Comeback Kids: Grades and Analysis from the Dolphins’ 14-10 Victory Over the Rams
It wasn’t pretty, but the Miami Dolphins extended their win streak to five games with a win against the Los Angeles Rams. After a painfully slow start to Sunday’s game, something clicked for Miami. Adam Gase’s play calling was finally effective. Tannehill was driving the ball downfield. DeVante Parker and Jarvis Landry were finally getting separation. The result was a 14-10 victory, necessary to keep momentum in an extremely close AFC wildcard race. Let’s hand out some grades for Miami’s latest triumph.
Ryan Tannehill: B-
For much of this game, Ryan Tannehill was a disaster. Behind a beaten up offensive line, the Dolphins fell back into the play calling and lack of execution that ruined them in close games earlier in the season. Tannehill was making questionable decisions throughout the evening and attempted to force the ball into tight windows on more than one occasion. His interception on an overthrow of Parker was perhaps the worst play of his game.
However something changed during the fourth quarter. The protection still wasn’t great, but he was decisive and didn’t allow the pressure to get to him. Despite having to almost completely abandon the run due to the late deficit, Tannehill was able to get Parker and Landry involved for the first time of the matchup.
The result was yet another comeback and a sweep of their trip on the West Coast. The biggest difference between the current Dolphins and the Dolphins from the beginning of 2016 is their ability to make plays in crunch time. Tannehill is the reason for that. Thus, while he was subpar for most of Sunday’s matchup, the franchise quarterback’s performance late in the game earned him at least a B-.
Running Backs: A-
Sure, Jay Ajayi’s stats haven’t been as impressive as his two straight 200-yard performances a few weeks ago. However, when 77 rushing yards and a 4.8 average yards per carry are seen as a slight disappointment, you know how great he has been running.
Ajayi has been nearly unstoppable. Defenses either need a perfectly executed tackle or a full-fledge group pursuit to the ball to take this man down. He runs through arm tackles, bounces off flat-footed defenders and explodes through a hole any time he is provided one.
While the passing game was a complete mess in the first half, Ajayi kept trudging along. Although he slowed down after halftime, Ajayi has been his head coach’s savior throughout this entire season. While the defense kept them in the game against the Rams, Ajayi continues to be a major bright spot and offers a ton of optimism for this season and beyond.
Wide Receivers: B
Much like Tannehill, the receiver group took a very, very long time to warm up. By the time the fourth quarter came around, however, Parker and Landry were ready to come through.
Landry ended up totaling a slightly underwhelming 5 catches for 28 yards, but played a vital part in the comeback with this 10-yard touchdown:
Parker was undoubtedly the more impressive wideout, once again looking the part of a number one receiver. His 9-yard catch completed the comeback and capped off an 8 catch, 79-yard day:
The offensive line’s struggles forced them to abandon the route tree that had been so successful during the win streak, but their top two wideouts came through when it absolutely mattered most.
Kenny Stills drops this grade slightly, as he had a ton of trouble converting his targets into completions. Additionally, a silly block in the back penalty negated a big gain in the fourth frame. Regardless, the wide receivers as a whole continued their recent success.
Tight End: C
There is nothing extremely noteworthy to say about the tight end position here. Dion Sims and MarQueis Gray continue to take turns acting as the top target at the position, but neither expects to be a long-term solution. 3 catches for 20 yards and solid blocking has become the norm for these two, and while they aren’t hurting the team in many ways, they really aren’t helping them either.
Offensive Line: D
As has been the theme over the past few seasons, an injury plagued offensive line stunted all of the progress that the offense had made in recent weeks. Once Laremy Tunsil left the action, Miami had only two healthy starters left at the line of scrimmage.
The result wasn’t pretty. Tannehill was sacked four times and pressured into countless mistakes in the first three quarters. Sam Young and Jermon Bushrod were among those victimized by Los Angeles’ talented defensive line.
They got off to a solid start in terms of run blocking, but even that aspect of their game seemed to deteriorate as time ticked off the clock. Ajayi was stuffed several times in the second half, which made it all the more surprising that Tannehill was able to find the success he did despite the lack of a run game.
Miami is void of any resemblance of depth along the line of scrimmage, and it gets exploited each and every time a starter succumbs to injury. In times like these, in which multiple first string players are on the sideline, the Dolphins are poised to fall apart. While it would usually be surprising to see a team spend two straight first round picks on the same position, it is becoming more and more likely that Miami targets the position come April.
Defensive Line: B
The defensive line only got to Jared Goff once, courtesy of Comeback Player of the Year candidate Cameron Wake. However, they supplied consistent pressure on the rookie quarterback and made him feel uncomfortable early on in the contest and on the final drive.
The Rams undoubtedly came into this one knowing that they would try to get the ball out of Goff’s hands as quickly as possible, and that limited the defensive linemen’s ability to rack up sacks as they had in previous weeks.
Nonetheless, they did their job. They forced Goff to move around every time he held onto the ball. That is all Vance Joseph asks them to do. With the return of Earl Mitchell, the line has done a better job at stopping the run as well. While this wasn’t a dominating statistical performance, it was still enough to make life difficult on the offense.
Kiko Alonso continues to be one of the biggest surprises on Miami’s roster. I figured Alonso would be an improvement after the train wreck at the linebacker position last year, but I did not foresee him making this big of a difference, this early in his Dolphins career.
With Reshad Jones out for the season, Alonso has been asked to take on more responsibility, and he’s thriving because of it. Yesterday, he tracked down Lance Kendricks, forced a fumble and recovered the football. He is a playmaker at the linebacker position, and Miami has lacked one of those for several seasons.
Spencer Paysinger also seemed to step up on a couple of occasions. They still had their fair share of troubles in defending the tight end position, as Kendricks and Tyler Higbee combined for 6 catches. However, they ultimately limited the damage in terms of yardage.
They had an abysmal display of run defense in the first half, allowing Todd Gurley to break through a wide-open hole for an early 24-yard touchdown run.
With that being said, they buckled down for the second half. In the end, Gurley only averaged 3.8 YPC on the day. It should be considered a successful day for this linebacker corps anytime they limit the damage on the ground, as they did today.
Jared Goff didn’t have much success in this game. He completed 17/31 passes for 134 yards – an average of only 4.3 yards per completion. He didn’t score a single touchdown, and he look flustered on the last drive. The secondary deserves credit for all of this.
However, it is a little worrisome that the defensive backfield was unable to truly capitalize on a rookie quarterback making his first career start. Despite the pressure the defensive line supplied, they didn’t tally an interception. It was awfully similar to the type of performance we became accustomed to at the beginning of the season.
The Rams’ offense consisted of quick slants to Kenny Britt and dump offs to Kendricks. I lost count of the amount of times Maxwell was beat for 6 or 7 yards on a quick slant to Britt. Now Joseph may have preached playing it safe against a quarterback that had little chance to beat them deep, but it was still a semi-disappointing performance after all of the success the cornerbacks had during the win streak up to this point.
Special Teams: D+
Special teams play is becoming a real worry for the Miami Dolphins. While Andrew Franks and Matt Darr were consistent in the punt and kick games, the return game continues to be a complete disaster.
Jarvis Landry totaled all of 1 yard on his punt return. In terms of the kick return game, no one seems to know when to take it out of the end zone or when to take a knee. Take Kenyan Drake’s return for an example:
If Gase wants the team to continue to gain momentum, he needs special teams play to turn around sooner rather than later.
For a while, Gase’s offensive play calling seemed to be the exact opposite of the calls that we lauded during the rest of the win streak. In other words, he once again seemed to not trust the decision making of his quarterback and returned to the ineffective receiver screen game.
His troops continue to be plagued by silly, undisciplined, unforced errors and penalties as well, and one could make the argument that Joseph played it too safe on defense on a day the offense desperately needed help.
However, he once again had his players ready to play during crunch time, and his players (specifically Tannehill) never seemed to lose hope. As a result, the Miami Dolphins have a five game winning streak heading into another very winnable game against the San Francisco 49ers.