Momentum Builder: Grades and Analysis from Miami’s 30-15 Upset Win Over Pittsburgh
In what will go down as one of the biggest upsets of the 2016 NFL season, the Miami Dolphins beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-15. Miami had what was undeniably their best performance of the year, as they handed the injury plagued Pittsburgh roster their second loss after a string of convincing wins.
It was absolutely a must-win game for the Dolphins, as a divisional matchup against the Bills is in store in Week 7. If they had lost this one, they undoubtedly could have entered their bye week with a record of 1-6. Instead, they’ll face their division rivals on a one game win-streak as they look to continue their momentum.
Ryan Tannehill: B
After consecutive weeks of subpar execution by Ryan Tannehill, he came through against Pittsburgh. He was by no means perfect: he stills looks shaky under pressure, threw off his back foot on a few occasions and stalled in the red zone for most of the matchup. However, for arguably the first time this season, he did exactly what he had to do to win.
Tannehill looked in control. He made adjustments at the line and consistently located the open receiver. Tannehill isn’t the type of quarterback who is going to light up defenses week in and week out, but he could still plausibly be the game manager that Gase needs to avoid mistakes and set up the offense for success.
The Steelers’ defense was unbelievably short handed for this one, missing their two best defensive players in Cam Heyward and Ryan Shazier. Credit must be given to Tannehill for taking advantage of Pittsburgh’s lack of pass rush and utilizing Jarvis Landry in the middle of field (an area usually manned by Shazier). Overall, Tannehill called an impressive game from the line of scrimmage and deserves praise for performing well despite being the recipient of scrutiny for most of the past two weeks.
Running Backs: A+
Adam Gase has consistently stated his desire to lean on a single back as opposed to a full-fledge committee approach, and if Jay Ajayi’s performance yesterday is any indication, Gase seems to have found his guy. Ajayi had what can firmly be considered the best performance of his young career, breaking off big run after big run in route to totaling 204 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries.
Ajayi looked like that back many thought he could be prior to the signing of Arian Foster. He was explosive, decisive and powerful in and out of his breaks. With just a tiny bit of hope left on the Pittsburgh sideline, he broke off a 62-yard touchdown run to cap off a brilliant performance. Damien Williams also scored a goal line touchdown on the game.
We’ve been saying for weeks that the Dolphins need a balanced offense in order to successfully implement Gase’s game plan, and they achieved that and then some against one of the league’s stingiest run defenses.
Wide Receivers: A-
The wide receivers dropped some catchable balls early on, including one by DeVante Parker on a would-be touchdown. For the most part, however, they were reliable and opportunistic. Jarvis Landry was a non-factor last week against the Titans, and that simply had to change if Miami was going to compete. He answered the call with 7 catches for 91 yards, including multiple third down conversions in the second half.
Parker and Stills combined for 7 catches for 40 yards on a quiet day, but mostly managed to avoid mistakes which is all the team needed them to do. Parker hasn’t quite been the x-factor that many thought he could be before the season, but he is definitely one of Tannehill’s favorite targets. Their chemistry will continue to improve as they gain more reps together. Stills, on the other hand, solely looks like the deep play threat that he was in New Orleans.
While the position group failed to notch a touchdown due to Parker’s drop, they played with a desirable intensity and undoubtedly had a positive impact on this game.
Tight End: B-
MarQueis Gray and Dion Sims made plays throughout the day; none bigger than Gray’s 53-yard catch on this beautiful play by Tannehill:
Neither Gray nor Sims are going to be go-to targets in this offense but, considering the lack of execution by Jordan Cameron in the past, seeing the tight end position positively impact the game today was a welcomed sight. It was particularly nice to see Tannehill target his tight ends on a couple of roll outs, as the play action pass has been sorely lacking in this offense. With the way the offensive line has been playing, Tannehill needs as many reliable targets as possible, and the tight end group achieved that yesterday.
Offensive Line: A
If I had to guess the position group that was least likely to receive an “A” in this matchup, it plausibly could’ve been the offensive line. After all, they allowed 11 sacks in their last two games. In this one, they barely allowed Tannehill to get hit. The quarterback was never sacked and was only hit twice, as the offensive line provided him with plenty of time to dissect Pittsburgh’s injury plagued defense.
The real news here, however, was in the run game. After struggling to run the ball for the first five weeks of the season, the offensive line manhandled the Steelers’ shorthanded defensive line to create humongous holes for Ajayi to exploit. Ajayi wasn’t even touched on his final touchdown (in an obvious running situation no less).
Gase cut three offensive linemen during the week leading up to this matchup, and the starters certainly looked inspired by the moves. Ja’Wuan James is the sole reason they didn’t receive an A+, as he continued to struggle in pass protection and was called for a completely avoidable unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the first quarter. With that being said, it is hard to complain considering the level of play we have been accustomed to seeing from this unit as a whole.
Defensive Backs: B
The Steelers’ offense is known for having playmakers at every position, but Miami’s defensive backfield certainly received some help in this game from injuries/suspensions. Pittsburgh was without Markus Wheaton, and Sammie Coates was dealing with multiple fractured fingers, limiting his potential. That left Miami’s opponent to lean on Eli Rogers and Cobi Hamilton. Additionally, an injury to Big Ben’s knee had the Pittsburgh passing offense out of rhythm.
For the most part, the Dolphins took advantage of this opportunity. They directed a ton of attention to slowing down Antonio Brown and were successful in doing so. Byron Maxwell had a great game, tallying four pass breakups in several key situations. Miami also doubled their interception total for the season, thanks to Isa Abdul-Quddus and a spectacular play by Reshad Jones.
Nonetheless, Jones made an uncharacteristic mistake by failing to wrap up Darrius Heyward-Bey on his huge end around touchdown run. On the ensuing two-point attempt, Byron Maxwell and Michael Thomas each got picked allowing Le’Veon Bell to easily convert in the corner of the end zone. In the fourth quarter, Chimdi Chekwa allowed a touchdown to Hamilton that momentarily kept the Steelers in the game.
Nevertheless, any time a defensive backfield can limit Antonio Brown to 4 catches for 39 yards, the performance has to be considered a success.
It was just a decent performance for the Miami linebackers. Le’Veon Bell still averaged 5.3 yards per carry and totaled 6 catches for 55 yards. While Kiko Alonso continues to rack up tackles, he mostly fails when asked to diagnose plays. In fact, this is mostly the case for the entire position group.
They did, however, do a great job covering Steelers’ tight ends Jesse James and Xavier Grimble. The Dolphins have been inept in coverage of the tight end position over the past couple of seasons, and James and Grimble have already combined to score four touchdowns this season. The fact that they were able to limit the duo to under 25 combined yards and no touchdowns was yet another positive for this defense on Sunday.
Defensive Line: B+
Ben Roethlisberger was under pressure for most of the day, getting sacked twice and pressured into inaccurate throws on multiple occasions. Cameron Wake and Andre Branch were responsible for the sacks, and Ndamukong Suh and Jason Jones added QB hits of their own.
Other than Suh, the defensive linemen are still being forced off their spot too easily in the run game, and running backs will continue to post impressive YPC numbers if this is the case.
Joseph has said since the offseason that he wants his defensive line to be among the most aggressive in the league, specifically with the pass rush, and that has resulted in great sack numbers. However, it comes to a point when Joseph must find a way to slow down opposing rushing attacks as well, which he didn’t do yesterday. The Steelers simply abandoned the run game as they tried to get Roethlisberger into a rhythm. That, in addition to a completely unnecessary personal foul penalty by Jason Jones, ultimately kept the defensive line from grading higher.
Special Teams: F
There is no excuse for getting a field goal blocked and then simply shanking another. Andrew Franks started the game off hot with three short field goals, but failed to get his kick up high enough on the block and missed a 50 yarder later in the contest.
While it didn’t come back to bite them in this one, these are the types of mistakes that can ruin a team’s chances of coming out with a win.
Adam Gase hoped to see some passion and fight out of his crew, and he certainly got that. The offensive game plan allowed Miami to rack up yards but stalled in the red zone on multiple occasions. On defense, Vance Joseph seemed to have his troops ready to take on Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, which really can’t be understated.
Gase was bailed out on a questionable call for a surprise onside kick early in the game, as the officials determined the kick was premature. Additionally, Gase has to make sure that aggressiveness doesn’t turn into undisciplined play. Miami had far too many unforced penalties. Unsportsmanlike conduct and personal fouls are mistakes that can be avoided and provided Pittsburgh with plenty of extra opportunities. Luckily for the Dolphins’ coaching staff, the Steelers were largely unable to take advantage.