Hub Arkush: Chicago Bears going fishing for progress in Miami
At 3-2, the Miami Dolphins are just a half-game behind the 3-1 Bears in the standings, but when you put their depth charts side-by-side these clubs don’t appear to be that close.
The Bears are coming off a week of rest following their best performance in years, a rout of the Tampa Bay Bucs, while the Dolphins have been flat-out awful the past two weeks in road defeats in Nashville and Foxborough after a 3-0 start.
The Bears are one of the three best defenses in the league, along with the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars, with the Los Angeles Rams a notch behind because of their inability to stop the run.
Miami’s offense hasn’t done anything to suggest it’s ready for that test, ranking 30th in total offense, 22nd running, 28th passing, 27th scoring, 23rd in sack percentage and tied for 5th in the league in turnovers.
Particularly daunting for the Dolphins would appear to be the matchup for their offensive line with guard Josh Sitton and center Daniel Kilgore — who was brought in via trade to replace the departed Mike Pouncey — both on injured reserve, against the Bears, who boast the NFL’s best pass rush and run defense.
This appears to be a huge edge for the Bears.
The Fish do appear to catch a break with OLT Laremy Tunsil likely to play after spending the week in the concussion protocol, but with another former Bear, Ted Larsen, in for Sitton, and Lions castoff Travis Swanson at center, this is still a really bad matchup for Miami.
The wild card could be half of Miami’s two-headed backfield featuring Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake.
At this stage of his career Gore isn’t going to beat the Bears, but Drake is one of the NFL’s fastest players — if he’s even, he’s leavin’ — so sloppy tackling by Chicago would seem to be the defense’s greatest danger.
Miami QB Ryan Tannehill has a reasonable eight TD passes in five games, but his 174.8 passing yards per game, five interceptions and four fumbles don’t exactly presage success against the Bears ‘D.’
Kenny Stills, Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant have a 75-, 74- and 52-yard catch, respectively, but those three catches account for 34 percent of their total production on the season.
If Miami is to upset the Bears, its defense — just 22nd in yardage and 16th in points allowed — will have to play its best game of the season, which will be tough with its best player, Cameron Wake, doubtful to play with a knee injury.
The Dolphins struggle equally against the run (20th) and pass (21st) but are really good at picking off passes, ranking second in INT percentage, which trails only the Bears.
That makes this feel like it could be a Jordan Howard game — both to get him untracked and to try and expose a soft middle in the Miami defense.
Defensive tackles Davon Godchaux and Akeem Spence and ‘Mike’ LB Raekwon McMillan have done little to fill the void left by Ndamukong Suh.
Outside linebackers Kiko Alonso and rookie Jerome Baker are solid run-and-hit guys who could slow the outside run game a bit for Tarik Cohen and Taylor Gabriel.
Miami’s best defender right now is cornerback Xavien Howard, who has three picks, but Bobby McCain on the other corner and safeties Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald are solid, albeit more effective against the run than the pass.
As good as Howard has become, Mitch Trubisky would be wise to avoid him whenever possible.
Miami’s coverage units are below average, creating an opportunity for Cohen in the kicking game, but Grant is one of the best return specialists in football — third on punts and second on kickoffs through five weeks, with a touchdown in each category.
Rookie PK Jason Sanders has attempted only three field goals, hitting them all, while the Bears Cody Parkey should be comfortable after kicking for the Dolphins last season and converting 9-of-10 to begin his Bears career.
With solid coverage from their special teams, the Bears’ biggest obstacle Sunday could be bye-week rust and too much time to read their press clippings.
If the Bears are focused, Miami is a team they can handle.