This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Miami Dolphins. To help preview a few topics from the Dolphins’ perspective, we reached out to Kevin Nogle from The Phinsider and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Browns are 3.5-point underdogs against the Dolphins.
Chris: “Let’s ignore the games that Tua Tagovailoa missed (or played through) with injury. He is on fire this year, after being benched multiple times in previous years. Tell us about everything he’s been thriving at this season and why. Has there been a weakness to be found?”
Kevin: “The benching thing was always weird, and I think that was just part of Brian Flores not ever really committing to Tagovailoa. Even though he was the coach when the Dolphins used the fifth-overall pick to add Tagovailoa, Flores clearly was never comfortable with the Alabama product at quarterback and he did everything he could to get the team to move on from him. That is why the team had the drama of potentially trading for Deshaun Watson, and probably a big part of why the team started tampering with Tom Brady in the first place. Flores wanted a different quarterback almost as soon as the Dolphins had Tagovailoa and it definitely became a major issue with the team, and it appears to have impacted Tagovailoa's confidence.
Fast forward to this year, with Mike McDaniel as the team's head coach, and it feels completely differently in Miami. Tagovailoa is confident and comfortable in his role. Obviously, adding a receiver like Tyreek Hill is helpful and has been a big part of Tagovailoa's success this year, but it is not just Hill. The offensive line has been better than last year. They are not a dominant offensive line, but they are solid and after being the worst line in the league last year, solid is a big improvement. The offense is tailored to Tagovailoa's strengths. He is getting the ball out of his hand quickly, and he is letting the wide receivers make plays. There has always been talk about his arm strength, and if you are trying to compare him to someone like Josh Allen, yes, he does not have as big an arm, but how often do you need to throw a ball 60 yards through the air? His arm is fine.
There have been times this year where he does not make the best decision, but he has been lucky so far. He has thrown several passes that probably should have been intercepted, but the picks were dropped and Miami survived. It is not really a case of something confusing him, it just seems like every now and then, he thinks he can force a ball into a space or he just misses on a throw. He really has played great football this year, but there have been a few times that have left fans scratching their heads.”
Chris: “The Dolphins’ defense hasn’t been the best in 2022 — what areas have they struggled with the most?”
Kevin: “Injuries. It really has been a rough first half to the season for the defense, and especially the secondary. Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard has been slowed by groin injuries all season and missed a game because of them and cornerbacks Kader Kohou and Keion Crossen have been injured and missed practice and game time as well. Cornerback Byron Jones has been on the physically unable to perform list after having ankle/leg surgery in the offseason while cornerbacks Trill Williams and Nik Needham and safety Brandon Jones are on injured reserve. The Dolphins defense is meant to be an attacking, cover zero defense, using their secondary strength to match up man-to-man and lock down the receivers. They have not been able to do that this year, and the pass rush has not been able to generate pressure or blitz as often as they would like because additional players have to be back in coverage.
They also have struggled - and this has been for years - with running quarterbacks. As Mike Lucas from the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show pointed out on Twitter this week, the Dolphins have allowed two 100-yard rushers this season, Lamar Jackson and Justin Fields. Running backs they have held to just 55.4 yards per game. Obviously, Nick Chubb is not an ordinary running back in the league, so there is obviously concern there, but knowing Jacoby Brissett is not a running quarterback is a good thing for Dolphins fans.”
Chris: “Miami recently acquired linebacker Bradley Chubb, who debuted against the Bears last week. What did Dolphins fans think of the move?”
Kevin: “Adding a pass rusher is always exciting. The Dolphins have struggled to pressure the quarterback, so Chubb was definitely a target the fans had for this trade deadline. As we discussed, a big part of the pass rush issues has been the need to keep people back in coverage rather than creating exotic blitzes. Having Chubb, who can create pressure along with Emmanuel Ogbah, Jaelan Phillips, and Andrew Van Ginkel without needing to send five or six rushers can help with that problem.
Maybe more impressive from the Dolphins’ fans’ point of view is just that the Dolphins are being aggressive and going after veteran talent. The past few years have been about building through the draft, adding draft picks, and developing younger players. Miami seems to be ready to move from rebuilding to competing now. Adding a player like Chubb at the expense of a first round pick next year, after having already forfeit their own first-round pick in the tampering case, shows the team is not looking to make a move in the draft and would rather get the player they think can be an asset to the team now.”
Chris: “Tell us about one player who Browns fans may not have heard of, but who could have an impact on this Sunday’s game.”
Kevin: “This offseason, Miami made a move to add a wide receiver, with the hope that he would add a new dimension to the offense. No, I am not talking about Tyreek Hill, but rather Cedrick Wilson, Jr. While Hill and Jaylen Waddle can take the top off of defenses, Wilson could be the possession receiver underneath them, picking up the shorter-yardage gains when needed. Except that has not happened. Wilson has seen his offensive production drop to almost nil. He has six receptions on the season, and he has had three games without a target. Instead, Trent Shefield and River Cracraft have found roles in the offense. They are not going to be players who are rivaling the production level of someone like Hill or Waddle, but they both could factor into the game (if Cracraft, who has missed the last two games with a neck injury and an illness, is available). Sherfield has 18 receptions this season, one off his career high of 19 in 2018 with the Arizona Cardinals, for 184 yards. Cracraft has only six receptions for 13 yards, but two of those catches were for touchdowns. They are not going to be players who jump off the page when you look at the box score, but they are players who could see some success if the Browns are able to slow down Hill and Waddle.
The other player who may be somewhat familiar, but is new in Miami, is running back Jeff Wilson, Jr. Miami traded for him last week, having sent Chase Edmonds to the Denver Broncos in the Bradley Chubb trade. He came into Miami already familiar with the system having been with Mike McDaniel in San Francisco last year and he immediately found some success coming out of the backfield. He carried the ball nine times for 51 yards and had three receptions for 21 yards and a touchdown last week. In comparison, Edmonds’ rushing high this year was 33 yards in Week 2. Wilson now adds another option from the backfield to compliment Raheem Mostert and he could have a bigger role this week now that he has had some time in Miami.”
Chris: “The Browns are +3.5 as of this question, per DraftKings Sportsbook, with the Dolphins favored to win. Who would you pick against the spread?”
Kevin: “I am taking the Dolphins here, in part because I have seen how explosive Miami’s offense can be. The other part is, I know what I saw with Brissett last year and I am not overly concerned about him. I know that sounds dismissive, but it is just that he did not light up the sky with the Dolphins in five starts and 11 games played last season. I am actually more interested in the point total, though. Having watched Miami play in what essentially became shootouts the last two weeks, a 49.5 point total makes me want to hammer the over. Of course, this will somehow become a defensive struggle for both teams because I said that.”
Thanks again to Kevin for taking the time to answer my questions.