As the Bears embark on their journey through the AFC East in the month of October, I caught up with Kevin Nogle, Editor at The Phinsider to try and get a handle about the curious start to the Dolphins season. This is a team with some shared history despite only seeing each other every four years. Adam Gase is in his 3rd year as Head Coach after leaving Chicago and Jay Cutler spent a year in a Miami hotel going through the motions of an NFL quarterback last year. The Bears traded for Brandon Marshall from these Dolphins a few years back. And of course, the only blemish on the ‘85 squad came at the hands of Dan Marino. New year, new teams - let’s dig in.
Windy City Gridiron - 1. From afar, most of the news coming out of Miami in the Adam Gase era has been around culture. After the trades of Jay Ajayi to the Eagles and Jarvis Landry to the Browns, and roster turnover (Suh) can you explain what that culture is and is it headed in the right direction?
The Phinsider: Adam Gase wants players who love the game and do their job. I know it sounds cliche, but that seems to be exactly what he is looking for with his players. Jay Ajayi spent too many plays trying to dance in the backfield and find the perfect hole rather than just hit what was there and pick up three yards, then go for another three on the next play. There were always reports of Jarvis Landry and Ndamukong Suh freelancing on their routes/gaps, which is great when it works, but frustrating when it does not. He also wants players who know their role and fit into it, bettering the team rather than worrying about the individual - which is why we saw Jordan Phillips get released this year. He was never consistent during his time in Miami, one play looking like a future Pro Bowl player and the next being no where to be found. When he blew up on the sideline about his playing time I think that was the last straw. People have said Gase does not like strong personalities, but I do not think that is it - otherwise players like Reshad Jones and Kenny Stills would have issues because they also have strong personalities. I think it is he does not like people who have strong personalities and cannot keep themselves focused on the team rather than the individual. I think they are headed in the right direction - but they have to make some changes too. Play calling has been questionable this season, the team needs to stick to the run game, and Ryan Tannehill has to play better than he has the last two weeks.
WCG: 2. The Dolphins shot out of the gates to a 3-0 start, were blown out by the rival Patriots, and suffered a collapse this last week against the Bengals. Is there a reason for these uneven results? What does this team do well, what do they struggle with?
Phinsider: Really, I cannot even figure out what happened with the Patriots game. The Dolphins just never even showed up for that contest. After a 22-yard pass on the first possession, the Dolphins barely moved the ball the rest of the game and the defense struggled - in part because they could not stay off the field when the offense kept struggling. Against the Bengals, the 17-0 lead through the first half and into the second made it look like the Dolphins had figured out whatever happened in New England. Then, Laremy Tunsil was placed in the concussion protocol and everything fell apart from there. The Dolphins entered this season with an offensive line that looked like a complete unit and a competent unit. Five weeks into the season and three of the five opening day starters are injured, two for the season, and the depth options are not able to open holes or protect Tannehill. It is a good thing the Bears do not have a strong pass rush or anything....right?!?
Editor’s note: Who’s going to break the news to Kevin?
WCG: 3. Ryan Tannehill looks fully recovered from injury (wasn’t that year of Jay Cutler fun?) and was off to a good start to the year. Is he still considered the future in Miami and if not, what does he have to show this year to prove to Dolphins fans that he’s still the guy?
Phinsider: It depends on the results. Through three weeks, Tannehill was literally in the top five of Peter King’s MVP Watch; after the last two weeks, fans are calling for his head. It really depends on the latest results. Tannehill is an above average quarterback that needs a clean pocket to excel. He is not going to pick up a team and carry it on his back, but he can win and he can put the Dolphins in position to succeed, if he is protected. The best analogy is Alex Smith. He can win, but if you can find Patrick Mahomes, you probably are going to move on. Until the Dolphins find their Mahomes, they will probably keep Tannehill - and hopefully fix the offensive line (again) to make Tannehill find success.
Oh, and thanks for Cutler. It was....an experience.
Editor’s note 2: <insert laugh/cry emoji>
WCG: 4. What can we expect from this Dolphins defense? Since Suh’s departure, who are the players Bears fans need to keep an eye on?
Phinsider: Obviously Cameron Wake is still there, if he is healthy this week after missing last week’s game. Robert Quinn is playing really well on the opposite side of Wake. Reshad Jones is an elite safety, and Xavien Howard is turning into a true shut down cornerback. Minkah Fitzpatrick looks like the player they wanted when they selected him, with little learning curve showing thus far no matter if the team is asking him to play cornerback, nickel, linebacker, or safety. Raekwon McMillan at linebacker looked better last week than he has this season, and Jerome Baker also played well at linebacker. The linebackers have been the weakness of the defense so far this season, so if they start to play better, that is a huge bonus for Miami.
A new name to watch is defensive tackle Vincent Taylor. With Jordan Phillips’ release, Taylor will see more playing time, and he has been strong in a limited role early this season (20 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 QB hits, 1 sack, 1 blocked kick). He is a young player who could be something exciting if he can turn a small sample into something bigger with additional opportunities.
WCG: 5. The Bears will play the entire AFC East over the next 4 weeks (@MIA, NE, NYJ, @BUF). Is there a particular style that defines this division &/or is there a type of team that this division usually struggles with?
Phinsider: Beat Brady? It seems like every few years, the teams in the AFC East that are not the Patriots start over in trying to find a way to beat the Patriots. This year, the Bills and the Jets both are starting with rookie quarterbacks, hoping they can finally reach that point. Defenses have long been the focus of building among the Dolphins, Bills, and Jets, probably because of Brady, with pass rush the main focus. I think that has fallen off a little, with teams starting to try to get the offense built up - at least in Buffalo and New York as Miami spent the last two drafts largely working on the defense, and we are starting to see it come together. I don’t know that there is a theme among the division, other than Brady.
WCG: 5b. With Brady nearing the end and Belichick getting up there, new QBs for Buffalo & the Jets, is there a sense of change nearing this division and where do the Dolphins fit into that future?
Phinsider: At this point, I am not sure there ever is an end for Brady and Belichick. It just feels like they are going to be there forever. The other three teams in the division feel like they are all still trying to figure out what their identities should be compared to the Patriots. There is definitely some feeling that, after Brady, who will be the top team, but right now, I do not know that there is an answer. I feel like Miami’s defense should position them to be that team, but after these past two weeks, I don’t know anymore.
WCG - Bonus: For Bears fans making the trip down to Miami - what is the one food item visitors have to try to make their trip complete?
Phinsider: I would say the obvious - a Cuban sandwich. There are obviously a ton of places around Miami to find really good ones. If you can get a great Cuban sandwich, and I am sure everyone in Miami will have great suggestions and great places to get one - and everyone will have their own favorite. But, yeah, find a good Cuban sandwich and you will not be disappointed.
Thank you to Kevin and The Phinsider and a good luck to Dolphins fans after this week!