Miami Dolphins (5-4) @ Los Angeles Rams (4-5)
Sunday November 20, 4:05 EST – LA Memorial Coliseum – Los Angeles, CA
Betting Line: Dolphins -1.5
EDITORS NOTE: News came down shortly after this publication that Mike Pouncey could soon be joining Branden Albert in the training room for an extended stay as the Dolphins center has aggravated his hip injury. Hence, the Fragile Five.
There are a handful of good omens about the Dolphins recent four game run. Teams that achieve a four game winning streak in any one given season qualify for the post-season 85% of the time. The last time the Dolphins put together a streak of this length was 2008 – the last time Miami played a post-season game.
The positive vibes took a hit on Wednesday when the team announced that Branden Albert’s dislocated wrist would keep him out of part two of the California swing. Since the Dolphins primary five linemen returned to action, the team is 4-0 and hasn’t scored fewer than 27 points (averaging 29 per) in a game.
The fear is that Albert misses extended time, but if there was a stretch where the team can rally around his absence, it’s the next two games. The injury forces Laremy Tunsil to left tackle and Kraig Urbik gets the call at left guard. This matches the embattled veteran up against arguably the league’s best player in Aaron Donald.
The big news in Los Angeles is around first overall selection in May’s draft, Jared Goff. After a horrendous pre-season and embarrassing appearance on HBO’s Hard Knocks, Head Coach Jeff Fisher was put in the awkward position of being forced to make the switch.
Case Keenum was among the worst quarterbacks in football across the board statistically and the Rams have scored just one touchdown in the previous three games. None of that changes the fact that Fisher, again, declared Goff not yet ready for action on Monday before enduring a change of heart on Tuesday.
So with the Dolphins eyeing a miraculous playoff turn around and the Rams auditioning for the 2017 season, let’s look into some of the match-ups.
Los Angeles offense vs. Miami defense:
Much like the Miami offensive line pre-Fab Five, the LA line struggles to get much of anything done. Calling the push they get in the running game timid would be an understatement. At times, it looks like they’re just playing patty-cake with the opposing defensive line.
Center Tim Barnes and right guard Cody Wichman are the primary culprits for the interior lanes being closed before they ever open. The splits are extremely narrow and just as the Jets defensive line kept these players stationary and unable to get to the second level on combination blocks, expect much of the same for the Dolphins.
Ndamukong Suh might be having the best year of his career. Suh and Jordan Phillips, with a little Earl Mitchell sprinkled in, should keep the Miami linebackers clean enough to get to Gurley. The reigning rookie of the year has been pressing trying to bounce runs and create his own holes. The Dolphins backside pursuit has been as good as anyone’s in the league so this running style is not conducive for success against this defense.
Greg Robinson was the second pick in the draft once upon time because of supreme athleticism and eye-popping measurables. What the Rams scouting department failed to do was recognize that his pass blocking technique simply isn’t very good. He’s often flat-footed and can be pushed back with a simple bull-rush.
Look for Andre Branch to have another monster game in a season full of big moments for the former second round draft choice from Clemson.
On the other side, not many tackles have had success with Cameron Wake. Rob Havenstein is block footed with a poor kick slide. If the Dolphins contain Gurley like I expect, their ability to create a decent pocket for the first time starting quarterback will be an issue.
Kenny Britt is the only receiver that can create separation consistently and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Byron Maxwell play him the same way he did Brandon Marshall. While some flags may get a tad annoying, we can expect that style to keep the Rams for any explosive plays.
Jared Goff, at least from what I could tell, displayed no drive to be anything more than just a guy in the league. This is why the Rams only just now, nearly seven months after drafting him, decided he was ready to run a pro-style offense for the first time in his life.
I’m of the belief that he’s not ready and this is a move forced by ownership. It’s an embarrassing look for an organization to sit the first pick in the draft on the bench after giving up a small fortune of draft picks for him while other rookies are playing and performing at a high level.
But that’s the blowback mortgaging the entire future on the draft’s most over-rated prospect since Jamarcus Russell.
Goff won’t be able to make the proper sight adjustment, protection calls and he will struggle in and out of the huddle. When the bullets start flying, all that preparation is accelerating tenfold. With a good pass rushing team facing a bad offensive line, Goff is destined for a box score along the lines of 11 of 25 for 115 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.
The Rams have been used to 7-9 bullshit for a number of years. And as Jeff Fisher peaks forward to another mediocre season, don’t be surprised when reaches into his bag of tricks. End arounds, double reverses, wildcat formations, non-quarterbacks attempting passing and fake puts are all on the table for one of the league’s most boring offenses.
Miami offense vs. Los Angeles defense:
As if I weren’t already worried about this particular match-up, Branden Albert has succumbed to a dislocated wrist. Tunsil is a more than adequate left tackle, but Urbik has been question on this blog plenty of times in the past. Urbik was at center in the Dolphins most embarrassing offensive output this season in Cincinnati.
The upshot is the potential of Robert Quinn, Los Angeles’ vaunted right defensive end, missing this game. First, best wishes to Quinn as the medical issue that could force him out is a serious one, but this is a football blog – and I only expand on its importance to the play on the field.
As great as Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh are inside, it greatly behooves each to have their tag-team partner rushing the edge opening things up inside and vis versa. With the amount of heavy packages the Dolphins have been running, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more unbalanced lines and even more groupings with Dion Sims, Marqueis Gray and Dominique Jones on the field at the same time.
Before Ryan Tannehill took his first (and only sack) in San Diego, he was releasing the ball in under two seconds on average. Expect this to be the in the plan this week with a passing game, concerted ground game effort and probably fewer shot plays.
It would be wise to dial back some of the aggression as this game promises to be low scoring. If the Dolphins can make it a fifth consecutive game without an offensive turnover, they will absolutely extend the winning streak.
Cornerback Trumaine Johnson has played every snap of the last two games since returning from an injury and he has been exceptional. With his size, it would figure that he’d find himself for Devante Parker so the Dolphins may put their sophomore receiver on the back burner again and force feed Jarvis Landry.
Screens to capitalize on the Rams pass rush and quick passes to the outside could make an unwelcomed return as the defensive alignments call for it.
Inside, the Dolphins need to find an answer for linebacker Alec Ogletree who has not missed a snap this season. He’s a punishing hitter with coverage skills and a nose for the football in the running game. As the Dolphins outside zone scheme often leaves a backside defender unblocked, it’ll be important for Mike Pouncey to get off his spot and up field on the all-pro.
Mark Barron was once a top ten draft pick bust for the Buccaneers. Now, he’s one of the most versatile, disruptive defenders in the league. Expect the Rams to use him in the same way the Jets used Clavin Pryor taking calculated chances in the ground game to press the edge and force Jay Ajayi inside.
This is going to be a hard hitting game. If nothing else, the Rams play a physical brand that tests the opposition’s condition for 60 minutes. If the Dolphins get up early in the game, the Rams will find it extremely difficult to mount any sort of a comeback.
After Jakeem Grant’s near game-costing gaffe last week, I expect redemption. That’s the Adam Gase affect in a nutshell. He’s sticking by his electric punt returner and while I think he should be removed from the kickoff team for fellow rookie Kenyan Drake, I expect the diminutive Red Raider alum to pop one in the return game.
The Rams have consecutive road games in New Orleans and Foxboro after this one. This isn’t a trap game for a team that needs to start piling up wins. With the extra attention of the rookie quarterback, the locker room could take this as a sign the team has given up on the season.
From every angle, this game appears to be a much bigger set back game for the Dolphins. Some are starting to drink the Kool-Aid around this team, the quarterback is being lauded after being booed off his own field and the head coach is being prematurely anointed.
Because of those factors, a week sleeping in a hotel and the absence of Branden Albert, I think the Dolphins will struggle – but not enough to lose the game. This is a gritty bunch that has been finding a way for the better part of two months.
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