The Miami Dolphins (6-3) travel to Colorado for their Week 11 matchup with the Denver Broncos (3-6). Originally slated as a bye week, this contest pits a pair of young quarterbacks against each other. The Dolphins are trending up with Tua Tagovailoa at the helm. Meanwhile, the Broncos come off a contest where their second-year signal caller coughed up four interceptions.
The Dolphins enter winners of five straight and find themselves in a soft stretch of their schedule. If Miami means to make a playoff push, the team can’t afford a loss to a struggling Broncos squad. The Dolphins stand among the six AFC squads with six wins thus far, so every victory remains necessary.
Here’s a look at five keys for the Dolphins in their Week 11 games versus the Broncos.
Dolphins-Broncos: Figure Out a Consistent Ground Game
The Dolphins head to Denver with the NFL’s 28th-ranked rushing offense, gaining just 98.7 yards-per-game thus far. The Broncos, though, allow 128.8 yards-per-game on the ground (23rd). And despite a turnstile in the backfield, Miami may have found something in rookie running back Salvon Ahmed.
Ahmed gained 85 yards on 21 carries in Week 10 versus the Chargers. He managed 4.0 yards-per-carry and scored a touchdown. He was actually at 91 yards in the fourth quarter before losing yardage on his final three carries. That said, most of his damage came on just a handful of runs.
In Tagovailoa’s three starts, Miami averages just 85.6 rushing yards-per-game, but one of those games was against the Rams, where the Dolphins offense needed to do very little. Over the last two weeks, the Dolphins have averaged 101 rushing yards-per-game.
Miami released running back Jordan Howard this week but should see the return of Matt Breida to the lineup. The combination of Ahmed and Breida should be more than enough to gain yards on the ground against a subpar rushing defense.
Attack the Quarterback
The Dolphins defense continued its stellar play this season in Week 10. Against the Chargers, Miami defenders registered two sacks and eight quarterback hits. Xavien Howard’s interception extended a 15-game long streak with at least one takeaway. And the Dolphins 15 takeaways this season are tied for fourth-most in the NFL in 2020.
Chargers wideout Keenan Allen revealed that the LA offense was confused by the Dolphins’ disguises on defense. Miami offered amoeba looks to LA’s rookie quarterback Justin Herbert on four different third-down occasions last week. That uncertainty kept the Chargers from finding a rhythm on offense.
With a pair of young quarterbacks, the Broncos could be facing a similar attack from Miami. Denver deploys multiple tight ends often, which could allow the Dolphins to send extra defenders at either Drew Lock or Brett Rypien. The Dolphins blitz 41.6 percent of the time, fourth-most in the NFL thus far.
Since the start of Miami’s five-game winning streak, the Dolphins defense is first points-per-game allowed (17.2) and is second in quarterback pressures (86) and completion percentage allowed (57.0 percent).
Dolphins-Broncos: Limit Denver’s Run Game
The Broncos sport a rushing attack that registers 106.6 rushing yards-per-game (19th). This figure belies the talent Denver rolls out in the backfield. Both Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay are good running backs. The pair has combined for 852 rushing yards and six touchdowns this season.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, allow 128.1 rushing yards-per-game (22nd). They’re likely without Christian Wilkins for a second-straight week, though rookie Raekwon Davis played very well against LA. Miami limited the Chargers to 99 rushing yards on 29 attempts, a 3.4 yards-per-carry average.
Denver runs the ball on second down more than any other team in the league. If the Dolphins can keep Denver in third-and-long, attack the Broncos’ QB, whomever it is, becomes that much easier.
Take Care of the Football
This goes without saying for any contest. But limiting turnovers, especially in winnable games on the road, remains the best way to secure a victory. Last week against the Chargers, a botched snap led to a dramatic momentum swing in that contest.
Ted Karras’ bad snap led to a fumble with the Dolphins driving up 14-0. If Miami managed to score on that possession, they would’ve held a 17-0 or 21-0 lead and a strangle hold on that game. Instead, the fumble allowed the Chargers to get back into the game. They scored a touchdown and the Dolphins responded with a three-and-out on offense. Late in the second quarter, the Chargers were driving to tie the game.
Tagovailoa is yet to throw an interception this season, though there have been a couple of close calls. He’s fumbled twice (though one was the bad snap). If Tagovailoa plays another clean contest, the Dolphins should leave Denver with their sixth-straight win.
The Dolphins enter with a plus-5 turnover differential, tied for the fourth-highest rate in the NFL. The defense has managed at least one takeaway in all nine games this season and both Broncos QBs have been turnover prone. Lock threw four interceptions against the Raiders last week and Rypien threw three interceptions in his Week 4 start against the Jets.
Dolphins-Broncos: Don’t Get Complacent
Miami’s play of late has turned some heads. With seemingly unexpected wins against the Rams and Cardinals, coupled with the efficient play of Tagovailoa, the Dolphins are NFL darlings these days. That, plus the soft schedule this month, means Miami’s postseason dreams could become a reality.
That said, this contest has all the making of a trap game. Entering having won five-in-a-row and hearing football pundits praise their play might lead the Dolphins to let their guard down.
That can’t happen.
The Dolphins are one of nine AFC teams with at least six wins this season. Only seven of those will make the playoffs. Miami has the 19th-easiest remaining slate of games, based on strength of schedule, but that can’t rely on that. According to Tankathon.com, Baltimore, New England, Cleveland and Las Vegas, all teams vying for one of those playoff spots, each have easier schedules than the Dolphins.
And if Miami really has set their sights on an AFC East title, the Bills schedule is only slightly more difficult. Buffalo’s remaining opponents sport a .509 winning percentage.
The Dolphins have a chance to bank wins with this stretch of opponents. They’ve won five straight but need to win at least three more. Being 9-3 entering the home stretch of the schedule would all but guarantee a playoff spot.