Chargers 24 (4-6)
Dolphins 31 (5-4)
Most teams that tear through one quarter of an NFL schedule unscathed would be the center of sports media attention. Despite earning victories over four consecutive teams brining streaks of their own to the party, the Dolphins remain an afterthought.
NBC’s Sunday Night Football has a segment titled ‘Pick-6.’ Dan Patrick, Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison rattle through the six plays that, “everyone will be talking about on Monday.” Glossing over the very title of their segment, Kiko Alonso’s game winning pick six was omitted.
If this continues, it will most certainly become a rally cry for a team that is over .500 for the first time this year and heading into a stretch of games against some of the NFL’s basement dwellers.
Nonetheless, the Dolphins HAVE won four straight games despite not playing a complete game. Sunday’s win over the Chargers put the Dolphins in a position to do something the team hasn’t done since 2008 – make the playoffs. Fittingly enough, that was the last time Miami won four straight.
Fantasy owners aren’t going to fancy any of the Dolphins receivers, but the balanced attack is what makes this operation work. The three starting receivers answered the bell after I’ve been critical of their play the last few weeks.
Jarvis Landry did the things he does best, Kenny Stills got behind the defense and Devante Parker got himself more involved.
But it was the play of Ryan Tannehill that captivated my attention Sunday. He had four crucial plays that are considered prerequisites for a passer to be coined, “a franchise quarterback.” The pass rush was in his face all game and, on two separate occasions, he took a shot to the chin while delivering long balls that could not have been better placed.
The touchdown to Stills and the 56-yard play to Parker immediately following the Chargers late go ahead score is the stuff legends are made of. Those aren’t throws that a guy who has been sacked and hit more than any other quarterback since entering the league should be able to make.
Tannehill does more than just provide a tough body under center. His touch pass to Damien Williams for a touchdown was located perfectly and his long first down run on 3rd and 10 where he evaded pressure and turned it up the sideline for 16 yards extended the same touchdown drive.
Pretty much everyone at Perfectville said that this was a game Tannehill had to elevate his game and this passing offense needed to add some new dynamics for this to be a realistic playoff run.
Ryan Tannehill answered that call with a 136.4 passer rating averaging 10 yards per attempt.
Devante Parker was in my personal spotlight heading into this game. Although he didn’t quite reach my 120-yard prediction (103 yards), he run under the all-important 56 yard strike late in the fourth and had three other first downs. My note on Parker was his ability to stride effortlessly up the field both on his routes and with the ball in his hands. He cultivates yards quickly once he touches it and always finds the sticks. He played with more effort in this game.
Also, that 40 some yard leaping catch made was a phantom holding call on Ja’Wuan James, but we’ll get to that later. Parker can beat up on some smallish corners using his strength and long arms to get off the jam.
Jarvis Landry continues to do things every week that stand out. He did miss a key block on a 2nd and 1 running play that might’ve sprung Jay Ajayi on the first drive, but he atoned with a huge block on Tannehill’s first down scamper.
Landry did what he always does making guys miss and running through tacklers. He was open a lot more than his targets indicated and appears to be rounding out his game more.
Kenny Stills had the long touchdown, but he wasn’t all that open on the play. Ryan Tannehill just put the ball right on him.
The running game, as a whole, just didn’t function yesterday. This scheme calls for some unblocked linebackers, dig out blocks and a lot of seals and the Chargers fifth ranked run defense was up to the task. The backside cutback lanes were rarely available and the Dolphins failed to get the push they’ve grown accustomed to over the last month.
Even with that indictment, the Dolphins still ripped off some big runs. When this line gets it right, they start picking up yards on the ground in chunks. I can’t stress enough how valuable that is. There are teams that go multiple games without any 20+ yard runs and the Dolphins do it routinely.
While this is a feather in the cap of the scheme and the line, Jay Ajayi continues to make yards that aren’t there. His motor fuels this offense and while the negative runs need to get cleaned up, his fight will never be questioned. He makes defenses earn each tackle.
Ajayi’s presence alone played a key role in the Damien Williams touchdown run. The Chargers linebackers took a false step on a fake toss and Williams was able to power it inside for an easy score.
Williams has carved out a nice role on this team. His third down pass catching and spot duty in the running game has been invaluable. Two touchdowns today including that acrobatic catch in the corner of the end zone on a long, lofting throw from Ryan Tannehill – what a play.
That play itself is another glowing review for this coaching staff. Williams is split wide with a linebacker in coverage and Williams runs right past him winning the route early. This is a match-up based offense and the a lot of pieces are contributing.
The offensive line had its toughest outing since this streak began.
Dion Sims continues to excel as a run blocker as he made the days of Marqueis Gray and Dominic Jones awfully quiet.
Branden Albert finished the game with a dislocated write and missed a significant chunk of the game before returning. He was getting beat badly from the outset including a complete whiff on the strip sack on the first drive of the game.
Laremy Tunsil slid over to left tackle but this was not his strongest game. He was beat badly by a Melvin Ingram spin move and struggled to get push in the running game.
Mike Pouncey was downfield mixing it up with linebackers a couple of times but, outside of that, he was missing his usual reach block and dig out block duties.
Jermon Bushrod has another dreadful game. He’s the weak link on this line but two or three textbook blocks every game keep him in the lineup.
It’s the same story for Ja’Wuan James, had had a difficult time with Joey Bosa.
The play calling got conservative again at times but Adam Gase’s ability to capitalize on match-ups and the commitment to the running game is what I love most about him. This team is taking on his personality and the culture is changing around this coach.
We are so lucky to have Ndamukong Suh. I write little notes down as I re-watch the game and, under Suh’s name, I repeatedly scribble, “stacked the run.” He’s an immovable object unless a team is willing to commit two blockers.
Cam Wake and Andre Branch are abusing anyone that is put in front of them at this point. Wake was in the backfield all day and would’ve had 2.5 sacks if not for penalties negating one.
The entire defensive line played a great game.
Earl Mitchell blew up some plays in spot duty, Jason Jones found himself in the backfield and Leon Orr might have a long term rotational place on this line if he continues to hold up well against the run.
Vance Joseph threw some more exotic stuff at Phillip Rivers and Rivers was going toe to toe with the defensive coordinator for most of the game. On the first series, Miami had a front four alignment with Wake and Branch on one edge and Jordan Phillips and Suh on the other side.
Joseph tried to drop another defensive lineman into coverage, Branch, but Rivers picked it apart with a tight end speed out.
However, it was the defense getting the last laugh on the pick six series when Rivers was checking out of plays as the Dolphins were barking out at the line before Kiko Alonso peeled back out of his blitz look and fell right into the hook zone for an easy catch and score.
Alonso had his bad moments in this game filling the wrong gaps in the run game and struggling with some man coverage, but he sure atoned for all of that.
Neville Hewitt played an aggressive, hard hitting game. He, liked Alonso, Donald Butler and Jelani Jenkins, found himself out of position at times but I thought he was the best overall linebacker on the field (although this was the team’s weak area on defense.)
I think we’re just going to have to accept what Byron Maxwell is. He’s going to hold, he’s going to get beat, but he’s going to have some snaps where he looks pretty good. I still think I’d remove him when Xavien Howard gets back, but that’s because Tony Lippett is coming into his own.
Lippett struggled early on getting beat a few times in press man, but he rebounded in a massive way in the fourth quarter with two interceptions. He read the route concept perfectly on his first pick and just won position on his game clinching second interception.
Bobby McCain had his worst day as a Dolphin although I found his pass interference in the end-zone to be a blow call (a theme on the day.)
The Dolphins safety play was bad in this game too. Isa Abdul-Quddus was late all game reacting to his zone responsibilities and passing guys in and out of those zones.
Bacarri Rambo can’t cover Antonio Gates in man, but no one on the Dolphins really could.
As for that officiating, the Chargers were awarded seven first downs via penalty, four of which came on third and long. Devante Parker was MUGGED on a third down fade that would’ve taken the Dolphins in front in the final minutes before the game tying field goal.
Ja’Wuan James’ hold on Joey Bosa on the negated long Parker reception looked like what happens to Cam Wake every single play.
Regardless, this team has one hell of a resolve and some kind of resiliency. I mentioned it earlier, but it’s clear how the culture surrounding this team had changed. Adam Gase has these guys playing for one another and playing for their coach.
Four straight wins, guys. That’s the first time that has happened in eight years.
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