Five things to watch for in Miami Dolphins’ game vs. Chicago Bears – The Denver Post

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The Miami Dolphins (5-3) travel to Chicago to play the Bears (3-5) at 1 p.m. Sunday in Week 9 of the season; here are some keys to the game to watch for:

Dolphins being hunted instead of the hunter

Some people are mentioning the Dolphins and the Super Bowl in the same breath. You know what that means. Teams are going to come at the Dolphins even harder now that they’ve made the trades to acquire pass rusher Bradley Chubb and running back Jeff Wilson Jr. The Dolphins now have huge expectations inside and outside of their locker room, and opponents always play a bit harder to knock off those teams.

Look at the Dolphins taking down Buffalo earlier this season, Miami making a huge comeback and stunning Baltimore, and the New York Jets beating the Dolphins. Opponents are going to be a touch more focused in their preparation for the Dolphins. Game plans will be a little more intricate. We’ll see if the Dolphins are ready to handle their new role in the NFL.

Pass rush

The Bears have given up a league-worst 31 sacks while the Dolphins’ 15 sacks are tied for 22nd. It’s not yet known how much Chubb will play, but somehow the Dolphins need to get pressure on Bears quarterback Justin Fields. The Bears, who are 23rd in scoring at 19.4 points per game, have put points on the board recently with their 33-14 victory over New England two weeks ago and a 49-29 loss to Dallas last Sunday. So you can’t take it for granted you’ll keep them from scoring despite the fact they’re 28th in the league in completion percent (58.8%). Among pass rushers Jaelan Phillips, Melvin Ingram, Andrew Van Ginkel and others, the Dolphins must make life rough on Fields and the Bears pass protection package.

By the way, on the back end of the defense keep an eye on the safety alignment and usage of players. Before safety Brandon Jones went down with a season-ending knee injury, he played down in the box for run support (he was the team’s leading tackler) and blitz purposes, and Jevon Holland was deep. Last Sunday Holland was down in the box more often, which isn’t his specialty, and undrafted rookie Verone McKinley III was deep. We’ll see how it plays out this Sunday.

Run game

Just as it’s not known how much Chubb will play, the same is true for Wilson. The Dolphins, in theory, upgraded their run game by acquiring Wilson from San Francisco and reuniting him with coach Mike McDaniel and running back Raheem Mostert. Wilson is familiar with the outside-zone scheme used by McDaniel and the Dolphins so the transition should be relatively smooth.

The Dolphins are 28th in rushing at 88.1 yards per game although there’s hope because they’ve rushed for more than 100 yards in three of their past four games. Chicago is bad at stopping the run. The Bears are second-to-last at 156 yards allowed per game. Just as this “soft” part of the schedule allows the Dolphins to cure their overall ills, the Bears game should allow them to work on their run-game issues.

Playing smart

Penalties. That’s mostly the culprit here. The Dolphins don’t have a lot of blown coverages or other such absent-minded errors any longer. It’s the penalties that are the biggest offender. The Dolphins are tied for fourth in the league in penalties (55) and ninth in penalty yards (416). They’re making life much tougher on themselves.

The pre-snap penalties such as false start and delay of game can’t be tolerated. Penalties are going to happen, but coaches hate those pre-snap penalties because they’re largely avoidable and show a lack of discipline. Let’s see if that gets corrected.

Tua’s decision-making

Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has looked more and more like a franchise quarterback. The Chubb and Wilson trades, with the Chubb trade sending away the Dolphins’ 2023 first-round pick, pretty much confirm the Dolphins are riding with Tagovailoa. Now, Tagovailoa (12 touchdowns, three interceptions, 112.7 passer rating) needs to continue improving.

He’s already shown improvement in decision-making when it comes to things such as wildly throwing the ball to avoid a sack or having the wisdom to throw the ball away instead of taking a sack. Tagovailoa had some questionable decisions/throws against Pittsburgh, a game he should have had three or four interceptions, but cleaned things up in the win over Detroit. We’ll see if that trend continues against Chicago, and the rest of the season.

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