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Something fishy: What the Cardinals can learn from the Dolphins’ previous NFC West games

This week’s opponent, the Miami Dolphins, have been a thorn in the NFC West’s side this season. Let’s take a look at their three games against our division so far and see what we can take away.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Miami Dolphins
Tua Tagovailoa didn’t have to do much to win his first NFL start against the Rams last week. What does his second start here in the desert have in store?
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The NFC West has been pretty good to the Miami Dolphins this season. After a relatively close 31-23 loss to the Seahawks in Week 4, the Fins then crushed the 49ers 43-17 in Week 5 and then rolled the Rams 28-17 (and it wasn’t even that close) last week. That’s an aggregate score of 94-65 for the Fish.

These Fish—led by the newly installed rookie starting QB, Tua Tagovailoa, and a hungry defense—come to the desert with a chance to go 3-1 against what might be the best division in football. They smell blood in the water and are ready to frenzy.

Wait… that’s sharks. And there is no water here at all. In fact, Arizona has proven itself quite inhospitable to dolphins in the past. That makes sense, given that the Cardinals are 4.5-point favorites.

But still, each of our division rivals has underestimated the Fins this season. Was there anything fishy going on in those games? How can we avoid the same fate? Let’s take a look at each of those three games and find out.

Week 3: Seahawks 31, Dolphins 23 (at Miami)

The Game: The undefeated Seahawks were 4.5-point road favorites and had no trouble moving the ball all day long. This could have easily been a Seahawks blowout if not for a turnover on downs in the red zone and a goal line interception by Russell Wilson. But the Fins were able to hang around, with Jason Sanders’s FIFTH field goal of the day making it 17-15 Seahawks early in the 4th quarter. But then two quick Seattle TDs sandwiched around Ryan Fitzpatrick’s second INT of the game put it out of reach before the Fins tacked on a late TD (and then failed to recover the subsequent onside kick).

The Takeaway: This is such a different team with Tua at QB instead of Fitzmagic that it’s hard take away anything concrete from this game. Miami RBs did next to nothing in this game (15 carries for 56 yards), and that’s likely to be the case again on Sunday with Myles Gaskin and Matt Breida both (likely, for the latter) out. It’ll be up to Tua to beat us through the air, which likely isn’t happening given what we saw out of him last week (more below). If we can avoid the kinds of critical mistakes the Seahawks made (not a given), we should be able to take care of business at home.

Week 4: Dolphins 43, 49ers 17 (at San Francisco)

The Game: This was just an absolute beatdown in the Niners’ home yard. They turned the ball over 3 times, gave up 5 sacks, and were held to just 259 yards of total offense. On defense, they forced only 2 punts and gave up 436 yards to Fitzmagic and Co.—despite the Fins only getting 2 FGs from those turnovers. And remember that the Niners were 8-POINT favorites. Injuries had a lot to do with this result—they were missing all kinds of key pieces on both sides of the ball, and Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t look right before getting pulled—but the Fins also played out of their minds.

The Takeaway: Again, it’s hard to see what the Cardinals can learn from this game given all of the Niners’ injuries and that the Fins have a different QB under center. But this defense is better than anyone anticipated, and this is a dangerous offense with Fitzmagic at the helm. What if Tua gets hurt or struggles early and gets pulled? Although not nearly on the Niners’ level, the Redbirds have a few defensive injury concerns of their own (Byron Murphy Jr. on the COVID list, Dre Kirkpatrick and Jordan Hicks banged up), so a Fitzmagic offense would definitely pose a threat.

Week 8: Dolphins 28, Rams 17 (at Miami)

The Game: This is about as strange of a game as you’ll see. The Rams ran 92 plays to 48 for the Fins, outgained them 471-145, and dominated time of possession 36:30 to 23:30. Yet they lost by two scores despite entering as 3.5-point road favorites. That’s what happens when you turn the ball over 4 times (leading directly to 3 TDs) and give up another TD on a punt return. Unlike the Niners game, which the Fins just straight up dominated, this was more on the Rams for constantly shooting themselves in the foot. Miami mostly hid Tua in his first start (12/22 for 93 yards and a short TD) and won this on defense and special teams.

The Takeaway: The Fins blitzed Jared Goff relentlessly, throwing off Sean McVay’s offense and forcing negative play after negative play. That won’t work against the Redbirds, as the nimble Kyler Murray has shown a much greater pocket awareness in his second season and is actually one of the least-sacked QBs in the league (only 9, tied for second-fewest). Plus Kyler can punish the Fins’ defense with his legs much more than Goff could. Miami has a much-improved defense, but they shouldn’t be able to fluster Kyler the way they did Goff. If they’re going to have a chance in this game, they’re going to need to win the turnover battle again—and they’re going to need Tua to show much more than he did in his first start.

Final Thoughts

If Fitzmagic was starting this game, I would feel a bit more nervous. That Miami defense looks good—they’re actually #1 in the league in points against, which surprised the heck out of me—they have some talent at WR/TE, and they seem to play extremely hard for coach Brian Flores. But Tua doesn’t look quite ready as an NFL starter yet, they’re starting the corpse of Jordan Howard at RB, and they’re on the road against a team coming off their bye week.

They did hang around with the Seahawks, yes (with Fitzmagic), but those 49ers/Rams blowouts seem a bit fluky, don’t they? I don’t think I see these Fish feasting on another NFC West opponent. If the Kliff Kingsbury learned his lesson about coaching conservatively from the Seahawks win and the team had a productive bye week, they should win this one. There won’t be anything fishy going on this Sunday. Call it something like a 27-17 Cardinals win.

What do you think, RotBers? With the Cardinals be snacking of Filet o’ Fins on Sunday? Or does anything about this matchup concern you? Give us your thoughts and predictions in the comments.