Trades and early-season blowouts have masked to the public just how much this Dolphins team has been developing, and how hard they have been playing. We’ve alluded to this a few times, but now that the Dolphins have picked up their first win (poor Dolphins fans, by the way; this is a bit like when Brad Stevens came to the Celtics and that team ended up being “too bad to truly matter,” but “too good to get the high draft picks they were targeting”), it is worth noting that the Dolphins have also had the lead at halftime in each of their last three games. To put that another way: this team is untalented and is likely to continue losing most games down the stretch; but unlike a lot of the bad teams that boast actual NFL talent, the Dolphins are fairly disciplined in their assignments, and they play hard from start to finish.
With that said, this spot sets up nicely for the Colts — a team whose record says 5-3 (which would already be impressive, given the way they entered the season), but whose record would actually say 7-1 if not for a pair of uncharacteristic “game-losing” misses by Adam Vinatieri. With the Colts coming off a brutal loss and the Dolphins coming off a win, Frank Reich should have his squad focused and prepared — allowing the talent gap between these teams to trump whatever effort edge the Dolphins have gained in some of their recent matchups.
We won’t be certain until later in the week who will be under center for the Colts (Indy expects Jacoby Brissett to be ready — though after how well Brian Hoyer played last week, they may be willing to give Brissett an extra week of rest against the Dolphins before a brutal and pivotal stretch of two games in five days against the Jaguars and the Texans), but regardless of who draws the start at quarterback, the path forward for this team should be fairly clear. The Colts have the fifth highest rush play rate in the NFL, and against a Dolphins team that has faced the second highest opponent rush play rate while giving up the most yards to running backs on the ground, it makes sense for them to focus ground-heavy. While Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins soak up a few touches of their own each game, Marlon Mack has a clear shot at a big enough workload to matter. Since Frank Reich took over as head coach of this team, Mack has played 22 games (playoffs included). In those games, the Colts have six wins of two or more touchdowns. Mack has scored in all six of those games (10 touchdowns total), with 119+ rushing yards in five of those six games and 26+ touches in four of them. He has an additional two games this year with 25+ touches (he has seen 25+ touches in 27.3% of his games with Reich). He has scored only three touchdowns this season and has seen only three carries inside the five (after seeing 12 last year, playing only three-quarters of the season), though the Colts’ schedule to date has tilted toward the air, with Mack having faced five of the top 11 DVOA run defenses already. The Dolphins rank 31st. There are paths to a big game here.
It has been remarkably easy to score touchdowns through the air against the Dolphins as well (no team has allowed more touchdowns to wideouts, and Miami has allowed the third most passing touchdown in all, in spite of having faced the third-fewest pass attempts in the league), so while this will be a lower-volume Colts attack that likes to spread the ball around, there is “bet on touchdown” potential here. As we always say regarding the Dolphins: there are no bad matchups; only potential for bad volume. Here are the Colts’ target counts in games T.Y. Hilton has missed ::
Notably, Parris Campbell broke his hand after seeing target counts of 8 // 5 with Hilton out of action, which condenses the targets more fully among the names listed above. A monster game is unlikely from any of these players in this short-area, spread-the-wealth attack (in a game that should lean toward the ground), but at the prices where you can find these players, there is still some touchdown-driven upside.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, are now down Preston Williams and Mark Walton (suspension). This pathetic rushing attack (dead last in yards per carry, and ahead of only the Bengals in rushing yards per game) will fall to Kalen Ballage in a below-average spot with Darius Leonard on the field for the Colts — but most of the action, of course, should be forced through the air for Miami. It seems likely that Pierre Desir will make it back this week for the Colts after missing (but having a shot to play) last week, which tightens up this matchup (Indy ranks 11th in DVOA against the pass and has been without Desir off and on), but it has been possible this year for individual wide receivers to pick up some production in this spot, with the following notable stat lines allowed:
The Colts aim to force short-area throws, but they have been susceptible to downfield zone-beaters at times, and we know that Ryan Fitzpatrick will chuck the ball downfield to DeVante Parker (Fitz ranks third in average intended air yards; Parker ranks 14th in aDOT). It isn’t crazy to think Parker sees a clear eight to 10 targets here after seeing 10 // 8 // 6 his last three weeks with Williams on the field. Even with all the downfield targets, he hasn’t topped 75 yards in a game, but another 60 to 70 yards and a touchdown are in play, with outlier upside for more.
Of course, the player who really stands out here is Mike Gesicki, who has recent target counts of 7 // 4 // 3 // 6 and now catches a matchup vs a Colts team that filters targets to tight ends (10th most tight end targets faced, compared to the fewest wide receiver targets faced; last year, this team again faced the fewest wide receiver targets and faced the third most tight end targets). Gesicki is seeing his average target 9.3 yards downfield (which aligns him with tight ends like Ertz // Olsen // Ebron, as opposed to the short-area Vance // Fells // Rudolph range) and he should be able to pick up another six or seven targets fairly easily in this spot.
Behind these guys, it will be Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant, and Allen Hurns, with some “hope to guess right on the rising role” upside at their prices. It seems likely that Hurns gets the biggest bump from this group as a player who can function as a downfield complement to Parker.
JM’s Interpretation ::
There are a lot of affordable pieces with real roles in this game — so while the Colts spread the ball around and the Dolphins have a bad offense in a not-great matchup, it’s nevertheless viable to play around with some roster construction approaches that incorporate these pieces (especially given how much upside there is on some of the higher-priced players this week). None of these players pop off the page, but all of Parker // Hurns // Gesicki // Doyle // Ebron // Pascal // Rogers have some level of “worth thinking about at their price” to their game this week. At least two very strong, price-considered scores should emerge from that group; so while you’re massively unlikely to find a player with slate-breaking upside here, you can potentially grab a solid score while opening up salary for added upside in other spots.
The piece that really stands out in this game, of course, is Mack. Mack’s price is beyond obnoxious this week (pretty much across the board) for a player who has played 58% of his team’s snaps the last two weeks and has practically no role in the pass game; but unless the usage simply dries up, he has a clear shot at a strong game, with plenty of ways for him to reach a big game if the Colts handle this spot the way they should. If the Colts pick up a two-touchdown win (as we saw above), a game with 120+ yards and two touchdowns is well within reach. His role and price will combine to keep him out of Tier 1 this week, but he’s a really strong “upside” option in Tier 3.
:: Bonus feature: find current NFL Defensive Identities here!