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Vikings Oppo Research: Miami Dolphins

NFL: OCT 09 Dolphins at Jets

The Vikings travel to Miami for a week six matchup against the Dolphins, who have some key players on the injury list.

First off, both starting QB Tua Tagovailoa and backup Teddy Bridgewater are dealing with concussion-related injuries, and Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel has already decided to go with third-string QB Sklar Thomson as his starting quarterback against the Vikings. Thomson played all but one play for the Dolphins last week.

Beyond quarterback, the Dolphins also have a few other notable players on their injury list this week. Starting left tackle Terron Armstead left last week’s game against the Jets with a toe injury, which he had been dealing with prior to that game, and went to see a toe specialist earlier this week. My guess is Armstead is questionable for the Vikings game, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t play, given he hasn’t practiced with the injury for weeks and left the game last weekend after just 8 snaps. Cornerback Xavien Howard is dealing with a groin injury and didn’t play last weekend, but said he is likely to play against the Vikings. He’ll probably be listed as questionable, and he could be gametime decision. The Dolphins other starting cornerback, Byron Jones, is on the PUP list and will not be activated for the Vikings game. Lastly, Tyreek Hill had his foot stepped on last weekend, but he appears to have recovered and all signs point to his playing against the Vikings on Sunday.

How Miami Stacks Up on Both Sides of the Ball

The strength of the Dolphins is their offense, so being without Tagovailoa, and potentially LT Terron Armstead is a big loss for them. The Dolphins have two top receivers in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, which will give the Vikings’ secondary all they can handle. The key for the Vikings will be to pressure Thomson, and given they have the last-ranked right tackle in the league, and also a very poor left guard, the Vikings should be in position to pressure the quarterback. Even more so if Armstead doesn’t play.

Miami’s offense ranks 12th in points and 14th in yards after five games, but they’ve only scored more than 21 points in a game once this season. With their 3rd string QB playing, it wouldn’t seem likely that they’d do it again against the Vikings. The Dolphins rank 5th in passing yards and 4th in net yards per passing attempt, but with Thomason at quarterback last week against the Jets, they managed just 166 yards passing, with one INT.

The Dolphins’ offense ranks 24th in rushing yards per attempt, and 30th in total rushing yards, although last weekend they rushed for 137 yards with Thomson at QB, It wouldn’t be surprising, with Thomson again starting at QB, if McDaniel works his ground game more. He’s known for creative run designs from his time under Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco, and he’s got former 49er running back Raheem Mostert to work with.

But he also has wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylon Waddle to work with, and I expect he”ll try to scheme Thomson some opportunities downfield as well. It’s unlikely the Vikings secondary will keep those two in check all afternoon, so getting pressure on Thomson will be key to limiting Hill and Waddle.

Defensively, Miami ranks 29th in points allowed and 25th in yards allowed, so the Vikings will have opportunities. The Dolphins also rank 30th in third down conversions allowed, and 27th in red zone TDs allowed, so the Vikings should be able to drive the field and go from red zone to end zone with a good game plan. But they’ll likely face two challenges in doing so. First, Miami likes to blitz a lot, including zero blitzes occasionally which leave receivers in single coverage with no help over the top, but bring more pass rushers than blockers. These blitz packages will be a challenge for the Vikings offensive line, along with tight-ends and running backs- and Kirk Cousins too. Getting the protection calls right, responding well to stunts and twists, and getting the ball out to hot receivers will be key.

Secondly, the Dolphins have played the second highest percentage of man coverage in the league so far at 46%, so the Vikings will need to beat that coverage to be successful as well- something they’ve struggled with earlier in the season. Often blitz packages are married with man coverage, forcing the quarterback to make quick decisions and get rid of the ball sooner than he’d like. That puts a lot on Cousins to deliver under pressure, who’s ranked 10th in PFF grade under pressure so far this season, among QBs with at least 50% of snaps.

The key will be for receivers to get open quickly in those situations and/or be prepared to win contested catch situations, which they haven’t been good at so far this season. But Miami ranks 31st in net yards per passing attempt allowed, and 28th in total passing yards allowed, so there is potential for big plays in the passing game.

Hopefully Kevin O’Connell will have them well prepared for these situations, both in recognizing the situation and also dialing up some plays to counter various blitz packages. Kirk Cousins will also need to be prepared with his pre-snap reads and potentially audibling to the right play call.

The Dolphins have been effective in run defense, ranking ninth in net yards per rush attempt allowed, so that will also be a challenge for the Vikings up front. Staying ahead of the chains with an effective ground game limits opportunities for effective blitzes, and the Vikings just like any other team, are likely to fare better on third and manageable rather than third and long. The Vikings are also the most effective team moving the chains on first down too, doing so 32% of the time so far this season, 5 points higher than the second best team. The Vikings have also been using more tempo this season under O’Connell, and that may be effective against Miami as well. The Dolphins have some older players on the edges, and that combined with the Miami heat could give the younger Vikings OL an advantage with tempo, and it gives them less time to dial up blitzes. Wes Phillips said this week that the Vikings offensive line likes to use tempo as they feel it gives them an advantage.

PFF Matchup

Below is the current starting lineups for both teams in nickel defense and 11 personnel on offense- the most common packages. CB Xavier Howard is likely to play instead of Igbinoghene. Howard ranks 74th among CBs with a 52.7 overall grade, and a 51.1 grade in coverage. LT Terron Armstead is questionable at this point. He hasn’t practiced this week, but that has been the case in the past as well and he did play, so we’ll likely have to wait until Sunday to find out if he’ll play.

PFF

Bottom Line

The Vikings are 3 point favorites on the road in Miami, as the Dolphins are going with QB3. This is a winnable game for the Vikings, but they’ll need to be effective against a defensive willing to take risks with their pressure packages, while pressuring a rookie 7th round quarterback in his second game into some mistakes- and making connecting with his explosive receivers more difficult.

Poll

What will be the point differential in this game?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    Vikings win by 13+
    (110 votes)
  • 45%
    Vikings win by 6-12
    (349 votes)
  • 25%
    Vikings win by 1-5
    (197 votes)
  • 9%
    Miami wins by 1-5
    (75 votes)
  • 2%
    Miami wins by 6-12
    (22 votes)
  • 1%
    Miami wins by 13+
    (9 votes)
  • 0%
    Game ends in a tie
    (7 votes)
769 votes total Vote Now