Overview: This is an exciting matchup on several different levels. It will be the NFL debut of Tua Tagovailoa as a starting quarterback. The rookie quarterback widely considered a top prospect while at Alabama; Tua is a left-handed quarterback who put up some incredible numbers with Crimson Tide, including an astounding 87 to 11 touchdown to interception ratio. He has a reputation for being a hard worker and a good leader and his physical skills. Will the bigger stage of the NFL dazzle him? Miami doesn’t think so.
The Rams, meanwhile, would love to go into their bye week with a 6-2 record as they get ready for a division battle with the Seattle Seahawks in just two weeks.
Rams Defense vs. Dolphins Offense: Any quarterback who takes the field against the Rams faces the little matter of a confident Aaron Donald disrupting the party, and that’s even scarier when the quarterback happens to be a rookie making his first start. Tua is considered an elite prospect who might have gone number one overall had he not suffered a devastating hip injury in college. Many considered him comparable to Joe Burrow tells you all that you need to know about his physical talent. While Tua doesn’t have a cannon for an arm, he can make all of the throws, in addition to getting the ball out quickly and making the right decisions. Before his hip injury, he was also a mobile, athletic quarterback. The general belief is that he still is, but that’s not to say he might have some limitations that he didn’t have before.
Having said all of that—he is a rookie, and he’ll be facing one of the league’s better defenses, especially against the pass. For all practical purposes, this is his NFL debut against a quality opponent. The Rams are second in points per game allowed in the NFL at 17.7 (fifth in total points allowed, in part because they have played more games than some teams). They are coming off a stifling performance against the Bears in which the defense only gave up three points, as the Bears scored their only touchdown on a fumble recovery.
A few snaps against an awful Jets team is not the same thing as facing Aaron Donald and the Rams, especially when Los Angeles has had time to prepare for Tagovailoa. The rookie could see everything from all-out jailbreak blitzes to exotic coverages, zone-blitz packages, and complicated schemes of every sort. That’s what NFL defensive coordinators do when facing a rookie quarterback, no matter how talented.
Tua does have some weapons on his side. Wide receiver Davante Parker expected to play after suffering a groin injury against the Jets two weeks ago. Parker is a legit big-play threat, and if Tua can gt time to throw, he can be a factor in this game. They also have tight-end Mike Giesecke, who has had big games against the Dolphins and 49ers. He may see a lot of Rams Safety John Johnson on Sunday in what could be a big matchup.
Of course, the battle that everyone is waiting for on this side of the ball is Rams d-lineman Aaron Donald against Dolphins O-line. When San Francisco shut down Donald a couple of weeks ago, the Rams defense was not the same. It’s even more critical for a team with a rookie quarterback to keep AD under control. The Dolphins interior line—guard Ereck Flowers and Solomon Kindley, and center Ted Karras have been stellar this season, and they need to be again in this game.
The Rams, as always, need someone besides Donald to step up in the pass-rush. Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd did that last week with two sacks against the Bears. Floyd has four sacks on the season, but he has also had games this year where he disappeared. Rookie Linebacker Terrell Lewis, a former teammate of Tua’s at ‘Bama, may want to get re-acquainted with his former quarterback in this game
SOMEBODY has to step up consistently for the Rams as a pass-rusher. The Dolphins have a pretty good O-line, and Tua can do some severe damage if he gets enough time.
One thing that works in the Rams favor in this game is that their biggest weakness is stopping the run, a facet of the game where the Dolphins rank 22nd at 105 yards per game. They did get a powerful performance two weeks ago from running back Myles Gaskin, who rushed for 91 yards against the Jets. The Rams have activated nose-tackle A’Shawn Robinson for this game. Robinson is a natural 3-4 nose tackle who should stand his ground and shut down the inside running game, but he may not see tons of action or be in top form yet.
The Rams had had issues with their inside linebackers, Micah Kiser and Kenny Young. The pair made Niners running back Raheem Mostert, a decent but not outstanding back, look like Earl Campbell a couple of weeks ago with an exhibition of poor tackling skills that was frankly embarrassing to watch at times. The young linebackers played exceptional last week, but the Bears didn’t run the ball very well. They need to play well against the Dolphins.
Rams Offense vs. Dolphins Defense: While the Miami defense is not loaded with big-name players, this is an excellent unit. Miami boasts the best third-down defense in the NFL and isn’t afraid to dial up the blitz in critical situations.
Corners Byron Jones and Xavien Howard are one of the better tandems in the league. These guys can play, and their battle against Rams wideouts Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods could be critical. The Rams have also been getting wideout Josh Reynolds more involved in the offense lately, and while Reynolds is not a real “burner” in terms of raw speed, he has emerged as something of a serious threat. Coach Sean McVay keeps saying he wants to get rookie wideout Van Jefferson more involved in the offense, and Jefferson mostly played well when given the opportunity. Even so, a total of 98 yards in 7 games is probably not what the Rams were hoping for from the former Florida Gator.
Tight-end Tyler Higbee at last report was a game-time decision for the Dolphins game. He nad fellow tight-end Gerald Everette are almost interchangeable at tight end, but the Rams have gone two more two-tight end sets this season, and ideally, that puts both Higbee and Everette on the field at once. Third tight-end Johnny Mundt, best known as a blocker, surprised some people last week against the Bears with three catches.
The Rams offense starts with the running game, and it seems like when they come out throwing things don’t usually go well. Darrell Henderson seems entrenched as the feature back at this point, with Malcolm Brown getting some of the tough yards between the tackles. Rookie Cam Akers appears to have fallen out of favor with McVay in recent weeks, getting only a handful of touches. Exactly why is not entirely clear, other than the fact that Henderson seems to have emerged as “the guy.”
Miami is the lower middle of the pack (18th) in rushing defense, and the Rams Offensive line has played much better than was the case a year ago. Look for the Rams to try to establish the run early to set up the play-action pass. If they can do that, they can win this game.
We’re going to check the box for the Rams on this side of the ball, but Miami’s defense is one of the better units in the league, and this is no walk in the park for the Rams.
Special Teams: Other than yet another missed kick by (now former) Rams placekicker Sam Sloman last week, the Rams special teams were excellent in the Bears game. That’s especially true for Rams punter Johnny Hekker, who pinned Chicago inside their ten-yard line last week, including a booming 65-yarder that left Chicago on their one-yard line. Hekker was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week, and it’s hard to remember a punter having a better game in the NFL, literally ever. The Rams kick coverage units likewise were on their game. It was an outstanding performance overall for the Rams special teams, which has not always been the case this season.
Sloman replaced by veteran placekicker Kai Forbath to shore up what has been a problem area for the Rams. Forbath is a veteran who adapts to the pressure of making big kicks in crucial situations. Hopefully, he will be the answer the Rams have been looking for all season to replace Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, have been excellent on special teams. Placekicker Json sanders have yet to miss a kick in 2020, either on extra-points or field goal attempts. Punter Matt Haack is averaging 48.4 yards per punt, which is also very good. While the Dolphins kick and punt returners have not been nearly solid as their kickers, you have to give Miami the edge here.
Coaching: Interesting matchup of two of the game’s bright young stars. Dolphins head man Brian Flores has seen McVay before serving as the Patriots de facto defensive coordinator in the Super Bowl a couple of years ago. As a Ram fan would prefer to forget, Los Angeles is held to three points in that game.
Flores not given the official title after Matt Patricia left to coach the Lions, but he as the defensive signal-caller in that 16-3 win.
Round, one of Flores vs. McVay, goes to Flores.
Flores was not given the official title after Matt Patricia left to coach the Lions, but he as the defensive signal-caller in that 16-3 win. Flores getting five wins in 2019 out of a Dolphins roster that frankly lacked talent was Lombardian. He’s a good coach that has this team playing hard and headed in the right direction.
Having said all of that, Sean McVay seems to have returned to his former brilliance in 2020 after a sub-par 2019. The only real criticism from us is his tendency to get overly pass-happy, especially at the start of games. When that happens, the Rams usually lose.
But when McVay is on his game, he is the best in the league at designing plays and confusing defenses.
This is really close, but we are going to check the box for the Rams.
Edge: Rams: Oddsmakers say the Rams are favored by 3.5 on the road. We tend to agree, but this game is no gimme by any means. This is a Dolphin team that demolished a 49er team that went on the next week to give the Rams their worst beating season.
Rams 24 Miami 21