On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers head south to sizzling Miami to take on the 2-2 Dolphins. Kevin Nogle of The Phinsider was kind enough to answer some questions about the Dolphins and provide insight into their strengths and weaknesses.
APC: Dolphins coach Joe Philbin drew considerable media scrutiny before Miami's bye for deciding not to declare Ryan Tannehill the starter. What, if anything, do you make of this, and does it say anything about the efficacy of Tannehill as the team's franchise quarterback?
I think it was more overblown than it needed to be, but it was because of the way Philbin handled the situation. In his two-plus years in Miami, Philbin has been extremely consistent in his refusal to talk about three things: (1) injuries, (2) players not at practice, and (3) the depth chart. He just does not answer questions about those, even if it is something as simple as a stubbed toe, a player missing practice because his wife is having a baby, or your starting quarterback remaining your starting quarterback.
I think he learned a valuable lesson heading into the game against the Oakland Raiders that, when it comes to your quarterback, being evasive with your answers gives the media a story to write.
Tannehill was never taken out of the starting position. He took all of the first team snaps. He and Matt Moore both said they were told from the beginning of the week of how Philbin was handling the questions and that it was Tannehill's job. That did not stop the questions, and Tannehill admitted it became an issue. Eventually Philbin apologized to the team for causing the distraction, but nothing ever actually changed within the team itself.
A lot of talk has been made about how Philbin's tactics, questionable at the time, were the exact thing that was needed to motivate Tannehill into having his best performance of the year - and among the best of his career. I am not as sure, given that it came against the Raiders, who clearly have problems. If Tannehill can back it up with another strong performance this week, maybe it is the turning point in his career. I still think Tannehill is the quarterback of the future for Miami, but that is not as certain a statement as it may have been before the season.
APC: Miami looked dominant in its season-opening win over the Patriots, but have been up and down since. Is there a particular reason for the Dolphins' inconsistencies, and do you expect them to even out or continue fluctuating in the coming weeks?
That has been the story of this team for the past several years. They can play up to great competition, but they can play down to lesser teams. There has not been a lot of consistency from the Dolphins, a lot of which mirrors the inconsistent play that comes from Tannehill.
If the Raiders game was a sign that Tannehill and the offense are starting to master the new offensive scheme under Bill Lazor, then the team may start to even out. If it was a one-off thing, where they put it all together against a weaker opponent, but are not ready to do that against upper level competition, then I would expect the up-and-down to continue for a while.
APC: After a season in which the Dolphins' offensive line lost multiple starters as the result of a bullying scandal, how has the unit looked this year with its five new starters? Where do you expect Mike Pouncey to slot in once he returns from his hip injury?
The offensive line has actually been a pleasant surprise. Five new starters to start this season was insane, but they came together and seem to be playing fairly well. The interior is still a concern, particularly right guard, but everything else seems to be about where it needs to be.
Ja'Wuan James, the Dolphins' first round draft choice and a pick a lot of people called a reach, has been great at right tackle, allowing seven pressures and one sack thus far this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Branden Albert on the opposite side is playing exactly like you would expect a Pro Bowl left tackle, allowing three pressures and a sack this season, but locking down the blindside of Tannehill.
Perhaps the biggest surprise this season has been the running game that has appeared in Miami. Even with the injury to Knowshon Moreno (a dislocated elbow in Week 2 - with him potentially returning this week), Miami has been able to run the ball and run well. A year after the Dolphins simply abandoned the run because they could find no lanes whatsoever, Miami is currently fifth in the league at 142.3 yards per game on the ground. The offensive line is opening holes and Lamar Miller is hitting them hard and fast.
Mike Pouncey's return should only strengthen the line. The strange part is, it might not be a center. Pouncey has said he is taking first team snaps at both center and at right guard, the position he played for most of his college career at the University of Florida as twin brother Maurkice played center. Could Miami really consider moving a Pro Bowl center to guard, leaving Samson Satele as the starting center? It seems like an odd move, given the strength Pouncey brings as the man controlling the line and the ability for him to help both the left and right guards, but it could also solidify the only question on the offensive line if he is able to quickly return to being a guard.
Pouncey has the athleticism to pull and be all over the field as a blocker, so a move to guard could be a great adjustment for the team. It is just hard to say a team should move a player with elite level skills at his current position.
APC: If you were game planning against the Dolphins, how would you attack them on offense? On defense?
Based on how the Dolphins have played this year, as a defense, I would want to force the ball into Tannehill's hands. Not that he cannot torch a defense at times, but based on the fact that he cannot do that consistently yet. Make him prove he can attack you through the air.
That would mean I am stacking the box to prevent Miller from running, and I am crashing the middle of the line (depending on if and where Pouncey is playing) to try to get pressure.
Miami's got some playmakers at receiver, especially as Mike Wallace has started to prove he is a wide receiver and not just a one-trick, run a go-route, pony. Brian Hartline, Jarvis Landry, and tight end Charles Clay all can make plays. Daniel Thomas and/or Moreno can add versatility coming out of the backfield (Miller still needs to work on his pass catching), and the weapons are there for a successful passing attack. Force Tannehill to make quick decisions in a congested pocket will prove to be the best defensive game plan.
As for attacking Miami's defense, that's a little harder, and I'm not trying to be a homer. Miami has the seventh best defense in the league right now, based on yards per game allowed, with the ninth pass defense and the thirteenth rush defense. They are putting together a solid defense and getting after opposing offenses.
That said, they are definitely not perfect. Attack the linebackers, and you will probably find the weak spot on the defense. Starting middle linebacker Koa Misi is expected to come back this week and Jelani Jenkins has proven he can play the strong side linebacker position after Dannell Ellerbe was placed on injured reserve, but Philip Wheeler is still a question mark at times on the weak side. The Dolphins have also done strange things like had Cameron Wake drop back into coverage on tight ends or running backs, working as a linebacker instead of a defensive end/pass rusher.
Adjust your offensive lineup to expose the linebackers, and attack them on the ground, something Eddie Lacy should be able to do, and you will probably find the best success.
APC: Finally, it's prediction time. Which team wins on Sunday and why?
If the London version of the Miami Dolphins shows up, this game will be a great contest. If the version that has lost three straight games to the Buffalo Bills shows up, Green Bay will trounce them. I have to believe that coming off of the bye week, giving the team two weeks to prepare for the Packers, and with some momentum from beating the Raiders, the Dolphins will come ready to play.
I know the line opened with the Packers a three-point favorite, and I do think it will be close. At this point, I do feel somewhat like a homer, but I will give Miami the slight edge because it's in Miami, and go Dolphins 24-21.
We'd like to thank Kevin and The Phinsider for answering our questions. Be sure to check out our Q&A session over thereas well as their fantastic coverage of all things Dolphins. As always, keep your internet machines tuned to Acme Packing Company this Thursday for our comprehensive game-day coverage of Packers vs. Dolphins.