Fight or Fold: Predictions, Stats, & Keys to Victory for Dolphins VS. Eagles
The Miami Dolphins rarely face the Philadelphia Eagles. The teams only meet every four-years, as they are in opposite conferences. This leads to a situation that lacks a great deal of rivalry, or bad blood, between the two franchises. However, there will always be storylines to follow.
This will be Bill Lazor’s first game against his former team. The student will attempt to take down the teacher, Eagles’ coach Chip Kelly, in a battle between two of the NFL’s more unique offenses. While there are principles of Kelly’s offense within Lazor’s system (such as the prominence of the shotgun), the Dolphins do not adopt the same philosophy in terms of total pace. After leaving his post as the Eagles’ QB coach, Lazor will look to notch his first win as a visitor in Lincoln Financial Field.
This game also represents a huge test for the mental fortitude of the Miami Dolphins. The team is most likely out of the playoff race, but it is yet to be seen if they will continue to play tough football in the face of an early end to the 2015 playoff hopes. Dan Campbell will have to rally the troops, and help the players put two consecutive divisional losses behind them, as they head into a rare matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles.
By the Numbers: Key Stats for the Philadelphia Offense
What They Do Well:
The Eagles are a top-10 total offense in the NFL, averaging 366.4 yards per game. They are ranked 13th in points per game with 24.1. The team ranks 10th in rushing yards per game with 121.6, and 18th in passing yards per game with 244.8.
Overall, they are a very well rounded offense. The team has established a more potent ground attack in recent weeks by mixing in Ryan Matthews with big-money acquisition DeMarco Murray. Sam Bradford also appears to be getting more comfortable with his surgically repaired knee as he curbs some of the struggles he faced earlier in 2015.
In terms of basic offensive stats, Philadelphia has an effective attack both in the air and on the ground. However, the situation stats do not bode as well for Chip Kelly’s team.
Where They Struggle:
The Philadelphia offense has a turnover issue. They are tied for the 2nd most fumbles in the NFL (5), and have thrown the 4th most interceptions (10).
The Eagles’ offense also has an issue in the red zone. They rank 22nd in terms of touchdowns per red zone trip, scoring on 50% of their drives that take them inside of the 20.
What are two of the classic keys to winning any football game? Winning on third-down conversions and extending time of possession. Unfortunately for the Eagles, they are struggling in both areas. The team ranks 29th on third down, converting just 30.8% of attempts. They also rank last in the NFL in terms of time of possession with 26:03 per game on average.
Time of possession struggles can also be attributed to a team’s defense, but Philadelphia actually has one of the better defenses in the league in regards to generating takeaways. The Eagles’ offense on the other hand ranks last in terms of 5-minute drives, with only three on the season.
The combination of ranking last in 5-minute drives and time of possession, as well as ranking 29th in third-down conversions, leads one to the conclusion that the Eagles’ offense has serious issues sustaining drives and capitalizing on the success of their defense.
By the Numbers: Key Stats for the Philadelphia Defense
What They Do Well:
The Eagles’ defense has a clear identity. They aren’t going to physically dominate you or force a team into 3-and-outs. They have one purpose: generate turnovers.
The Eagles’ defense is tied for 1st in the NFL with 20 turnovers generated so far this season. This would indicate a great deal of success, but their team’s struggles are caused by a lack of ability by the offense to capitalize on their takeaways.
The Eagles are a classic case of a team with a “bend but don’t break” defense. They generate takeaways, but struggle to force short drives and get off of the field early, which we will touch upon in the next section.
Where They Struggle:
Bend but don’t break defenses can only take you so far. Yes, the turnovers help win games, but the issue comes when the offense can’t capitalize. In this case, the clock simply bleeds out and you must now rely on big plays, while the other team builds a steady advantage through sustained drives.
The Eagles’ defense ranks 21st in third-down efficiency, allowing 40.4% of the opposition’s attempts to be converted for a first. Teams can dink and dunk their way down the field against this defense, evidenced by the fact that they average the 9th fewest yards per pass completion (6.9). If they were forcing teams into three and outs and coming up with third down stops, this stat would be more meaningful. However, they struggle in those areas, meaning that teams slowly but surely advance the ball downfield against this defense.
By the Numbers: Offense & Defense By Quarter
The Eagles struggle mightily in the first quarter. They rank 19th in defense, allowing an average of 5 points, and rank 32nd in offense, scoring an average of 1.2 points in the opening period. That is very, very bad for Philadelphia.
They are a fairly middle of the road team for the second quarter. They rank 13th in offense and 9th in defense.
That steady improvement continues into the third quarter, where the Eagles play their best football. They rank 1st in average points during that quarter, with 8.4 per game on average. On defense, they rank 6th, only allowing 3.4 points during that period on average.
The fourth quarter sees Philadelphia regress, dropping to 19th in offense and 18th in defense. That being said, the Dolphins will have to be very careful against this team in the second and third quarter, and must capitalize on their inability to score in the opening and closing periods of the game.
Dolphins’ Keys to Victory:
Lamar Miller & Jay Ajayi on 3rd Down:
The Dolphins will need to take advantage of the Eagles’ defense and extend drives on the ground. Their team struggles on third down, which means Miami will have a good chance to go on sustained drives and exhaust the Eagles’ defense.
The Dolphins’ offensive line will be used in space to allow for good situations on third down, where they will need to use power to help guide Lamar Miller and Jay Ajayi to first downs. These two runners will be key to Miami in creating the sustained drives that have killed the Eagles’ defense all season.
Slow Down the Offense by Generating Pressure on Sam Bradford:
The Dolphins will turn the ball over against Philly’s defense. It’s an inevitability. However, the defense can do their part to help by making Sam Bradford uncomfortable in the pocket early in the game.
The Eagles’ offensive line has struggled all year, and it looks to be a very favorable matchup for Suh and company. Bradford struggles with pressure in his face, and often simply throws the ball away. This will enable the defense to slow down the Eagles’ offense due to sacks or incomplete passes. If you allow them to complete short plays and run the ball for positive yardage, they will exhaust your defense by the middle of the first half.
The Dolphins will need to be proactive in generating pressure on Bradford in order to disrupt the signal-caller and slow down the Eagles’ up-tempo offense.
Winning Field Position (via Avoiding Penalties):
The Eagles’ defense struggles with long drives. The Eagles’ offense struggles to create long drives. That means the field position battle will be key for Miami.
The team knows they will be able to convert on third downs, so they cannot afford to start drives inside of their 20 as they did last week. They will need to have favorable field position in order to take advantage of the Eagles’ defense.
The Eagles’ offense struggles in sustaining drives. If the Dolphins commit silly penalties that give the Eagles favorable positioning, they will not be able to win this game. They need to force Philadelphia to score on long drives if they want to hold Chip Kelly’s high-powered attack to a lower point total.
Brent Grimes VS. Jordan Matthews:
Last week cannot become a recurring event. Brent Grimes will have to do a better job in man coverage against Jordan Matthews, who is a powerful receiver that can give defensive backs trouble.
Grimes does not have a history of multiple bad games in a row for Miami. He is usually able to bounce back. If the Eagles can establish Matthews as their go-to option of third down, it will alleviate some of their struggles in that portion of the game. Brent Grimes’ job is to prevent Matthews from getting involved early, forcing the Eagles’ offense back into their struggles in crucial situations.
The Eagles seem to be trending upwards, as the Dolphins are faltering midway through the season. I would normally say this is a firm loss for Miami based on that, but they do match up favorably with the Eagles. Philadelphia also benefits from playing in a very soft division, making them more relevant than they would be within a more competitive group.
The wildcard in predicting this outcome is the fact that Miami is playing their third road game in a row. That is tough for any team, but I think the Eagles’ struggles with third down offense and time possession will be cost them.
I’m tentatively predicting a Campbell-led Dolphins victory.
I think this game will be somewhere in the middle of what Miami has encountered over the past 4 weeks: they won’t blow out the Eagles like they did the Titans and Texans, but won’t get blown out such as in the past two weeks. However, I think this game, especially in Philly, leans more towards the blowout losses than blowout wins. Miami’s offense won’t keep pace with Philadelphia’s and while the defense will keep Bradford and the run game in check for a good part of the game, the Fins’ offensive struggles will continue.
The good news is that the Eagles secondary is atrocious. The bad news is that the Dolphins run defense is awful. The worse news is that the Eagles have a downright stingy front seven. Look for Philadelphia to shut down the run and punish a one-dimensional Miami offense while running their way to a victory.
While I do think that Miami will remain competitive throughout, their joke of a run defense is matching up against one of the best RB corps in the NFL. Additionally, Lamar Miller may have a tough time matching up against one of the better run defenses in the league. The Eagles Secondary is nothing to boast about, but they are opportunistic, and make you pay for your mistakes. If Tannehill can play mistake free football the Dolphins have a chance, but I just don’t think they’ll be able to find a way to stop the Matthews-Murray combo. This ultimately allows Philadelphia to pull away late in the game.