All Aboard the Jay Train: Grades and Analysis from Miami’s 28-25 Victory Over Buffalo
Just win, baby. The Miami Dolphins will be entering their Week 8 bye with back-to-back victories against two very talented teams. Last week’s victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers was the Miami Dolphins’ most inspired performance this season and it certainly seems as though the team wished to drive that momentum forward this week against the Buffalo Bills. Although the Bills were somewhat shorthanded offensively, the Dolphins’ defense had a very solid day overall, especially along the defensive line. Meanwhile Jay Ajayi and the running game did more than enough to compensate for offensive miscues and team penalties to win the game. The score may have been close at 28-25, but there was no doubt that the Dolphins were the better team on Sunday. With that all being said, let’s check out the individual unit grades for the Miami Dolphins’ third victory of the year.
Ryan Tannehill: B-
Ryan Tannehill was good enough to win on Sunday. He made some mental errors and was fairly scattershot in his accuracy, but he avoided any egregious mistakes and made enough plays in support of Miami’s smash mouth ground game. His stat line of 15/25 for 204 yards and a touchdown was very indicative of his performance. He wasn’t asked to do much on account of the incredible run game, but he made enough throws to keep the passing game as a factor. The offensive line did a good job of keeping the inconsistent quarterback upright while the receiver corps gave the quarterback the necessary windows and, to his credit, Ryan Tannehill was generally able to take advantage of those opportunities.
You can certainly make the argument that Ryan Tannehill has regressed as a quarterback over the course of his career; I certainly have. But one thing that cannot be argued is the improvement of his deep ball accuracy. He definitely isn’t a gunslinger, but Ryan Tannehill’s ability to hit on the deep ball has been his greatest strength this season. His two completed deep passes to Jarvis Landry kept long drives moving and his deep throw to Kenny Stills was ultimately the game winner. However, he did miss some easy completions in the flat throughout the game, forced a ball to Jarvis Landry on the sideline that could have been intercepted, and underthrew a deep pass to a wide open Kenny Stills that became a batted pass instead of an easy touchdown:
Though I contend that Tannehill will not be the starting quarterback of the future for Miami, his improvement in deep-ball accuracy and his proficiency as a game-manager the last two weeks are an encouraging sign that the Dolphins can remain competitive until they eventually find The Guy at the most important position in sports.
Running Backs: A+
When looking at the reasoning behind the Miami Dolphins’ offensive turnaround, look no further than the Jay Train. Jay Ajayi started off behind a 30-year-old running back coming off an Achilles injury. Then, he lost snaps to an injury prone rookie running back with 0 starts in college on account of how he handled his initial benching. This was all just over a month ago, but might as well be ancient history. Jay Ajayi is now just the 4th running back in NFL history with back-to-back 200-yard rushing games and will be the unquestioned workhorse back going forward.
On Sunday, Jay Ajayi confirmed that he wasn’t a one-hit wonder, seemingly converting for a first down every time he touched the ball. He showed agility and patience at the line of scrimmage, solid downfield speed, and was an absolute wrecking ball when making contact with defenders. He did most of his damage running right up the gut behind an energized interior offensive line, barreling through defenders for extra yards after contact. His 214 yards on 28 carries wasn’t just a result of one or two big plays either. Even if you take away his 53-yard rumble from his own goal line, his average yards per carry would still be 5.96, but I can look at that play all day:
Arian Foster was invisible, creating just 5 yards on 3 carries. Damien Williams was very solid in relief of Ajayi in the 4th quarter, as he managed a 12 yard touchdown that gave the Dolphins a lead that they would never relinquish.
Wide Receivers: B+
Miami’s strongest positional unit took a backseat to the Jay Train for the second straight week. The emphasis on the running game provided the wide receiver corps fewer opportunities than usual, but ultimately they helped Ryan Tannehill and the offense overall. Outside of a poorly timed taunting penalty, Jarvis Landry was money as usual with 5 receptions for 78 yards and a couple of integral first downs. Even more impressive was Kenny Stills, who rebounded from an early disappointing miscue with Ryan Tannehill for 100 yards on 5 catches and this beautiful 66-yard touchdown to put the game on ice:
Even DeVante Parker made some good plays in traffic to help move the chains. His stat line of 3 catches for 20 yards isn’t exactly impressive, but he was a little bit more involved than the numbers indicate. Although, I would be more comfortable if the offense could figure out a method for getting him more involved. In the end, the Miami Dolphins’ three-headed monster of Landry, Parker and Stills totaled 13 receptions for 198 yards and a touchdown, which is pretty…pretty…pretty, pretty good.
Offensive Line: B+
The interior offensive line combination of Laremy Tunsil and Mike Pouncey is downright fearsome. Since Branden Albert, Laremy Tunsil and Mike Pouncey have returned to the field healthy, the Dolphins’ offensive line has actually been a team strength, as shocking as that sounds. The interior offensive line has been especially impressive in both pass protection and in establishing the run. As good as Jay Ajayi has been, his ascension has certainly been due in part to the offensive line’s ability to create running lanes. Pass protection has also been improving across the board, as evidenced by the just one sack allowed against the Buffalo Bills. When your interior O-line prevents interior pressure like this:
How can I possibly complain? Well, the answer to that question is penalties. There were far too many false start and holding penalties this week, as has been a major theme all season. Additionally, the outside offensive lineman, especially left tackle Branden Albert, needs to be more consistent. Jermon Bushrod could also use improvement, as he is often physically unable to overpower or outmaneuver more athletic talents on the defensive line.
Defensive Line: A
The defensive line was a menace to Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy for all 60 minutes of Sunday’s divisional contest. Buffalo came into the game with one of the most potent rushing attacks in the NFL, but the Dolphins’ defense did not seem to care very much. They slowed a banged up Shady McCoy-led running back stable to just 32 yards on 15 carries for just over two yards per carry. Ndamukong Suh predictably played a large part in the effort and looked downright dominant. Perhaps even more important than their effectiveness against the run was the defensive line’s prowess when rushing the passer.
Since the coaching staff benched underperforming Mario Williams in favor of former Detroit Lion Jason Jones, the pass rush has actually improved. Jones notched a solo sack, Ndamukong Suh got one, and Cameron Wake got one by himself and split one with Andre Branch. Speaking of Wake, the man is an absolute beast:
In his 2nd week back in the starting lineup he notched a sack and a half, and he could have easily had two more had Tyrod Taylor not been so difficult to bring down. Wake and company were all over Tyrod Taylor, who seemingly never had a clean pocket.
Kiko Alonso has quietly been a very solid acquisition for the Miami Dolphins’ linebacker corps. He seems to be improving every week and has been a very effective tackler. He is the best linebacker on the roster bar-none and has been a boon to the run defense. Though I’d like to see more improvement in pass coverage, Alonso has put together a string of good performances that indicate growth moving forward:
The rest of the unit is still pick-your-poison. Jelani Jenkins looks to be the best out of all other options, but they all struggle mightily in coverage and are not nearly as efficient tacklers as is Alonso. Today the unit as a whole struggled a bit to contain Tyrod Taylor in the second level, but was solid overall.
Defensive Backs: D-
Last week the defensive backfield turned in their best performance of the season by far against the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers’ passing attack. That was not the case today against the Buffalo Bills’ receiver corps sand Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods. Though Buffalo definitely wasn’t able to score at will, the cornerbacks, namely Byron Maxwell (surprised?), were embarrassed at the most inopportune times. This play in which Marquise Goodwin gets an easy touchdown was the most egregious offense:
Maxwell gets burned by Goodwin badly, as he tries (and fails) to read the quarterback’s eyes. His much needed safety help, Michael Thomas, takes an angle that, due to my shock of the ineptness, I can only describe as “bad.” The result of the play is a 67-yard touchdown that put the Dolphins into an early deficit. We know that the cornerback situation is bad, and now we unfortunately have to brave a less than ideal situation at safety. The secondary, and defense in general, sorely miss Reshad Jones in the lineup. Isa Abdul-Quddus, Michael Thomas etc. simply cannot replicate his impact, and I imagine that this will come into play over the next few months.
Special Teams: C-
Boy, was the special teams hard to watch today. Andrew Franks made both of his short field goal attempts, but everything else was either mediocre or flat out detrimental. Jakeem Grant couldn’t find any room to make a play on return duties and looked a lot less decisive in his cuts this week. Matt Darr, who is usually solid, averaged just 35 yards a punt including this crime:
Overall a pretty poor performance from a typically excellent Darren Rizzi coached squad.
The game plan on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball was absolutely perfect. Gase and the offense wisely leaned on the running game, but ensured that the overall strategy remained somewhat balanced. Vance Joseph and the defense similarly came in prepared and were definitely ready to contain Tyrod Taylor and the Bills’ rushing attack. The only reason the coaching staff didn’t receive an “A” rating was the unacceptable amount of penalties. The Dolphins’ 13 penalties for 113 yards kept the Bills in the game until time expired, two of which directly led to first downs on 3rd and longs. Adam Gase and the coaching staff undoubtedly need to improve team discipline going forward if the Dolphins are to continue their winning streak after their Week 8 bye.
This was a great team win to watch. Ridiculous penalties and broken coverages kept the Bills in the game late and ultimately skewed the final score, but the Miami Dolphins were definitely the better team on Sunday. The coming out party of the Jay Train and a rejuvenated offensive line have the team rolling, and a winning streak is not totally out of the question. Though the defense gave up some big plays and Ryan Tannehill was a little bit scattershot with his accuracy, I like the direction that this team is going. It’s honestly crazy that this time two weeks ago I thought the Miami Dolphins were primed for the 2nd or 3rd overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft. Things change quickly in the NFL.