3TFO: Dolphins @ Colts, Week 9
Who would have predicted back in April, when Colts and Dolphins both drafted rookie quarterbacks in the top 10, that they would hold the AFC wild card spots bat mid-season? That describes pretty well how topsy-turvy everything is in the AFC.
Rookie quarterbacks aren’t inexperienced players, not ready for what they are facing in the NFL anymore. Andrew Luck is walking in Peyton Manning’s shoes no less and he is living up to the hype. Yes, there is a lot of room to improve, but in his first season he already showing that he can be the next great QB in Indianapolis.
In Miami, Ryan Tanehill was expected to spend at least a season on the bench and learning the system. Well, he is out there, starting at quarterback, and playing quite well – even leading a key stat for quarterbacks: completion percentage under pressure (62.3%). Guess who’s right after him? Another rookie, Robert Griffin III. They are taking the league by storm.
But these two teams aren’t holding playoff spots just because of their quarterbacks. Let’s look at a few other key matchups in this game.
Reggie Wayne vs. Dolphins Cornerbacks
Reggie Wayne’s role is bigger than ever now that Bruce Arians is in town. The new offensive coordinator wants his best receiver to be all over the field helping out his rookie quarterback. Wayne averages 12.4 targets per game, highest in the league by far, and more than half of those targets are when he plays in the slot. That’s the most important difference from the old Wayne, as Steve Palazzolo noted it in his New Roles: AFC, Wayne is playing almost 65% of his snaps in the slot and at the level of the best slot receivers around the league like Victor Cruz or Wes Welker. Targeted on 25.4% of his slot routes, Wayne has the third-highest Yard Per Route Run, 2.39. Always a threat in the passing game, Wayne and the Colts have taken that threat to another level this season.
The Dolphins probably won’t track Wayne all over the field as they do with Sean Smith when they face a big receiver that Smith can physically match up with. So it will be up to the Colts who Wayne faces when lined up on the outside. Both starting cornerbacks, Smith and Nolan Carroll, have been doing pretty well lately, combining for just one touchdown and 313 yards allowed in the last three games. In the slot, Wayne will face Jimmy Wilson. The second-year player hasn’t been tested a lot this season, only 18 targets covering the slot, but that will change this Sunday and the Colts must take advantage of this match up every time they can.
Dolphins Defensive Line vs. Colts Offensive Line
When talking about the Dolphins’ defensive line it’s Cameron Wake who gets all the headlines, well deserved of course, but he is not alone in that unit. Randy Starks is putting together a very consistent season on the interior defensive line as well. Wake is the best pure pass rusher in the NFL right now, but it is noticeable that he’s not performing as well as he did early on — in the last two games he has created just six total pressures while his number in the first third of the season was 8.4 per game. While not at the level of his fellow Dolphin D-lineman, Starks is also producing as a pass rusher. He is seventh in Pass Rush Productivity among defensive tackles with 22 total pressures in 247 snaps.
On the other side of the ball, Winston Justice will be in charge of Wake on the right side of the line. Justice’s good season took a hit last Sunday when Derrick Morgan recorded more pressures against him in one game than Justice had allowed all season. One game can’t make us forget that he still hasn’t given up a sack and that Morgan was the first player to record a QB hit against Justice’s protection. The inside of the line features two of the PFF Secret Superstars of Week 8. The guard pairing of Mike McGlynn and Jeff Linkenbach come into this game excelling in the run game and performing as efficient pass blockers: no sacks and just seven total pressures combined in the last three games. McGlynn will be especially important in this game — he’ll be asked to control Starks and, if necessary, help Justice to deal with Wake.
Dolphins Receivers vs. Colts Cornerbacks
The Dolphins third receiver spot has been somewhat of a carousel this season but in reality is a sideshow in an offense that looks to keep their base offense on the field for the majority of the time outside of third and long situations. Brian Hartline and Davone Bess are playing over 80% of the snaps, running 235 pass routes in the process, and that workload has helped foster a connection with Tannehill. Their biggest issue this season is the number of passes they have dropped. Hartline’s count is three and Bess’ is four, each on 36 catchable balls.
Vontae Davis will miss the chance to face his former team because of a knee injury and, like in the other three games he missed, Cassius Vaughn will take over. Vaughn is just a slight upgrade over Davis despite the horrible season Davis is having. Vaughn allows 63 percent of passes his way to be completed and opposing quarterbacks have a 112.3 QB rating throwing at him. The other cornerback will be Jerraud Powers who has pretty much the same numbers as Vaughn in coverage — matching completion percentage and a 102.9 QB rating — not very good numbers for a couple of starting cornerbacks in the NFL. If they can’t step up and perform at higher level, Tannehill won’t miss the chance to take advantage of this matchup on Sunday.
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