I was talking to an astute NFL personnel man late Tuesday afternoon when the conversation turned to the looming game between the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots. And he made the point that Bill Belichick’s team must be unhappy the Dolphins will be without defensive ends William Hayes and Andre Branch on Sunday.
And it took me a minute to figure out what he was saying but it eventually started to make sense because his logic was impeccable.
His point was the Dolphins the first two games and much of the third game this season have been sticking to new defensive line coach Kris Kocurek’s plan of shuttling linemen in and out of the game.
The Dolphins don’t just shuttle players. They bus them, limo them, red carpet them in and out of the game with gusto.
And that plan has Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn both starting. But neither has necessarily played a ton.
Week 1 against Tennessee ...
Wake played 38 snaps or 55 percent of the defensive plays.
Quinn played 41 snaps or 59 percent of the defensive plays.
Week 2 against the New York Jets ...
Wake played 30 snaps or 46 percent of the defensive plays.
Quinn played 33 snaps or 51 percent of the defensive plays.
And then in Week 3, things got a little off schedule. Hayes blew out his knee and is done for the year. Branch injured his knee and is out 2-4, per a source. And that meant someone had to make up the difference in snaps.
Wake played a 39 snaps or 51 percent of the snaps.
Quinn played 54 snaps or 71 percent of the snaps.
It was the most snaps either veteran played in a game all season. And Wake did it despite being banged up with some unknown issue (not serious).
Necessity forced both players to increase their work load. And the two combined for six tackles, a sack, and three quarterback hurries.
And while the Dolphins are working to add help at defensive end for this coming game, it’s quite obvious both Quinn and Wake will continue to be pressed for more snaps than they had the first couple of weeks against the New England Patriots.
(Second-year defensive end Charles Harris is also going to have to play more).
And, yes, that is bad news for the New England Patriots.
Because, as the personnel man pointed out, neither Branch nor Hayes are as good as either Wake or Quinn. Branch, he said, is “just a body.”
So the truth of the matter is the Dolphins will have better personnel at defensive end for more snaps against the Patriots than normal. The Dolphins’ top pass rushing duo will be chasing Tom Brady more often than they would if Branch and Hayes were healthy.
That, my friends, is indeed bad news for the Patriots.
And this is where my healthy skepticism kicks in and I tell you there’s a reason the Dolphins have been rolling fresh legs in the first two games. Wake, you see, is 36 years old. Quinn is 28.
And the Dolphins want both of them playing their best ball through November and December and -- if these guys really, really deliver -- into January.
That’s the team’s logic. Adam Gase doesn’t want his team wilting late in the season.
But there is a counter to that thinking.
Firstly, most NFL pass rushers will tell you they want more opportunities. It gives them a chance to learn the opponent quicker. It gives them a chance to set the opponent up better play to play and even from one series to the next.
It gives them a chance to find a rhythm.
Secondly, it’s one thing to keep bodies fresh in games that drain the soul as well as the body. Look, playing in 90-degree heat and high humidity in Miami is a chore. So frequent breaks are smart.
But the coming game is in Foxborough, Mass. The forecast for Sunday calls for sunny skies. And temperatures in the mid 60s.
Not Miami, folks.
Finally, I totally get the long view of keeping your players going for 16 games. But let’s be real. This is a huge game.
This might be the most important game the Dolphins play since the 2016 season when they went to the playoffs. One can argue this is more important because this game will decide if the Dolphins hold a 3-game lead over the Patriots in the AFC East and perhaps are in the early stages of snatching the division from New England’s grasp.
This game will also decide if the Patriots, dominant in winning the division 13 of the last 14 seasons, are keeping status quo.
So, heck yeah, Wake and Quinn should play a lot! It’s worth it.
Last Thursday, the New York Jets were having their way with the Cleveland Browns. And then Cleveland starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor suffered a concussion. So the Browns inserted rookie Baker Mayfield into the game.
And Mayfield changed the entire game. He fired up his team and lit up the Jets.
The Jets would have been much better off if the starter had remained in the game and the backup had remained on the bench, which is counter-intuitive but nonetheless true.
This situation with the Dolphins is similar in that while they are bemoaning the loss of two players and it’s never good when someone gets injured, the injuries could potentially make Miami better because it means better players will play more.
The only way this fails is if the Miami coaching staff outsmarts itself and forces some back-of-the-roster person signed Tuesday -- Barry Jackson noted the Dolphins added Jonathan Woodard from the practice squad -- to play significant snaps so Wake or Quinn don’t get too winded.
I would scream.
I’m not saying Wake and Quinn need to play 85-90 percent of the time. But there would be no harm in them playing, say, 70 percent of the snaps.
The hope here is wisdom prevails.
If it does ... Amazing how things are looking up for the Dolphins.