Who: Dolphins (6-3) at Broncos (3-6)
When: Sunday, November 22, 4:05 EDT
Where: Empower Field – Denver, Colorado
Weather: 42 degrees, partly cloudy, 9 MPH winds
Brian Flores and Vic Fangio were hired in 2019 to their first head-coaching jobs. Since then, both the Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos have used draft picks in the top 40 on a quarterback and taken aggressive approaches to building the roster to their respective visions.
Flores and the Dolphins are 3-0 in games started by their young quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, and the Broncos are 6-6 with Drew Lock in the lineup. Denver is in search of their first win at home this season (0-4) while Miami is 3-1 in road games.
"They've done a good job working with the strengths of each different quarterback, so it's going to be a tough test either way," Flores said. "And they've got a lot of really good young skill players – (Jerry) Jeudy, (KJ) Hamler, Noah Fant, good backs. I think this will be a tough test for us."
One of Miami's many keys to victory has been through strong special teams play. With another solid showing Sunday against the Chargers, the Dolphins jumped to the No. 1 spot in Football Outsiders' Special Teams Rankings.
Dolphins Special Teams Coordinator Danny Crossman discussed the benefit of having a head coach with a background in the game's third phase.
"It's an easier conversation because he understands a lot of the concepts, techniques – both in terms of what we're looking for and how it's going to affect or what impact it could have on the opposition, because he understands both sides of it," Crossman said. "So obviously having that background is big for me and big for us in terms of our communication."
Friday Injury Report
Dolphins: Linebacker Kyle Van Noy and offensive guard Solomon Kindley are QUESTIONABLE.
Broncos: Inside linebacker Joe Jones is OUT.
Quarterback Drew Lock, tight end Noah Fant, offensive guard Graham Glasgow, defensive end DeShaun Williams, offensive tackle Jake Rodgers, and cornerback Bryce Callahan are all QUESTIONABLE.
For the rest of the Dolphins-Broncos Week 11 injury report, click here.
Run the Football
Miami enters Week 11 with the 28th-ranked rushing offense. On the other side, a Denver run defense ranked 23rd – something has to give. Behind running back Salvon Ahmed's 86 rushing yards vs. the Chargers, the Dolphins rushed for the team's second-highest total of the year with 111 yards on the ground.
The Dolphins are likely to dodge inclement weather on this mid-November trip to the Rocky Mountains, but as the weather cools down, running the ball becomes increasingly important. Offensive Line Coach Steve Marshall likes the direction the Miami run game is trending.
"It's been a big emphasis," he said. "I think we're trending in the right direction, kind of where we're going and what we want to do. We hear Coach (Chan) Gailey talk about it all the time – we have balance in our offensive attack, whether it's run or throw it."
The Denver defensive line has filtered through a lot of players throughout the season. No Broncos defensive tackle has exceeded 37.0 percent of the defensive snaps. Forcing Denver to dip deep into that rotation would only benefit Miami.
A successful running game creates more opportunities in the passing game, a perfect segue into our second key matchup.
Build Off the Running Game
Tagovailoa has been under pressure on only 15 drop-backs since assuming the starting role in Week 8, according to Pro Football Focus. A combination of solid pass protection, a quick release, and a scheme devised around getting the football out of his hands all play a part in Miami's sturdy play up front.
For the first time since 2018, the Dolphins didn't allow a quarterback sack and the five pressures per game allowed since Week 8 is less than a third of the number of the pressures the Dolphins defense is averaging per game (18.8). We've seen Miami implement the run-pass option, zone read looks, Wildcat packages, fly sweep motion – plenty of diversity designed to keep the defense off balance. Tagovailoa is completing 63 percent of his passes off play-action for 6.9 yards per pass, one touchdown and no interceptions. With the run game finding more success last week, perhaps the play action game could come into play more this week.
NFL Next Gen Stats has Tagovailoa with the sixth-quickest time from snap to throw (2.54 seconds on average). A good running game with play-action and the quick release will help slow Denver outside linebacker Bradley Chubb, whose 30 quarterback pressures and 5.5 sacks are both 17th in the NFL.
Overwhelming the Young Quarterbacks
Vic Fangio announced that Drew Lock would be questionable to practice this week stemming from a rib injury the second-year quarterback suffered in Sunday's loss to Las Vegas. If Lock can't go, it could be another sophomore quarterback in Brett Rypien,
Sunday, the Dolphins threw the kitchen sink at Chargers rookie Justin Herbert. Wide receiver Keenan Allen told reporters Monday that the many looks of Miami were confusing for the Los Angeles offense.
If the Dolphins can come up with another diverse plan and execute on the variety of pressure looks once more, it could make life tough on another young signal-caller. Denver does utilize their fair share of condensed packages with multiple tight ends (12-personnel) to assist in the pass protection. How the Dolphins combat those looks – whether it's calling on the base defense (four defensive backs) or showing the amoeba pressure packages with multiple defensive backs (see video below), mixing up the looks will be key.
The Denver offense is loaded with playmakers at the skill positions. Running backs Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay have a combined 852 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns. Rookie receiver Jerry Jeudy leads Denver with 552 receiving yards at 16.2 yards per receptions and tight end Noah Fant is catching 66 percent of his targets for 367 receiving yards.
Since Week 5 (the start of Miami's five-game winning streak) the Dolphins defense is first in Total QBR against (36.0), points per game allowed (17.2) and is second in quarterback pressures (86) and completion percentage allowed (57.0 percent).
More Broncos Personnel
Now in his fourth year, left tackle Garrett Bolles is gaining some serious traction. He hasn't allowed a sack and has surrendered only eight quarterback pressures on the season, per PFF. Three different tackles have started games at right tackle, the predominant position that defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah rushes against.
Monday, Fangio declared defensive tackle Shelby Harris out for the game. He leads Denver interior linemen in quarterback pressures (20) and run stops (17).
Linebacker Alexander Johnson has the second most snaps (623) on the Denver defense and has nearly double the next closest defender in run stops with 40. He's amassed 76 tackles on the season, 11th-most in the NFL.
The player second in run stops, also the leader in snaps played with 629, is free safety Justin Simmons. The fifth-year safety is putting together another fantastic season with three interceptions, five passes defensed, 58 total tackles and a fumble recovery.
One of Denver's top corners has been Bryce Callahan. A jack of all trades, Callahan has 316 snaps at perimeter corner, 186 in the slot and 50 in the box, per PFF. He's holding opposing quarterbacks to a 54.8 completion percentage and just 4.24 yards per target.
The Denver offense ranks 28th in points per game (20.7) and 26th in total offense with 334.0 yards per game. Their 106.6 rushing yards per game ranks 19th and the 227.4 passing yards per game is 23rd in the NFL.
Last week, we highlighted the Chargers' penchant for running 11-personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) at the fourth-highest rate in the NFL. Denver's 417 snaps from that grouping is the seventh-most in the NFL. Miami utilized five defensive backs for at least 49 snaps to combat the Chargers' three wide receiver looks and brought the third safety (Brandon Jones) onto the field for 26 snaps. Denver's next most-frequent package is 12-personnel (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR), which they run 17.3 percent of the time compared to the 70.1 percent rate of 11-personnel.
Miami went from facing a top-five blitz rate team in the Cardinals to the least-frequent blitzing team in the Chargers. Now, they'll see a middle-of-the-road blitzing defense – Denver brings an extra rusher on 29.0 percent of their snaps, 18th-most in the NFL. Fangio's rush scheme is working well. They have the fifth-highest pressure rate in the NFL at 25.9 percent, per Pro Football Reference.
The Broncos defense ranks 27th in scoring (28.2 points allowed per game) and 17th in total defense with 360.0 yards allowed per game. The 128.8 rushing yards allowed per game by the Denver defense ranks 23rd and the 231.2 passing yards allowed per game ranks 14th in the NFL.
The Dolphins are in search of the franchise's first 7-3 start to a season since 2001. They have raced out to early leads frequently over the five-game winning streak.
Miami's +74 point differential at half time is best in the NFL. With nine first-half takeaways, and just 9.9 first-half points allowed per game, the Dolphins are fourth in the NFL in both departments. Offensively, Miami is second in first-half scoring, averaging 18.1 points per game. They've scored at least 17 points in the first half of five consecutive games for the first time since at least 2000.
The Dolphins are 12-6-1 all time against the Broncos and the last victory in Denver occurred in 2008. The last meeting between the two teams was in 2017, a 35-9 Dolphins win at Hard Rock Stadium.
It's the third-straight late afternoon kickoff, so we'll bring you postgame coverage Sunday night. As always, we'll have the recap story and Sunday spotlight on MiamiDolphins.com and Drive Time with Travis Wingfield to cover all the day's action.