BEARS // DOLPHINS OVERVIEW
The 3-1 Bears will come off their bye to take on a 3-2 Dolphins team that soaked up early wins with a soft schedule before getting smoked by the Patriots in Week 4 and blowing a 17 point lead against the Bengals in Week 5. While recency bias has everyone looking at Miami like a pushover, we should realize that they would have been talked up this week as one of the surprise teams of the season if they had held on against Cincy and moved to 4-1 on the year. With that said: Chicago is clearly the superior team, on both offense and defense. The Bears will move from temperatures in the high 40s and low 50s at home in Chicago to a road environment that currently calls for a low of 80 and a high of 85 on Sunday — an underrated home field advantage for Miami. But this is the bulk of what the Dolphins have going for them.
Chicago has been installed as three point favorites on the road, and in a game between a pair of good defenses that are backed up by offenses that rank bottom three in pace of play, this is unlikely to turn into a shootout. The Rams are the only team that has allowed fewer plays per game than the Bears, while the Cardinals are the only team that has run fewer plays per game than Miami. Each team ranks bottom 10 in pass play rate.
BEARS PASS OFFENSE
Miami ranks seventh in yards allowed per carry and ninth in run defense DVOA, and while they are in the bottom half of the league in yards allowed per pass attempt, they also rank fifth in pass defense DVOA. With no “clear way” to tilt an attack against the Dolphins — and with Miami not in line to jump out to a big lead — we should expect the Bears to stick to their standard approach, which has led to the seventh lowest pass rate in the league, and has led to pass attempt numbers for Mitchell Trubisky this year of 35, 34, 35, and 26. While he tossed six touchdown passes against the lowly Bucs in Week 4, he had only two touchdown passes in the previous three weeks combined. His game against Tampa was the first time he had topped 220 yards in a game this year — and while the bye will give this team even more time to get things clicking on offense, we need to realize that “defense and running” is the way this team wants to win games.
Miami has been above-average against the deep ball and the short passes, while holding opponents to a below-average aDOT and a below-average catch rate. The best way to beat this team is with yards after the catch, as they have allowed an increase of more than 25% above the league average in YAC per reception. Even with this, Miami ranks middle of the pack in pass plays allowed of 20+ yards — so this poor tackling is not affecting them enough to create monster stat lines, especially as the Dolphins slow down the game so much and do a good job limiting downfield passing.
Receivers who have had success against Miami this year (Jordy Nelson and A.J. Green in particular) have gotten there by lining up on the left side of the field and running digs and crossers toward the right sideline.
Chicago is extremely versatile in the way they use their pass catchers, with Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson seeing their route tree change from week to week, so it is difficult to say beyond guesswork who will benefit most in this spot, but both guys should be involved (each guy has a pair of seven target games, with one game below that mark and one game above), while Gabriel is the better bet for YAC, given his speed and his short-area burst. This does not shape up as a likely spot for either guy to see a big spike in targets — especially as Anthony Miller is on track to return this week, and should soak up four or five looks of his own.
Behind these guys, Trey Burton has target counts of six, four, five, and four — essentially playing the role of the third receiver, as he has run only five fewer pass routes than Gabriel this year and only 20 fewer pass routes than Robinson. He’ll need a touchdown in this spot in order to pay dividends.
BEARS RUN OFFENSE
While Miami has slowed down the pace, they have failed to sustain drives on offense — ranking 28th in drive success rate. This has led to the Dolphins facing the second most rush attempts in the entire NFL to begin the season, in spite of allowing only 3.7 yards per carry. Because Miami has been so bad at sustaining drives, they have allowed the eighth most opponent plays per game in the NFL — and this week should be no different, against a Bears defense that ranks second in the league in drive success rate. This should allow the Bears to approach the 29.2 rush attempts per game that Miami has faced on the year — an approach this run-leaning team will be happy to take.
Two weeks ago, Jordan Howard took a backseat to Tarik Cohen, as the Bears wanted to spread out the Tampa defense and use Cohen’s speed in mismatches against their linebackers. This was an opponent-specific approach, though with how well it worked, we will need to be concerned moving forward that Chicago will go back to the well on this one from time to time. Miami’s linebackers have also been coverage liabilities, and only five teams have allowed more receptions to enemy backs.
I expect the Bears to come into this game with a plan to play great defense and wear Miami out with long, consistent drives — an approach that will lean Howard-heavy, but that will also create room for Cohen to mix in. Combining carries and receptions, Miami has allowed a massive 36.4 touches per game to opposing backfields, so there is space for both guys to get involved. Howard has touch counts on the year of 20, 17, 26, and 11, while Cohen has touched the ball eight, five, eight, and 20 times. With Chicago likely to run a few more plays than normal this week and to lean even more heavily on the run, something like 20 to 22 touches for Howard and 10 to 15 touches for Cohen is fairly likely. The Dolphins have allowed four rushing touchdowns to running backs, and of the six passing touchdowns they have allowed (the second lowest mark in the league), three have gone to RBs as well.
DOLPHINS PASS OFFENSE
Ryan Tannehill topped 28 pass attempts last week for the first time this season against a Cincinnati defense that is as bad at drive success rate as Miami is on offense — uncorking 35 pass attempts…for 185 yards. Tannehill has been held under 200 yards in three of five games this season, and he has yet to top 300 passing yards. Chicago is allowing only 231 passing yards per game, as their pass rush refuses to give quarterbacks time to look downfield. The Dolphins are a clear candidate to run the fewest plays on the weekend, so it is unlikely — once again — that we see any individual receiver on the Dolphins top six targets. It will take a big play for any of these guys to be relevant this week. Only two teams have allowed fewer passing plays of 20+ yards than the Bears this year.
If locked onto this spot for some reason, Kenny Stills is your best bet for upside, with target counts on the year of five, three, five, six, and five. He has three total touchdowns on the year, and he has a hundred yard game under his belt (to go with a pair of 17 yard games). A bet on Stills is a bet on this offense playing better than the numbers suggest they will.
DOLPHINS RUN OFFENSE
No team in football has faced fewer rush attempts than Chicago, at only 19.0 rushes against them per game. As scary as the Chicago pass rush is, their secondary is more attackable than their run defense, as only two teams in the league have allowed fewer yards per carry so far than Chicago. The Bears have allowed a league-low 64.0 rushing yards per game, and they have yet to allow a rushing touchdown.
On the Miami side, Frank Gore (nine to 13 touches in four of five games) and Kenyan Drake (touch counts all over the map, starting from Week 1: 17, 15, seven, four, and 13) continue to split work. The Dolphins will divide their limited running back touches between these two.
I don’t have huge interest in this game, but the Bears’ backfield is more intriguing than I expected it to be, given how much time Chicago should spend with the ball, and how run-heavy they are likely to end up skewing. Howard is priced appropriately for his role on DraftKings and FantasyDraft, but he is priced at only 10.3% of the salary cap on FanDuel, right next to Austin Ekeler, who basically has the same role on his team that Cohen has on this one. Conversely, Cohen is priced a bit low on DraftKings and FantasyDraft if he sees his touches rise to double digits this week — making him an intriguing “upside” piece in tourneys. The guesswork in this spot should keep ownership low, giving Cohen a chance to be a difference-maker if he pops off for 20 points. He’s behind guys like Chris Carson and Mike Davis in raw projections, but there are paths to him having the highest score in this price range.
Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson could each have a good game, but nothing points to this being “the likeliest scenario,” so you are essentially “guessing and hoping you’re right” if you play them. This isn’t a bad move, as one of these two should post something solid, but it’s obviously thinner than the plays I typically try to hammer.
I’ll have no players on the Dolphins’ offense, while I’ll consider the Bears’ D. Tannehill has taken only 11 sacks through five games, while Miami A) will look to get the ball out quickly on pass plays, and B) will likely run the fewest plays on the weekend, which limits opportunities for the Bears to hit — making them more “boom/bust” than normal, as opposed to simply “boom.” Miami will have a hard time driving the field to score, but they may have some short fields from Trubisky mistakes.