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Lions vs. Dolphins preview: Injuries leave Miami with several vulnerabilities

We previewed Lions vs. Dolphins with our friends at The Phinsider, and they revealed all the injuries that could leave Miami vulnerable for an upset.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Miami Dolphins Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

Another week, another game that the Detroit Lions hopefully show more improvement and finally get back on the winning side. There are some good news going into this one. The Lions are playing at home and both D’Andre Swift and Amon-Ra St. Brown are trending towards playing.

The other good thing is that the Miami Dolphins are a team that have been on the down swing. After starting the season with a 3-0 record, the Dolphins are 1-3 in their last four games. They did beat a pretty bad Steelers team last week, but they struggled to do so.

The recent injury issues with Tua Tagovailoa play a part, but the Dolphins defense has had plenty of issues during that time too, especially when they allowed the Jets to put up 40 on them in Week 5. Still, we wanted to know more about why the Dolphins have been having trouble lately, so we reached out to our pal Kevin Nogle at The Phinsider for answers. Here’s what he had to say:

1. The Dolphins got out to a hot start, but have cooled down recently. What’s the reasons for this?

“Injuries. That really is the main thing that has crushed the Dolphins this year. For example, Week 3 saw quarterback Tua Tagovailoa start the game, then leave with a back injury (the not-concussion that started all the drama when the Dolphins were playing the Buffalo Bills), but he did come back into that game. Tagovailoa then was concussed in Week 4, with Teddy Bridgewater finishing that game. In Week 5, Bridgewater left the game after one snap with a phantom concussion (a spotter said they saw him stumble after a hit, though nowhere in any video footage of the play was there a visible stumble), leaving seventh-round rookie Skylar Thompson to finish that game. With Tagovailoa and Bridgewater working their way through the concussion protocols, Miami started Thompson in Week 6, but he sustained a thumb injury when he hit his hand on a helmet, and he was forced to leave with Bridgewater, who cleared the protocols on Saturday before the game, to come in and take over for the rest of the game. Weeks 4, 5, and 6 all saw Miami end the game with a different quarterback than the one who started the contest, and those are Miami’s three losses on the year.

“The injuries are not solely at the quarterback position, though. On the offensive line, right tackle Austin Jackson is on injured reserve and left tackle Terron Armstead has been dealing with a toe injury all season and has missed playing time because of it. Miami’s secondary has been decimated by injuries, with cornerback Xavien Howard trying to play through injuries to both groin muscles and missing the team’s game against the New York Jets in Week 5; cornerback Byron Jones has been on the physically unable to perform list all year as he recovers from an offseason ankle injury that everyone thought he would be fully healed by Week 1; cornerbacks Trill Williams and Nik Needham are on injured reserve, Williams with a torn ACL and Needham with a torn Achilles; safety Brandon Jones joined them on IR this week with an ACL tear; and cornerbacks Keion Crossen and Kaden Kohou have been slowed and missed practice and game time with injuries, Crossen with a knee and Kohou with an oblique issue. Miami essentially ended the Pittsburgh Steelers game last weekend with three healthy cornerbacks and one of their starting safeties. It has been rough,

“Aside from injuries, Miami has looked like a team still working to fully incorporate a new offensive system. They are built to use play action and run-pass options to open up the game, get the ball out of Tagovailoa’s hands, and let playmakers make plays. The run game has been slow to get established this year - it has started to pick up the last couple of weeks, but still not fully on track. If the team can get the run game going, they will be able to find their rhythm better and maybe some of these struggles the last few weeks will fade away.”

2. What are this team’s strengths?

“They use their speed to their advantage, and they have a ton of speed. Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle are respectively first and fourth in the league in receiving yardage while Tagovailoa is first in yards per attempt and fourth in passer rating for the season. The offense may be designed to be a run-first, play-action pass offense, but it is clearly operating as a pass-first offense with Tagovailoa getting the ball to Hill and Waddle. Raheem Mostert has clearly established himself as the feature running back, and again, he is a guy with a ton of speed. There have been plenty of short passes, allowing someone like Hill to weave his way through the defense and turn a short slant into a 40-yard gain, but there have also been plenty of deeper throws, again using the speed of the receivers to create separation.

“On defense, it should be the pass rush, and we are starting to see it ramp up. Miami has the players who can disrupt opposing quarterbacks, with Emmanuel Ogbah, Jaelan Phillips, Andrew Van Ginkel, Jerome Baker, Jevon Holland, and Christian Wilkins all leading the way - but they have not been as effective as they could be, probably because of the injuries to the secondary.”

3. What are their weaknesses?

“The offensive line is worrisome, mostly because injuries continue to force players to shuffle around. If they are able to settle into the game, they play fairly well. This is not a dominant offensive line, but it is a solid one who can protect Tagovailoa and open running lanes if they are playing up to their potential. Having to continuously move people around, start practice squad players, and change responsibilities has led to struggles. Put pressure on the guard and on the right tackle side of the line and force them to prove they are up to the task.

“Defense is obviously the secondary. Howard is a shut-down, ballhawk of a cornerback, but he is only taking out one receiver on every play. Noah Igbinoghene is a former first-round pick, but he has never played up to the potential that landed him in that spot. He is still only 22 years old despite three years in the NFL already, and last week he started to show some of the performance the Dolphins want from him, including the game sealing interception. Kaden Kohou is an undrafted free agent rookie out of Texas A&M-Commerce, but he has had moments that show he might be a surprise find for Miami and a solid depth cornerback. Keion Crossen and Justin Bethel are really special teams players who have been asked to provide more playing time than expected. Miami signed Jamal Perry to the practice squad and he could be an elevation this week to add more depth at cornerback; having played at both safety and cornerback for the Dolphins during parts of the last three years, so he is at least familiar with the defensive system and to the defensive coaches.”

4. The Dolphins are 3.5 favorite per DraftKings Sportsbook. Are you taking that bet?

“I am because I think Miami will be able to put together a better offensive performance than last week as Tagovailoa knocks off the rust and gets back into rhythm. I have seen how explosive the Dolphins can be with Tagovailoa fully in charge of the offense and Hill, Waddle, and Mostert being used to their full potential. I think that can happen this week.”

5. Who wins this game?

“I think Miami does because of the offense’s ability to overwhelm. I am worried about the secondary, especially if quarterback Jared Goff is able to fix some of the turnover issues and can find a rhythm. I also hate to bet against Dan Campbell because we all saw him as the Dolphins’ interim head coach in 2015. He is able to come up with some unexpected wins and, at least from back then, the players would all run through a wall for him - or maybe bite off a knee cap. That all said, I think the Dolphins come away with the win here, somewhere in the 28-21 range.”

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