Why the Dolphins can really win the AFC East

Tua Tagovailoa can bring the Dolphins to an AFC East title

By: Cody Molla (@Cmolla1)

Far removed from dominating the division in the 70s and early 80s the Dolphins have won 4 division titles since 1985, and only two since 2000. The franchise and fans have their eyes focused on winning a division title and making a splash in the postseason. There is hype and expectations for the Miami Dolphins coming off a 10-6 season last year. Improvement is expected all around, and with that improvement do they win the AFC East?

The hype for this year comes off a strong 2020 season and strong offseason. However, the Dolphins aren’t the only team improved within the division. The Buffalo Bills return their core from last season that played in the AFC Championship game. The New England Patriots return players on defense that opted out of last season and have returned their quarterback for a second straight year who is more comfortable in his position within the offense. The New York Jets are completely turned over and though they don’t pose a threat to win the division in anyone’s eyes, they do have a chance to spoil someone’s season.

The biggest factor in winning the AFC East for the Miami Dolphins is to win their divisional games. Last year the Dolphins went 3-3 in the six division games. They swept the Jets, split with New England, and were swept by Buffalo. The Bills in perspective went 6-0. Winning division games is like winning two games in the standings, not only does it directly give you a game up on your rivals but it gives you tie-breakers which may play a role in deciding a competitive division winner. Yes! The AFC East is now a competitive division. The Patriots are no longer a juggernaut and three teams have playoff expectations placed on them.

To be division winners the Miami Dolphins will need to be 4-2 minimum in the six division games. More likely than not a record of 3-1 in games versus the Bills and Patriots would be necessary as well. This will be tested early in the season as their first two games are with New England and Buffalo.

These rivalry games will be competitive and a handful of key plays need to be made to seal the wins. Last year in a tight opener vs the Patriots the defense failed to stop Cam Newton and the Patriots run game. The Dolphins have the tools to do so this time around and score points to put New England away. As they did in the second meeting last year.

The first Bills game was completive but the Dolphins failed to contain the big pass plays from Josh Allen to his receivers. Part of this was an injured secondary that improved as the season went on. A slow start to the season this year will likely lead to the Dolphins failing to win the division again. A fast start and improved play is expected and will be key to winning the 2021 division crown.

After one game of 2021 preseason, the national narrative on Tua has piggybacked on their 2020 takes. In the preseason opener, Tagovailoa finished with a stat line of 8-11, 99 yards, and one interception. Tua played in three possessions in the first quarter and got the Dolphins inside the red zone twice on his final two drives. After having a full offseason knowledge of the playbook I saw an improved Tua in limited action. For those who didn’t watch the game and only saw the highlights you likely saw the big reception to Gesicki for 50 yards and the interception that drew large criticism. Yes, the interception was a poor decision. Whenever you throw a bit off rhythm late over the middle in the NFL bad things happen. What would the narrative be if that pass was completed for a touchdown?

What you didn’t see shown in all those highlights was a three and out to start the game, due to a dropped first down on a good corner route ball thrown by Tua that should’ve extended the drive. On the next two drives, Tua showed confidence, aggressive throws, and a handle on the playbook. These are all things he lacked in his rookie season. Tua has now had a full offseason, shown health from the hip injury, and an improved arsenal of weapons.

The Dolphins focused on making improvements around Tua and giving him weapons. Another reason I think Tua’s game is improved enough to win the division is that not all the offensive starters played in the preseason game. Tua defendants will tell you about the lack of weapons last year and how he was throwing to fringe NFL receivers. He did a lot of that in this preseason game and his improvements were noticeable.

Tua is a Drew Brees prototype of quarterback more than the playmaking strong-arm type like Mahomes, Rodgers, and Watson to some effect. Tua’s strengths are being accurate, on rhythm, and hitting receivers in stride allowing them to make the plays with their athleticism. He is not going to throw passes that travel 60 plus yards in the air downfield and cross body. The offense is built around Tua and it has the ability to score points as well as move down the field efficiently and often. Tua is the focus and key for the Dolphins offensive success and a division title.

On the other side of the ball, a huge part of the defense has officially been returned. After requesting a trade last month, All-Pro CB Xavien Howard and the Miami Dolphins came to an agreement on a restructured contract. Howard is coming off the best season in his career thus far and although 10 interceptions is hard to replicate I expect another strong season from X-man. The key will be health. Since coming into the league in 2016 he has 22 interceptions, the second-most in that span. He trails Marcus Peters by one despite playing 19 fewer games in that span. He has missed many games due to knee and ankle injuries.

With Howard, the Dolphins secondary is set up to be one of the best across the NFL. Playing opposite Howard is Byron Jones, who is a top 15 corner in his own right and could be a top 10 layer at his position. Along with the two highly regarded outside corners is a talented slot corner in Justin Coleman who is making his dolphin debut this year, upcoming player Noah Igbinoghene, rookie Jevon Holland, veterans Eric Rowe, Jason McCourty, and fellow youngsters in Nik Needham and Brandon Jones. The backend of the Dolphins defense is solid.

The third focus for the Dolphins winning the division is line play on both sides of the ball. The offensive line is the bigger focus. The preseason game versus the Bears didn’t show improvement on the offensive line. In fact, it prompted a trade for another offensive lineman. The Dolphins traded for Greg Little to seek another quality player. The offensive line struggled to protect Tua and open up running lanes consistently last year. Without an offensive line, it doesn’t matter what skill players you have. Look at the Chiefs superbowl performance. I don’t expect the offensive line to be one of the worst in the league but a slight improvement in all the young players will be a huge dividend. How much they’ve learned and improved needs to be seen.  

On defense, the line needs to create pressure and get to the quarterback more consistently. With the good coverage if the pressure gets home early and often the Dolphins defense will have a lot of turnovers and spend limited time on the field. First-round pick Jaelen Phillips was brought in to help with this area of concern.

The Dolphins return to a division title is in sight. A lot of the load falls on quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. I believe Tua’s improvement from year one will surprise a lot of people and the addition of playmakers will help this offense a lot. With a strong defense and potent offense, the Dolphins have the capability of winning 12 games. The first two will be the tone setters and the pivotal ones to earn the title of AFC East Champ.

3 reasons why the Dolphins defense will be elite with or without Xavien Howard

Xavien Howard trade wouldn’t hurt Dolphins defense

By: Jake Rajala

The Miami Dolphins entered Week 17 with the number one scoring defense. In the Week 17 matchup against the Buffalo Bills, the Dolphins defense opened the floodgates and allowed a whopping 56 points. Nonetheless, the Dolphins defense finished the regular season with a fourth overall scoring defense. It’s safe to say the Dolphins defense had an impressive 2020 season. 

Headed into the 2021 season, Brian Flores has his defensive sights set on perfection. Brian Flores will be entering his second year and the Dolphins defense is filled with numerous beginners poised to take the next step. There is a catch, however. 

Xavien Howard, who was the NFL’s third ranked CB from last year, is holding out for a hefty contract. It seems very likely that Howard will be a Dolphin long term, but it’s not clear when he will return and if he in fact doesn’t get traded. There poses a real possibility of Howard missing game time next season.

With or without Howard, I believe the Dolphins defense will show up largely next season. I simply believe there is too much optimism to disacknowledge the fact that the Dolphins wouldn’t be a Top 5 unit in 2021.

Here are a few reasons why the Dolphins will flex an elite defensive unit next season. 

  • More efficient third down offense 

It’s very underrated that the Dolphins defense wasn’t just fantastic last year, but magnificent with a 26th ranked Dolphins third down offense. The Dolphins third down offense has been flat out horrific. The Dolphins offense routinely let the defense out to dry by giving them little rest with little third down efficiency.

It’s not disputable that the Dolphins should expect major change with their third down efficiency. The Dolphins signed prominent deep threat WR Will Fuller in free agency and drafted Jaylen Waddle, who’s drawn comparisons to Tyreek Hill. 

Fuller didn’t only have 14 receptions for 20+ yards, but he also had a ridiculous 16.6 YPC last year. Waddle had his own 16.9 YPC in Nick Saban’s offense last season, which helped his teammate DeVonta Smith gain more production and his team ultimately win the National Championship. Waddle is expected to more than a major asset to the Dolphins offense by some reputable networks. Roll Tide Wire foresees Waddle as the Dolphins MVP in 2021.

  • Jerome Baker

The leading Dolphins tackler in 2020 was none other than Jerome Baker. NFL analyst Bucky Brooks has Baker pegged as one of NFL’s most underrated talents. The third year LB didn’t only record 112 tackles, but also a monstrous seven sacks from the LB spot. 

Baker clearly flourished as the ILB in Flores scheme and his athletic ability showed to be atop the NFL’s best. Expect Baker to remain one of the top all around LBs in 2021 as he earned a well paid contract extension this offseason.

  • Traded for Benardrick McKinney

The Dolphins may be missing talent at the CB position on Day 1, but the defense will have more playmaking ability elsewhere. Flores added another high end ILB to the defense with the trade acquisition of Benardrick McKinney. 

McKinney is an excellent complement to Baker at LB, as he excels against the run and pass. In McKinney’s Pro Bowl season, he displayed a 105 tackle mark, 1.5 sacks, 5 TFLs, and seven pass deflections.

The Dolphins could be missing Xavien Howard in September, but they will still have the very talented Byron Jones at CB, followed by a dominant LB duo of McKinney and Baker.

3 reasons why the loaded Dolphins should ink Melvin Ingram

Will the Miami Dolphins sign pass rusher Melvin Ingram?

By: Reese Nasser

The Miami Dolphins are slowly building a defense with limitless potential. They have shown a clear interest in building from the top down with their secondary being the best part of the defense. The secondary also just happens to be where most of their veteran defenders are as well. Both their defensive line and linebacker cores are full of young players with a few veterans to fill the gaps.

This is where Melvin Ingram could fit in on this roster. It is being reported that Ingram has visited with the Dolphins and he could potentially sign with them in the near future. At 32-years old, Ingram could be a solid contributor to this defense and could also be a mentor to the younger players on this squad. Here are three reasons why the Dolphins should sign Melvin Ingram. 

Veteran Presence

Ingram has had a nine-year career where he has reached three pro bowls. He has appeared in 113 games and has the stats to back up his play. While the Dolphins have other rostered linebackers that have been in the league for some time, none have played to the level of Ingram. The knowledge that Ingram has would benefit the younger linebackers on the team, specifically someone such as rookie defensive player Jaelen Phillips. 

Phillips didn’t play the linebacker position in college but instead lined up almost exclusively on the edge. Ingram there to educate a young player like Philips could help the Dolphins develop him into a top-tier linebacker. 

Still able to Perform 

Ingram has shown that he can still play at a high level with his 2019 pro bowl nod. He has accumulated 49 sacks in his nine-year career with seven coming in both 2018 and 2019. After a knee injury that limited him to just seven games in 2020, Ingram will look to show that he can still play and play at a high level. He could also pair nicely next to Jerome Baker, who is a very high volume tackler unlike Ingram who is utilzied as more of an edge threat. If Ingram is still able to play at the level that he did prior to his 2020 season, this could be a signing that helps solidify this Dolphins defense. 

Depth at the Position 

As noted, the Dolphins linebacker core may be the weakest spot on their roster. While they have established players at the position, there is also a lack of depth. The signing of Ingram, if nothing else, would bring an extra body to a group that could potentially need it somewhere down the line. Outside of linebacker Jerome Baker, who has proven to be the the clear #1 of this group, the rest of the spots could be up for grabs. 

The addition of Ingram would also allow for Jaelen Phillips to slide back down to edge if the Dolphins preferred him there. The flexibility that would come from this addition could prove to be very beneficial to this group and defense as a whole.

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