With the news that Xavien Howard will be a game-time decision to play this week, the Miami Dolphins are possibly going to be missing their best defender on the defensive side of the ball.
Howard, the AFC Defensive Player of the Week has seven interceptions and is Miami’s lock-down corner. If he is able to play (and we feel he will), he’ll probably be locked up with Josh Gordon on the perimeter.
Adam Gase didn’t sound confident that he’ll be able to go this week for the Dolphins who at 6-6 are still very much in the Wildcard hunt.
“If you throw the ball at him and you’re inaccurate he’s not just going to knock it down,” Gase said. “He’s going to pick it off. And it’s an extreme value. He’s one of our best players, if not our best player on that side of the ball. It’s hard to say. But that’s what this game is. And that’s what the league is. We have to make some adjustments on defense. Be smart with that. And you know our guys have to step up. If he can’t go, you’re not going to replace him. But we’ve got to shuffle some things around.”
Torry McTyer would likely get the start if indeed Howard can’t go. McTyer, 6’0, 187 a 2nd-year UDFA from UNLV has started in two games this season (Chicago, Cincinnati) and has a confidence level matching Howard’s. However, the rest of Miami’s secondary has struggled in 2018.
When opposing quarterbacks have targeted any Dolphins defender not named Howard this year, they have completed 68.5 percent of their passes, averaging 8.1 yards per attempt, throwing 19 touchdowns, 12 interceptions for a passer rating of 96.9. Miami has given up the 3rd most explosive plays this year (that is considered to be a 15-yard run or more and a 20-yard pass play or more). The Dolphins have allowed 12 touchdown passes of 20 yards or more thus far in 2018.
But the issues with Miami’s defense rests within their run defense. Remember the Dolphins started the season 3-0 and came into New England riding high. They were blown out in that game 38-7 and have gone 3-6 since because of issues stopping the run.
Miami is currently 30th in the league in run defense, allowing 5.0 yards per carry and a whopping 144.7 yards per game on the ground. The New England game where they allowed the Patriots to run for 175 yards started a bad trend where they gave up 164 on the ground to the Bears, 248 against the Lions, 188 against the Houston Texans, 195 against the Packers and 198 last week against the Bills, although most of those were Josh Allen scrambles, which gashed them badly.
Miami’s 4-3 defense hasn’t gotten great tackle play inside, their consistency has been poor and their linebackers notably MLB Raekwon McMillan and Kiko Alonso haven’t been good against the run either.
The Miami run defense was leaky in 2017 as well and they had hoped to fix it going into the 2018 season. But their first couple of preseason games showed that perhaps that wasn’t the case as they were gashed but then things solidified somewhat. That 3-0 start masked what was still an issue and they’ve been battling this since then.
Unlike in other years when traveling to Miami (2013, 2015 come to mind) when the Patriots went into the games with a walking MASH unit, the Patriots are about as healthy as they’ve been all season.
They attacked a Minnesota defense that was a Top 5 unit against the run and garnered 160 yards on the ground. With Sony Michel back to full health and Rex Burkhead back from IR, look for New England to line up this week and try to pound the ball between the tackles. That should open up play-action passing for Tom Brady and the wide receivers.
This is essentially a playoff game for the Dolphins who have to finish strong for any chance to make the postseason. They face the Patriots this week, travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings, return home against Jacksonville and close out the regular season on the road in Buffalo.
Last season, the Patriots were caught looking ahead to the Pittsburgh game and were thrashed in every phase of the game losing 27-20 to Miami in a game that wasn’t even close to what the score indicated. That will be a big, big teaching point by Bill Belichick this week.
Lo and behold, the Steelers are again on the slate next week. Don’t expect the Patriots to make that same blunder twice. Last year, the Pats could afford to lose the game and still secure home-field advantage for the playoffs with a win over Pittsburgh. The 2018 version of the Pats does not have that luxury. Miami is on the cusp of a playoff berth themselves.
There won’t be no overlooking them this time. Expect a much better game this week. And look for the Patriots to pound the ball in the running game. We’ll have much more in our keys to the game tomorrow.