Keys to the Game: Dolphins Face Biggest Test Yet Against Defending Super Bowl Champs

By: Colby Guy

The 8-4 Miami Dolphins will face arguably their biggest task of the season as they face off against the 11-1 defending Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs.

This will be the first time the Dolphins will be playing against Patrick Mahomes, as Alex Smith was still under center for the Chiefs in their last meeting in 2017. The Chiefs won that game 29-13 against the Jay Cutler-led Dolphins in a forgettable fins season. However, this isn’t coach Brian Flores’ first rodeo against the Chiefs, as the Patriots defeated the Chiefs 37-31 in the 2019 AFC Championship Game with Flores at the helm of the New England defense.

Here are the three key points that need to go the Dolphins’ way if they’re going to defeat the offensive juggernaut that is the Kansas City Chiefs.

Containing Mahomes

If the Dolphins want to come out on top this Sunday, they’re going to have to get stops against Patrick Mahomes-which is easier said than done. Mahomes is currently having an MVP-caliber season, throwing for 3,815 yards and 31 touchdown passes on a 68.3% efficiency in the first 12 games of the season. With his ridiculous arm talent coupled with the talented repertoire of receivers that includes the always dangerous Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Sammy Watkins, the Dolphins are going to have a hard time keeping Mahomes off of his game.

The Kansas City quarterback has also thrown just two interceptions all season, so the Dolphins’ pass rush is going to have to attempt to force him to make a mistake, something he has rarely done this season. With an elite receiver like Tyreek Hill at Mahomes’ disposal, it is going to be much harder for Xavien Howard and Byron Jones to contain the deep ball, so pass rush is the name of the game for the Dolphins. If they can somehow penetrate a Chiefs offense that has been spectacular against the blitz and get into Pat’s head, the Dolphins can win the ball game. However, it’s going to be an uphill battle.

Can Tua Match Mahomes?

This is the biggest burning question going into Sunday’s game. We’ve seen two different sides of Tua Tagovailoa this season: On one hand, we’ve seen the conservative Tua who doesn’t get the ball moving much on offense, but also doesn’t make many mistakes. That worked well in games such as Week 8, where the defense was able to keep the Jared Goff-led Rams in check while the offense did the bare minimum to burn the clock out. This isn’t going to be one of those games.

We’re going to need to see the Tua we saw the following week, where Tua went toe-to-toe with then-MVP candidate Kyler Murray in a close game that went down to the wire. Tagovailoa carried the team late in that game, throwing for 248 yards and two touchdowns with a 71.4% completion percentage. If offensive coordinator Chan Gailey opens up the playbook for Tua like we also saw last week vs the Bengals- where the quarterback threw for a career-high 296 yards-he might just have a chance to keep up with Mahomes.

Can the Dolphins establish the run?

Yes, Myles Gaskin did put up 90 yards on 21 carries last week, but those numbers might still not be enough to beat the Chiefs. Fumbling the ball like he did against the Bengals, though it proved meaningless in that game, cannot happen against Kansas City. Dolphins’ running backs have fumbled the ball three times in the last two weeks, which has caused the team to become even more reluctant to establish the run, making the offense a bit more predictable. If Miami is going to keep up with this high-powered Chiefs offense, they’re going to need to establish the running game and establish it early in the game.

The Fins had a whopping 32 rushing yards in the first half last week against the Bengals, a stat that absolutely cannot be replicated when playing the Chiefs. Gailey is going to need to keep the Chiefs’ defense on their toes and utilize both the run and pass game to win. If the Chiefs defense is able to stop the run easily like past Dolphins opponents have, the Fins may be in trouble.

The Miami Dolphins will kick off against the Kansas City Chiefs at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. You can catch the game on CBS. Fins up!