Ahead of the Las Vegas Raiders Week 11 matchup with the Miami Dolphins, Kevin Nogle of The Phinsider was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Dolphins for Raider Nation, sponsored by DraftKings Sportsbook.
Question: The Dolphins’ offense has been a juggernaut for the majority of the season but they did struggle to put up points against the Eagles and Chiefs. What did those two defenses do that gave Miami’s offense trouble?
Answer: There are a couple of ways to slow down Miami’s offense. The first is to get pressure on quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with four, freeing up seven to play in coverage. With a player like Maxx Crosby, it is definitely a possibility for the Raiders to meet that requirement.
Once there are additional players in coverage, they need to be disciplined in staying in the passing lanes, especially in the quick slant lanes. Clog up the middle of the field and it takes away Miami’s primary passing routes. The deep passes to Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle - assuming he is healthy and those start to come a little more frequently in the second half of the season - are always a threat, but Miami’s offense lives on quick passes to Hill and Waddle when they are in space and at full speed across the middle of the field. Get into those lanes and force Tagovailoa to hold the ball, looking for second or third reads.
Also, if Miami is having a strong day with the quick passes, they are also leaving themselves vulnerable to batted balls. When Tagovailoa is getting the ball out so quickly, a defender who gets his hands up and adds another layer of coverage for the passing lanes can get some pass defenses.
Obviously, keeping someone over the top to help with the speed Hill and Waddle bring to the offense is important as well.
Q: Tua Tagovailoa is one of the favorites to win MVP this year as a +550 bet on DraftKings Sportsbook. How has he grown from this year compared to last year? And do you like his chances of winning the award?
A: Honestly, it is confidence and comfort.
After the Dolphins selected Tagovailoa in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, it felt like an immediate goal of then-head coach Brian Flores to get rid of him. He was undermined and his confidence was shaken. Tagovailoa has admitted he began to doubt he could play the position because of how rough those first couple of years were.
Under Mike McDaniel, Tagovailoa has flourished. There were stories that one of McDaniel’s first acts as the head coach was to cut up 400 plays from Tagovailoa to show him what he was doing right. The relationship between the coach and quarterback has continued to grow and Tagovailoa now feels like he is free to be himself, be a leader, and play the game like he knows how to play.
Add in this being the second year in McDaniel’s offense, giving Tagovailoa and the rest of the offense a comfort in the system, and you see the growth in Tagovailoa’s performance over the past two years.
I think Tagovailoa should be in the MVP conversation, but right now, it is hard to see him winning it because, if Tyreek Hill remains on pace for 2,000 yards, they will siphon votes from each other. If Jaylen Waddle can get up to speed and start looking more like the player we expected him to be this year, surpassing 1,000 yards and being the 1A to Hill, maybe that starts to bring people back to Tagovailoa as the catalyst for the offense.
Is it possible he will win the MVP award? Absolutely. He would be worthy of it if he is able to keep up play like this. Will he win it? I am leaning towards no at the mid-way point but I will definitely be campaigning for it as we get further into the season.
Of course, adding a player like Tyreek Hill, as well as Raheem Mostert and De’Von Achane, is a factor as well.
Q: What’s the likelihood that De’Von Achane returns this week and if he does suit up, how does that impact the Dolphins’ offense?
A: I feel like it is a good bet he is activated before the game, but I do not know if that means he will have a huge impact on the game. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey broke this rule, but for the most part, Miami is very conservative when it comes to players who are returning from injury and keeping them on a snap count.
Miami may activate Achane, but limit his touches this week as they work to get him back into rhythm. Of course, if he comes out hot and does not seem to be bothered by anything, it is possible they increase his workload. It just feels like the Dolphins’ ground game will rely primarily on Raheem Mostert for one more week before ramping Achane back into a full workload.
Q: What has Jalen Ramsey brought to Miami’s defense? How do you think he matches up with Davante Adams?
A: Ramsey coming back - and Xavien Howard getting healthy - has been critical to Miami’s defense. Having the plan to use two Pro Bowl cornerbacks all season and building the defense with that in mind, only to have one then both sit for games due to injury was a huge issue for Miami early. Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins needing to shake off the rust after a “hold-in” during training camp and the preseason was also an issue.
Finally, the team simply getting used to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s system has helped as well. The Dolphins’ defense the last few years has been focused on man-to-man coverage, with the cornerbacks on islands, and exotic blitzes creating pressure. Fangio runs a zone scheme that expects pressure to come from just four players rushing.
It has taken a minute for the team to get used to that - but it has also taken a minute for Fangio to loosen up some of his own tendencies and we are seeing more blitzing now. That is probably, at least in part, because Ramsey is back.
As for the matchup with Adams, I have no idea what that will look like. Miami has been adamant this year that cornerbacks are responsible for their area on the field, not a person on the opposing team. Howard and Ramsey each have a side of the field and they stay there. Nickel cornerback Kader Kohou is responsible for the slot.
They do not, for the most part, have players shadowing receivers or give a one-on-one type of assignment for the game. The Raiders can absolutely take advantage of that, moving Adams around and creating matchups that favor the receiver. If they do move around Adams and he has success early, it will be interesting to see if the Dolphins are willing to make a change and place Ramsey or Howard on Adams no matter where he is aligned.
Q: DraftKings Sportsbook is offering a weekly special where Adams and Josh Jacobs combining for over 200 yards is a +175 bet. So, would you take the over or under on that bet/how do you think the Raiders’ offense stacks up against the Dolphins' defense?
A: Adams and Jacobs are averaging about 130 yards combined per game this year. That feels like a big difference between their averages and 200 yards. If I were the Raiders, I would absolutely be feeding Jacobs early to see if the Dolphins can stop him. Force Miami to stack the box, then start using play action to get the ball to Adams. If the run game starts clicking, a 100-yard game from Jacobs and a 100-yard game from Adams is definitely feasible.
My concern would be quarterback Aidan O’Connell. The Dolphins have been getting after quarterbacks the last few weeks and a fourth-round rookie could be forced to make mistakes, limiting his ability to get Adams the ball. Fangio’s system is great at making it look like the right read is to check into the run, and then the strength of the play is designed to stuff that run.
Miami struggled against the run early in the season, but they have been getting stronger, so if they are able to give a look to O’Connell, have him check into a run, then get into the backfield or fill the hole, they could limit the offense’s attack.
I feel like I am talking myself into both the over and under for this question. I think both Adams and Jacobs could have strong days, so I will take the over - but if you ask me again, I would probably say the under.