After a heady and misleading 3-0 start, the Dolphins have plummeted back to Earth with back-to-back losses, 38-7 on the road against the Patriots in Week Four and 27-17 in Cincinnati against the Bengals. Both losses were ugly, but the Cincy game was an especially disappointing collapse that saw the Dolphins give up 27 unanswered points, including 24 in the fourth quarter, when they permitted two defensive touchdowns.
Dolphins coach Adam Gase, the 2015 Bears offensive coordinator who was instrumental in cultivating Jay Cutler’s best season, did not care to distinguish between the two defeats.
“Every loss hurts, Gase said. “When you put 110 hours in a week and get kicked in the nuts like that, it pisses you off. This isn’t like a 9-to-5 (job). We have a lot of people putting a lot of work into this stuff.”
Despite being outscored 117-99, the Dolphins are still clinging to a piece of the lead in the less-than-impressive AFC East, tied with the Patriots at 3-2.
The Bears, who have won three straight under new head coach Matt Nagy, are in a much better mood after a bye in which players had the week off and returned refreshed and enjoying their 3-1 record and spot atop the NFC North.
This trip to South Florida is the first of four straight games vs. AFC East teams for the Bears, who host the Patriots and Jets in back-to-back games before traveling to Buffalo to face the Bills.
Bears rushing offense vs. Dolphins run defense
RB Jordan Howard (11 carries, 25 yards) took a backseat to change-of-pace guy Tarik Cohen (13 carries, 53 yards) in the Week Four victory, but Nagy shot down implications that the Bears were moving away from Howard, who has been the team’s workhorse for the previous two seasons. “Jordan Howard is a big part of this offense, and I think that for us to continue to keep trying to grow, everybody in this offense has a role,” Nagy said. “This is not going to be an offense where it’s just one person, and it goes through one person.” The Bears’ coach had addressed the situation with Howard, and he reaffirmed that the big back has a prominent role. “Jordan understands what we’re trying to do as a team,” Nagy said. “And he also understands, and we’ve talked, that he has a major part of this offense. He has a big-time role.” Howard is off to a slow start, averaging just 3.2 yards per carry, but Cohen (5.1-yard average) has helped pick up the slack.
The Dolphins’ run defense is middle of the pack but has been plagued by turmoil, most notably the release of 2015 second-round pick DT Jordan Phillips a week ago following his sideline tirade after being removed from a game. While the Fins allowed a respectable 102 yards in last week’s loss to the Bengals, they were gouged for 175 yards on the ground by the Patriots’ mediocre run game in Week Four.
Bears passing offense vs. Dolphins pass defense
Mitch Trubisky is coming off his best day as a pro after firing six TD passes against a Bucs defense that is possibly the NFL’s worst. Nevertheless, Trubisky was more accurate and appeared more confident that at any time in his 16 NFL starts. He has done a good job of spreading the ball around. WR Taylor Gabriel leads the team with 22 receptions, WR Allen Robinson leads with 217 yards, TE Trey Burton is No. 1 with a 16.0-yard average per catch and six different players have caught TD passes
The Dolphins lead the NFL with 10 interceptions and are second to the Bears in interception percentage. The Fins pilferers are led by CB Xavien Howard’s three, while S Reshad Jones and OLB Kiko Alonso have two each. But the Dolphins are just 20th in passing yards allowed per game with 273.6, and they are 26th in average gain allowed per pass.
Dolphins rushing offense vs. Bears run defense
Miami has yet to decide whether Kenyan Drake or Frank Gore will be their go-to running back. Both have been solid but far from special, and the Dolphins have averaged just 96.0 yards per game on the ground. Gore is averaging 4.3 yards on 47 carries, while Drake has averaged 3.9 on 39 attempts.
The Bears have the NFL’s No. 1 run defense, permitting just 64.0 yards per game after allowing the Bucs just 60 yards and a 3.3-yard average in Week Four. The Bears are No. 3 in average gain per rush allowed, yielding just 3.37 yards. DL Akiem Hicks and NT Eddie Goldman are the major forces, but OLBs Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd have made significant contributions vs. the run.
Dolphins passing offense vs. Bears pass defense
It was odd to hear Gase blame the loss to the Bengals on the departure of OLT Laremy Tunsil, who left in the third quarter with a concussion. Tunsil is a good player, and the Dolphins had already lost three other offensive linemen to injury earlier in the season, but he’s not worth a 27-point swing. The problem is that the Dolphins have already placed two starting offensive linemen on I.R.: OG Josh Sitton, the former Bear and Packer; and C Daniel Kilgore, along with backup Jake Brendel. Sam Young replaced Tunsil last week and struggled mightily. The Dolphins hope to have big WR DeVante Parker back, but Gase was uncertain early in the week.
O-line problems are not the kind any team wants to have when facing the Bears’ pass rush, so if Tunsil cannot return, it could be a very long day for Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill. Gase is well aware of what his team’s up against, specifically against Bears OLB Khalil Mack, who has five sacks in four games. Gase was asked about slowing down Mack and replied: “You’re not going to slow him down, so …”
Led by Mack, the Bears pace the NFL in sack percentage, by a wide margin, dropping the opposing quarterback on 13.14 percent of pass plays. But it’s not just Mack; Hicks has three sacks, while ILB Danny Trevathan and OLB Aaron Lynch have two each.
Tiny Jakeem Grant (5-foot-7, 169 pounds) has given the Dolphins a big-play threat in three phases. He’s scored on a 70-yard punt return, a 102-yard kickoff return and a 50-yard reception.
The Bears have their own mighty mite in 5-foot-6, 181-pound Cohen, who’s averaging 12.8 yards on punt returns.
Gase has made some moves that outsiders would call “rash” in trying to change the culture in the Dolphins’ locker room. They appeared to be working after the 3-0 start, but questions are creeping in after back-to-back defeats.
Nagy has made many more good moves than bad in the early going, and his players have bought in to the program.
Sunday’s overall edge: The Bears are coming off a bye and are in excellent shape physically, especially if CB Prince Amukamara (hamstring) and rookie WR Anthony Miller (shoulder) are back for this game. The Dolphins’ injuries have almost all come at one position, the O-line, and that’s a recipe for disaster against the Bears.