Once again, we have reached the point of the week where we sit down with one of our fellow SB Nation NFL sites to gather some intel on the Minnesota Vikings’ opponent for the upcoming week. This week, the purple are taking their talents to South Beach to battle the Miami Dolphins in an AFC/NFC clash. I took the time to exchange some questions with Kevin Nogle, the managing editor for The Phinsider, SB Nation’s home for everything relating to the Dolphins.
I’ll link the answers I had to Kevin’s questions when they get posted over at The Phinsider. In the meantime, here are the questions that I posed to him and his answers.
1) Mike McDaniel has already announced that Skylar Thompson will make his first NFL start on Sunday against the Vikings. How much does this change the Miami offense?
This will be something to watch. Thompson is a seventh-round rookie who would likely have been stashed on the practice squad this season if it were not for a strong preseason. He has potential, but there is a reason he went in the seventh round and why he is the Dolphins’ third-string quarterback. The preseason flashes were great, but the regular season and playing against starters instead of depth players hoping to make a roster are two different animals. The good thing is the Dolphins moved to him as the starter early this week so they have had him in as the number one all week, so he will be as prepared as he can be for this week. “Just an opportunity for him to have full preparation and the whole game plan – the game plan is a little bit tailored to him as well,” Dolphins quarterbacks coach Darrell Bevel said on Thursday. “So I’m just excited to see what he’s going to do this week.”
Offensive coordinator Frank Smith also discussed Thompson on Thursday, taking a look back at the situation last week as well as forward to this week’s game and preparation. “Well, I think it’s pretty evident from what you guys have been able to witness through training camp, for Skyler, he’s not your average rookie.” Smith stated. “The way he’s been able to prepare, the way he’s been able to execute, we have full confidence in what he’s going to be able to deliver to help us win on a full week of preparation. The scenario to which he went in, I can’t even imagine sometimes. It’s the second play of the game and you’re standing there and you’re kind of by yourself. I mean the rest of his position group that he’s been prepping with the entire offseason was not available. So he’s by himself pushing through and I think you really saw a lot of the moxie he possesses and the reason why he’s going to grow and continue to get better. We felt like this week, with him being available and getting the full preparation, that he was our best chance to help us win.”
As for the offense, they probably make sure they get the running game started early, looking to take the pressure off of Thompson. The Dolphins are built on offense to be a play-action offense, using the threat of the run to set up the pass. Except, they have not rushed the ball well this year, and have relied on Tua Tagovailoa to make plays. I would say we could look at how the offense changed with Teddy Bridgewater as the starter, but that lasted one whole snap, and Thompson was thrust into the game. The Dolphins had their best rushing game last week, and I would expect them to go back to it this week. I also would not be surprised if Mike Gesicki plays a bigger role in the passing game this week. Giving Thompson options with a big-bodied, sure-handed receiver makes a lot of sense.
2) The Dolphins currently rank near the bottom of the league in points allowed. What has been the primary issue on defense for them through the first five games?
The secondary has just been decimated by injuries. Byron Jones has been on the physically-unable-to-perform list after an Achilles surgery this offseason, and he is just not recovering as anyone expected. Xavien Howard has been trying to play through injuries to both groin muscles, but he could not go last week. He is trying to be ready to play this week, but when he has been on the field the injuries have slowed him and he has been able to be beaten a lot easier than we have seen in the past. Hopefully he is ready, but right now, he is a question mark. Miami is relying on a group of younger cornerbacks, including 2019 undrafted free agent Nik Needham, 2020 first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene, and undrafted free agent rookie Kade Kohou. They are young and they are being tested.
Miami’s defense should be a Cover 0, high-blitz type of unit, leaving Howard and Jones on islands while the team creates confusion by overloading the line of scrimmage. Without Howard and Jones, the blitz cannot happen as often, and the pass rush just is not as effective as it needs to be. Everything can be traced back to missing Howard and Jones, but there are a lot of pieces that Miami has to start putting together a defense that was expected to lead the team while the offense adjusted to their new system under head coach Mike McDaniel.
3) This matchup features two first-year head coaches in Mike McDaniel and Kevin O’Connell. Through the first quarter of his first season, what do Dolphins fans think of McDaniel?
He has been an exciting change to the team. The firing of Brian Flores after last season was a surprise but after all the reports of the lack of communication within the team, and just how clearly he did not support Tua Tagovailoa, it is clear the team had to move on from him. McDaniel is simply a different personality than any other coach I have seen the Dolphins have. He is someone who is smart and knows he is smart, but he comes across as confident and comfortable in himself, not arrogant or someone who makes you feel like he knows more than you. He has a sense of humor that he is not afraid to show. I do not know how to explain it other than say he is someone you immediately like.
When it comes to the play on the field, he has shown he can and will make adjustments in-game. He reaches out to the players to ask them what they want or need to succeed. He has tailored his system to the team, not forced players into a system in which they cannot find success. He clearly supports Tagovailoa and we have seen that support manifest into a great start to the year - and hopefully we will see it continue whenever he clears the concussion protocols and he is 100 percent healthy.
4) Our friends at the DraftKings Sportsbook have set the over/under for this one at 45.5. Do you think these two teams can put together enough points to eclipse that number?
Both teams are averaging 23.0 points this year, so the 45.5 seems exactly on point here. Thompson starting makes me think the Dolphins will likely be trying to run a ball-control offense, which makes this probably a low-scoring game. I think I would probably take the under here.
5) Give us one “under the radar” player for the Dolphins that you think will play a big role in determining Sunday’s outcome.
If he is able to play, Austin Jackson at right tackle might be the answer for the offense here. He is coming back from injured reserve and the Dolphins are optimistic that he will be able to play on Sunday. Getting Jackson back in the offense should help solidify an offensive line that has seen a constant rotation of players throughout the season. If Jackson is not in the game, Trent Sherfield and River Cracraft at wide receiver are probably players to watch. While Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle are the top options at receiver, Thompson has had more reps working with Cracraft and Sherfield as depth receivers throughout the summer and into the season. They could both be receivers who see targets because Thompson is comfortable and familiar with them.
Once again, thank you to Kevin for taking the time to answer our questions for this week!