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Rams vs. Dolphins matchups: Defense faces Tua Tagovailoa in his first NFL start

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa looks to pass against the New York Jets on Oct. 18, 2020.
Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa looks to pass against the Jets on Oct. 18. On Sunday, the fifth overall draft pick in 2020 will make his first NFL start — against the Rams.
(Lynne Sladky / Associated Press)

Breaking down how the Los Angeles Rams (5-2) and the Miami Dolphins (3-3) match up going into their game Sunday at 10 a.m. Pacific time at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.

When Rams have the ball: With a rushing attack led by Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown, the Rams’ offense ranks 10th in the NFL, averaging 385.7 yards per game. In last Monday’s 24-10 victory over the Chicago Bears, the Rams cleaned up most of the uncharacteristic mistakes that hampered them in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Coach Sean McVay has been keeping Jared Goff on the move, and with two more touchdown passes the quarterback increased his season total to 10, with four interceptions. Wide receiver Josh Reynolds is getting more opportunities and has caught touchdown passes in consecutive games. Tight end Johnny Mundt stepped in for the injured Tyler Higbee last week and played well. Higbee was limited in practice last week and is questionable for Sunday, but in Higbee, Gerald Everett and Mundt the Rams have three viable targets. Joe Noteboom, who began the season as the starting left guard, has returned from a knee injury, but David Edwards will remain the starter. The Dolphins feature two of the NFL’s best-compensated cornerbacks in Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. Howard has four interceptions. End Emmanuel Ogbah has five of the Dolphins’ 17 sacks. Linebacker Jerome Baker is the leading tackler and has two sacks.

The Dolphins’ switch from veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick to rookie Tua Tagovailoa is very familiar to Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner

When Dolphins have the ball: Rookie Tua Tagovailoa, the fifth pick in the 2020 draft, will start for the first time. He replaces veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, who helped lead the Dolphins to a 3-3 start. Tagovailoa is left-handed, but Rams coaches and players said that might present more of challenge for Dolphins receivers than Rams defenders. Wide receiver DeVante Parker has a team-best 29 catches. Preston Williams averages 17.8 yards per catch and has scored three touchdowns. Jakeem Grant is another target who also returns punts. Tight ends Mike Gesicki and Adam Shaheen each have two touchdown catches, but Shaheen is questionable because of a shoulder injury. Running back Myles Gaskin averages 4.1 yards per carry and also has 27 receptions. The Rams’ defense is coming off a strong effort against the Bears, giving up a field goal and limiting an opponent to three points or fewer in the second half for the sixth time in seven games. Lineman Aaron Donald has eight sacks and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd four. The Rams are expected to try to confuse Tagovailoa with multiple looks and pressure him from all angles. They also must be on point, however, against a quarterback with experience running read-option plays.

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The Rams strengthened their roster Friday by activating defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson from the non-injury reserve list. He could make his team debut Sunday in Miami.

When they kick: Kai Forbath makes his Rams debut after rookie Samuel Sloman was cut because of blocked kicks. Forbath has made 131 of 151 field-goal attempts, including a career-best 57-yarder. Rams punter Johnny Hekker, the NFC special teams player of the month, was extraordinarily effective against the Bears. Jason Sanders has made all 15 attempts for the Dolphins.

Gary Klein’s prediction: Miami is playing better than anticipated and the quarterback switch could energize the team even more, but the Rams should capitalize against a rookie making his first NFL start.

RAMS 27, DOLPHINS 23


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