The Detroit Lions are coming off the bye and heading into their litmus test portion of the season. No one really knows what to think of the Lions right now, with two big wins on their resume, but those three ugly losses loom large.
The next seven games for the Lions are against teams that are .500 or better, meaning we’re about to find out who this team is in a hurry. First up on the block is the Miami Dolphins, an equally confusing team. Let’s get to know them a little better.
6-10 record (3rd in AFC East)
28th in points scored, 29th in points allowed
Overall DVOA: 27th (27th on offense, 28th on defense)
Key free agent additions: WR Danny Amendola, RB Frank Gore, WR Albert Wilson,
G Josh Sitton (IR), C Daniel Kilgore (trade)
Key losses: WR Jarvis Landry, DT Ndamukong Suh, C Mike Pouncey, K Cody Parkey
2018 NFL draft picks:
Round 1, 11 overall - DB Minkah Fitzpatrick
Round 2, Pick 42 - TE Mike Gesicki
Round 3, Pick 73 - LB Jerome Baker
Round 4, Pick 123 - TE Durham Smythe
Round 4, Pick 131 - RB Kalen Ballage
Round 6, Pick 209 - CB Cornell Armstrong
Round 7, Pick 227 - LB Quentin Poling
Round 7, Pick 229 - K Jason Sanders
Despite a puzzling 6-10 record, the 2017 Miami Dolphins were not good. They had the fourth worst point differential and their DVOA numbers were all towards the bottom of the league.
So this year, the team went out and tried to fix one of their bigger issues: the offensive line. They moved on from long-time center Mike Pouncey and traded for Daniel Kilgore. They also added veteran guard Josh Sitton to the starting five. Unfortunately, both Pouncey and Kilgore have suffered major injuries, and both on on IR.
However, the Dolphins’ biggest addition thus far has been Albert Wilson, who just had a breakout game against the Bears. Wilson joins 2015 first-round pick DeVante Parker, 2016 sixth-round pick Jakeem Grant and 2015 trade acquisition Kenny Stills to form one of the most underrated receiving units in the league.
To improve defensively—and make up for the loss of Suh—the Dolphins have focused on their back end. For the third straight year, the Dolphins spent a third-round pick or higher on a cornerback, this time Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick.
2018 season thus far (4-2)
- 22nd in points scored, 17th in points allowed
- 6th in DVOA (15th on offense, 9th on defense, 3rd on special teams)
There’s nothing flashy about this Dolphins team, and it seems puzzling they are 4-2 thus far. Al four of their wins were by a single possession, but their two losses were both by double-digits. Their wins are over some mediocre-to-bad talents, but their losses are to some very good teams in the AFC.
In terms of point differential, the Dolphins are bad. In act, they’re worse than the Lions at -15 (20th). But those DVOA numbers—sixth best in the league—tell a different story, and it’s not really clear why.
The team isn’t moving the ball all that well overall on offense. They’re 30th in yards per drive and 28th in points per drive, according to Football Outsiders.
They’re a little better on defense, but not by much. They’re 25th in yards per drive allowed, and seventh in points per drive allowed. Wait... back up there. Seventh in points allowed... let me crunch some numbers.
Okay, here’s the deal. The Dolphins have been winning games by playing the field position game. They rank sixth in starting field position on offense, averaging drives starting on the 30.7-yard line. Defensively, they also rank sixth, with an average starting position at the 26-yard line.
How are they winning the field position battle? Special teams and turnovers. Let’s start with special teams. They’re 14th in net punting average, which is just okay, but they’ve pinned opposing teams inside the 20 14 times, good for fifth most. In terms of returning, they’re lethal.
Meet Jakeem Grant. Grant already has a punt and kick return touchdown, leading to the Dolphins ranking third in punt returns (15.7) and second in kickoff returns (32.8).
Then there’s that improved secondary. The Dolphins lead the league in interceptions (11), and that will do wonders for your field position. Unfortunately for the Detroit Lions, there’s not one player the Lions need to worry about. Six different players have recorded an interception, including first-round pick Minkah Fitzpatrick.
So, in my opinion, this is a below average team that is overperforming right now. They’re not horrible—and their offensive weapons pose a legitimate threat for big plays—but some regression is in order. If the Lions can avoid allowing big plays on special teams (no easy task given how Detroit’s special teams units have looked so far), and Matthew Stafford avoids turnovers, this is a more than winnable game for Detroit.
Vegas line for Sunday:
Dolphins by 4 Lions by 2.5