To get a grasp on these upstart Dolphins, we had a Q & A with the head man over at SB Nation’s Miami Dolphins website, “The Phinsider”. Here’s what Kevin Nogle had to say about the squad ahead of the primetime clash:
1.) AC: What’s been the biggest growth spot for Tua Tagovailoa? How much of that is a direct credit to Mike McDaniel?
KN: I think it really is just a matter of him finally feeling comfortable. He knows the team and the coach support him, and it is allowing him to look more like the Alabama Tua than we have seen in the last couple of years. There is no longer the Deshaun Watson or Tom Brady talk hanging over his head.
There is no longer the “closer” substitution with Ryan Fitzpatrick. This is Tua’s team, and it feels like he is the confident quarterback you want for your team. Physically, I think he trusts his hip again, and he spent time this year getting back to the basics, working on things like his footwork and his mechanics. It all shows on the field.
And absolutely McDaniel is a huge part of this. He has come in and been a breath of fresh air for the team. He has redesigned the offense, and he is playing to Tua’s strengths. Adding in more RPO and play action, and getting Tua moving outside the pocket.
While McDaniel’s offensive system is a big part of why the team is having success, but I think McDaniel as a person is even more important to this team. He is a coach who looks to put his players in the best position to succeed, and he looks for their input into what they think works for them and what they need from him. It is not a coach installing his system and looking for players that fit it as much as it is a coach who is looking at his players and building the system around them.
2.) AC: Cincinnati fans clamored for Terron Armstead in the offseason and were also interested in Connor Williams landing with the Bengals. How have they been for Miami’s line so far? It looked like Armstead held up well against Von Miller last week...
KN: They have been good. Miami’s offensive line was such a mess last year that the team just needs solid play this year to be a huge upgrade. That is what we have seen through the first three games. Armstead is Armstead, and he is doing a good job of locking down the left tackle position. He is battling through a toe injury, but he has played through it the last two weeks and I do not think it is anything that will slow him down the rest of the way.
Williams has made the transition to center, and he is playing well there. There are some snap issues every now and then, particularly high shotgun snaps, but nothing disastrous. Liam Eichenberg at left guard has grown into the role and Robert Hunt at right guard is a really good player - maybe never a Pro Bowl selection type of guy, but he really never seems to make a mistake.
Right tackle is the biggest question mark right now, where injuries are forcing adjustments to the line. Austin Jackson is on injured reserve, so Greg Little has moved into that position, but he was dealing with some injury issues last week, which forced Hunt to move out to right tackle and Robert Jones into the right guard position.
Even with the changes, however, the line has been solid. The team moved to a zone-blocking scheme this year, and it seems to have perfectly worked to get the line playing better this season.
3.) AC: It looks like it’s been a lot of “running back by committee” for the Dolphins between Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert and Myles Gaskin (him not so much)—is that accurate? Are they also asked to do a lot in the passing game, with McDaniel coming from the Kyle Shanahan system?
KN: The running game is the missing piece right now, and Miami needs to find a way to get it jump-started. It really is a two-man room between Edmonds and Mostert, with one of Salvon Ahmed or Myles Gaskin backing them up, with the other inactive.
As I said earlier, the offense is built to use play action to create separation on quick passes. If the running game does not really exist, then it is hard to get linebackers to bite on the fake.
Mostert has 24 carries for 78 yards this year, while Edmonds has 23 carries for 79 yards and a touchdown. They are basically the exact same right now.
Edmonds has been targeted eight times in the passing game, catching six for 54 yards, while Mostert has been targeted six times with four receptions for 44 yards. They can be a part of the passing attack, but it is not a huge staple of the offense at this point.
4.) AC: Mike Gesicki has long been one of the better tight ends in football. His numbers have dropped a bit to start this year (two games with just one reception so far)—is that due to the arrival of Tyreek Hill, his contract situation, or defenses keying on him more?
KN: I think it is a few things, but mainly McDaniel’s offense. This is the one place where the system does not necessarily conform to the players. McDaniel expects his tight ends to block, and that has never been a part of Gesicki’s game. I think they will open up the playbook with regards to Gesicki as the season goes along, but right now he is being asked to chip and block much more than he has in the past.
Add in the arrival of Hill and the 29 targets he has received already this year (and the 30 targets Waddle has), and there just have not been as many opportunities to go to Gesicki yet. He will break out at some point, but right now, he is definitely an afterthought for the offense.
5.) AC: Per DraftKings, Cincinnati is a four-point favorite at home. Was last week’s semi-struggle to get into the end zone a fluke with Tua being out for a bit in the game (and the overall weirdness about the situation now), or is there more on film from the Bills contest causing oddsmakers to be skittish on them this week? How do you see this one playing out?
KN: I think this is a matter of (a) no one really knowing what the Dolphins are yet and (b) the Super Bowl appearance for the Bengals. Miami has won this year with the defense outperforming the offense, they have made a comeback win thanks to a shootout style, high-scoring offense, and they have won with a scrappy, things are not going perfectly, but they do not give, and they clawed their way to a win.
Which one of those is actually the Dolphins? And, the Bengals get some benefit because they are the defending AFC champions, making it to the Super Bowl last year. Joe Burrow is trusted, Tua is not yet. That lends toward the Bengals being favored.
I have a rule to never pick the visiting team on a Thursday Night Football game. It is such a short week that includes travel time for the visitor that the home team does not need to do. It usually does not go well for the visiting team. That said, I see this as a close game.
I think the Dolphins are better than people realize, and I think the Bengals caught lightning in a bottle last year to make the Super Bow. The Dolphins should be able to step up, compared to last year, and the Bengals probably somewhat regress toward the mean.
I am going to pick Miami to win this, in part because I am a homer, and in part because the Bengals have not yet convinced me they are over the hangover that comes from a Super Bowl loss - even after a palate cleanser last week in playing the New York Jets. I would not be surprised no matter which way this game goes, however.
Our thanks to Kevin Nogle and The Phinsider for the chat! Go keep your eyes peeled over there for more coverage on Dolphins versus Bengals!