The Miami Dolphins come to Ford Field this week flaunting a three-game winning streak and an impressive 5-3 record. Miami doesn't look like the pushover team that many were predicting at the beginning of the year. They sport a dominating defense and an offense that is performing well over expectations. But certainly they must have some weaknesses, right? Let's take a closer look at this Miami team.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of Miami's success has been how their offense has flourished. They rank 11th in total yardage and ninth in points. Ryan Tannehill looks like a brand new quarterback, and the Dolphins' identity looks to have completely changed from the hapless offenses of the past.
But if there's one weakness to this offense, it is the wide receivers. Though Mike Wallace may be a pretty underrated threat, as a No. 1 WR he isn't a dominating threat. In fact, the Dolphins don't have a real huge threat among their entire receiving corps. Miami's receivers are focused around speed and agility rather than height and physicalness. They aren't going to beat you with jump balls and fly routes. They only have one pass play of over 40 yards (31st) and 19 plays of 20+ yards (29th).
On top of that, Miami's receivers also suffer from a severe case of the dropsies. According to Sporting Charts, the Dolphins have the second-most drops in the league (20) and the highest drop rate in the NFL (7.0 percent).
The game plan for the Detroit Lions then becomes press coverage. Tannehill loves to get the ball out quick. But with only smaller receivers at his disposal, Tannehill can be beaten by physical corners who disrupt routes. Take the short stuff away, force Tannehill to look to a second and third option and let the defensive line take care of the rest. That is the recipe for the Lions defense this week.
The Miami defense is even more impressive than their offense. In four of the past five games, they have held their opponent under 14 points. They are the second-best pass defense and aren't too shabby at stopping the run, either.
The Dolphins are also very aggressive on defense. They have no fear in sending blitzers from just about anywhere on the field. This attacking style of play has led to 25 sacks on the season, the fifth-most in the league. But it is this same aggressiveness that makes this defense vulnerable at times.
The Kansas City Chiefs gave the Lions a blueprint on how to beat this intimidating defense when they put up 34 points on them in Week 3. The key was their running back, Joe McKnight:
The Dolphins send a linebacker on a blitz up the middle. Trying to disguise coverage, they actually drop defensive end Cameron Wake (on the right) into coverage. But with the middle of the field wide open from the linebacker's vacancy, McKnight is easily able to beat Wake out of the backfield. Throw in an overaggressive safety (who shall remain nameless) and you have an easy score.
Later in the game, McKnight was able to again beat easy coverage based on a blitz.
This time the Dolphins send a safety on a blitz. This leaves Miami's starting middle linebacker in an extremely vulnerable position. He's so far away from McKnight at the snap that he has no chance of recovering in time. Another easy score for McKnight.
The Lions have two backs who are extremely capable of taking advantage of this vulnerability in Reggie Bush and Theo Riddick. The hard part is on Matthew Stafford and Joe Lombardi. The Dolphins are good at disguising blitzes, so it will be on Stafford to recognize where the heat is coming from and on Lombardi to try to predict when Miami will be coming for him.
Miami is a good team with no glaring deficiencies. But no team is perfect, and the Dolphins are no exception. The Lions will have their work cut out for them on Sunday, but a good game plan could earn them a huge win fresh out of the bye week.