Close-Call Conquest: Grades and Analysis from the Dolphins’ 31-24 Win Over the 49ers
Once again, it wasn’t pretty. But a win is a win.
In October, it would have been tough to imagine the Dolphins ending up with a winning record at any point in the near future. After a six-game winning streak, South Florida is fully behind the surging 7-4 squad. After a hard-fought win over the 49ers, who certainly over-performed on Sunday, the Dolphins find themselves in prime position to chase a playoff spot in the coming weeks.
Ryan Tannehill: A+
Ryan Tannehill performed at an incredibly high level throughout Sunday’s contest. He appeared to have an acute mastery of Adam Gase’s offense, even in the absence of any consistency in the ground game. You would need both hands in order to count the number of incredible throws that Tannehill managed behind a makeshift offensive line. His deep ball accuracy in particular stood out, as well as his ability to make big throws outside of the pocket. His 46-yard arc to DeVante Parker on 3rd down to jumpstart the offense and as his laser to Kenny Stills on their deep touchdown connection were especially impressive.
Overall, Tannehill had among the greatest outings of his career. Instead of playing the game manager as he has done throughout Miami’s surprising winning streak, Ryan Tannehill was the driving force behind the team’s victory today.
Running Backs: B-
While the primary reason behind the running back unit’s struggles were directly related to the beleaguered offensive line, the group was not entirely devoid of blame. Both Jay Ajayi and Damien Williams appeared indecisive at times and were unspectacular in creating yards after contact.
Jay Ajayi’s path to the end zone was relatively unimpeded as a result of fantastic play design by Adam Gase and the coaching staff.
Despite not making any spectacular plays, the running backs served their role as the team’s primary method of keeping pressure off of Ryan Tannehill behind a shoddy offensive line. The number of carries that Gase gave to the unit were indicative of his confidence in their ability to grind out tough yards and move the chains in a close contest.
Wide Receivers: A
The Dolphins’ pass catchers benefited from a lights out performance from their quarterback, but they were able to hold up their end of the deal making spectacular plays in order to cash in from Ryan Tannehill’s accuracy.
While Jarvis Landry wasn’t a huge factor, he was still essential in moving the chains in key third down situations after his early 1st quarter drop. He did not record eye-popping statistics or spectacular grabs, but he did serve his usual role as the offense’s safety blanket.
Despite having two great plays overturned by official review, DeVante Parker proved that his emergence during the team’s California trip was no fluke. With Ryan Tannehill under constant pressure, he served a key role as Ryan Tannehill’s go-to option deep. In several situations with a defender breathing down his neck, Ryan Tannehill was able to find DeVante Parker deep, or at least attempt to do so. The most encouraging part of Parker’s performance was that Adam Gase is clearly calling plays to get the Dolphins’ budding receiver more heavily involved in the offensive game plan.
Kenny Stills, Leonte Carroo and Dion Sims all made huge plays after the catch and rewarded the team for allowing them more opportunities in this game.
Offensive Line: C-
While many thought that the injury-ravaged offensive line could end up costing Miami the game, the unit did step up in key moments. The unit’s pass protection held up when it needed to, but it was mediocre overall. The run-blocking was definitely worse than the pass protection. The offensive line was unable to create running lanes for Jay Ajayi and hampered Miami’s balanced offensive game plan. Though the unit was undoubtedly below average, it is hard to be terribly disappointed considering Branden Albert, Laremy Tunsil and Mike Pouncey were all inactive due to injury.
Defensive Line: B
The Dolphins’ defensive line did everything that they could to stop a quarterback that plays as Colin Kaepernick does. It was difficult for them to find a balance between containing a dynamic runner like Kaepernick while also making plays in the backfield. It certainly didn’t help that the linebackers in coverage were entirely unreliable. The Dolphins’ defensive line, namely Cameron Wake, Andre Branch and Ndamukong Suh, were able to takedown Colin Kaepernick and stall the 49ers’ offense but were obviously tired by the end of the game. While the defensive line’s late sluggishness did contribute to the 49ers’ would-be comeback, the unit performed admirably throughout the day.
While Kiko Alonso had another outstanding day, his counterparts at the position continued their season-long struggle in coverage and in run-support. It could not be more obvious that the 49ers’ game plan was to exploit the Dolphins’ lack of athleticism at the position. They certainly succeeded in that regard, as Kaepernick had no trouble gaining ground with his legs time and time again. Had it not been for Kiko Alonso’s interception, fumble recovery and game saving tackle, the linebackers would have received a D grade (or even an F).
Defensive Backs: B-
The Dolphins’ defensive backs continued to struggle on in-breaking routes, but performed admirably on the outside and in terms of their discipline. The unit limited the penalties that plagued them in San Diego and Los Angeles, effectively showing that the coaching staff has been working to improve the secondary’s attention to detail down the stretch.
Vance Joseph’s experience as a defensive backs coach has shined throughout the 2016 season as he turned a very undermanned unit into a respectable and reliable group.
Special Teams: D
The Dolphins’ returners continue to make questionable decisions on fielding punts and have struggled to master the mental element of kick returns. It is no surprise that the coaching staff pulled Jakeem Grant in favor of Jarvis Landry after his 4th (or 5,781st) muffed punt of the season. Kenyan Drake’s long kick return was the only saving grace for an otherwise wholly poor performance by the Dolphins’ special teams.
This is not necessarily an indictment on the coaching staff. The play calling on offense was spectacular, even in the absence of a reliable offensive line. This was the Dolphins’ first early big lead of the season, and it seemed as though the coaching staff was unprepared to keep the team engaged with a substantial lead. While the performance could have been better, these games are integral learning experiences for a young coaching staff. Adam Gase and the coaching staff will not soon forget Sunday’s close call.
Winning games in the NFL is not easy. The Dolphins have now won 6 straight games, positioning themselves, with a 7-4 record, to make a legitimate playoff push. While the Dolphins’ defense bent in an alarming fashion in the 4th quarter, the offense made plays all day in the face of injury-based adversity.
The Dolphins have repeatedly shown that they are fully capable of pulling out tough victories. At the end of the day, winners win and losers lose; under Adam Gase, the Dolphins have showed that they could become the former.