I spoke with PFN’s Chris Spooner to find out if the Denver Broncos have a shot at upsetting the Miami Dolphins in Week 11.
In a way, the Miami Dolphins represent a sort of look in the mirror for Broncos’ Country. In 2019 they pulled the plug on a struggling head coach and brought in a former defensive coordinator to run the ship. Brian Flores was just 38 while Vic Fangio started his first day in Denver a spry 60, but came with the kind of pedigree and resume to suggest he was ready for the opportunity. Like John Elway, Chris Grier went out and found a veteran quarterback for his first year head coach. After Teddy Bridgewater turned down the Dolphins offer, Miami signed former Jet Ryan Fitzpatrick.
From there, the organizational philosophies were significantly different. The NFL world fiercely had a fierce debate for the better part of the 2019 season as the Miami Dolphins traded away players like Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills, and Minkah Fitzpatrick while the Broncos created cap space by tinkering with Joe Flacco’s contract before trading Emmanuel Sanders for a pick halfway through the season. Fitzpatrick helped the Phish win enough games that the tank commanders began to sweat, while Flacco’s injury opened the door for Brandon Allen and eventually Drew Lock to win games.
The teams that compete on Sunday are as similar as they are different. Both have defensive head coaches and young quarterbacks. Miami is 6-3 and has two first and second round picks to show for their recent tear down. The Broncos are an injury plagued 3-6 and holding out hope Drew Lock can follow the Josh Allen development path.
To get insight into what Lock and the Broncos will face this weekend, I reached out to Pro Football Network’s Chris Spooner.
1st and 10
Everyone knows about Tua Tagovailoa, but he’s thrown for less than 200 yards in two of his first three starts. How have the Dolphins helped support their rookie passer?
Spooner: Tua certainly is the talk of the Dolphins football world right now, if not the NFL world as a whole, but I don’t think enough credit is going to the coaching staff. Chan Gailey and the offensive staff have been doing a great job of helping out the young quarterback in his first handful of starts. We’re seeing the progression of Tua right before our eyes.
They started him out slowly, with a lot of help from the defense and special teams affording them the ability to keep things simple. As the weeks have gone on, we’ve seen Tua’s role and responsibilities expand, gradually. It culminated last week when he was at or near the top of the league in both air yards per completion and average intended air yards per attempt. He was just inches away from hitting a few big plays. Those will come in time.
— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) November 16, 2020
2nd and 8
Before the season began, more than a few people wanted Tua to sit in part because the Dolphins’ line was considered weak. He’s taken all of four sacks and just one against the two LA teams. The quick passing game is a part of it, but if the Broncos can force Tagovailoa into passing downs, are there any matchups Fangio’s defense can exploit?
Spooner: A lot has been made about the Dolphins offensive line this season. Dolphins Twitter was set ablaze with the comments from Mina Kimes and Dan Orlovsky earlier this season. To their credit, they are playing better than I think a lot of folks expected them to be at this point. But I think we, as Dolphins fans, tend to over-inflate their performance. They’re incredibly young and there’s still a long way to go.
Miami is 25th in the league in Pass Block Win Rate according to ESPN analytics, winning 52 percent of their pass blocks. I would expect a veteran defensive coach like Fangio to take advantage of that and the inexperience of Tua to bring all kinds of disguised pressures to confuse everyone up there.
Do…Dolphins fans believe their OL has been good? Legitimately confused by this. https://t.co/RlS5kUysh3
— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) October 20, 2020
3rd and 4
Where/Who should Pat Shurmur and the offense attack the Dolphins when they go to the air?
Spooner: That one is tricky. The whole point of Brian Flores’ scheme and the “amoeba” defense is to confuse the quarterback. You don’t know who’s coming and who’s dropping. You don’t know when the pressure is coming or where it’s coming from. They make it so the holes in the defense aren’t readily obvious, and they’ve been doing a great job of it so far.
That said, it doesn’t mean the holes aren’t there and there aren’t matchups that can be exploited. I think guys like Noah Fant and K.J. Hamler present a unique challenge for that defense. Provided Lock has the time to find them, they could feast.
— PFF MIA Dolphins (@PFF_Dolphins) November 20, 2020
4th and inches
The Broncos have been so bad at special teams for so long that it’s become a bit of a meme among the fanbase. Meanwhile, the Dolphins’ field the best unit in football by DVOA. How do you expect that to play out this weekend?
Spooner: While I would love to sit here and say that the Dolphins special teams unit is going to get the offense a blocked punt or field goal, I just don’t think relying on that type of play is sustainable. The more likely outcome is the boring one. The one where the Dolphins win the field position battle with the better special teams return unit, and the one where the Dolphins make two or three field goals with a kicker who is nearly automatic.
Jason Sanders now 9 for 11 on FG attempts of 50 yards or more in career, including 5 for 5 this year. What a great 7th round pick.
— Barry Jackson (@flasportsbuzz) November 15, 2020
What’s your prediction for the game?
Spooner: There’s no denying the Dolphins have been hot lately. They’re riding a 5-game winning streak and are just a half-game behind the Bills for the top spot in the AFC East. I question whether the way they’re winning those games is sustainable, but you can’t argue with success. Or, at least, I don’t really want to.
At some point this hot streak is going to come to an end, but I don’t think it’s going to be Sunday. The Broncos have been struggling all season, and they’re coming into this game with a beat-up quarterback against a defense who has been getting after QBs with great frequency. If that pass rush can wreak havoc upon Drew Lock, it’s going to be a long day for Broncos fans.
Ultimately, I think this is going to be a closer game than it may seem on paper, but I do think the Dolphins push their streak to six games in something like a 24-17 tilt.