PHILADELPHIA — The Miami Dolphins had one of their biggest tests of the season Sunday night at Philadelphia. They failed by losing, 31-17.
Adverse circumstances were the norm for Miami as key starters such as Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard (groin) and center Connor Williams (groin) didn’t play. And then starters such as wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (back), linebacker David Long Jr. (head injury) and left guard Isaiah Wynn (quadriceps) went down to injuries during the game. Waddle returned, Long and Wynn didn’t.
It was up to coach Mike McDaniel and his coaching staff to make the necessary adjustments and give their team a chance to win. That was asking a lot.
Here are some more takeaways from Sunday night’s game:
Facing 2022 playoff teams on road
The Dolphins entered Sunday’s game with a 2-6 road record against teams that made the 2022 playoffs. They’re now 2-7.
They defeated Baltimore and the Los Angeles Chargers and lost to Cincinnati, San Francisco, the Chargers, and Buffalo (three times).
They entered Sunday 1-1 this season against 2022 playoff teams on the road having defeated the Chargers and losing to Buffalo. — Chris Perkins
Offensive line juggling sees Cotton in the lineup
Wynn left the game late in the first quarter with a quadriceps injury which meant Lester Cotton, who started the Buffalo playoff game, had to fill-in. Of course, that meant the Dolphins had three backups on the offensive line among Cotton, center Liam Eichenberg (starting for Williams) and left tackle Kendall Lamm (starting for Terron Armstead).
10 and 113 … not ideal numbers
The Dolphins had a season-low 10 points in the first half and a season-low 113 yards in the first half as Philadelphia’s defense found early-game success.
Miami had four carries for minus-7 yards in the first half while quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was 13 of 16 passing for 129 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a 121.1 passer rating.
Wide receiver Tyreek Hill had eight receptions for 65 yards and one touchdown.
The Dolphins won the turnover battle, 2-1, and are now minus-3 on the season.
Miami got a pick-6 from linebacker Jerome Baker after cornerback Kader Kohou topped the ball in the third quarter to tie the game at 17 to even the turnover count for the game.
Unfortunately, Tagovailoa threw an interception shortly afterward.
Miami got a first-quarter turnover when edge rusher Bradley Chubb stripped Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and defensive tackle Christian Wilkins recovered.
Turnover margin is one of the key stats coach Mike McDaniel uses to gauge a team’s chances of winning and losing, and the Dolphins entered Sunday’s game minus-4, which was 25th in the league.
Nickerson and Campbell in nickel and dime packages
With Howard (groin) sidelined, the Dolphins started Eli Apple alongside usual starter Kader Kohou, but Kohou switched to left cornerback, replacing Howard.
In the nickel package, cornerback Parry Nickerson came in to play the slot, replacing Apple as the fifth defensive back. In the dime package, safety Elijah Campbell came on as the sixth defensive back. Nickerson served as the dime earlier this season.
The Dolphins held Philadelphia to 84 yards rushing on 29 carries, far below their average of 150 yards per game, which was second in the league.
Miami’s run defense was ranked 20th at 114.5 yards allowed per game when play began Sunday. But the Dolphins clamped down on Philadelphia early, holding the Eagles to 46 yards rushing on 19 carries in the first half.
Eagles running back D’Andre Swift, who started the day sixth in rushing at 452 yards, had 31 yards on nine carries in the first half.
Swift ended with 43 yards on 13 carries.
Tua seems human
Tagovailoa threw a fourth-quarter interception to cornerback Darius Slay while trying to drop in a touch pass to running back Raheem Mostert in the end zone. It pretty much ended the competitive part of the game.
The pass was a teardrop-type pass but Slay, who wasn’t the primary defender, ventured over toward the sideline to undercut it and intercept it as Mostert was being defended by linebacker Zach Cunningham.
Tagovailoa ended 23 of 32 for 316 yards, one touchdown, one interception, three sacks and an 87.5 passer rating.
The Tush Push works
The Eagles used the so-called “Tush Push” play twice, and it worked for fourth down conversions both times. The Eagles basically surround Hurts and shove him from behind so that he gets the first down. No one has consistently stopped the play.
Fourth-and-3 … was there a penalty?
Tagovailoa threw to Cedrick Wilson Jr. on fourth-and-3 from the Eagles’ 21-yard line and the pass fell incomplete. It appeared cornerback James Bradberry made contact with Wilson before the pass got there but no flag was thrown.
A 38-yard field goal would have whittled the Dolphins’ deficit to 17-13 with 4:08 left in the third quarter.
Analytics said McDaniel made the right decision to go for the first down.
The Dolphins ended with 10 penalties for 70 yards, something they can’t have in a game of this magnitude. With the game tied at 3, the Eagles had a second-and-10 from the Miami 35-yard line. Nickerson batted away the pass from Hurts but Wilkins was called for a late hit on Hurts. The Eagles went on to score a touchdown and take a 10-3 lead in the second quarter.
Earlier in the game a hold by Cotton wiped out a Hill touchdown. The Dolphins settled for a 40-yard field goal by kicker Jason Sanders.
How wide open has Tyreek Hill been?
Headed into Sunday night, on Tyreek Hill’s 42 receptions, he had been open on average by a whopping 4.14 yards per catch. His clearances: 10 yards (once, on his 54-yard opening touchdown against the Broncos), 7 yards (three times), 6 yards (six), 5 yards (eight), 4 yards (seven), 3 yards (seven), 2 yards (eight) and 1 yard (two). In non-red-zone plays, his average separation has been 4.25 yards per reception. That is pitch-and-catch spacing. — Steve Svekis
Waddle’s drops dropoff
Jaylen Waddle has taken a giant leap in one aspect of his game this season: Drops. In his first 175 chances (catches plus drops) of his career, Waddle had 15 drops (one every 11.7 chances). Since then, he has two in his 54 chances (one every 27.0 chances).
While the drops have dried up for one Alabama alum, they have piled up for another
DeVonta Smith, also drafted in 2021 as Waddle was, had only two drops in his first 70 chances (one every 35.0 chances). But, since then, including the one on his first opportunity on Sunday night, he has dropped 12 in 145 chances (one per 12.1 chances).
Dolphins have had at least three sacks in six of their seven games
By comparison, the Dolphins had only seven such games in each of the past two seasons.
Tua Tagovailoa in prime time
Sunday night was Tua Tagovailoa’s eighth start in a prime-time game. Interestingly, only one of those games, against the Pittsburgh Steelers last year, has been at Hard Rock Stadium. In those starts, he has had a passer rating of 87.9. The Dolphins’ next scheduled night game will be at home, against the Tennessee Titans on Dec. 11, a Monday night.
The Mostert personal-record watch
Raheem Mostert moved to 625 total yards on 103 touches after Sunday night. He is on pace for 1,517 total yards and 250 touches. His career best for yards is 1,093 and his season high touches is 212, both established in 2022.
Dolphins had some great results against the Eagles in their kelly green jerseys and helmets
Miami played three games against the Eagles in their most recent kelly green color scheme usage (1985-95). In 1987, late in the strike season the 6-6 Dolphins headed up to Veterans Stadium. Dan Marino connected with the Marks Brothers (Duper once in the first half and then Clayton twice in the second half) as Miami rolled 28-10, the biggest margin in the series’ history.
In 1990, Buddy Ryan brought his star-studded defense (led by Reggie White, Jerome Brown, Eric Allen, Seth Joyner and Clyde Simmons) to Miami Gardens, and for the first 54:49 they were dominant, leading Marino and Co. 20-10. Marino, however, made it 20-17 on a scoring toss to Duper and, two Pete Stoyanovich field goals later, Miami had the overtime win and a 10-3 record.
Finally, in 1993, with the Dolphins down to their third-string quarterback, Doug Pederson, Miami scrapped to a 19-14 win at The Vet, giving Don Shula the all-time NFL coaching wins record at 325.
With the Dolphins atop the AFC East by themselves, an early look at 2024s opponents
A first-place Dolphins would play these 11 games apart from the AFC East home-and-home series. HOME: Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals and the AFC West team who finishes in the same spot in the West as the Dolphins do in the East. Currently, that would be the Kansas City Chiefs. ROAD: Houston Texas, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks, corresponding AFC North team (currently the Baltimore Ravens) and the corresponding NFC North team (Detroit Lions).
On deck: New England Patriots. Hard Rock Stadium, Sunday, 1 p.m.
The New England Patriots, who did Miami a favor by stunning the Buffalo Bills Sunday and sending them to 4-3, are now hoping to be a team that makes the playoffs despite a 2-5 start. The NFL has had one such team in each of the past three seasons (2020 Washington, 2021 Eagles and 2022 Jaguars).
In each of Patriots quarterback Mac Jones’ two games in Miami Gardens, he has thrown an interception and fumbled once, losing possession each time.