South Beach Grit: Grades and Analysis from Miami’s 27-23 Victory Over New York
Don’t call it a comeback. The Miami Dolphins have seemingly shed many of the woes that made them so mediocre for the first five weeks of the season and have won three straight games as a result. The team is far from perfect, but their play on the field has been more than enough to maintain competitiveness in all four quarters. The Dolphins’ 27-23 victory over the Jets puts them at 4-4 with the potential to take 2nd in the AFC East if the Bills lose their Monday night contest against the Seahawks. Similar to their victory against the Bills two weeks ago, the Dolphins were able to make a stand at critical moments, in direct contrast to the first few games of the season. Their newfound grit and resulting three win streak not only keeps the Dolphins’ playoff hopes alive this season, but also provides a great deal of hope for the future of the franchise under the direction of Adam Gase. Though we all would have preferred a blowout against an often incompetent New York Jets team, it’s hard to be upset with the final result. So, with that all being said, let’s check out the individual unit grades for the Miami Dolphins’ third straight victory.
Ryan Tannehill: B-
As we know full well at this point, Ryan Tannehill is not a top tier quarterback. However, he has the skill set necessary to be an excellent system quarterback as a game manager in Adam Gase’s system. His stat line of 17/28 for 149 yards and a touchdown is not going to blow anyone away. However, he doesn’t need to post excellent numbers or make eye-popping plays to help the team win. Tannehill was able to avoid any egregious mistakes, assist the running game in moving the chains, and convert critical 3rd downs. This perfect arcing pass to Damien Williams on a wheel route converted a critical 3rd and 9 to set up Miami’s second touchdown of the game:
Speaking of Miami’s second touchdown, what a great quick strike from Ryan Tannehill to Dominique Jones:
Ryan Tannehill did go through bouts of scattershot accuracy, including a very poor pass that nearly resulted in an interception, but ultimately performed well enough to keep the offense balanced as the team tried to give Jay Ajayi a little bit more room to run with. Kenny Stills leaving the game early due to illness hurt the Dolphins’ ability to stretch the field, but Ryan Tannehill still managed to take what the defense gave him. He did well to avoid pressure and even used his legs to give him more time to set up plays like this deep pass to Dominique Jones:
All in all, Ryan Tannehill earns a “B” grade for his clean and efficient management of Miami’s offense. Though the Jay Train is undoubtedly the focal point on offense, Ryan Tannehill has done well to avoid being an afterthought in South Beach.
Running Backs: A
The Jay Train is still chugging along. Though Ajayi did not eclipse the 200-yard mark for a third straight week, he still bullied his way to 111 yards on 24 carries, including a 20-yard touchdown. Ajayi struggled to find running lanes for a large portion of the game, at one point he only managed 30 yards on 14 carries, but the coaching staff never lost faith and continued to give him the rock. Eventually running lanes opened up, and from there, the Jay Train was able to take over the game. His 4.6 yards per carry wasn’t breathtaking, but it was more than enough to get the job done at Hard Rock Stadium. His late 20-yard run to put the game on ice stood out in particular to me:
In addition to Jay Ajayi’s dominant performance, Damien Williams also performed quite well as the secondary option. The third year running back ended up with 49 yards of offense on 7 touches including a 23-yard rumble and the 19-yard reception showed earlier. Overall, it was a very solid day for the Dolphins’ strongest offensive unit.
Wide Receivers: C
At this point, it’s safe to say that the torch of Miami’s strongest positional unit has passed from the wide receiver corps to the Jay Train and company. The Dolphins’ wide receivers were invisible for much of the day and gave Ryan Tannehill very little to work with. As I mentioned previously, field stretcher Kenny Stills did have to leave the game due to illness, but there really is no excuse for the other two receivers in Miami’s big three. Jarvis Landry did keep the offense alive for some key first downs, but ultimately made little impact with 3 receptions for 33 yards. DeVante Parker was invisible with 2 catches for 8 yards. The only receiver that shined on Sunday was number 3 tight end Dominique Jones. Jones took advantage of the injuries to Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims in route to 3 catches for 42 yards. Sure the numbers aren’t particularly impressive, but considering his lack of experience as a starting tight end, I’d say they were pretty solid. He had a pretty egregious drop, but this play made up for it:
Overall a very mediocre day for the Dolphins’ receivers, even if they were relatively shorthanded at the position.
Offensive Line: B+
In Miami’s game against Buffalo, the interior offensive line anchored the unit as a whole. However, the tackles on the outside struggled to protect Ryan Tannehill. This week, the tackles, particularly Branden Albert were much better in pass protection. Tannehill was sacked once, but overall the unit as a whole performed pretty well. The unit’s performance in the run game was definitely inconsistent for most of the day. The Jets’ talented offensive lineman constantly hit Jay Ajayi in the backfield. Jay Ajayi’s early touchdown was actually the only running room he had in the first half, though the offensive line did play a huge part in it:
I have to give credit to the offensive line for showing up in the 4th quarter, where Ajayi had nearly half of his rushing yards. The greatest stride that the offensive line had on Sunday was their limited penalties. Ja’Wuan James did have an illegal use of hands penalty that was offset by a Jets’ defensive penalty, but otherwise the unit was very disciplined. This was definitely another solid game from Miami’s former Achilles heel.
Defensive Line: A
Miami’s defense lives and dies by the play of its defensive line. It certainly lived on Sunday. Though they struggled to stop the run at times, the defensive line was an absolute menace to Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick had no time to throw at any point Ndamukong Suh and Jordan Phillips got the better of the Jets’ interior O-line while Cameron Wake feasted on the outside. Suh got a critical sack on 3rd down where he simply pushed the offensive line back and grabbed and pushed Fitzpatrick down to the ground. Cameron Wake was a monster on the edge, notching two sacks and forcing two fumbles. During the offseason, I was pretty high on Wake’s ability to recover from his Achilles injury and thrive as a situational pass-rusher. Instead, he has dominated as the starter over the last three weeks, tallying 4 sacks over that span. Just look at this beauty against the Jets on Sunday:
In addition to providing exceptional pressure and forcing sacks and fumbles, the defensive line made one unique play in particular. If you watched the game, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Jordan Phillips’ interception was peak entertainment and the icing on the cake for a strong showing on Sunday:
The linebacker corps led by Kiko Alonso has actually held their own over the Dolphins’ last two victories, but took a significant step back today. The unit as a whole still struggles in open space, especially when Alonso isn’t at the top of his game. Jelani Jenkins in particular missed a number of one-on-one tackles before exiting the game due to injury. Jenkins, among others, also have yet to improve in coverage. Kiko Alonso and Spencer Paysinger were decent at wrapping up tackles, but struggled in taking down Matt Forte in space, sometimes not even getting contact as was the case here:
Kiko Alonso makes the linebacker group competent in some games, but until the rest of the unit’s play improves, the Dolphins’ run defense will continue to be a liability when the defensive line isn’t playing at peak efficiency.
Defensive Backs: C+
The secondary provided a very mixed bag on tape Sunday. As was the case with the linebackers, the defensive backs struggled to wrap up tackles, particularly over the middle of the field. The Jets’ no-name receivers had no trouble finding a window where even Ryan Fitzpatrick was able to complete a deep pass between the hashes. This was a game where the team sorely missed Reshad Jones, as the Matt Forte picked on Michael Thomas and Isa Abdul-Quddus when he made it to the secondary. Forte’s 34-yard touchdown where he wasn’t ever touched due to poor angles by the defensive backs was certainly the low point of the unit:
As bad as the safeties were in all facets of the game, the cornerbacks actually did a fairly good job. Brandon Marshall was limited to just 45 yards on 6 receptions and was unable to connect with his quarterback a number of times. While much of their successes can be attributed to Fitzpatrick’s ineptitude, I have to give credit where credit is due. The high point of the secondary’s performance was Bobby McCain’s Red Zone interception that helped keep Miami in position to win:
Special Teams: A-
The special teams was absolutely brutal to watch at the beginning of the game. Matt Darr was absolutely terrible, and turned the ball over on a botched punt. To make matters worse, Jakeem Grant’s return touchdown was nullified by Kenyan Drake’s illegal block penalty. The special teams was on crutches all game until…
Kenyan Drake made an incredible return touchdown, redeeming himself while scoring the game winning touchdown. Had Drake not pulled off late-game heroics, the overall grade would have been much lower.
This was a game that Miami has folded on in the past. The offense struggled throughout the first half, as Jay Ajayi was afforded no opportunity to do anything after his early touchdown. Still, the coaching staff elected to continue to run the ball. Even though Ajayi’s first 14 carries yielded just 30 yards, Adam Gase stuck to the gameplan and was ultimately rewarded for it. Last year, in the exact same situation, the coaching staff would have panicked and abandoned the run all together. The defense held in key situations, including Suh’s 3rd down sack and McCain’s Red Zone interception. Though there were some critical penalties that slowed the team’s momentum, there were actually fewer than in previous weeks, including 0 on offense. All in all, it was a great effort by Miami’s coaching staff when things didn’t go their way.
The Miami Dolphins are not an opponent-destroying juggernaut, but that doesn’t matter. The team has maintained even and balanced play on offense as the Jay Train has emerged as the focal building block. The defense gives up plays on account of its flawed and shorthanded depth chart, but it generated turnovers and maintained composure when it was needed the most. My only concern is whether or not the Dolphins can win on the road, as all four wins have been home games. Whatever the case, after a 1-4 start, the Miami Dolphins are 4-4 and are officially in the Wild Card hunt, and that sounds pretty good to me.