Is there any hope that the shockingly inept New York Giants can upset the high-flying Miami Dolphins on Sunday? In our ‘5 questions’ segment this week we speak with Kevin Nogle of SB Nation’s The Phinsider. We probe that topic, ask about Eli Apple, and more.
Ed: As immature as he was and as poorly as he behaved when he was a young player with the Giants I have always been amazed that Eli Apple has stayed in the league. What’s his role and do you have any thoughts on Apple as a Dolphin?
Kevin: Apple has been quiet with the Dolphins, which may be the opposite of what we were expecting when he was signed. The rivalry between Apple and wide receiver Tyreek Hill could have led to some fun moments, but Apple came in and worked. He just worked and positioned himself as the starting outside cornerback opposite Xavien Howard - the role Jalen Ramsey was expected to hold before injury sidelined him for most of this season and led to Apple’s signing.
Since the season started, Apple’s role has continued to diminish. He was replaced as the outside starter by second-year cornerback Kader Kohou, but then would come in when Kohou moved into the slot in the nickel. The slide continued to last week when he was a healthy scratch for the game, landing on the inactive players list, as Miami begins to increase the role of rookie cornerback Cam Smith.
What would I expect to see from Apple on Sunday? Most likely he will be a depth option at cornerback, but could potentially find himself listed as inactive as well.
Ed: Compared to what is going on with the Giants, any problems Miami might have could be considered “rich people problems.” So, do the Dolphins have any real problems at the moment?
Kevin: Injuries are an issue, especially on the offensive line and with the pass rushers. Starting left tackle Terron Armstead is expected to miss “weeks” with a knee injury, but he has not been added to the injured reserve list, so there is hope “weeks” is less than four. Center Connor Williams is battling through a groin injury that cost him last week’s game and has him limited in practice early this week. Kendall Lamm will start in Armstead’s place, with Liam Eichenberg likely starting in place of Williams if the veteran center is not able to play.
Linebacker Jaelan Phillips was expected to be the breakout star for Miami’s defense this year, creating pass rush mismatches that would constantly find him in the backfield harassing quarterbacks. He has had a slow start to the season, including having missed the team’s Week 2 and Week 4 games due to injuries. He has an oblique injury that has him limited in practice and could continue to be an issue as we advance toward game day.
The defense as a whole is a concern as well. Vic Fangio, hired as defensive coordinator this year, was supposed to come in and turn Miami’s strong defensive foundation from last year into a dominant unit this year. That has yet to start. Are players still trying to adapt to the new system? Is it not yet having the right players for Fangio’s system? Will we see improvements throughout the year?
If you are looking for an attack method against that defense, run it straight down Miami’s throats until they prove they can stop it. They have struggled with a power rushing attack early this year. Make it a priority early and force the Dolphins to prove they are ready for it.
Ed: If you could take one player off the Giants’ roster and put him into Miami’s starting lineup, who would it be? Why?
Kevin: Healthy, I am probably taking Andrew Thomas because of the injuries to Miami’s offensive line this year. Since he is injured, I am looking at Kayvon Thibodeaux. I know he has not been as dominant early as was hoped, but he is starting to turn it on and Miami needs pass rushers, especially if Phillips’ injury continues to be an issue this year.
Ed: Mike McDaniel seemed to rise from obscurity to head coach in the blink of an eye. What, aside from his play-calling, makes him an excellent head coach?
Kevin: I honestly just think it is his personality and his attitude. Coming to Miami, all he talked about was how good Tua Tagovailoa could be and how he needed to have confidence in himself. That really seemed to be the biggest issue through the first two seasons of Tagovailoa’s career, where former head coach Brian Flores seemed determined to replace Tagovailoa as soon as the Dolphins made the draft choice.
This week, Tagovailoa was asked about his leadership style and how he has grown into that role. He explained, “I think when I came into the league during Covid, it was a little hard for me to find myself leading the way I wanted to lead because of the hierarchy with how I was told I should have led. It just wasn’t the way I felt comfortable with and so I didn’t lead in that sense; I continued to lead the way I felt was necessary in being the true character to myself. And so having Mike (McDaniel) and the new coaching staff come in has definitely helped allow me to be myself. And with me being able to be myself, that’s just how I became to be more vocal, feeling comfortable talking to guys certain ways and it’s also how you approach guys in this league.”
That is what McDaniel has done. He recognizes what works best for each player, gives them the confidence to be themselves and to trust themselves, and he puts it altogether. He tailors his system to the situation, rather than trying to force his system onto the players. He is comfortable with who he is, he is not afraid of admitting where his weaknesses are - including being open about how alcohol almost ruined his career and life - and he relates well to people.
Then it helps that he really understands the game, knows how to put together a game plan, and loves to use motion to create mismatches that take advantage of Miami’s ridiculous speed.
Ed: Asking you to pick this game is silly, so I won’t. I will ask this instead — what do the Giants need to do in order to have a chance at an upset?
Kevin: Run the ball and force Miami to stop it. Cornerback Kader Kohou likely had his confidence shaken last week as he was consistently matched up against Stefon Diggs and lost that battle. Attack him early to see if he has rebounded or if he is still struggling.
On defense, attack the middle of the offensive line and get hands up. The Bills did a great job of making themselves bigger at the point of attack, putting obstacles into the throwing lanes for Tagovailoa. If the Giants can rush four and drop seven, they can clog up the middle of the field where Miami has so much success with crossing routes and slants. Then be disciplined against the run. The Dolphins have proven they can run the ball, but they still have not proven they will run the ball. McDaniel’s background is as a run-game coordinator, but he is happy turning the offense into a pass-first, pass-often, pass-only system (and having Hill and Waddle makes that make sense). The Giants could turn the Dolphins into a one-dimensional offense if they can slow the run game early.