Can the Bears stop this explosive offense of the Dolphins?

We preview the Week 9 matchup between the Bears and Dolphins at Soldier Field

The Bears (3-5) welcome the Miami Dolphins (5-3) to Solider Field on Sunday. The Dolphins are making a playoff push and would be in the playoffs as a 6th seed in the playoffs started today. The Bears are closer to a top ten draft pick than to the playoffs.  Here is a position by position analysis of the Dolphins:

Quarterback: There is probably no player who came into this season with more pressure to perform than Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Coming into this season, he had to deal with his former head coach thinking that the organization should have selected Justin Herbert in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Dolphins flirted with Tom Brady to be their next quarterback and his inability to stay healthy.

Tagovailoa has shown his detractors that he can be a top quarterback in the NFL. This season, he leads the league in yards per attempt, leads the league in quarterback rating and is 5-0 in games that he has started and finished this season. The Dolphins are averaging 26 points per game in his five starts this season which is a vast improvement over the 15.2 points they averaged in his first five starts from last season. You can point out all of the additions that the team made last season as why he has been successful, but Tua has done a great job of executing head coach’s Mike McDaniel offense.

Running Back: The Dolphins rank 28th in rushing this season and are 28th in rushing attempts this season. The offense this season for the Dolphins has been built around the explosive wide receivers and not the running game. The leading rusher on the Dolphins is Raheem Mostert who was signed in the offseason from the 49ers to be the backup to Chase Edmonds however he has become the starter after Edmonds struggled in the preseason and in week 1.

On Tuesday, Edmonds was traded to the Broncos and the Dolphins traded for Jeff Wilson Jr from the 49ers who became expendable after 49ers traded for Christian McCaffrey last week.  (Editor’s Note: At the time of this article, it is not clear if Wilson will play vs the Bears)

Mostert and Wilson are familiar with the outside zone run scheme that Mike McDaniel’s offense runs because of both running backs time playing for the 49ers where McDaniel’s worked for five seasons before becoming the Dolphins coach.

The Dolphins have eclipsed over 100 rushing yards in three of the last four games and averaged 4.1 yards per carry vs the Lions on Sunday. The Bears have been horrific against the run this season (ask Tony Pollard of the Cowboys) and would the trade of Roquan Smith this week to the Ravens it could be a long day for the Bears shutting down this running attack of the Dolphins that is starting to heat up.

Offensive Line: In 2021, this unit gave up 40 sacks and surrendered the most pressures in the league. To improve the offensive line and keep their quarterback healthy,  the team signed Connor Williams from the Cowboys to be one of their starting guards and Terron Armstead to be their starting left tackle this offseason.

The starting offensive line from week 1 of this season will be different than the one that will face the Bears on Sunday due to injuries to starting left guard Liam Eichenberg (MCL sprain) and right tackle Austin Jackson (Ankle) who is expected to get off of injured reserve this week but not expected to play vs the Bears.

Despite the shuffling due to the injuries, the offensive line has given up less sacks than they did last season after eight games and ranks in the top ten in lowest pressure rate on the quarterback.

Many people will point out a number of different factors why the Dolphins are succeeding on offense but this offensive line deserves some praise for the great start the Dolphins have had on offense.

Wide Receivers: This season, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle own the most receiving yards by a wide receiver duo throughout the first 8 games in NFL history.  Hill and Waddle are the only two wide receivers who play for the same team who are in the top 20 in the following categories this season: yards receiving, receptions, receiving yards per game and targets.  Bears Defensive coordinator Alan Williams is not getting a lot sleep knowing that these two wide receivers will be the opponent for his defense that just gave up 242 yards in passing to Dallas in the last game.

The Dolphins obtained Hill after a trade with the Chiefs and signed a new contract making him the highest-paid wide receiver in the league this season. Hill has been electric so far and is having his normal dominant season. Hill is on pace to have 2,042 receiving yards this season which would break the record of 1,964 yards held by Calvin Johnson.

Waddle is also having a breakout season playing alongside Hill. The second-year wide receiver is having a breakout season averaging 17.3 yards per reception and has already had four 100-yard receiving games this season after having only one 100-yard receiving last season.

By far, this is the best wide receivers the Bears have faced this season and the Bears secondary needs to be prepared to deal with great wide receiver duo.

Tight End: Head Coach Mike McDaniels comes from the Shanahan coaching tree and in the Shanahan offense  the tight end is expected to catch passes and block in the running game (George Kittle of the 49ers would be an example of what the tight end is expected to do in the offense). Last season, Mike Gisecki was the starter however because of his deficiencies as a run blocker he lost his starting job to former Notre Dame tight end Durham Smythe. Smythe has started seven out of eight games for the Dolphins but is still only receiving 45 percent of the snaps this season and has not contributed much in the passing game (6 receptions for 50 yards this season).

Meanwhile, Gisecki is still contributing in the passing game this season (21 catches, 435 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns) and just got his first start this season vs the Lions because of an hamstring injury to Smythe(Smythe is questionable for the game vs the Bears). The Bears have done well against tight ends this season and will need to continue that trend vs the Dolphins.

Defensive Line: The defensive line for the Dolphins has not been good at all in generating pressure on quarterbacks or at tackles for a loss. Currently, the Dolphins rank 29th in pressure percentage, 29th in sacks and 25th in tackles for a loss.

However, some of the numbers are due for a change with the trade for Bradley Chubb on Tuesday from the Broncos. As an outside linebacker and pass rusher this season, Chubb has had 26 pressures, 15 hurries and 5.5 sacks this season (Editor’s Note: As of this posting, it is not clear if Chubb will play on Sunday vs the Bears). 

The defensive line combined has only had 4.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss through eight games. After playing the Cowboys and Patriots who ranked 1st and 2nd in terms of quarterback pressures this season respectively, this Bears offense line should be able to assert themselves against this defensive line that has not disrupted any of the offenses that they have faced.

Linebackers: Overall, this defense has allowed the 24th most points and 25th in yards per play. The leading tackler in this group is Elandon Roberts. Roberts has 45 combined tackles this season, 1.5 sacks and 4 tackles for loss. Roberts has been a sure tackler as he has only missed 5 tackles this season but struggles as a defender against the pass. Quarterbacks have completed 78% of their passes against him.

Once again, the addition of Bradley Chubb should provide a boost to this group and their ability to cause havoc for opposing offenses. The Bears should be able to move the ball either running or passing versus this linebacker core.

Secondary: The Dolphins are giving up 262.1 yards passing this season and have the fourth worst passing defense in the NFL. In addition, the secondary has only 4 interceptions which is 24th in the league. Coming into the season, cornerback Xavien Howard who has been named to the Pro-Bowl three times in his career was expected to be an anchor of this secondary but he has not played up to that level.

Offenses are completing 65% of their passes against Howard which is the highest completion percentage that he has ever given up in his career. He is given up 15.7 yards per reception which is also a career high.

The secondary has given up over 300 yards passing four times this year including in their win vs the Lions on Sunday. The odd fact is that the games that they have given up more than 300 yards passing the Dolphins are 3-1 in those games. We will see if Justin Fields and his new addition at wide receiver Chase Claypool can exploit this secondary.

Kicking/Special Teams: Jason Sanders is the  starting kicker for the Dolphins and has made 11 out of 14 field goals with a long of 48 yards this season. Punter Thomas Morstead averages 45.5 yards per punt which is 25th in the league. The Dolphins rank 31st in both kick return and punt return yardage and have given up kickoff return for a touchdown to the Ravens in week 2.  The weather on Sunday is expected to be clear but with wind gusts up to 20 mph so the kicking and passing game may be affected.

The Dolphins are one of the worst special teams units that the Bears have faced this season and the ability to take advantage of this could be a determining factor in the game on Sunday.

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