is able to do?
Hopefully it opens things up again. With Brock Osweiler, the offense went away from some of the deeper looks they had early in the season, relying more on just trying to get the ball out of Osweiler’s hand and to the receivers as quickly as possible. Now that Tannehill is back, hopefully the team starts taking some shots down field again. There are a lot of fans who are frustrated with Adam Gase and the play calling, but I really feel like that is more about having Osweiler under center than it is anything to do with Gase.
Miami’s offense is built to run the ball, then turn to the play action pass. Gase does have a tendency to pull away from the run as the game goes along, but Tannehill is better at the play action and at moving around behind the line of scrimmage and finding a player down field, than Osweiler. I would expect to see more play actions, more bootlegs/roll-outs, and more deep shots this week than we have seen in the last few weeks.
Frank Gore is a fan favorite in Indianapolis and one of the league’s all around best guys. He seems to be having a renaissance year with the Dolphins. How big a role do you expect Gore and Kenyan Drake to play against the Colts?
Gore coming to Miami brought the veteran home for one final season and to be the compliment to Drake throughout the season. At least, that is what it appeared to be when the Dolphins added Gore after seeing Drake play extremely well down the stretch last year. Except, no one made sure that Gore was in on that plan. The Dolphins started the season with two running back sets every week to make sure both Gore and Drake were starting. Now, it is simply Gore’s job, and he is getting the majority of the carries this season as well. Drake is more involved in the passing game - especially as Miami deals with the injuries to the receiving corps they have had this year - but Gore is definitely the lead back at this point, and he is running like a lead back should. The man clearly knows where the fountain of youth is, and it is just ridiculous.
I would expect to see a heavy dose of Gore early, with Drake rotated in at times, simply to try to get the offense into a rhythm and try to get some of the pressure off of Tannehill. Getting the run established forces the Colts to change their pass rush attack, and it opens up the play action. If the norm plays out, however, do not expect to see the run as much in the second half, when Miami tends to move toward a pass-first offense.
What is this Dolphins team’s biggest strength? What is their biggest weakness?
The secondary should continue to become the strength of the team. Xavien Howard has developed into a shutdown cornerback, Minkah Fitzpatrick is showing the skills that made him a star at Alabama, Bobby McCain is a great nickel cornerback (and he is out of the concussion protocol, so hopefully he will be available), T.J. McDonald is having a really strong year, and Reshad Jones is still Reshad Jones. The secondary is strong, but success can be had if you can shut down the pass rush because no corner can stay on his man indefinitely.
Health is definitely a weakness at this point. Everything that this team was supposed to be deep, talented, and developing has become a shell of what it was. It is crazy how many players have missed games and/or landed on injured reserve this year.
As for on-the field, linebacker is still a weakness, mostly because Jerome Baker is a rookie and Raekwon McMillan is really in his first year after a preseason ACL tear ended his rookie season before it began. On offense, the wide receivers ave question marks due to injuries. Albert Wilson is on injured reserve, Jakeem Grant will be there shortly, DeVante Parker has had two injuries that caused him to miss time this year, Kenny Stills missed a game with an injury. Miami has some talent among their receivers, but they are really thin at the position now as well.
How has the Dolphins’ rookie class looked so far this season?
Fitzpatrick is amazing; he has been asked to play nickel cornerback, boundary cornerback, and safety, and he has excelled at all three. Mike Gesicki has flashed a couple of times, but he has struggled to have production consistently, in part because defenses have rotated on top of him, with two guys covering him more than expected for a rookie tight end. Baker is coming on strong as a three-down linebacker - he is making rookie mistakes, but he is overall playing really well. Durham Smythe has not seen a ton of playing time on offense, more on special teams than anything right now. Kalen Ballage has started getting into the offensive play sets, mostly as the Wildcat trigger man right now. Cornell Armstrong is mostly a special teams player, while Quetin Poling has been on the practice squad. Jason Sanders has been an exceptional kicker thus far.
Who is the defensive player the Colts should be most concerned about?
Howard, though most people do not recognize his name, is a player for quarterbacks to avoid. He may make a mistake every now and then, but overall is a shutdown cornerback. Fitzpatrick, wherever he is playing, can make an impact play. Jones at safety will play up in the box or float in coverage and make a play on the ball. And, Cameron Wake can still disrupt an offensive line. All four players could answer this question, and you would think that having four key players like them would make Miami’s defense a scary one, but it just seems like something has been off for the team and none of the four seem to want to have big games at the same time as the others. It is frustrating as a fan, but if two or three of those players are ready to go, the Miami defense could finally start to look like what we thought they would be in the preseason.