1. The Dolphins have won four games this year, but done so in a plethora of ways. What can you tell us about the strength of this team?
Off the field, the coaching staff is clearly scheming for matchups they can exploit and doing things that are not expected. The game last week against the Los Angeles Rams is a perfect example. The defense moved people around, brought blitzes from one way with defenders dropping off the line into coverage the other way, and keeping Jared Goff off balance all day. The system allowed the team to record two sacks, eight quarterback hits, six batted passes, an interception by an interior defensive lineman, and two fumble recoveries with one returned for a touchdown and returned to the one-yard line. The coaching staff did an amazing job of putting the players in positions to make plays.
On the field, the secondary is Miami’s strength. With a healthy Byron Jones and Xavien Howard locking down the boundaries and Bobby McCain and Eric Rowe at safety. It is not impossible to throw on the Dolphins, but since Jones and Howard both returned healthy, they are definitely making plays and it is getting harder. The secondary is a huge part of why Miami has the best scoring defense in the league.
2. Were you surprised with the move to Tua and what are the expectations for him moving forward in 2020?
I was surprised they did the move as early as they did. Miami’s bye week was originally supposed to be in Week 11, but the Patriots’ COVID issues and the NFL shuffling the schedule pushed Miami’s bye week up. I thought playing the New York Jets in Week 10, then the bye week, followed by the Jets again would allow Miami the perfect spot to make the change during the bye. I guess they stuck with the plan to use the bye week as the transition point. Head coach Brian Flores said practice and development from Tagovailoa are what led to them deciding to make the move, and I have not heard anything that disputes that idea. There was talk that Miami felt like they needed to make this move to audition Tua for ten games then decide if they want to use their two first-round picks next year to guarantee them a shot at another quarterback, but Flores completely denied that concept this week. I think they just were ready for Tua and Tua was ready to get into the game.
Now that he has his first start behind him, it is time to start seeing him relax and play the game, not force passes or let the nerves get to him.
3. To say the running back room is an issue with injuries is an understatement, is it going to be DeAndre Washington/Jordan Howard and maybe some Patrick Laird on Sunday?
In announcing the team was placing Myles Gaskin on IR this week, Flores said, “Myles Gaskin will go on IR; but yeah, we’ve got some guys banged up. Jordan Howard – he’s always practiced hard. I think he’s a good runner. That’s why we brought him here, so he’ll get an opportunity and Salvon Ahmed will get an opportunity as well and Patrick Laird. We like our depth at that position, so those guys will get an opportunity. They’ve got to practice well and hopefully they perform well in the game.”
I think it will be Howard starting, but he will have an extremely short leash, given his 18 carries for 14 yards this year. Laird and Ahmed will likely see playing time as well. I am not sure what they will do with Washington this week, but the fact that Flores did not mention him tells me he probably is not ready to play yet.
4. Are Byron Jones and Xavien Howard the best cornerback duo in the NFL and how do you expect them to be deployed against DeAndre Hopkins?
I think they are definitely up there in the conversation. We probably need to see them together a little more to say they should be ranked number one, but, since Howard started trusting his knee and Jones returned from injury, they are definitely playing like a top duo. I think Jones will have Hopkins, following him around the field. That seems to be their standard move right now, which would likely move Howard to Christian Kirk or Larry Fitzgerald. Jones is a coverage guy, looking to blanket his responsibility. Howard is more of a ball hawk, breaking on the pass while it is in the air and looking to make a play. They compliment each other well, and it will be interesting to see exactly how the coaches decide to match them up against the multiple quality receivers from the Cardinals.
5. Tua’s first road game, coming off a surprising win, what do you expect on Sunday?
He had some overthrows against the Rams that looked like a rookie trying too hard. I really just want to see him settle down and play his game. The defense and special teams cannot be counted upon to have a week like they did against the Rams every week, but they still need to take some of the pressure off the offense. The running back situation is the biggest issue I can see when it comes to trying to protect Tagovailoa. With (potentially) the top two runners both missing the game, Howard and the rest of the group have got to step up and prove they can run against the Cardinals, otherwise the Cardinals are just going to tee off on Tagovailoa all game.