Dolphins are Preparing for Eagles’ ‘Tiger’
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The Miami Dolphins are suffering through a dismal 2-9 season in which more than a few analysts have thrown the word "tanking" around.
Few understand tanking better than Philadelphia fans because of what went on with the 76ers for so long but there is a tacit understanding in professional sports that coaches and players don't tank, executives, do. And while first-year head coach Brian Flores has been dealt an untenable hand in South Florida, he's getting rave reviews for keeping perhaps the least-talented team in the NFL playing hard and competing on a weekly basis, something that has generated two unexpected wins.
If the Eagles have any hope of winning the NFC East and making the postseason they can't be the third team to suffer a letdown against the Dolphins this season.
For Jim Schwartz it starts with veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, a true gunslinger who can get hot at any time as evidenced by his Week 2 win against Philadelphia last season when the signal caller was with Tampa Bay.
"He still does have some mobility. I was just watching up there and watching some other teams spy him, and I was looking and it's like, Man, that's Fitzpatrick. He's 36 years old.’ He still has good mobility. He has a rifle for an arm. He has one of the best fastballs in the NFL and he can fit the ball into some tight windows," the Eagles defensive coordinator assessed."
"They haven't really been a consistent team rushing the football this year so a lot of it has fallen to him, but they won two out of the last four," Schwartz continued. "I think that says a lot about him, too, as a quarterback. It didn't look good for them early in the season, but he found a way to win two out of the last four and we're going to have to play good on defense to come out with a win."
The Eagles defense has been playing well against everyone over the past four games, though. It's the offense that's been the issue and a significant one playing without injured receivers Alshon Jeffery (ankle) and Nelson Agholor (knee), as well as lead back Jordan Howard (shoulder).
In their absences against Seattle last week, the Philadelphia offense used its tiger package (12 personnel) over 70 percent of the time, something Miami defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has paid close attention to.
"It’s a struggle," Graham said of working against two tight end sets with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. "Just with one tight end, it’s hard. Ertz is one of the elite tight ends in the league. These guys do a good job of working together, whether it is screens or down-the-field throws, intermediate throws, RPOs (run/pass options). They’re so highly involved with everything they do with the offense. You get to see all of the 12 personnel they are in. It does make it a challenge, but we’re at work trying to figure it out right now and we’ll see how it plays out on Sunday.”
Goedert, the second-year player who has quickly developed into a real two-way option as an in-line player, is the key piece of the puzzle for being able to play with two tight ends.
"I think because he’s a good in-line blocker and then with the ability to flex out and give you the multiplicity – the same thing we’re trying to gain on defense, they can do on offense because their 12 personnel can look like 11, it can look like 10, it can look like 21," Graham explained. "[Goedert's] toughness really stands out, his versatility stands out and then the fact that he can catch the ball. So you’re like ok, a lot of times you hope that the in-line tight end is just a blocker, so you don’t have to worry about covering him. No, not the case [with Goedert].”
The opposition has been able to handle the looks with Jeffery's absence, in particular, causing problems but the veteran WR looks like he might be back against the Dolphins and may be joined by Agholor. Howard, however, has still not been cleared for contact.
"The unknowns are the unknowns, but we’ve got to prepare for it all," Graham assessed. "That’s why we get paid, and that’s why it’s the NFL. We know it’s a physical league, but I always look forward to the challenge of that. Just making sure and we’ll see what happens on Sunday with inactives and we’ll go from there, but you’ve got to prepare for it all.”
As a former Bill Belichick-lieutenant Flores remembers Doug Pederson's offense from Super Bowl LII and will not be swayed by any recent struggles.
"It’s a tough offense. They’ve got a lot of good skill players," Flores explained. "It’s a good scheme. It’s a good mix of shifts, motions, gadget-type formations/plays; but also your core runs, core passes, from dropbacks to play-action to the screen game. They do a lot. ... We’ve got to play with really good communication, good fundamentals, good technique. We have to tackle well, like we talk about every week."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen