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NFL insider notes: Dolphins in disarray after another lackluster loss, and more from Week 4

Brian Flores has some big problems on his hands. And no Tua Tagovailoa to blame it all on.

There is no boogeyman. No excuses. And myriad reasons for concern.

The Dolphins managed to squeak one out in Foxborough in Week 1, but have dropped three straight and seem to be regressing by the week. It’s beginning to look like yet another year of a severe disconnect between the coaching staff and front office, with the constant churn of discarding key free agents and draft picks a year after landing them leading to a fairly brutal on-field product right now, and one of the toughest watches in the NFL. Their three first-round selections from 2020 are providing no dividends right now — and major questions can be asked about whether they will ascend to the heights expected of such picks — and you have to wonder if Flores’ notoriously fickle relationships with his offensive coordinators will lead to further upheaval in that regard.

This just is not a crisp operation in any way, shape or form, and while all of the money they have thrown at the secondary has largely been rewarded, one position group does not a football team make. The dueling offensive coordinators — an experiment that was always too cute by half — is failing miserably (strengths in numbers does not apply here). It made for an ugly Sunday afternoon in Miami as the winless Colts grabbed their first win at the Dolphins’ expense.

Miami had 77 net yards in the first half. Backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett, yet another Dolphins player with ties to the Patriots organization that produced both Flores and GM Chris Grier, was 8 of 15 for 57 yards, continuing a trend of truly staggering yards/attempt. And at 14-3, early in the third quarterback, they felt like a blowout and an insurmountable deficit. They didn’t get into the red zone until 12 minutes remained in the game, down 20-3.

Miami entered Week 4 with a minus-37 scoring differential — only Atlanta, Jacksonville and the Jets were worse — and the Dolphins had a minus-four touchdown differential. Only two teams, the Jets and Bears, scored fewer than Miami’s 45 points through three weeks. None of those trends were altered on Sunday. It just got worse. The Dolphins required garbage time to crack 200 yards of offense (203) and were a miserable 3-for-11 on third down in the 27-17 defeat that felt like more than that.

You can already start fretting about Miami’s big 2021 offseason acquisitions, with this franchise becoming synonymous with giving away or kicking out those types of players a year after bringing them in (which is never a good look). Oft-injured Will Fuller, who was suspended for the start of the season, has barely played and has made no impact, with one catch for 6 yards Sunday and 26 yards on the season. Miami moved around the draft board (some would say somewhat aimlessly) to come away with receiver Jaylen Waddle with their first pick; he had three grabs for 33 yards Sunday and 25 grabs for 200 yards on the year (8 yards per catch!).

The offensive line has been a massive problem for a long time, and this unit looks as bad as many Miami has run out there in recent years (their signing of lineman Matt Skura, only to cut him a few months later, kinda sums up the way this team operates). Tight end Mike Gesicki looked on the precipice of a major breakout season, but has been among the many just not seeing the ball. They gave DeVante Parker a contract extension before last season and, yeah, he and Gesicki caught TDs Sunday but there have been long stretches in all of these games where they have been invisible.

Maybe Tua’s return can spark something. But I doubt it. It’s definitely time to start questioning where this franchise is, with the 10 wins from a year ago looking like a mirage and only its weak 2021 schedule working in its advantage.

Justin Fields bounces back for first win

Kudos to Justin Fields on his first NFL win, a week after the coaching staff hung him out to dry. The young man showed conviction in his play, helped the Bears grab an early lead and, unlike some other teams to face Detroit this season, Fields never let the Lions make things too uncomfortable.

The Bears kept things simple for him and he attempted just 17 passes (completing 11 of them) with one turnover. His presence made the ground game more difficult to defend and played no small role in them finding a way to win a division game. A week after being hit 15 times in an ugly NFL debut, this is one he will always remember and one he will surely grow from.

Might sound crazy, but it looks like the Chiefs have recalibrated their offensive identity. In the past, if you tried to goad the Chiefs into road grading you, they might fire away downfield regardless. Doesn’t seem like that is who they are right now.

Two of the biggest plays in a wild game with the Eagles were runs by quarterback Patrick Mahomes. With the Chiefs defense looking very leaky this season, ball control has become a new way of life. You wanna dare us to be a bit more methodical and grind it out on the ground against your deep zones? No problem. We can do that, too.

After watching Tyreek Hill be bottled up big time the last few weeks, and on an afternoon where the Eagles were selling out to try to take away tight end Travis Kelce, Andy Reid went to the ground early and often. They sliced and diced the Eagles on the ground and, basically, beat them at their own game to pull back to 2-2.

Don’t get it twisted; Mahomes is still Mahomes and he tossed five touchdowns, but two of them were effectively runs, with the shovel pass always in heavy rotation. The big passing plays late came after Kansas City dictated tempo and game flow on the ground. The Chiefs ran 32 times (Mahomes threw 30 times) plowing ahead for 200 rushing yards and over 6 yards per carry. Clyde Edwards-Helaire went over 100 yards for the second straight game (needing just 14 carries to do so), and, most importantly, earned more confidence by holding on to the football.

Smart complementary football that looked a little different from what we have come to expect. As this new offensive line continues to grow together, the ground-heavy approach makes sense on multiple levels.

More Week 4 insider notes

  • The Jets defense has been plucky and spirited despite getting nothing from the offense all season, so full marks to them for Sunday’s win over the Titans. Tennessee missing receivers A.J. Brown and Julio Jones was an immediate problem and Derrick Henry wasn’t enough to offset it. Big win for Robert Saleh and his bunch. They’ll need to keep it up on that side of the ball, because this offense is very much a work in progress.
  • The Browns defense got its mojo going last week in carving up the Chicago offensive line and it carried over to Week 4. Command performance from that unit, hitting Kirk Cousins eight times, frustrating him, limiting the deep shots with that reconstructed secondary and basically shutting down the Vikings after their early scoring drive. Minnesota went up 7-0 on a 14-play, 80-yard march on its first possession and proceeded to run 41 plays for just 175 yards, a ridiculous 4.27 yards per play. Cleveland is for real and this defense is a different beast than any in those parts for a long, long time.
  • Vital win for the Colts, but Carson Wentz does not look like his 2019 self and I’m not sure that version is coming back. He doesn’t move like he did and the explosion is not there. With those ankle injuries, it’s hard to think that gets better as the season rolls on, though. It’s going to be the Jonathan Taylor show for this offense and he delivered, cracking 100 yards on 16 carries.
  • I undersold the Cowboys. Great work being done by defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, and while I still have issues with personnel on that side, they ran the ball all over a stout Panthers defense. Thirty-four rushes for 245 yards is big boy stuff, and to have Zeke Elliott, Tony Pollard and Dak Prescott all average at least 6.7 yards per rush is not something you see everyday. They are gonna boss the NFC East.



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