Getting through the AFC East this season will complete Sean McVay’s tour of the NFL by playing against all 32 teams. The last time the LA Rams faced the Miami Dolphins was in 2016 and it followed Jeff Fisher’s last win as a head coach of the organization.
The Rams beat the New York Jets 9-6 in Week 10 to improve to 4-5 that season, ending a four-game losing streak. At that point, Fisher was finally prompted to start LA’s prized draft pick with the optimism in mind that Jared Goff would unlock an offense that had scored only 29 points in the previous three games, beginning with his NFL debut against the Dolphins in Week 11.
But Goff couldn’t unlock anything while Fisher was holding the keys.
Goff went 17 of 31 for 134 yards in his first career start and the Rams lost 14-10 when Miami scored two touchdowns in the final six minutes of the game. The Dolphins improved to 6-4 under first time head coach Adam Gase and that was also the last time they made the playoffs.
Both teams have new head coaches, with Brian Flores replacing Gase in Miami two years ago. Fisher was fired four games into Goff’s tenure as the starter and was made way for McVay.
In order to catch up with what else is new with Miami, including the new quarterback, I sent five Qs to Kevin Nogle at The Phinsider and he sent me back five corresponding As in kind.
Q - I’m sure it’s not hard for you to come across a question about Tua Tagovailoa and I can’t imagine going 5 Qs without doing the same. Can you provide a quick recap of his first offseason in the NFL and also what you expect of him in his starting debut on Sunday and if there will be any limitations or changes with the playbook?
A - Obviously, this was one of the weirdest offseasons in history, which makes it hard to say exactly what we will see this weekend with Tagovailoa. Everything we have heard about his work ethic says he is constantly in the film room, he goes to the defensive backs room to hear how they are reading offenses, and he has been a sponge with Ryan Fitzpatrick. We have seen Fitzpatrick and Tagovailoa on the sideline after every series in the first six games, looking at the plays and having Fitzpatrick break down what he saw and why he decided to throw the ball where he did. In camp, and then in the limited time we saw Tagovailoa against the New York Jets in Week 6, he looks healthy, with no noticeable issues with his hip, so that is a definite positive. I think every Dolphins fan will be holding their breath the first time Tagaovailoa is hit, especially if/when Aaron Donald decides to take over the line of scrimmage, but it does appear Tua is healthy.
I think we will see some changes to the playbook, likely simplifying things and trying to ensure the running game gets established more than they were then they were trusting Fitzpatrick to make things happen. I think we will see RPOs and we will see Tagovailoa moving around behind the line of scrimmage. We are all also going to be confused by the left-handed quarterback because they just do not exist in the NFL.
Honestly, I am just looking to see some flashes from Tua during the game. He is a rookie making his first start, and he will make rookie mistakes. As long as we see some of the good that made Tagovailoa the fifth-overall pick, it will be a good day.
Q - Many Rams fans were hopeful that the team would find at least a GUARD OF THE FUTURE in the NFL draft but they waited until almost the final pick of 2020 to take an offensive lineman. The Dolphins were starting first round tackle Austin Jackson for the first four games but he went on injured reserve. They are now starting second round guard Robert Hunt and fourth round guard Solomon Kindley was one of the breakout stars of training camp. How has Miami’s offensive line been performing in the last 2-3 weeks with Hunt in and Jackson out? How optimistic are you about the young players on the line and the future of the group, which going into the season was considered by some as the worst in the league?
A - The best thing about Miami’s offensive line is that it appears Miami finally has an offensive line. They are not great, but they are solid enough that Miami’s offense can find success. It has been a long time since it felt like the Dolphins had a solid offensive line. Jackson was looking good before the injury. Kindley has been a beast at right guard. Hunt started the year on the bench, seeing work as the team’s sixth/tackle-eligible lineman. Now he is at right tackle, with Jesse Davis moving over to left tackle to replace Jackson, and he is playing well. Having three rookies working as starters this year does mean there are some issues with the speed and power of opposing defensive linemen, but the group as a whole, including center Ted Karras and left guard Julien Davenport, have actually had good communication and work together as a unit, despite the lack of a preseason. I think they will struggle with the Rams front, especially Donald, but who does not struggle against Donald?
Q - This is a (short) 5-part question in which I want you to tell me in one sentence each:
How did the Dolphins beat the 49ers 43-17?
A - I feel like it was a matter of the team getting key players healthy (Byron Jones, Preston Williams) and playing as a full team for the first time this year; Xavien Howard and Jones in the secondary with DeVante Parker, Mike Gesicki, and Williams as receiving threats gets Miami’s strongest position groups back to playing like they are the strongest position groups. (Semicolons making run-on sentences into one sentence is effective...)
What does that win tell you about Miami?
The rebuild is working and they are growing into a competitive team.
What does that loss tell you about San Francisco?
I think the Dolphins caught them dealing with a ton of injuries and were able to keep them off balance by exploiting matchups, especially with the multiple receiving threats.
What was the most important play of the game and why?
2nd-and-11, Ryan Fitzpatrick took the snap, knelt for no gain, and the game was over? Really, though, I think it was the first offensive play of the game for Miami, with Fitzpatrick finding Williams for a 47-yard gain; Miami typically start slowly on offense, and that week, they hit that first play and did not let off the gas after that,
Were you disappointed that they didn’t score 60 points given that Jason Sanders had five field goals, three from short distance?
I really was hoping for 50, just because that does not happen often, but I cannot complain about beating the defending NFC champions 43-17.
Q - All due respect to Xavien Howard, the Dolphins don’t feature a star on defense and yet they rank third in points allowed and first in third down defense. Howard leads the NFL in interceptions (which he did two years ago also; again, no disrespect to Howard as a great player) and Emmanuel Ogbah’s looking to have his breakout season if he can stay healthy with five sacks and 10 QB hits in six games. Big free agent signing Byron Jones returned two weeks ago, pushing first round corner Noah Igbinoghene to a reserve role, and the Dolphins have allowed 276 passing yards over the last two games combined. Who are the players on this defense who may be more valuable than people outside of Miami realize and how much longer do you expect Josh Boyer to be the defensive coordinator if the Dolphins keep shutting people out of the end zone?
A - You named much of the strength of the defense. Davon Godchaux at nose/defensive tackle has been a solid player, but he is on injured reserve now. Jerome Baker at inside linebacker is a beast, especially on a blitz, so look for him. Plus Christian Wilkins has the ability to become a star as a 3-4 defensive end/4-3 defensive tackle. We are also seeing defensive lineman Zach Sieler have an impact whenever he is on the field. Howard should earn a second Pro Bowl nod this year, and Jones has the potential to return to being a shutdown corner on the other side of the defense, but, you are right, outside of Miami right now, there probably are not a lot of names people immediately recognize.
I think Boyer probably has a couple of years before he is a name people are talking about as a head coach candidate. Part of that is, this is his first year as an NFL defensive coordinator, so he has to prove this is sustainable. Part of it is, Brian Flores was a defensive coach, so he is going to get the credit for the Miami defense. Given some time, Boyer could start to get some interviews.
Q - If the Dolphins are down by four points in the fourth quarter and they have the ball, who is the player on offense you trust the most on Sunday with Tua Tagovailoa leading the way? Whether that’s Tua or a skill player, if the Dolphins need just one play, who gets the ball in those critical situations and how comforted are you by that fact?
A - DeVante Parker is probably the right answer, though you could make an argument for Mike Gesicki. I think Parker’s combination of size and speed would allow him to make a play, and I think Tagovailoa would be looking his way first. Before last year, the idea of Parker being the top weapon for the offense, the player to be the most trusted in a situation like this, was laughable. Now, he seems like a true number one receiver who will be the playmaker in a critical situation.