Chan Gailey is in a familiar spot with his 6-3 Miami Dolphin offense.
The last time the Dolphins started a season 6-3 they had Gailey as their offensive coordinator and battled for the AFC East. Right now, on a five-game win streak, Miami is close on the Buffalo Bills’ tail to claim this year’s crown, and face the Denver Broncos on Sunday looking for six.
Dolphins Win Fifth in a Row, Broncos Embarrassed by Raiders
Coming off another high-scoring win, this time against the Los Angeles Chargers, Miami is winning from every angle. Its rookie quarterback is getting it done, it’s finding its running game despite having a banged up backfield, it had branched out to use tight end sets and its defense and special teams are also scoring. All facets got it done in the Dolphins 29-21 win last week and all signs show the train rolling through the stations again.
Meanwhile, Denver got routed by division-foe Las Vegas last week that saw the Broncos surrender four rushing touchdowns while their QB, Drew Lock, tossed four interceptions in a 37-12 defeat after a 10-6 score at the half.
Denver’s Pass Defense Shines, Run Defense Struggles
Denver defended the air attack pretty well, only allowing Vegas’ leading receiver, TE Darren Waller, 37 yards on three catches. With the way Miami has been spreading the ball around, like we’ve seen to seven and eight different guys since QB Tua Tagovailoa has taken over the offense, it could be more of the same again with no standout wideout.
That should be more music to Miami’s ears.
RB Salvon Ahmed Gets Another Well-Deserved Start, Matt Breida to Play
Undrafted rookie RB Salvon Ahmed will make his second straight start (third game) on Sunday and will have the likes of RB Matt Breida available for the first time after he suffered a hamstring injury in week eight. The pass-catching back will be able to aid Ahmed who has now worked as the Dolphins’ bellcow for the last two weeks and finished as their leading rusher. He has 123 yards in two games, including 85 and a score last week, and should be in store for another big game despite Breida’s return.
Miami Leading Receiver: Unpredictable
In the air, it’s hard to say who will be a difference maker for Miami. With Tagovailoa spreading the ball around so much it will be whoever finds the end zone that will be reared as the key player on the day. Last week, WR Jakeem Grant caught three of his four catches in the game on the opening drive, but finished as the team’s leading receiver with a 4/43/1 stat line. Not impressive, but important. Last week, with Waller being the leading receiver for the Raiders, it could be any of Miami’s three TEs who stand out. Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe and Adam Shaheen all have TDs on the season, so watch for Gailey’s implementation of TE sets.
“I think this year, we put a big emphasis on starting fast and not just defense, not just offense, but as a team in all three phases. I’m a firm believer that if you put an emphasis on it, it’s going to work out,” linebacker Jerome Baker said. “This year, the emphasis has been to start fast, start fast, start fast. We’ve proven that we can come back or different things like that. This year, we really wanted to, every game, start fast and lately we’ve definitely been doing it.”
QB Drew Lock to Start for Denver, TE Noah Fant Officially Questionable
For Denver, after being upgraded to questionable this week, Lock was named the Broncos’ starter. NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported Lock “suffered pretty severe strains and bruising to his ribs” during the loss to the Raiders and was feared to have a similar injury to that of New Orleans Saints’ QB Drew Brees. However, throughout this week of practice he showed Denver coaching staff enough to earn the start, pushing QB Brett Rypien to back him up. Rypien started the Broncos’ Thursday Night Football win against the New York Jets already this season.
Tim Patrick is Miami’s Biggest Denver Worry
In the receiving game, the Broncos were thought to rely on Courtland Sutton and rookies Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler, but a season-ending injury for Sutton, a lackluster showing from Jeudy and a nearly non-existent season from Hamler has left one guy: Tim Patrick.
Patrick hasn’t been anything heroic, but he has been Denver’s big-play guy, something the Dolphins have struggled guarding. Exhibit A, Christian Kirk.
Gordon, Lindsay to Split Mind-Boggling Bronco Backfield
Miami has struggled stopping the run for two straight seasons, but Denver’s inability to successfully use Gordon and Lindsay has plagued it.
“Phillip Lindsay, Melvin Gordon, (KJ) Hamler, (Jerry) Jeudy, Tim Patrick, Noah Fant, good o-line, talented quarterback, this is a good football team. We’ve stressed that to our team,” Dolphins head coach Brian Flores said. “They’re well-coached. They’re hungry for a win, so this is going to be a tough, tough test. We’re going to have to play well really in all three phases.”
The Broncos traded for Gordon in the offseason despite having Lindsay and Royce Freeman. Now, Freeman has been basically flexed out of the game plan and Lindsay, even after out-gaining and producing Gordon, saw just four touches for two yards last week out of nowhere. Gordon has underwhelmed and if Denver doesn’t figure out how to move the ball on the ground when its likely going to need to help out its ailing QB against a vulnerable defense, the Broncos are going to find themselves on the losing end of another lopsided score quickly.
“They definitely have two unique backs and what I mean by that is you have to do your homework of who is in the game because you can eliminate – or kind of have anticipation of what they are trying to do with that back,” Baker said. “For us, that’s been our goal with pretty much anybody we face. You have to know who is in the game, you’ve got to know who you’re going against, what they do well, what they struggle with and play accordingly. You definitely have enough time. You’ve really just got to really know your stuff.”
Dolphins Defense, Special Teams Should Earn them Win
While both teams are likely to spread the ball around, Miami has one clear-cut advantage that should bolster it to another win.
Miami rolls in with its defense who has a takeaway in 16 straight games and has been seemingly lights out with quarterback pressure, disguise covers and confusing draws.
This should be another game where the Dolphins don’t need their rookie QB to play lights out, although it would be nice, and can fall back on a defense that has won them games they’ve been underdogs in on this stretch of wins so far. Eyes should be on defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah’s looming sack, linebacker Kyle Van Noy’s QB pressure, although questionable for the game, and LB Andrew Van Ginkel’s special team’s disruptions, and more reps if Van Noy misses or is limited too.
Kickoff is slated for 4:05 p.m. eastern in Denver where Miami is looking for a tie of the AFC East lead with a win.
– Kayla Morton is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Miami Dolphins. She is also a co-host on the Full Press Fantasy Podcast. Like and follow on Follow @northdakayla74 Follow @FPC_Dolphins and Facebook.