DOLPHINS // COLTS OVERVIEW
It is a weird and wild world when Dolphins at Colts is the game that has been flexed from its original early start time to the 4:25 Eastern slot — with the 5-5 Dolphins and the 5-5 Colts currently battling for playoff position (really). With the Chargers all but certain to grab one of the Wild Card spots in the AFC, there are five teams at 5-5 (and the Broncos at 4-6) fighting for this final spot. If the Colts win this game (as expected), they’ll actually maintain a shot at the division title as well. They sit two games behind the Texans, they have one game left against the Texans, and their remaining schedule outside of that game is Dolphins // Jags // Cowboys // Giants // Titans — none of which are pushovers, but all of which are winnable games.
As the Eagles’ offense has taken steps back without Frank Reich this year, the Colts’ offense has caught fire lately, with this team winning four consecutive games and now rising to fifth in the NFL in points per game — behind only the Saints, Chiefs, Rams, and Steelers. Andrew Luck has thrown three or more touchdowns passes in seven consecutive games, and the only thing likely to end that streak in this spot is the atrocious play of the Dolphins’ run defense, as this team has invited opponents to embarrass them on the ground — with the sixth most yards allowed per carry in the league, the third most rushing yards allowed, the 11th most rushing touchdowns allowed, and the third highest rush play rate faced.
On the Dolphins’ side, they get Ryan Tannehill back this week — which for some reason “gives them a better chance to win,” even though Adam Gase refuses to let Tannehill throw. For two years now, I have not understood this. When Tannehill is out there, Miami curls up into a ball on offense and leans on the run as much as any team in football (an approach that has genuinely enabled them to win, with a 13-8 record with Tannehill under center since the start of 2016)…but when Cutler and Osweiler have played across the last two seasons, the Dolphins have ignored this approach and have allowed these second-tier quarterbacks to attack more heavily through the air. In any case, Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant are out, DeVante Parker and Danny Amendola are banged up, and the Dolphins don’t like to allow Tannehill to pass (pass attempt numbers on the year of 28 // 23 // 23 // 20 // 35), which should lead to a non-exciting output on the Dolphins’ side of the ball, against an Indy defense that has been more down than up this year (20th in yards allowed per game; 18th in points allowed per game), but that certainly has the ability to make life difficult on an offense that is averaging the fifth fewest yards per game and the seventh fewest points per game in the league.
Unsurprisingly, the Dolphins have been given no credit by the oddsmakers here, with Indy installed as 7.5 point home favorites. As of this writeup, no team on the Main Slate has a higher Vegas-implied team total than the Colts. Only six teams have a lower Vegas-implied team total than the Dolphins.
DOLPHINS PASS OFFENSE
Only the Buccaneers have allowed a higher catch rate than the Colts this year, but no team in football has forced a lower average depth of target than this defense, and only eight teams have been better than the Colts at preventing yards after the catch. Only nine teams have allowed fewer passing touchdowns than the Colts, and only three teams have picked off more passes.
The clearest path to production through the air for the Dolphins would be for Tannehill to be allowed 35+ pass attempts, as this could lead to solid PPR production from his wide receivers. Of course, he failed to top even 200 passing yards in three of his five starts this year.
The two games in which Tannehill rose above 200 yards came in Week 1 against Tennessee and in Week 3 against Oakland. In the game against Tennessee, he uncorked a 50 yard pass on a post route to Kenny Stills that Stills took another 25 yards to the end zone. In the game against Oakland, Tannehill hit Stills 40 yards downfield on a corner route in the end zone. Stills has not topped four catches in a game this year, he has not topped 61 receiving yards since Week 1, and only five teams have allowed fewer pass plays of 20+ yards than the Colts, while no team has allowed fewer pass plays of 40+ yards.
Early in the year, Tannehill all but ignored Amendola — failing to feed him more than four catches or 42 yards in any game (marks he rose above in every single game with Osweiler this year). Before Tannehill returned to practice this week, I was looking forward to rostering Amendola on full-PPR sites for his high floor in this matchup against a team that forces short throws and allows a high catch rate. There is a chance Amendola still sees his five or more catches and his 40+ yards with this pass catcher corps so thin, but it’s tougher to get behind this play now that Tannehill is returning.
Parker has played only one game with Tannehill since an up-and-down 2016 season in which he scored only four touchdowns, topped 51 receiving yards only six times, and topped five catches only twice. In Week 3 when these two played together, Parker went 2-40-0 on three looks. He should be on the field this week as a low-floor, moderate-ceiling play.
DOLPHINS RUN OFFENSE
Further complicating matters for the Dolphins’ DFS upside is an offense that ranks 30th in time of possession and 31st in plays per game, and that leans on the run when Tannehill is on the field — giving the bulk of the backfield carries to Frank Gore, and giving the bulk of the backfield pass game work to Kenyan Drake. Gore has topped 63 rushing yards only two times this year, with nine catches through 10 games and only one touchdown all season. Drake has topped eight carries only twice in his last eight games, and he has more than four catches only one time this year. The Colts have been below-average against pass-catching running backs, but only five teams have allowed fewer yards per carry, and only four teams have allowed fewer running back touchdowns.
COLTS PASS OFFENSE
As noted a few weeks ago when the Dolphins played the Packers: Miami is entirely nonthreatening against the pass, allowing a league-average aDOT and catch rate, while adding over 20% to the league-average YAC/R rate (the second worst performance in this department in the league) — leading to a yards allowed per pass attempt mark of 8.1, fifth worst in the league. But with the Dolphins picking off 15 passes this year (second most in the NFL) and boasting one of the worst run defenses in football, they have ultimately faced the fifth fewest pass attempts in the league. On the season, Indy ranks 10th in pass play rate, but they have leaned run-heavy since returning Marlon Mack to the field, and their 50.27% pass play rate across their last three games would rank 31st in the league. Across his last four games, Luck has not topped even 31 pass attempts, after cracking 40 in five of his first six games.
This scaled-back passing attack has hurt Luck’s pass catchers more than it has hurt his own production, as (much like Russell Wilson) he has continued to post touchdowns each week — with 13 total touchdown passes across his last four games, in spite of yardage totals in this stretch of 156 // 239 // 285 // 297. Luck is also completing over 70% of his passes in this stretch, which has allowed him to crack 20 completions three times in these four games.
The only “sort of full-time” pass catcher for the Colts across the last couple weeks has been T.Y. Hilton, who has run a pass route on 55 of 62 Luck drop-backs. Next in line have been Jack Doyle (40 out of 62), Dontrelle Inman (33 out of 62), Ryan Grant (33 out of 62), and Chester Rogers (19 out of 62). Inman (5.0 targets per game) and Doyle (3.5 targets per game) are the only pass catchers besides Hilton who have averaged more than 2.0 targets per game across the Colts’ last two contests.
Since returning to full health, Hilton has seen target totals in this stretch of low-volume passing games of 5 // 7 // 9. He is always a threat to bust out for a long play on the turf in Indy — though outside of the 70-yard bomb he hauled in last week from Luck, all eight of his targets came within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage, with all of them carrying him either toward the sideline or toward defenders. His floor is a bit low for the price, but the upside obviously remains.
Behind Hilton, the matchup is average for Doyle, with three to five targets likely to flow his way. Ebron could also get involved — though his floor with so little volume and so many mouths to feed is legitimately zero (as he showed last week). This passing attack simply belongs to no one outside of Hilton.
COLTS RUN OFFENSE
Across the Colts’ last four games, Marlon Mack saw 19, 12, and 16 carries against the top 10 run defenses of the Bills, Jaguars, and Titans, and he saw 25 carries against the bottom eight run defense of the Raiders. He has not topped two receptions in a game, and he has only one game this year with more than 17 receiving yards, making him almost wholly yardage-and-touchdown dependent; but Aaron Jones went 15-145-2 on the ground against the Dolphins in their last game, Lamar Miller went 18-133-1 in Week 8, and Kerryon Johnson went 19-158-0 in Week 7 (with LeGarrette Blount even adding a 10-50-1 line of his own). Mack should see around 20 touches, giving him plenty of upside in this spot. The Colts have developed into the third best run blocking unit in football (Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards), and the Dolphins have been embarrassingly blockable on film.
Behind Mack, Nyheim Hines should mix in for a couple carries and a bit of pass game work, but Mack is the guy with the matchup in this spot. His upside is boosted by his 19 carries in the red zone and his seven carries inside the five.
There is nothing on the Dolphins that stands out to me this week, though Amendola is going to become a useful PPR piece if the targets are there this week with Tannehill under center, and Stills should get at least one shot downfield in a matchup that does not set up well for him to hit on this look. A couple decent scores are likely to emerge from the Dolphins, but impact scores will be difficult to bet on, and there are better spots on this slate than a bad offense traveling halfway across the country and carrying the sixth lowest Vegas-implied total on the slate.
Luck has been a constant “tourney consideration” play for me lately, as he has just been too consistent to ignore — though this once again shapes up as a spot in which he will likely see lower volume, as Indy should control this game and the Dolphins are easy to attack on the ground. He won’t be a priority play for me.
Hilton is a fine play, but he’s high-variance in what should once again be a low-volume passing attack, with Hilton primarily relying on deep connections in order to hit. I probably won’t be interested in any other pieces of this passing attack.
The most intriguing play, of course, is Mack — who I expect to be popular this week, but whose matchup and upside will justify chalk status. With his minimal pass game role, there is still room for him to miss — but as we have talked about a few times in the NFL Edge, the Square Table, and the #OWSChatPod :: this guy has looked awesome this year, hitting small creases in the line and using his burst to get upfield rather than trying to bounce things outside, and getting the most out of every run he is given. His upside is big in this spot.
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