When the Dolphins pass the football
The Dolphins have actually tried to take a few more shots down the field in recent weeks with some success. Ryan Tannehill and Kenny Stills had a 46-yard hookup last week even in the face of what was expected and was good quarterback pressure by the Bills. The Dolphins would like to get the football more to tight end Jordan Cameron because he is a matchup problem down the seam and in the red zone, but Cameron has been slowed by an ankle injury, and that’s one reason he had only one catch last week. The Eagles’ secondary is a collection mostly of free agents, including Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond, who joined the team this season. Former Dolphins draftee Nolan Carroll starts and generally plays well but, as Miami fans remember, he is sometimes prone to giving too much cushion, particularly along the sideline. The Dolphins must be aware of Brandon Graham, who has four sacks the past five games.
When the Dolphins run the football
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The emergence of rookie Jay Ajayi last week promises something of a different combination for the Dolphins’ backfield. Lamar Miller, a speedster who likes to slash, still starts and should get most of the carries. But Ajayi, a downhill runner unlike any the Dolphins have had in a while, seems poised to be the short and tough-yardage back. He had a fine NFL debut against Buffalo last week, gaining 41 yards on nine carries, including a 23-yard run. The Eagles’ run defense, No. 21 in the NFL, has allowed opponents to gain 4.6 yards per carry or better in three of the past four games. This seems like an area the Dolphins should be able to exploit. The Dolphins are likely to spend much of the afternoon double-teaming defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, as most teams do.
When the Eagles pass the football
The Eagles started slow this season, losing three of their first four games, and some of that seemed to fall on new quarterback Sam Bradford, who was still getting familiar with coach Chip Kelly’s offense. Bradford has still delivered some clunkers of late, notably against Carolina and the New York Giants, but he has completed nearly 65 percent of his throws the past four games as the team has won three of four. There is a question about this team starting slow in games (sound familiar?), and Bradford is still trying to get in synch with tight end Zach Ertz to overcome that. It should help Philadelphia that receiver Riley Cooper, who has missed time with a toe injury, is expected back in the lineup. The Miami secondary is coming off a disappointing performance in which Brent Grimes got toasted by Sammy Watkins, and Buffalo quarterback Tyrod Taylor completed 11 of his 12 passes. The Dolphins must get a more consistent pass rush on Bradford, particularly from the outside, to make the quarterback uncomfortable.
When the Eagles run the football
The Eagles’ run game has taken flight in recent weeks. Since Week 5, Philadelphia is second in the NFL in rush yards per game and is averaging 5.1 yards per attempt. Ryan Mathews and DeMarco Murray are as good a 1-2 combination as there is in the league, and then the Eagles throw in draws and screens with Darren Sproles. The Dolphins are 31st in the NFL in run defense, and this isn’t an old problem that has been resolved of late. Indeed, Miami allowed Buffalo to rush for 266 yards last Sunday. The Bills not only ran well, but they gashed the Miami defense with runs of 48 yards and 38 yards.
Kicker Caleb Sturgis, a doppelganger for The Great Gazoo, is doing a good job for the Eagles after being cut by the Dolphins. He has connected on two of his three kicks of 50 yards or more but has missed two extra-point tries from this season’s longer distance. Sproles is a scary punt returner, and the Dolphins would be wise to kick away from him because Philadelphia ranks first in the NFL in punt returns. Sproles has three punt-return touchdowns the past two seasons. The Miami special teams are coming off a game in which they collected five penalties that hurt the team’s field position and, yes, led to points for the opposition.
Kelly brings a downhill run offense with the Eagles that works extremely fast so as to vex opponents and is improving week to week. He has an experienced offensive coordinator in Pat Shurmur and defensive coordinator in Bill Davis. The Dolphins’ Dan Campbell had a rough game against the Bills and, the thing is, no one really helped him in deciding whether to call timeout with only seconds to go in the first half and the ball at the Buffalo 1-yard line last week. What should have been three plays turned into only one. Inexperience.