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5 Keys to Dolphins-Bengals in Week 13

The Miami Dolphins (7-4) enter Week 13’s contest against the Cincinnati Bengals (2-8-1) largely in control of their playoff destiny. Miami may have quarterback questions, but regardless of who starts for the ‘Phins, he’ll be better than his Bengals counterpart.

The Dolphins look to build on last week’s successes against the Jets and solidify their postseason position. Here are five keys to the Dolphins-Bengals game in Week 13.

Dolphins-Bengals: Continue Defensive Dominance

The Dolphins sport one of the league’s top defenses. Miami’s D trails only the Pittsburgh Steelers in points-per-game, allowing a paltry 18.6 per contest this season. The Dolphins are tops in third-down D. Opponents convert just 32.8 percent of their those tries. Miami comes in third in takeaways with 19.

The main weakness for Miami has been defending the run. The Dolphins are in the bottom third of the league, allowing 129.9 rushing yards-per-game. But Sunday, their match up is with a Bengals squad missing starters at running back (Joe Mixon) and quarterback (Joe Burrow).

Cincinnati rushed the ball just nine times in their Week 12 loss to the New York Giants. They relied heavily on backup QB Brandon Allen to little affect.

The Bengals manage 96.3 rushing yard-per-game (29th, but the Dolphins allow 4.8 yards-per-carry, tied for second-most. If Miami can limit the Bengal ground game and make them one dimensional, they’ll be in good shape.

The Dolphins should be able to push their takeaway streak to 18 against Cincy. The Bengals’ 17 turnovers, including three last week, are ninth-most in the league this season.

Attack Allen

The Bengals turned to Allen after Joe Burrow was lost for the season in Week 11. Allen’s offensive efforts resulted in just 155 total yards during the loss to the Giants. The offense managed just 10 points.

Allen completed 17 of 29 passes for 136 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He was sacked twice and lost a fumble in the process. The Bengals allow 3.5 sacks-per-game, second-most in the league.

The Dolphins defense, meanwhile, ranks 14th in the NFL, getting 2.3 sacks-per-game. And attacking stationary quarterbacks like Allen has been the team’s bread-and-butter on defense all season.

Consistent pressure on Allen should lead to the fourth year QB, who’s making just the fifth start of his career, to make multiple mistakes.

Dolphins Need to Limit Bengals’ WRs

The strength of Cincinnati’s offense remains their wide receiver corps. Tyler Boyd, A.J. Green and Tee Higgins have played well and managed to stress opposing defenses throughout 2020. Boyd leads Cincy with 72 receptions and 725 receiving yards.

Higgins is having a solid rookie campaign, with 48 catches, 673 yards and a team-leading five touchdown receptions. Green’s bounce back season has seen him make 35 catches (on 80 targets) with just one touchdown.

What helps here is it’s a strength-on-strength matchup. Miami’s secondary remains the top unit on the team. The Dolphins’ 11 interceptions are tied for fifth-most this season, and Xavien Howard’s seven lead the league. Miami comes in fourth in both passer-rating-allowed (84.3) and completion-percentage-allowed (62.3).

The Bengals offense ranks 26th in scoring (20.9 points-per-game), 24th in total offense (331.5 yards-per-game) and 18th in passing yards-per-game (235.2).

Find an Offensive Rhythm

Last week, Ryan Fitzpatrick started in place of the injury Tua Tagovailoa. While there’s been no word yet on who will start Week 13 for Miami, the offense needs to find a rhythm. Against the Jets, Fitzpatrick put up 257 passing yards and threw two touchdowns, but Miami managed just 20 points against the league’s worst defense.

Cincinnati’s D doesn’t scare anyone either. The Bengals allow 26.3 points-per-game (22nd) and 390.5 yards-per-game (26th). They’re 30th in sacks (13) and manage pressure on just 16.4 percent of pass plays.

The Bengals can be run on. They allow 136.7 rushing yards-per-game (30th) and 4.8 yards-per-carry. The return of Myles Gaskin could finally allow the offense to find some balance and rhythm. If Fitzpatrick starts, DeVante Parker may have another busy day. Last week, Fitzpatrick targeted Parker 14 times, resulting in eight catches and 119 yards.

If Tagovailoa gets the clearance to play, hopefully he can demonstrate similar chemistry with the receivers.

Dolphins-Bengals: Keep in Mind the Playoffs

The Dolphins vaulted back into the AFC playoff picture with their win last week. Miami enters Week 13 as the 6-seed and if things break right for the ‘Phins, they could get as high as fifth in the standings. At this point, Miami maintains a hold on their playoff destiny.

The Dolphins need this win, considering the coming slate of games. Miami hosts the Chiefs (10-1) next week, then the Patriots (5-6). After that, they close out the season with pivotal road matchups against the Raiders (6-5) and Bills (8-3).

Miami must enter that final stretch at 8-4. Anything less would jeopardize their playoff chances. The Dolphins are clearly the superior team this week and must dominate Cincinnati. They can’t afford mental mistakes and turnovers. A win this week, and wins against Las Vegas and New England, would all but guarantee a playoff berth.

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Dolphins win Jets

5 Takeaways from Dolphins Win Over the Jets

The Miami Dolphins (7-4) rebounded from a tough loss last week with a resounding defensive effort against the New York Jets (0-11). The Dolphins defense stymied any offensive output from Sam Darnold and Co., romping their way to a 20-3 victory.  The win, coupled with key losses by other teams, propelled the Dolphins back into the AFC playoff picture.

Here’s a look at five takeaways from the Dolphins win over the Jets.

Dolphins Defense Dominant in Win Over Jets

The Dolphins defense returned to its dominant ways Sunday. Miami limited the Jets to just three points, 10 first downs and 260 total yards. In 25 possessions this season, the Dolphins held New York to just 0.12 points-per-possession.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the three total points allowed is the fewest by an NFL team in two meetings against the same opponent since 2009. The three points allowed is the second-fewest by the Dolphins against an AFC East opponent in one season. Miami shutout the Baltimore Colts in both games played against them in 1972.

Miami extended its takeaway-streak to 17 straight games, the NFL’s longest active streak. The Dolphins’ 19 takeaways this season are third-most in the league.

Miami improved its scoring defense to just 18.6 points-per-game this season, which is second-lowest in the NFL. And the Dolphins have the best third-down defense in the NFL after limiting the Jets to just 3-of-13 on third downs. Miami’s 32.8 third-down percentage allowed leads the league, and the Jets’ 10 first downs were tied for the second-fewest in a single game this season.

No QB Controversy

Much of the discourse leading up to this game surrounded which quarterback gave Miami the best opportunity to win. Tua Tagovailoa was coming off of his worst professional outing, but he’s yet to turn the ball over through four games played. Ryan Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, coughs up the ball at an average of once per game.

A thumb injury shelved Tagovailoa against the Jets, robbing the rookie of a bounce-back performance. Instead, Fitzpatrick helmed the offense. And although some argue for the veteran to replace the youngster, there was no Fitzmagic Sunday.

Sure, Fitzpatrick piled up yards (257), but he provided just two touchdowns against the league’s worst defense. He flashed his chemistry with DeVante Parker, who finished with eight catches and 119 yards, but little else. In the absence of Tagovailoa, the Dolphins offense did little to indicate the rookie was the problem.

After the game, Dolphins head coach Brian Flores voiced his support of Tagovailoa going forward.

“If he’s healthy, he’s the guy,” Flores said.

Flores couched the statement by saying: “We’ll see how he does in practice over the course of the week. He’s a tough kid. It was very close to him being able to go, but we have to make good decisions for him as well. We’ll see how he does over the course of this week in practice.”

If he can go, Tagovailoa will face a Bengals defense that allows 26.3 points-per-game and 253.7 passing yards-per-game.

Dolphins Rushing Attack Leaves Much to be Desired in Win Over Jets

While the Dolphins defense continued to shine, the offense’s lackluster rushing attack reared its ugly head as well. Miami’s ground game lacked rhythm and was largely absent in the second quarter. While some of that falls on offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, as well as the offensive line, what’s clear is Miami doesn’t have a difference-making running back.

The Dolphins split 22 carries among three running backs and watched the trio gain 94 yards but cough up two fumbles. Matt Breida and Patrick Laird both saw their chances limited after the third quarter miscues.

DeAndre Washington submitted the best performance of the three, gaining 49 yards on 13 carries. He also caught two passes for 11 yards. He may have earned himself a few more snaps moving forward, even with the eventual returns of both Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed.

What’s become abundantly clear is that Miami needs a difference-maker in the backfield and that player is not currently on the roster. It’s particularly important to add one, considering one of Tagovailoa’s strengths is RPO. The “run” needs to be an option.

Xavien Howard, NFL’s Best Cornerback

Xavien Howard continued his All-Pro play, too. He nabbed his league-leading seventh interception, picking off Darnold in the fourth quarter. Howard matched his career-high with seven INTs and has five games to go. He became just the second cornerback in team history with multiple 7-plus interception seasons, joining Sam Madison (1998-1999).

Howard’s 19 interceptions since 2017 also pace the NFL. What’s incredible about Howard’s ball-hawking prowess is that he missed 16 games over that span. His career 0.37 interceptions-per-game is fourth-highest among players who made their debut in the Super Bowl era, per Elias Sports.

It’s not just interceptions, either. Howard broke up three other pass attempts, giving him 50 pass breakups for his career. He has 15 passes defensed this season, tied for second-most in the league and one behind the league leader.

Darnold was 3-for-10 for 37 yards and an interception when throwing at Howard. Opposing quarterbacks have just a 50.3 passer rating when testing Howard this season.

Dolphins Win Over the Jets Propels Team Back into AFC Playoff Picture

The Dolphins dominated the Jets to the tune of 44-3 this season. Those wins helped the Dolphins keep pace in the AFC. After Week 12, Miami remains just one game behind the Bills in the AFC East. With the win Sunday, coupled with keys losses by Indianapolis and Las Vegas, the Dolphins vaulted to the 6-seed in the conference.

Miami’s move up the standings comes thanks to a superior conference record (4-3) than both the Colts (3-4) and Ravens (4-4). But with five games to go, the Dolphins have a difficult task ahead.

The Dolphins will need to secure another win next week against the floundering Cincinnati Bengals (2-8-1). Minus Joe Burrow, this matchup has been robbed of its potential headline, but it remains as a must-win for Miami.  The final four games lack any easy opponents for the ‘Phins.

A win versus Cincy would put the Dolphins at 8-4 for the home stretch. Then comes the team’s stiffest test yet, a date with the defending Super Bowl Champs, the Kansas City Chiefs (10-1). After that, the Dolphins host New England (5-6), who could be playing for their playoff lives at that point.

What follows is another must-win: a road matchup with the Raiders (6-4). This could be a postseason play-in game. The regular season finale comes in Buffalo (8-3), and, considering the Bills have a stiff remaining schedule as well, it might very well be for the AFC East title.

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Tua Tagovailoa

5 Keys to Dolphins-Jets in Week 12

The Miami Dolphins (6-4) enter Sunday’s Week 12 contest against the New York Jets (0-10) coming off a difficult loss in Denver. The Dolphins offense lacked rhythm and ultimately saw rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa pulled from the game. Miami’s defense couldn’t stop the run despite managing a pair of turnovers.

The Dolphins playoff hopes took a hit with the loss, but Miami can get back on track with a win over New York on Sunday.

Here’s a look at five keys for the Dolphins versus the Jets in Week 12.

Dolphins-Jets: O-Line Must Bounce Back

The Dolphins offense submitted an anemic performance last week. Tagovailoa was under siege from a Broncos defense that was missing its top pass rusher. Denver racked up six sacks and eight quarterback hits.

Rookie Solomon Kindley entered the game with a sore foot and exited in the second quarter. The line shuffled Jesse Davis to right guard at that point, but the play didn’t improve. Each lineman allowed pressures and sacks in what was the worst performance by the line all season.

They couldn’t protect their QB and couldn’t open holes for the running game. Miami managed just 56 rushing yards, one off the season low (55 against the LA Rams).

But not all of the blame lands on the linemen though. Tagovailoa held the ball too long on a number of occasions. He needs to be more decisive in the pocket and drive the ball to receivers that may not immediately seem open.

The line will have its hands full against a Jets defense that sends an extra rusher 30.9 percent of the time (10th-highest). Last week, Miami’s line struggled with stunts and twists, something they’ll need to sort out ahead of Sunday’s game

Get to Darnold

The Jets announced that Sam Darnold will start against the Dolphins. Darnold missed the last two games with an injured right shoulder. He also missed the game in Miami earlier this season.

The Dolphins defense will need to get back on track, a week after failing to sack the quarterback for the first time this season. And that’s the biggest difference for this defense.

In their six wins, the Dolphins piled up 133 quarterback pressures. In their four losses, just 46 pressures. The last time they played the Jets, Miami managed a season-high 29 pressures and three sacks.

Emmanuel Ogbah was a force against the Jets in Week 6, registering 10 pressures and two sacks against Joe Flacco. Both Flacco and Darnold struggle when pressured and are prone to mistakes. Darnold has thrown 34 interceptions in 32 games with the Jets and six this season in six games.

In four career games against the Dolphins, Darnold has four touchdowns and eight interceptions. He’s been sacked 11 times.

Dolphins-Jets: Get the Ball Downfield

Tagovailoa struggled in Denver despite not throwing an interception. Although he’s protected the ball well, Tagovailoa has yet to make very many plays down the field. Against the Broncos, he managed just 83 passing yards and 4.2 yards-per-attempt.

Too many of his throws are short. In three of his four starts, his yards-per-attempt has been under 7.0. After being pulled from last week’s game, Tagovailoa acknowledged his shortcomings and witnessed how Ryan Fitzpatrick nearly doubled his statistical output in a fraction of the plays. Some of that is play calling and situation, but the general point holds. Tagovailoa needs to challenge opposing secondaries with throws on target downfield.

Though Tagovailoa has been limited in practice this week with an injured thumb, this game against New York provides him the opportunity to take the next step in his development. The rookie has completed 61.9 percent of his passes for 602 yards and six touchdowns.

In Week 6 against the Jets, Fitzpatrick put up 191 passing yards and three touchdowns. He also threw two interceptions. If Fitzpatrick gets the nod in this one, he’ll lean on a stonier chemistry with DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki, but he’ll need to take care of the football.

The Jets defense comes in after having allowed another rookie quarterback (Justin Herbert) to throw for 366 yards and three touchdowns. New York’s passing defense allows 288.3 yards-per-game (9th-most). The Jets start three rookies in their secondary and allow 30.2 points per game.

Stop the Run

The recent five-game win streak masked defensive deficiencies for the Dolphins. Although Miami sports one of the top secondaries in the league, the run defense has left much to be desired. The Dolphins surrendered a season-high 189 rushing yards and 5.7 yards-per-carry to Denver.

For the season, Miami’s run defense allows 4.8 yards-per-carry (27th) and 134.2 yards-per-game. The good thing is, the Jets don’t feature an overwhelming run game, but that’s mostly because they’ve been forced to pass. The Jets offense ranks 32nd in scoring (14.9 points-per-game) and total yards-per-game (268.6). Their 98.6 rushing yards-per-game rank 26th in the NFL.

The Dolphins welcomed back defensive tackle Christian Wilkins this week, which should help the run D. Wilkins missed the last two weeks while on the COVID list.

Dolphins-Jets: Next Man Up

Miami enters this Week 12 contest with a number of key injuries. The team has already listed recent starter at running back, Salvon Ahmed, as out. Kindley, too. Wide receiver and returner Jakeem Grant is listed as ‘questionable’ and Tagovailoa has been downgraded to ‘doubtful.’ Miami elevated QB Reid Sinnett from the practice squad.

Although Myles Gaskin, Miami’s leading rusher with 387 yards, returned to practice this week, he’s still on the injured reserve and would need to be activated before the game.

This uncertainty could affect the Dolphins pursuit of offensive consistency. The combination of youth and inexperience led to a number of difficulties last week. The team hopes to solve those issues against the Jets.

“Sometimes it’s protection, sometimes it’s holding the ball too long, sometimes it’s guys not getting open,” Chan Gailey said of the Dolphins difficulties in Denver. “I have to do a better job of calling plays where he doesn’t have to hold it.”

Rookie receiver Malcolm Perry, who saw 51 offensive snaps last week, could get more run if Grant’s out. Antonio Callaway, who played eight snaps and caught one pass versus Denver, could also see an uptick in opportunity. Recently acquired running back DeAndre Washington may also see more time should Gaskin remain unavailable. Washington’s played 14 snaps in two games, gaining five yards on two carries last week.

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Dolphins Loss Broncos

5 Takeaways from Dolphins Loss to Broncos

The Miami Dolphins (6-4) suffered a disappointing 20-13 loss in Denver (4-6). The game itself featured an offensive failure that led to rookie Tua Tagovailoa being benched.

This loss also pushed Miami from the postseason picture. The Dolphins are on the outside looking in at the AFC playoff bracket. They currently hold the No. 9 seed, losing tie breakers to both Baltimore and Las Vegas, the other 6-4 teams.

Here’s a look at five takeaways from the Dolphins loss to the Broncos.

Offensive Line Failure in Dolphins Loss to Broncos

One of the big questions heading into the quarterback switch from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Tagovailoa focused on the ineffectiveness of the offensive line. National pundits panned the move at the time, saying Miami’s line lacked the ability to properly protect their young QB. But local media pointed out that analysis as lazy, and it was.

The Dolphins offensive line had protected Tagovailoa well in his previous three starts. They’d handled pressure and kept Tagovailoa’s pocket relatively clean. Sunday, though, was a different story.

The Dolphins o-line surrendered a season-high six sacks, double the previous high. Beyond just the sacks, the line regularly allowed pressures and failed to open consistent holes for the running game.

The loss of rookie right guard Solomon Kindley in the second quarter hurt. And Tagovailoa also didn’t help his cause by holding the ball for too long.

Rushing Woes Continue

The Dolphins hoped they had something in rookie Salvon Ahmed. After a solid performance against the Chargers, Ahmed’s emergence led, in part, to the release of veteran Jordan Howard. The return of Matt Breida from recent injury also had Miami’s running game trending up. What’s more, they were facing a Denver rushing defense in the lower third of the league.

But against the Broncos, Miami’s ground game remained absent. The team totaled just 56 yards. Ahmed led the way with 43 yards on 12 carries. Breida picked up just four yards on two carries.

This lack of a consistent rushing attack shifted the offensive onus to Tagovailoa. It also allowed Denver to dial up the pressure on a rookie quarterback making just his second career road start. The result? Another anemic performance.

The solution to this issue remains unclear. A return by Myles Gaskin may help, but an ineffective ground game has plagued Miami for two seasons, through two different offensive coordinators. Opening up the playbook to allow the pass to set up the run may be the only way forward at this point.

No Fitzmagic in Dolphins Loss to Broncos

When Dolphins head coach Brian Flores pulled Tagovailoa from the game in the fourth, some speculated injury. Tagovailoa had just suffered a sixth sack, one that wrenched his lower right leg. The rookie had been on Miami’s injury report in the leadup to this game. Flores, though, dismissed that idea.

“Tua wasn’t injured. We just felt like it was the best move at that point of the game,” he said.

Fitzpatrick entered and immediately led Miami’s offense on a scoring drive. The veteran QB marched Miami down the field twice and flashed a chemistry with DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki that Tagovailoa seemed to lack.

But all for naught.

Fitzpatrick maneuvered Miami into scoring position with a chance to tie the game. However, instead of connecting with Parker for a touchdown, Fitzpatrick failed to look off Broncos safety Justin Simmons and threw a game-sealing interception. Simmons secured the pick in the closing moments, though the Broncos had the chance to intercept two previous passes by Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick finished 12-of-18 passing for 117 yards and the interception.

Seemingly Still Tua’s Team

Despite the late quarterback change, the Dolphins seemingly remain Tagovailoa’s squad. Miami made the switch from Fitzpatrick to the rookie after a 3-3 start with Flores citing Tagovailoa’s readiness to assume the role. The Dolphins kept rolling. But on Sunday, the rookie showed his youth.

What’s interesting here, though, is the move to Fitzpatrick implies Tagovailoa isn’t a ready as Miami made it seem.

“We had to get in two-minute mode, and we felt like [Fitzpatrick] gave us the best chance to win the game, and we had an opportunity at the end to tie it,” Flores said.

Tagovailoa went 11-of-20 for 83 yards and a touchdown, but showed little effectiveness moving the ball. The offensive playcalling didn’t help.

“When I was in, we couldn’t really get things going,” Tagovailoa admitted. “I couldn’t get the ball in the hands of our playmakers and our guys consistently to get a rhythm going.”

Sure, offensive line issues submarined Tagovailoa’s efforts, but so too did his ineffectiveness. He needs to develop a stronger chemistry with his receivers and find a rhythm for this offense to take the next step.

That said, Fitzpatrick admitted after the game that the Dolphins were still “Tua’s team.”

He said: “Tua is going to continue to get better and grow. There’s no controversy. This is his team. He’s going to lead this team and continue to lead the team.”

To his credit, Tagovailoa wants to learn from this. He remained engaged in the contest and picked Fitzpatrick’s brain on the sideline.

“For me, it was a great learning experience,” Tagovailoa said. “I felt like I was holding the ball a little too long. Just got to get completions and get the ball in the hands of our guys to make plays for us.”

Dolphins D Didn’t Do Enough in Loss to Broncos

Miami’s defense buoyed the team’s five-game win streak. Over that span, the Dolphins defense ranked first points-per-game allowed (17.2) and second in quarterback pressures (86) and completion percentage allowed (57.0 percent). They put up 10 takeaways, too.

In Denver, though, the Dolphins didn’t make enough stops. Although the defense extended its takeaways streak to 16 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL, it wasn’t a banner day for the D.

Perhaps the biggest failing was the inability to stop Denver’s ground game. The Dolphins allowed a season-high 189 rushing yards and two touchdowns. The 5.7 yards-per-carry average stands as a full yard more than the previous season-high allowed (4.7).

What’s more, the Dolphins couldn’t seem to confuse Denver’s Drew Lock in the same way they did LA’s Justin Herbert a week prior. Lock piled up 270 passing yards, the most Miami’s allowed in more than a month. They also failed to pressure Lock consistently and did not sack him once. It’s the first time this season the Dolphins failed to secure at least one sack.

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Dolphins Win 49ers

5 Takeaways from Dolphins Win over 49ers

When the 2020 schedule came out and Dolphins fans saw a Week 5 game against the defending NFC Champs in San Francisco, most chalked that up as a loss. But quite a bit has changed since then, including the NFL’s schedule. And instead of a loss, the Dolphins went into Levi’s Stadium and dominated the 49ers, earning a 43-17 win.

With the win, Miami improved to 2-3 on the season and injected new life into their potential playoff hopes. With the schedule changes, the Dolphins could be favored to win four of their next six games.

Here’s a look at five takeaways from the Dolphins win over the 49ers.

Aggressive Play-calling Leads to Offensive Explosion

The Dolphins entered Sunday’s game averaging 23.3 points-per-game, a respectable figure despite the 1-3 record. However, a week after settling for five field goals in a 31-23 loss, offensive coordinator Chan Gailey seemed focused on getting his club in the endzone.

Miami opened their first offensive series with a 47-yard connection from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Preston Williams. From there, it seemed like the Dolphins offense marched up and down the field at will, often attacking San Francisco’s secondary.

Miami totaled 43 points on the road in this one, a figure the club hadn’t reached since scoring 45 in 1986. The 436 yards of offense were the most this season and the team’s most on the road since 2016. The Dolphins’ nine scoring drives were Miami’s most since 1991.

The first half offense caught fans off guard for how effective it was. Miami ran 33 offensive plays and gained 281 yards in the half, an average of 8.5 yards-per-play. The Dolphins scored three times from the two-minute warning and finished with 30 points overall. It was just the third 30-point half since 2000 for the Dolphins.

Preston Williams Returning to Form in Dolphins Win over 49ers

Williams went from being an unheralded, undrafted fringe prospect, to one of the league’s most exciting rookie wideouts last season. But in November, Williams suffered a torn ACL which ended his year. Since, he’s been diligently working to regain his form and confidence.

And after an uneven start to 2020, Williams broke out in a big way against the 49ers. Williams caught four passes for a career-high 106 receiving yards and a touchdown. He had pair of plays over 30 yards, including the touchdown, as well as another 19-yard gain.

His ability to create separation and sore over smaller defenders to secure catches was something unseen from Williams since prior to his season-ending injury.

“I’m getting closer to that year mark with my knee,” Williams said. “I’m starting to get more comfortable out there … just trying to get back into that football shape and get me feet back under me. I know a lot earlier in the year I was falling off some routes. Now I’m starting to feel better every week.”

Pass Rush Gets Home, Helps Secondary in Dolphins Win over 49ers

The Dolphins entered Sunday’s contest with nine quarterback sacks, but they had struggled t contain mobile quarterbacks this season. San Francisco’s starter, Jimmy Garoppolo, coming off a high-ankle sprain, looked hobbled all day, and the Dolphins took advantage of that.

Miami teed off on 49er quarterbacks, bringing pressure and getting eight quarterback hits. That’s the second-highest total this season, behind the 10 QB hits against Jacksonville (the Dolphins other win this season).

Miami tallied five sacks on Sunday, the most in a game since 2018. Five different defenders registered a sack in this one: Jerome Baker, Emmauel Ogbah, Elandon Roberts, Zach Sieler and Andrew Van Ginkel. Ogbah and Van Ginkel each had a strip-sack.

The consistent pressure from the Dolphins defense forced San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan to make a change under center. The 49ers went with C.J. Beathard in the second half in an effort to protect Garoppolo.

This pressure helped the Dolphins secondary find its form in this one as well. The return of Byron Jones certainly helped, too. Xavien Howard picked up an interception in a third-straight game and Bobby McCain added one as well. Miami’s pass rush and secondary limited the 49ers to just 128 net passing yards, the fewest allowed by the Dolphins since 2018.

Jason Sanders Could Be Best K in Dolphins History

One of the clear bright spots through the inconsistent play early this season has been Jason Sanders. After a five-field goal performance in Week 4, Sanders followed that with another stellar effort in this one. He netted all five of his field goal tries and each of his four point-after attempts.

Sanders 14-for-14 start to the season broke a Dolphins record for most consecutive field goals made to open a season. Pete Stoyanovich (1990) and Olindo Mare (2001) shared the previous 13-for-13 mark to open a season for Miami.

Sanders has now netted his last 16 field goal attempts, going back to last season. That’s tied for third among most consecutive makes in franchise history. The record is 19 straight makes by Mare (1999). Sunday’s game marked the third time in Sanders’ career that he’s hit five field goals in a game, which set a new franchise record.

It Might Not Be Tua-Time Just Yet

On Wednesday, Dolphins head coach Brian Flores said: “Right now, we feel like Fitz gives us the best chance to go out to California, complete and try to win a ballgame.” Those words seemed prophetic, considering Fitzpatrick’s performance and the Dolphins dominance overall.

Fitzpatrick completed 22-of-28 passes for 350 yards and three touchdowns. He posted a passer rating of 154.4, which is the second-highest mark in his 16-year career and the third-highest single-game mark in franchise history (Fielder, 156.0, at Dallas 2003; Tannehill, 155.3, v Oakland, 2018). Fitzpatrick has now thrown over 300 yards in five of his past seven games.

“People hate me, people love me, depending on the week,” Fitzpatrick said.

The Tua-time crowd will likely be silenced for a time after Fitzpatrick’s performance. Coming off an ineffective two interception game in a loss last week, the cries for Tua Tagovailoa grew louder. Some saw Week 5 as the chance to switch to Tagovailoa, but an injury to starting left tackle Austin Jackson may have slowed that momentum. And after his performance this week, Fitzpatrick is likely the starter for the foreseeable future.

Tagovailoa remains the backup for now, in part, because Flores believes Fitzpatrick gives the Dolphins the best chance to win. And with the shuffled schedule putting winnable games on tap, Miami will push for the playoffs.

Flores says he’s confident that should Tagovailoa be forced into a game that he could go in there and be effective, but he doesn’t feel the fifth overall pick is ready to take over as starter.

“I think (Tagovailoa) continues to improve every day,” quarterbacks coach Robby Brown said. “He comes in, he works hard from a mental perspective. He works hard from a physical perspective. He’s sitting under a really smart guy right now that helps him out. He asks good questions during the game sitting there listening to the play. Then when we come over and look at the pictures, he asks good questions, so I think his development, I’ve been pleased with it so far. It’s just … keep doing what he’s doing, and going in to prepare every single day. He’s done a good job with that.”

Dolphins Seahawks

5 Keys to Dolphins vs Seahawks

The Miami Dolphins (1-2) enter their Week 4 matchup with the Seattle Seahawks (3-0) coming off a dominant 31-13 victory last Thursday night over the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2). The Dolphins played well in Jacksonville, putting together solid stretches in all three phases of the game.

While the 2020 season has been anything but normal, Miami’s uneven performances have frustrated fans and players alike. And if the Dolphins are going to even their record at 2-2 this week, they’ll need focus and execution against one of the league’s most dynamic talents, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

Here’s a look at five keys to the Dolphins vs Seahawks matchup.

Limit Russell Wilson, if possible

Wilson leads the NFL with 14 touchdown passes, most after three games in NFL history. He’s on pace for a 75 touchdowns this season. The Seahawks offense has scored 111 points. This potent attack has spurred championship dreams in Seattle, but Chris Carson’s injury could force the Seahawks to lean even more on their MVP-candidate.

The Dolphins defense limited Gardner Minshew in Week 3. They tallied 10 quarterback hits and four sacks. Minshew, though, is not the dual threat posed by Wilson. The Dolphins struggled with similar dual threats in Weeks 1 and 2, considering what Cam Newton and Josh Allen were able to do.

The Dolphins will need to generate pressure, but Wilson is good at extending plays and making decisions on the run. The Seahawks have one of the better offensive line units, particularly in pass-protection. Wilson’s thrown only one interception so far this season, and the Dolphins secondary is allowing 7.7 yards-per-attempt.

Dolphins vs Seahawks: Protect Fitzpatrick

The Dolphins offensive line, which starts a pair of rookies, has been one of the unexpected bright spots this season. After a few years of subpar (at best) line play, the Dolphins may have found a unit to build upon moving forward. Austin Jackson and Solomon Kindley have played extremely well through their first three weeks in the NFL and that will need to continue against the Seahawks.

Seattle’s defensive line hasn’t been able to consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks this season. Their edge rushers have 10 pressures and two sacks on the year. This has led the Seahawks to blitz on nearly 40 percent of passing plays, but they’ll be without one of their main blitzers on Sunday with the absence of safety Jamal Adams. The former New York Jets standout averages nine pass rushes a game, so Seattle will need to look elsewhere for pressure.

The Seahawks defense can be scored upon. Seattle allows 28.7 points-per-game thus far in 2020, so if the Dolphins can keep Ryan Fitzpatrick upright, there will be opportunities to score on this defense.

More Production from the Running Back Position

The Dolphins seem to have stumbled upon a lead back that not very many people thought would take hold of the role. Myles Gaskin, a seventh-round pick last season, has been the surprise go-to running back so far this year. It’s particularly surprising given Miami’s addition of Matt Breida and Jordan Howard this offseason.

Gaskin leads the team with 152 yards rushing and 15 receptions, and he’s averaging 4.6 yards-per-touch. This after a rookie season that saw him tally just 133 yards and seven receptions in seven games played in 2019.

But the combination of Gaskin, Breida and Howard will need to more than just the 3.8 yards-per-carry average they’ve compiled so far in 2020. The Dolphins are 20th in the NFL in rushing-yards-per-game (108.0) and have four rushing touchdowns through three games.

The Seahawks allow the second-fewest rushing-yards-per-game (66.7) but that’s largely because their opponents have been playing from behind most of the time. If the Dolphins can use the run to set up the pass, they’ll be in business.

Dolphins vs Seahawks: Attack Seattle’s Secondary

While Seattle may have one of the best run defenses (statistically), their pass defense has been porous. Seattle’s defense ranks 32nd in yards-per-game (497.3) and passing-yards (430.7), 31st in yards-per-completion (8.5) and 31st in yards-per-play (6.6) and 29th in third-down defense (51.2 percent). Although their offense has been one of the league’s best, their defense has largely forced Wilson and company to put up points.

What’s going to help the Dolphins against the Seahawks on Sunday will be the fact that Seattle will be without starting safety Jamal Adams and cornerback Quinton Dunbar. In addition, backup safety Lano Hill, who has matched up versus opposing tight ends this season, could also miss the game.

A major weapon for the Dolphins should be Mike Gesicki. The Fitzpatrick-Gesicki connection has resulted in seven touchdowns in Gesicki’s past nine games. That figure is tied for most among NFL tight ends during that span. Over the past 16 games, Gesicki has 57 catches for 694 yards. Without Adams to check Gesicki, Fitzpatrick will likely target his big tight end early and often.

Dolphins Secondary Needs to Make Plays

The Seahawks sport a potent passing offense this season. Wilson piles up 289.7 passing-yards-per-game (5th in the NFL). He’s thrown a league-high 14 touchdowns and averages 9.0 yards-per-completion (3rd). The Seahawks offense ranks 25th(37.9 percent) in third-down conversions, but the Dolphins defense ranks 43.3 percent stopping opposing offenses on third down.

Wilson has spread the ball around, but in Week 3 he connected with Tyler Lockett nine times for 100 yards and three touchdowns. DK Metcalf has also been a productive weapon for Wilson. He’s leading the league with 24.8 yards per reception (min. 15 targets) and has scored a touchdown in each game this season.

Miami’s secondary has allowed 19 catches of 16 or more yards. The Dolphins secondary, which was viewed as a strength entering the year, remains battered with injury. Byron Jones continues to struggle with his groin injury, but he did return to practice on Thursday. Xavien Howard has been limited by a knee injury as well, but he’s limited quarterbacks to 54.5 percent completions against him this year. Rookie Noah Igbinoghene will continue to see playing time and will need to play well.

Dolphins QB Ryan Fitzpatrick ‘excited’ to work with Tua Tagovailoa

The 37-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick said he was excited when he found out the Miami Dolphins drafted Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa.

Unlike some of the other teams that may have drafted a young signal-caller this offseason, the Dolphins currently have Ryan Fitzpatrick–a 17-year-veteran at the helm. And with an NFL offseason, unlike anything we’ve ever seen, there’s no need for Chris Grier and Brian Flores to rush Tua Tagovailoa into action. Not yet, anyway.

The truth is, Ryan Fitzpatrick played well enough in 2019 to lead Miami’s roster of misfits to five wins.

Couple that with his familiarity in Chan Gailey’s offense and the uncertain times which lie ahead, and it seems obvious Fitzpatrick is the starter for the immediate future.

But as a Harvard graduate, Fitzpatrick is smart enough to understand that the young, promising rookie will take over. And he knows that may come sooner rather than later.

Fitzpatrick had to say about his relationship with Tua and the QB competition heading into camp.

I DON’T KNOW HOW MUCH TIME IT’LL BE BEFORE TUA (TAGOVAILOA) IS IN THE LINEUP. I KNOW THAT I AM THE PLACEHOLDER AND WE’VE ALREADY HAD THAT CONVERSATION. I TOLD HIM I’M GOING TO DO THE BEST I CAN TO LEAD THIS TEAM AND TO WIN FOOTBALL GAMES WHEN I’M OUT THERE AND WHENEVER IT IS THAT TUA GETS HIS CHANCE, WHETHER IT’S EARLY OR LATE OR WHENEVER IT IS, I’M GOING TO BE HIS BIGGEST CHEERLEADER AND THAT’S WHAT I SAID EARLIER; BUT I THINK I HAVE A UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE JUST FROM THE CAREER THAT I’VE HAD AND I WAS EXCITED THAT THEY DRAFTED HIM AND SINCE MEETING HIM IN PERSON FINALLY THE OTHER DAY, I’M REALLY EXCITED. I THINK WE’VE REALLY HIT IT OFF AND EVEN THOUGH I’M AN OLD GEEZER TO HIM, WE’VE MESHED PERSONALITY-WISE AND I’M EXCITED TO WORK WITH HIM.”

 

It is crystal clear that the Dolphins have spoken to Ryan Fitzpatrick about his role in 2020 and his importance in Tua’s development. I think it’s quite telling that he said the two QBs have already had the conversation about him being the placeholder. But like Fitz suggested countless times, he isn’t going just to lay down and let Tagovailoa take the starting QB job. The two players are going to do whatever they can to help the team win ball games–both on and off the field.

Fitzpatrick was then asked what it was about Tua’s personality that brought the two players together.

Here’s what the 37-year-old had to say.

“I DON’T KNOW. I MEAN HE’S A REALLY INTERESTING GUY. HE’S GOT A LOT OF ENERGY TO HIM AND YOU CAN JUST TELL THAT GUYS ARE GOING TO GRAVITATE TO HIM. THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT HIM THAT IS JUST VERY LIKABLE AND I CAN ALREADY TELL THAT HE’S GOING TO BE ONE OF THOSE GUYS THAT GETS ALONG WITH EVERYBODY, THAT GUYS ARE GOING TO WANT TO FOLLOW. HE JUST HAS THAT KIND OF AURA ABOUT HIM AND PART OF IT IS PROBABLY THE WAY THAT HE PLAYED IN COLLEGE AND JUST KIND OF THE NAME AND THE REPUTATION THAT HE’S BUILT FOR HIMSELF; BUT THERE’S NOT A WHOLE LOT OF EGO INVOLVED AND HE’S VERY LIKABLE. SO I DON’T KNOW, JUST THE GENERAL CONVERSATIONS WHETHER ABOUT FOOTBALL OR LIFE, IT’S BEEN REALLY FUN SO FAR.”

The 2020 NFL season is going to be like nothing we’ve ever experienced.

But one thing that should be interesting is watching the Dolphins QB room grow from one week to the next.

Yes, Ryan Fitzpatrick will be Miami’s starting QB week 1 vs. the Patriots. But unless he continues where he left off in 2019–the Tua Tagovailoa era in South Florida is inevitable.

Dolphins’ Ryan Fitzpatrick on Tua: “Loved Watching Him”

Dolphins’ quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and defensive tackle Davon Godchaux met with the South Florida media earlier today.

(Note: all quotes are paraphrased. Official quotes will be out later today.)

The two players spoke on multiple topics, but the biggest takeaway from this was that the future is bright in Miami.

First, Godchaux met with the media. And between trying to ride 40 miles on his bike and endless zoom meetings, he’s excited for the 2020 Dolphins.

Here’s what he had to say when asked his thoughts on what the Dolphins did this offseason.

Obviously, all the fans wanted a quarterback. That’s big drafting Tua. He had a great career at Alabama….Miami added depth and continued to get stronger, younger… Coach Flo is going to be consistent and expect great things out of you.

He then spoke on what is most important in football.

Lastly, GODchaux discussed what he believes is the process to building a winning franchise.

Everybody wants to win, but everyone has to take the steps to win. New England didn’t win overnight. It takes time to build the process. It’s always a process. I think it’s our time. Why not the Miami Dolphins? I think we kicked it off with a good draft…Sky is the limit

Focus then shifted to Dolphins’ QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. And the first thing everyone noticed was his epic facial hair, which has not been groomed since barbershops closed down.

Fitzpatrick’s main talking points were obviously rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa and the addition of offensive coordinator Chan Gailey this offseason.

When asked his thoughts on the Dolphins drafting a QB in round one:

It was expected. Tua happened to be the guy in that spot. They obviously really like him. I plan to be myself. To be an open book…but i’m also going to express my opinions and thoughts. I’m excited for him to be here. I loved watching him play in college.

He wrapped things up with his thoughts on Chan Gailey.

The Dolphins have a lot of new faces on both sides of the football. And players and coaches look forward to getting back into the facilities.

One thing however, is clear, and that is on paper; the Dolphins look much improved.

And for two of Miami’s veteran leaders, the sky is the limit.

 

Miami Dolphins: Ryan Fitzpatrick expected to be back with team in 2020

One part of the quarterback equation for the Miami Dolphins is not going anywhere.

At least one part of the Miami Dolphins quarterback equation will be solved in 2020. According to a report from Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald, Dolphins general manager Chris Grier expects Ryan Fitzpatrick to be back in 2020.

Fitzpatrick performed well for Miami given the circumstances. He threw for 3,529 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. His best game came against the Cincinnati Bengals. In what was in overtime contest, he threw for 419 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. His 31 completions that day were his second-most on the season.

Fitzpatrick’s 20 touchdowns on the season were the most he threw in any season since 2015. That year, he threw 31 with the New York Jets. His passing yards were also the most he had in his career since 2015.

The veteran quarterback signed a two-year, $11 million contract with the Dolphins in 2019. This included  $7 million in guaranteed money.  This season, he will make an $8 million base salary.

The Dolphins figure to be in the quarterback market heading into this year’s draft. They have the fifth pick in the first round. They are meeting with several quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl this week. There has been an overwhelming line of thinking that the Miami Dolphins will select Tua Tagovailoa with the fifth overall pick. The Miami Dolphins certainly have a lot of options at their disposal.

What role Fitzpatrick will play in 2020 remains to be seen. He will either be the starting quarterback as Miami looks to develop a rookie. Alternatively, he could be a mentor as the rookie ascends to the starting role. Whatever the case may be, the Miami Dolphins are making an effort to try and bring stability and talent to the quarterback position. How they will execute it remains to be seen.

Dolphins Chris Grier

Pressure Point: Up to Chris Grier to build on Brian Flores’ good work

Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores just made the job of general manager Chris Grier a whole lot tougher.

So be it.

How can you care at all about the Dolphins and not find delight in the stunning 27-24 upset they pulled off Sunday in Flores’ finale as a rookie head coach in his first visit to New England, where he worked for 15 years in the Belichick regime?

Especially when it mucks up Patriots playoff plans, denying them a first-round bye.

Also considering Miami hadn’t won at Foxborough since September 2008.

I know. I know. By winning five of their last nine to finish 5-11, the Dolphins strayed far from the tanking playbook — which Flores always claimed he wasn’t in on anyway. And there is no choice but to believe him now.

Win didn’t hurt draft standing

Sunday didn’t alter their standing in the draft order anyway.

Trying to win by losing has always been a cockamamie concept. Of greater importance, the win at New England was the latest in a growing stack of evidence that the Dolphins finally have a coach they can win with.

It was remarkable, really, coming to New England as 17-point underdogs and considering the 43-0 debacle in Miami in Week 2.

Sure, now Flores must show he can win more meaningful games when given the tools to work with. But he achieved far more with less than Adam Gase did in taking the 2016 Dolphins to the playoffs in his first season.

But he has a locker room full of believers, and likely much of the fan base.

Now that this most confusing of Dolphins seasons is over, speculation can shift from what they may or may not be trying to achieve on the field to what they must accomplish in the NFL draft.

Now it’s all about what Grier will do with those three first-round and assorted extra draft picks (14 total in 2020).

Finding the quarterback of the future remains the general manager’s mandate despite the team’s competitive gains behind the inspired play of veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Dolphins give Patriots a taste of their own medicine

Tua tough call as first-round pick

The Dolphins have the No. 5 pick next April and may have a chance to select Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa (provided he enters the draft), who must come back from a significant hip injury.

Maybe Tua will fare better than Bo Jackson, whose mercurial career was halted by a hip injury. Considering the injuries to both ankles that have also sidelined Tagovailoa, his durability is an issue.

Grier will spend more time poring over Tua’s medical reports than his game film. It will take conviction to make that choice or another available quarterback.

Regardless of whichever quarterback Grier chooses, bringing back Fitzpatrick would buy time in the development process.

Fitz reached folk hero status with what he accomplished leading an offense devoid of any reliable running game. That was cemented Sunday by outplaying Tom Brady and orchestrating the winning touchdown drive capped by the payoff pass to Mike Gesicki.

That doesn’t change that Grier must come away from the draft with a quarterback, but it’s just the top of a laundry list of needs.

Numerous needs on offense, defense

On offense, the challenge is to upgrade the line and add a featured running back, through draft picks and signings.

The receiving corps is respectable, with DeVante Parker having a breakout year and Gesicki making major strides in his second season. But pass protection and blocking for the running game needs to improve.

On defense, pass rushers are top priority, on the line and at linebacker. An ever-changing cast in the defensive backfield held its own against Tom Brady on Sunday, highlighted by former Patriot Eric Rowe’s pick-six. But Grier will be looking for another cornerback and likely a safety, especially if Reshad Jones isn’t brought back.

Grier is on the clock and on the spot for 2020.

As for 2019, which began with getting outscored 163-26 in the first four games, Sunday’s stunner made it almost sad to see time expire.

One thing for sure, the time for hoping for losses is thankfully over.

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns