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Eagles-Dolphins Preview: A Fish Out of Water
The Miami Dolphins travel to Philadelphia to face the Eagles, while on a two-game losing streak and in last place in the AFC East. The Eagles, on the other hand, have won three of their last four to keep pace in positively average NFC East. Both teams have shown they can beat the terrible teams of the NFL, but don't do so well against better competition. Now that they're facing each other, I guess we'll get to see which of these teams is truly terrible.
Let's take a look at the matchup.
Eagles Offense Versus Dolphins Defense
Eagles QB Sam Bradford had his best game of the season last week against the Cowboys. Bradford completed 25 of 36 passes for 295 yards, the game-winning 41-yard TD pass to Jordan Matthews in overtime and, most importantly, no INTs. If Bradford continues to reverse his early season trend of throwing nearly every other pass directly to the other team, he might just become a league-average QB. Seriously, it's possible that Bradford has just become more comfortable in a new offense and more comfortable coming back from knee injuries that basically robbed him of the last two seasons. Now if he could just start playing well before the second quarter of games, he might just be onto something.
Luckily for Bradford, the Dolphins best defensive player, Cameron Wake, is out for the year with an Achilles injury. Without his team-high seven sacks, the Eagles offensive line might not miss LT Jason Peters if he needs to sit out another week with a bad back. Lane Johnson moved from RT to LT last week and basically dominated Greg Hardy. Of course, since Johnson isn't a woman, that's not a big surprise. The only other defensive player the average fan has heard of on this Dolphins defense is DT Ndomukong Suh. Suh has faced double teams all season and this week that double teaming will come from center Jason Kelce and RG Matt Tobin.
The Eagles would be wise to take advantage of the Dolphins 31st ranked run defense that is allowing 142.1 yards per game. The Bills rushed for 266 yards (most in the NFL this season) against the Dolphins last week, with both LeSean McCoy (remember him?) and Karlos Williams rushing for over 100 yards. And as luck would have it, the Eagles have found their running game in the last few weeks. They are currently ranked 10th with 121.6 rushing yards per game. DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews have combined for 620 yards and 6 TDs in the last four games. Add in Darren Sproles' rushing and it's 693 yards, including 172 yards rushing on 35 carries last week against the Cowboys. Let's just hope Eagles head coach Chip Kelly doesn't overthink this one.
When the Eagles pass the ball, they will be facing a defense that only has six INTs all season. Brent Grimes is a good CB, but nobody outside of Dolphins season ticket holders know who CB Brice McCain is. Jordan Matthews leads the Eagles in receptions (48) and yards (531) and actually didn't drop a pass last week while catching 9 passes for 133 yards and that game-winning TD. The Eagles hope to get rookie Nelson Agholor back to add a deep threat to their offense, because Josh Huff is not an NFL receiver and Riley Cooper is, well, Riley Cooper. The Eagles have also been running a lot more 2-TE sets to help the running game, so that means more chances for TE Zach Ertz to exploit slower LBs or smaller safeties in the passing game.
Dolphins Offense Versus Eagles Defense
The Dolphins offense has taken a rather large step back this season. They are ranked a respectable 13th in yardage (357.9 ypg), but are a lowly 21st in scoring (21.4 points per game). QB Ryan Tannehill had a breakout season last year with 27 TDs and 9 INTs, but has thrown 13 TDs and 9 INTs at the midpoint of this season. The former college WR is also running less this season and with the change in head coach, the Dolphins are running a more traditional offense under former Eagles QB coach, now Dolphins offensive coordinator, Bill Lazor. That means less no-huddle and more snaps under center the last four games under new head coach Dan Campbell. The results have been mixed depending on the opponent. The Eagles are a mystery with the 19th ranked overall defense (366.8 ypg), which makes them neither good, nor terrible.
When Tannehill passes, he has a nice collection of receivers to throw to. WRs Jarvis Landry (53-535-2), Rishard Matthews (37-554-4) and Kenny Stills (16-279-1), along with TE Jordan Cameron will certainly test the Eagles secondary that is currently ranked 20th in the NFL (253.9 ypg). It will be interesting to see how safety Malcolm Jenkins plays after revealing that he played more than half of the Dallas game with a concussion. He will be desperately needed at full strength this week. Plus RB Lamar Miller has 27 receptions and his 11.59 yards after the catch is the second highest in the NFL this season.
The Dolphins are only ranked 19th in rushing (103.2 ypg), but RB Lamar Miller is averaging 5.3 yards per carry and the Eagles have suddenly started having trouble stopping the run. They have dropped to 21st against the run (112.9 ypg) and have allowed individual 100-yard rushers in each of the last two games. They really need LB DeMeco Ryans back from injury now that Jordan Hicks is done for the season. Miller is capable of huge games, as evidenced by his 175-yard effort against Houston, which is the highest single-game rushing total in the NFL this season. Unfortunately for him, only the Chargers and Lions run the ball less than the Dolphins. That could change if Miller gets going early against the Eagles.
The Dolphins would be smart to stick with the run, because their offensive line has struggled with pass protection. They have given up a whopping 26 sacks this season, which are double the 13 sacks the Eagles have given up. Starting RT Ja'Wuan James is out and his replacement, Jason Fox is terrible. Look for the Eagles pass rush to have a very good day if they can get a lead and force the Dolphins to pass the ball to catch up.
Who Will Ndamukong Suh Cheap Shot This week?
Normally, the Eagles have a distinct advantage in special teams play. That might not be true this week. After they allowed that 79-yard kickoff return last week, their coverage units showed some cracks. They also aren't scoring any TDs, like they did last year. Part of that is the fact that teams are punting away from Darren Sproles, who only has 5 returns out of the last 25 punts. Caleb Sturgis has made 11 of his last 12 kicks and punter Donnie Jones is averaging 42.8 net yards per punt, so their kicking game is still doing well. The Dolphins are 8th in punt return average, thanks to the dangerous Jarvis Landry and his 10.9 yard per return. Also, Miami punter Matt Darr is second in the NFL in gross punting average at 49.1 yards
Chip Kelly said last week's win over the Cowboys doesn't mean anything if they don't keep winning and, for once, I actually agree with something that he said. Kelly can't seem to get his offense started early in games, as the Eagles have only scored 10 points in the first quarter of their 8 games. They need to change that this week, to force the Dolphins away from their strength of running the ball. We'll see if Kelly can get the job done. Dolphins interim head coach Dan Campbell took over four weeks ago when Joe Philbin was fired and has a 2-2 record. Of course, those wins were over doormats, Houston and Tennessee, so it's hard to tell how good of a coach he is just yet.
NFC East Standings
New York Giants
Both teams need a win to keep pace in the playoff race. The Dolphins certainly can't win the AFC East, with 8-0 New England around, but the Eagles can take over first place in the NFC East with a win and a Giants loss to the aforementioned Patriots on Sunday. What the Eagles need to do is continue to take the ball away on defense (their 20 takeaways lead the NFL) and continue to not turn the ball over on offense. Are you listening, Sam Bradford? And getting an early lead and forcing Miami to abandon their running game would certainly make the Dolphins a fish out of water.
The Eagles are the better team, but that hasn't stopped Chip Kelly's team from coming out flat and laying an egg before this season. But something tells me that they'll have just enough to beat a Dolphins team that simply isn't that good.
Eagles 27 - Dolphins 20