MetLife Takeover: Grades and Analysis from Miami’s Big-Time Showing in the Big Apple
The Miami Dolphins had a chance to squash some old demons Saturday night against the Jets and boy, did they ever. On the previous two occasions Miami found itself in prime position to secure a winning season; it was the Jets who threw a wrench into the Dolphins’ winning plans. In 2013 and 2014, Miami faced New York in the season finale, the ‘Phins entered both games sporting an 8-7 record. Not only did Miami exercise those demons of old, but they made sure to do so emphatically. The final score line would indicate it was a perfect night in the big apple for Miami—and in a lot of ways it was. Matt Moore was a difference maker, throwing a career high 4 touchdown passes. The stars along the Dolphins’ defensive line put on a show that was worthy of Broadway, and the defensive backs showed their growth right before our eyes.
However, while the Dolphins arguably played their most complete game of the season, that doesn’t mean every unit graded out with the highest mark possible.
Matt Moore: A
Matt Moore was sensational. A week that included being immediately thrown in to the action and having his wife give birth to a third child made you believe expecting too much from Moore would have been foolish. Well, it ended up being foolish to believe he couldn’t be a difference maker on Saturday night, because he was exactly that against the Jets.
Moore hadn’t started an NFL game since the final week of the 2012 season, but what has always been known regarding the Oregon State product is his gunslinger mentality.
Miami’s fill-in signal caller made sure to put it on display at MetLife.
Here, the Jets elect to blitz Moore. While the pressure does reach Moore, he’s able to hang in the pocket long enough for Kenny Stills to create separation. Matt Moore throws a beautiful deep ball over the top of the Jets’ defender and… touchdown Miami.
While Moore completed an impressive array of throws on the night, he also showed you the bad side of his gunslinging ways.
Here, Miami is set up in manageable third down situation. On 3rd and 6, Adam Gase elects to take a shot down field with DeVante Parker. The Dolphins’ sophomore pass catcher gets past his defender and has nothing but green grass ahead of him. However, Moore doesn’t follow through on his release as the pressure was crashing in and badly under throws the ball, which resulted in an interception.
Miami was fortunate in this specific situation; the field position swap wasn’t all that detrimental. However, the ‘Phins might not be so fortunate in other situations down the stretch against much tougher opponents. It’s important the Dolphins’ head coach chooses wisely when to air it out with Moore.
Running Backs: B
Saturday provided another disappointing effort for the Dolphins’ ground game. Not only did Jay Ajayi fail to reach over 80 yards once more, but also both he and Damien Williams failed to punch the ball into the end zone from a short distance out on multiple occasions. As the games go on, it’s becoming clearer and clearer how much Miami misses Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey. The running game just isn’t the same without him and, unfortunately for Miami, the Florida product won’t be making a return this season. What saves a decent grade for this unit was their ability to at least provide the Dolphins’ offense the luxury of keeping the Jets’ defense honest; the Jets elected to stack the box with eight defenders on a number of occasions on the night. However, if Ajayi stays on this downward trajectory, at what point is it fair to ask if he was simply a product of the Dolphins’ healthy offensive line?
Wide Receivers: A
The Dolphins’ wide receivers were headliners coming into the season. As of late, they sure have lived up to their preseason billing. Kenny Stills keeps reminding the Dolphins’ front office why it’s an absolute must to re-sign him this offseason. With his 52-yard touchdown reception, Stills now has three 50-yard touchdown receptions on the season; he’s the first Dolphins’ wide receiver to accomplish that feat since Mark “Super” Duper.
As far as Jarvis Landry, he finds incredible ways to create yardage each and every game. However, on some plays, he’ll turn a simple route into a jaw-dropping sequence—like on this play:
Jarvis Landry is heating up late down the stretch, that couldn’t be better news for the Dolphins. What makes it even better news for Miami is the Matt Moore part of the equation. While Moore was impressive in first fill-in start, it has to be a relief to not only Moore but also Adam Gase that the playmakers on offense seem to be in their best form of the season.
Offensive Line: B
It seems as if the story on the offensive line is the same as last week; the pass protection was good but the run blocking not so much. Matt Moore was only brought down once by the Jets’ defense on the night, and it should be noted that Matt Moore purposely took that sack as well. However, the run blocking was simply too nonexistent. The Dolphins had several opportunities to punch the ball in from a short distance out, and each time the offensive line failed to create enough push against the Jets’ underachieving defense line. If it wasn’t failed goal line plunges, it was penetration leaking into the backfield or no running lanes to be found for Jay Ajayi.
The sequence above illustrates Ajayi’s frustrating night. The Jets’ run defense had been struggling heading into the game; a team that once found itself atop the list of best run defenses in the league was now sitting in the middle of the pack. However, whether it was on offense or on defense the Jets won the battle of the trenches in regards to running the football.
Defensive Line: A
As mentioned earlier, the likes of Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake put on a show at MetLife Stadium that was worthy of Broadway. After the Dolphins got out to one of their typical slow starts, the team found itself down quickly. With the Jets seemingly on the verge of adding to their one score lead, Cameron Wake happened. The Dolphins’ comeback player of the year candidate came off the edge viscously and strip-sacked Jets’ 2nd year QB Bryce Petty. After the ball hit the cold ground, Suh pounced on it— the momentum was swung.
But Wake wasn’t done yet by any means whatsoever. Later in the second quarter, the Jets once again had driven into prime field position and seemed to be on the edge of at least adding a field goal to their one-point league. However, Wake had a different set of ideas. Instead of coming off the edge, on this occasion he drops back in coverage and Petty never sees him. Just like that, Cameron Wake had his first career interception.
We’ll touch on this more later, but Vance Joseph’s defensive game plan was immaculate. Wake’s interception is an epitome of that statement; if you recall Jordan Phillip’s interception in the Week 9 meeting in Miami, it was very similar to that of Wake’s. Joseph was shrewd in adding that wrinkle to his zone coverage once again, because clearly the Jets’ quarterbacks have a hard time identifying it.
Technically speaking, the linebacker corps was healthier this week. However, both Kiko Alonso and Jelani Jenkins (who has struggled mightily this year) had casts on display. Both of their returns didn’t make much of a difference, as the group as a whole struggled immensely. Bilal Powell was a constant menace, and in situations that forced Miami linebackers to make one-on-one open field tackles to bring down the shifty Powell, they simply couldn’t do it.
Indeed, the Jets’ check down read was arguably their most frightening option on offense, but it should be noted that the Dolphins’ linebackers struggled equally as much in supporting their defensive line in regards to stopping the run.
However, if there’s one thing we’ve learned about the Dolphins’ defense throughout the last 9 games is this: they’re an opportunistic bunch. The unit’s saving grace was the two 4th down stops courtesy of Kiko Alonso and Spencer Paysinger.
Defensive Backs: A
The big news leading up to kick-off was the return of Xavien Howard. The Dolphins’ rookie DB had been out since knee surgery in early October; there was excitement about finally having the unit at full-strength. That excitement would come to a screeching halt. After just one play, Byron Maxwell would be forced to exit the game for its entirety with an ankle injury. In terms of viewership, it was a shame; Marshall-Maxwell was one of the games juiciest talking points. However, Xavien Howard and Tony Lippett made sure to start up a new talking point. The Dolphins’ young cornerbacks were impressive; each spent time covering Brandon Marshall and ultimately held Marshall to a mere catch for 16 yards.
Tony Lippett also brought down one of his two interceptions while covering Brandon Marshall.
A unit that once was a major area of concern has now turned into an area of strength. Thinking big picture here, the Dolphins have to be thrilled about the future of this group—it should only keep getting better.
Special Teams: A
Walt Aikens has gone from a failed safety to a special teams’ ace. This week Aikens blocked a Jets’ punt early in the third quarter and scooped it up for the score. You could really call Aikens’ punt block the defining moment in the game–after the sequence the Jets never seemed to recover.
Despite the “A” grade, the Dolphins still weren’t perfect on special teams throughout the entirety of the night. Andrew Franks again proved just why he should be considered a liability heading into the stretch of the Dolphins’ playoff push. After a Dion Sims touchdown in the second quarter, it seemed the ‘Phins would knot the game at seven. Instead, Franks clanked the ball of the left upright and cost his team a valuable point in the moment.
As mentioned earlier, the game plan for the Jets was immaculate. Let’s start with Adam Gase and his offense. The plan on offense was clearly to feed Jay Ajayi consistently. While the idea was good, it wasn’t executed to perfection. Gase even admitted he believed the ground would have been more effective than it proved to be. However, the adjustment the Dolphins’ head coach made was simple and all kinds of effective. Against a pass defense that allows an average QB rating of 97.7 per game, Gase decided to let Matt Moore take some shots deep; the results were obviously favorable.
On defense, Vance Joseph pitched a near perfect game. Outside of the defenses lackadaisical opening drive and lapses while defending the shifty Bilal Powell, Joseph’s unit ran rampant in New York. The Dolphins’ defensive coordinator’s zone coverage scheme continues to get the best out of his secondary players. Also, the Dolphins’ defense once again showed its prowess in creating turnovers.
This win was season defining. Whether or not Miami reaches the postseason the 2016 season must be viewed as a smashing success no matter what. In his rookie year as the Dolphins’ head coach, Adam Gase has led the Miami Dolphins to a feat the franchise hadn’t accomplished in eight seasons—a winning record.