Bitter-Sweet Victory: Grades And Analysis From Miami’s Narrow Win Over Arizona
No one could have expected a win over the Cardinals to feel so bitter sweet. On the afternoon, the Dolphins topped the Cards 26-23; an Andrew Franks field goal as time expired proved to be the difference. While the win coupled with the Broncos’ loss at Tennessee has Miami in good shape to make a playoff push, it’s hard to not feel as if today was an overall loss. If it wasn’t for the obvious cloud now hanging over the ‘Phins, today’s performance would have had an overall feel-good quality to it; as the offense and defense as well as special teams all made impact plays.
However, that doesn’t mean it was always perfect on the day.
Ryan Tannehill came out locked in. On the offense’s first drive, he found Kenny Stills for a beautiful 28-yard touchdown completion. Going into this game, there was a lot of talk regarding how the Dolphins would fare against the Cards’ impressive pass defense. Early on, Ryan Tannehill puts those questions to rest, proving his team could move the ball effectively through the air. As the game wore on, Tannehill took what the defense gave him, using his feet to move the chains at times. Outside of his one interception, and when the ball slipped out of his throwing hand while attempting a throw, Tannehill was enjoying one of the best performances of his season. This makes the timing of the injury all the more frustrating.
Matt Moore was forced to come on late in the third quarter after Ryan Tannehill left the game; as you’d expect Adam Gase tried to ease Moore into the action. Jay Ajayi’s number was called on all three snaps of Moore’s first drive. In fact, Moore wasn’t called upon much until the game’s final drive. The Dolphins were around field goal range; a couple of first downs was all the Dolphins needed. Many questioned Moore’s ability to even lead the ‘Phins into field goal range. All those individuals were gladly mistaken. Moore completed a wobbly 12-yard pass to Kenny Stills which put Miami in field goal range.
However, his signature play on the day was this play below:
Moore senses the pressure on its way and heaves the ball to Stills, who he knows is being marked one-on-one. Miami’s backup quarterback puts enough under the ball, and despite being interfered with, Kenny Stills makes a great in-route adjustment and is able to track the ball down.
Running Backs: C+
Arizona was allowing opposing running backs 3.8 yards per carry, and after Sunday’s loss in Miami that number will look even better. The Dolphins struggled on the ground; Miami as a team ran the ball 31 times for 83 yards. Jay Ajayi, now for the fourth consecutive week failed to reach at least 90 yards. However, against this Cardinals’ run defense there’s no shame in that. Ajayi ran the football 20 times and came out with 48 yards to show for it; a yard per carry average that comes out to 2.4. While Ajayi didn’t have his best day, he still had moments that reminded you of the physical specimen he is.
We leaned towards “C+” here because the group did produce a touchdown. Damien Williams not only showed off his pass catching abilities, but also his red zone usefulness. Williams once again featured plenty when when Miami moved inside their opponents 20-yard line.
Here, he swings out and strolls into the end zone:
Wide Receivers: A+
Miami’s wideouts were simply put—huge. On the day, Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills lead the corps to an impressive grade. Stills was involved early and often. As previously mentioned, he reeled in a beautiful throw from Ryan Tannehill on Miami’s first drive of the game for a touchdown. Stills caught 6 of his team leading 7 targets; his 6 receptions gave him 97-receiving yards on the day. While Stills led the team in targets and receptions, Jarvis Landry led the team in total receiving yards. 71 of his 104-receiving yards on the day came on this simple underneath route:
What makes Jarvis Landry so special is his ability to turn a simple route, like the one he ran above, into a 50+ yard reception.
Most receivers in the NFL maybe don’t even reach the first down marker.
Offensive Line: B-
Overall, the pass protection from the offensive line was solid. Miami’s signal callers were only sacked once on the day, and for the most part had clean pockets as well as time to work with.
However, the same cannot be said about the run blocking. Miami’s offensive line struggled to create running lanes all afternoon.
As previously mentioned, Arizona is good against the run. So there’s no need to be down in the dumps after struggling to move the ball on the ground. It should be noted however, that Anthony Steen had a hard time snapping the ball to his quarterback. One of his bad snaps led to a turnover, and the other one could have as well. While the conditions weren’t ideal, it’s clear Miami sorely misses starting center Mike Pouncey. The 6th year starter out of Florida will be a welcomed sight on the field; with him, the Dolphins rushing attack is drastically better. Also, with the impending injury status of Tannehill looming, the Dolphins could use his leadership on the field.
Defensive Line: B
The presence of Miami’s defensive line was felt throughout the game. Suh and Wake were menacing, and Andre Brach was disruptive all afternoon, which makes you wonder about his long term status with the team. The Dolphins brought Carson Palmer down 3 times on the afternoon; they also disrupted his pocket throughout most of the game. While the 175 rushing yards Miami gave up would make you think otherwise, the ‘Phins did an admirable job on the Cardinals’ star tailback David Johnson. Johnson looked rather mortal on the day, as he carried the ball 20 times for only 80 yards rushing. A lot of the credit on Johnson’s average day on the ground has to go to Miami’s defensive line. When Johnson was handed the ball, Miami’s D-linemen were able to get off their blocks and attack the ball carrier.
Miami’s front four set the tone early; Johnson wasn’t going to have a field day:
After last week’s horrid showing from this unit, the bar for their performance this week was set relatively low. The bar seemed to drop even lower when the news regarding starting inside linebacker Kiko Alonso, was released to the public. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph knew early in the week his most dependable linebacker was most likely not going to suit up come Sunday. That gave Joseph more time to prepare his undermanned unit; for the most part, the Dolphins had to be very pleased. The unit produced 2 turnovers: the first was an interception from 2nd year linebacker Mike Hull who stepped in for Alonso this week, and the other was fumble, which was recovered by Spencer Paysinger. Besides the takeaways, the linebackers actually produced some good moments.
For instance, here, the Cardinals isolate David Johnson on Mike Hull. The Dolphins’ 2nd year linebacker responds with a great open field tackle:
Defensive Backs: A
Carson Palmer threw the ball 33 times for only 125 yards. While the Cardinals’ wide receiver corps isn’t as daunting as it was over the course of last season, it still possesses big names. It’s biggest name being Larry Fitzgerald; the Dolphins did an outstanding job covering the future hall of famer. Fitzgerald was targeted 9 times. However, he was held to 3 catches on the afternoon for measly 12-yards receiving. The Dolphins swarmed not only Fitzgerald, but also all of the Cardinals’ receivers on the afternoon.
Special Teams: B+
For the most part, the Dolphins’ special teams’ play was outstanding; the unit made several momentum shifting plays. The only reason their grade wasn’t an “A,” was because of Kenyan Drake’s egregious mistake. Drake inexplicably crashes into Jarvis Landry, causing him to fumble the punt return. In that moment, it seemed the Dolphins’ were primed to blow the game open. Drake’s rookie mistake gave the ball back to Arizona in decent field position.
Now the good plays:
Ryan Tannehill had recently been forced to leave the game due to injury and it seemed momentum was slipping away after an Arizona score. Then, Jordan Phillips happened. The Dolphins’ big defensive tackle was able to extend his arm and bat the extra point attempt down; Walt Aikens then is able to scoop the ball up and take it all the way to the house for two.
Many would consider a 21-yard field goal an easy chip shot. In this weather, it was anything but easy. A lot of credit must be given to Dolphins’ long-snapper John Denney, as well as punter Matt Darr for executing the snap and hold to perfection. Andrew Franks simply had to follow through and he did.
The penalties and the subsequent yardage that came with them shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s been an issue all year, but yet the team continues to win in despite of it. As far as the actual game plan, the Dolphins’ coaching staff did a fantastic job. Before being injured, Ryan Tannehill was able to throw the ball effectively against one of the best pass defenses in the league. The credit there has to given to Adam Gase, who once again proved today his exceptional ability to get the best out of his quarterback. If Miami is forced to start Matt Moore for the remainder of the season, it’ll be interesting to see what else Gase has up his sleeve. On the other side of the ball, Vance Joseph has once again showed why he’ll be a head coach in the NFL one day. One of the Dolphins’ fears going into this matchup against Arizona was that Bruce Arians would copy John Harbaugh’s poison blueprint. The answer was varied; while at times the Cardinals did attempt to attack weak points in the Dolphins’ zone coverage, it wasn’t nearly as successful. Also, in what has become a thing, Miami once again did a solid job on a star tailback. The Dolphins have now managed to have solid defensive game plans for the likes of LeVeon Bell, LeSean McCoy, Melvin Gordon and now David Johnson.
This coaching staff once again proved their ability to find the best ways to win, and learn from previous mistakes.
Finding ways to win is a talent, and these Dolphins certainly appear to possess it. While many threw in the towel once Tannehill went down, this team didn’t, proving the culture really has changed. Perhaps if Miami’s main signal caller never goes down, we’re talking about a much different ending to this game. However, no professional sports league epitomizes the phrase “next man up,” quite like the National Football League; that is indeed where the Dolphins find themselves at the moment. Now at 8-5, and in the midst of the wild card race, Miami has no time to feel sorry for themselves.