The Miami Dolphins (3-3) made headline news during the bye week. The switch to Tua Tagovailoa initiated a cascade of national coverage. Football pundits fell on either side of the fence. A heated debate over the Dolphins offensive line unfolded on Twitter. And all of this amped up the excitement of Dolphins fans as the game versus the Ram (5-2) approaches.
The matchup of a Brian Flores defense versus a Sean McVay offense last happened in Super Bowl LII. New England shut down the Jared Goff-led Rams in the lowest scoring Super Bowl of all-time. Flores’s defense frustrated Goff by alternating looks. That might be something seen in Week 8, especially considering Kyle Van Noy, a key player in Patriot’s defensive effort then, will be on the field for Miami.
At 3-3, Miami is one game out of first place in the AFC East. A win here would be the team’s third in a row and keep them in the thick of the playoff race. The Rams, meanwhile, travel east for an early game on a short week.
Here’s a look at five keys to the Dolphins versus the Rams in Week 8.
Dolphins vs Rams: Be Patient
The Rams defense allows for short completions in the passing game, so be patient. The defense doesn’t disguise coverages often and tends to play straight-up. The deployment of Aaron Donald remains fairly consistent.
LA occasionally tries to disguise their backend coverages through alignment. They hide their 2-deep coverage with an initial Quarters look. Sometimes, they lineup in Quarters then play man-to-man with two deep safeties.
These are approaches that Tagovailoa had success against while at Alabama. These coverages can leave openings in the defense while the defenders flex into the different positions. But the key will be Tagovailoa’s ability to recognize the coverage and deliver the ball to the appropriate place, even if it’s short.
Attack Darius Williams
LA paid a high price for All-Pro corner Jalen Ramsey. He tends to travel from the outside to the slot. Ramsey occasionally mirrors the opponent’s best receiver. He allows just 53.5 percent of passes completed, giving up 5.33 yards per target. While he can be challenged, the Dolphins might look elsewhere.
Ramsey may draw the DeVante Parker assignment for the Rams. Parker’s been the focal point of Miami’s passing attack thus far. He’s seen 40 targets and made 29 catches for 364 yards and two touchdowns, but all of that was with Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The Rams other wide corner is Darius Williams. He’s 5-foot-9, 187-pounds. Williams will likely matchup against Preston Williams, who stands at 6-foot-5 and has caught a touchdown in three of the last four weeks.
Dolphins vs Rams: Use RPO
Next Gen Stats indicated this week that the Dolphins deploy the widest formations in the league (30.1 yards). These wide formations afford space to the receivers and the runners as they move in and out of their routes and cuts. This also spreads out the defense and makes disguising blitz packages somewhat more difficult for some teams.
This wide set up also allows for the offense to use run-pass option, and the switch to Tagovailoa might make that even more likely to happen.
NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah said on his ‘Move the Sticks’ podcast that an anonymous GM called Tagovailoa “the best RPO quarterback he’s ever seen … ball-handling, he’ll hit that slant a million times over.”
Dolphins offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey, was one of the first coaches in the NFL to integrate the run-pass option.
In his media availability this week, Gailey revealed the team regularly used pre-snap RPOs. He also said Tagovailoa was “good at reading and seeing” when using the option. This could be an element to play on Tagovailoa’s strengths and to mitigate LA’s pass rush.
Attack Jared Goff
The Dolphins have struggled against mobile quarterbacks, but Goff isn’t one of those. He works in the pocket with a strict timing in mind. Goff likes to hit his backfoot and make the throw. If the Dolphins can pressure him off his spot, he’s far less effective.
While Miami features the league’s widest offense, the Rams sport the NFL’s most closed. The closed-in formation could lead to quick option looks and receivers coming free after rub routes. Miami’s secondary will need to maintain discipline and communicate well.
Jones and Howard have been targeted a combined 22 times since Jones’s return in Week 5, but they’ve allowed just six receptions for 69 yards. For the season, Miami’s pass defense allows 62.2 percent completion percentage and their 86.3 QB-rating against is ninth best.
Goff enjoys operating out of the play-action, both straight and with a bootleg. His 93 play-action drop backs lead the league and he’s completed 68.8 percent of those attempts. Miami will need to limit the Rams’ effective running game in order to attack Goff.
Dolphins vs Rams: Protect Tua
Last week against the Bears, the Rams registered four sacks and eight quarterback hits. Their 24 sacks are third-most this season and they’ve piled up 86 pressures. Donald has tallied 45 of those pressures on his own. Michael Brockers has 15.
The Dolphins offensive line, meanwhile, has allowed just 10 sacks this season, ninth-fewest in the NFL.
The interior line will be particularly important, and they’ve played well thus far. Ereck Flowers, Ted Karras and rookie Solomon Kindley have surrendered just 21 pressures in 717 combined pass-blocking snaps. Of those 21 pressures, only seven have resulted in quarterback hits.
Tagovailoa can protect himself by not holding the ball for more than about 2.5 seconds. If he does, Donald and the Rams will find him. LA tends to get home with their four-man rush, blitzing only 28 percent of the time (14th-lowest rate).