The Miami Dolphins had spent the better half of two weeks out in Oxnard, California due to Hurricane Irma postponing their home opener against the Buccaneers and inciting a “mandatory” evacuation for most of the southern counties. It’s no secret that the Dolphins have had a rough few months with all of the injuries and dealing with how the hurricane impacted both their personal and professional lives.
This one felt good for so many reasons. Not only because the Dolphins started off the season with a win on the road, but because they stole one with a gritty showing. The Dolphins emerged victorious despite not really putting themselves in a position to win– primarily on defense. At the end of the day, the Dolphins benefitted from some luck. Some luck falling into Miami’s lap was well-deserved after all of the setbacks that the team has faced as of late.
However, this is not to take anything away from how the team played, there were plenty of bright spots and things to feel optimistic about. It’s just that when a team squeaks out a two-point win after the opposing kicker misses two field goals under 45 yards, the sentiment becomes more of a “we got away with one there” as opposed to “we really took it to them”.
Regardless, it still feels just as good. At the end of the day, it came down to execution. When it really counted, the Dolphins were able to execute. As for the Chargers (well really only one Charger) simply could not do the same.
The best thing about it is, this has become a new thing for the Dolphins. For nearly the last two decades, the Dolphins, much to the ire of their fanbase, usually found ways to lose the game in the end. But, since Adam Gase has taken over as head coach, Miami has an incredible 9-2 record (including 2-0 in overtime) in games decided by one score or less. The Dolphins have won ten of their last 12 regular season games. The last time that occurred was under head coach Don Shula during the 1992-93 season. Anyway, on to the game.
First of all, what on earth is going on with Lawrence Timmons? This man has not missed a start in over 100 games, good for the second longest active streak among defensive players. Now all of a sudden, the night before the first game of the season, he goes AWOL. Gase must be pretty irked by the fact that Timmons put him in this situation, because now he needs to make a decision on what to do with him. Is he going to suspend him, cut him, or give him a pass? Whatever they choose, it needs to be quick, Miami doesn’t need this distraction.
So, with the Timmons situation, Maualuga out with a sore hamstring, and obviously no McMillan, Miami only dressed four linebackers for the game. The unit that was mired by poor run defense last year will be missing three starting-caliber linebackers. This forced Miami to rely on Mike Hull making his second NFL start at middle linebacker. The Dolphins also relied on Chase Allen to take over the “Sam” position as an undrafted rookie making his first ever start. Lastly, the only continuity came from Kiko Alonso at the “Will” position.
This is the unit responsible for containing Pro-Bowl running back Melvin Gordon on the ground. Surprisingly, they did an excellent job. Mike Hull led the team in tackles with 10. Chase Allen, the undrafted rookie, made the tackle on his first defensive snap and finished with four. Kiko contributed seven tackles and Melvin Gordon was held to a relatively dismal 1.4 yards per carry. However, they did not do it on their own.
The defensive line played a big role in stopping the run. They were able to hold their own at the line and make sure that Gordon didn’t break containment and was led right into the linebackers if he even made it beyond the line of scrimmage.
Unfortunately, for how well they played against the run, they were unable to put much pressure on Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who had a great day. They need to find a way to get to the quarterback faster, or this is going to be a long season. On 40 dropbacks, Rivers was only sacked once, and managed to complete 31 passes. That is a bad day for not only the pass rush, but the secondary as well.
Miami’s secondary looked awful against Rivers and their receivers. Rivers was consistently able to find holes in the zones and would audible to crossing routes when he noticed man coverage as he cruised to a 110.6 passer rating. This was the most concerning thing to take away from the game, the secondary just doesn’t look like it can hang with opposing receivers. Philadelphia torched them in their practices and preseason game, and their play on Sunday didn’t spark much, if any, confidence after facing LA’s receiving corps.
Speaking of receiving corps, Miami’s wideouts enjoyed a promising day on Sunday. The big three showed up and did exactly what they were supposed to do, each playing their role to very well. Jarvis Landry picked up where he left off last year with 13 catches for 78 yards. All the talk about how Cutler getting the ball to Parker more often than Landry, talk that I am guilty of, is looking a little foolish after Sunday.
The one touchdown of the day belonged to Kenny Stills, of course. He has made his living as a Dolphin not necessarily catching a lot of passes or gaining yards, but scoring touchdowns. He led the league last year in touchdowns per reception (min. 40 receptions) at 4.6.
DeVante Parker was the yards per catch guy, acrobatically hauling in 4 catches for 85 yards that included a highlight reel catch, where he leaped over the league leader in interceptions last year, Casey Hayward, and took the ball out of his hands for a 31-yard pickup. Fortunately, they were able to do all this despite some oddly conservative play calling in the first half.
Quarterback Jay Cutler was a big reason that it was all possible. Cutler had a pretty good first game as a Dolphin. He was able to complete over 72 percent of his passes for 230 yards and a touchdown. The reason he had a good first game and not great has less to do with Cutler, and more to do with Gase.
The first half was played very conservatively by Gase, which may not be a bad thing considering we didn’t turn the ball over. However, it led to Cutler managing just 7 yards per passing attempt. In the second half the Dolphins opened it up a bit more, leading to some of those exciting plays to Parker.
Overall, it was a promising first game, I look forward to seeing how he runs this offense over the course of the year. One this is certain, he had a workhorse behind him to take the pressure off.
For anyone wondering, Ajayi is not a one-year wonder. He picked up right where he left off last year by averaging 6.0 yards per carry in the first quarter. His ability to run through arm tackles and use his quickness to get through holes really stands out everytime he touches the ball. He may lack elite speed, but he sure makes up for it with his power and aggressiveness to get to the second level.
Ajayi finished the day with 122 yards on 28 carries, including an incredible 82 yards after contact, just another day’s work for the Jay-Train. Make no mistake about it, he will be the best, and arguably most important, player on Miami’s offense this year.
Cody Parkey must be on cloud 9 right now after being picked up by his favorite team, then going 4/4 including a 54-yard game winner in his first game with them. Credit goes to Gase and special teams coach Dan Rizzi for signing him quickly once Cleveland let him go. If he has more days like this, he could be a Dolphin for a long time. Matt Haack, pronounced “hawk”, didn’t have as good of a day. While he did have a long 58-yards, he shanked a punt out of bounds for just 19 yards, finishing with a 43.3 average.
After everything that has gone wrong for the Miami Dolphins over the last few months, it must feel nice to leave the west coast with a win under their belts. This game was a promising one in the sense that we were able to continue the trend of coming out on top in close games, and we saw some promising things from our offense, defense, and special teams. Gase will work on fixing those secondary issues this week as we, fortunately, prepare to play the New York Jets next week at Metlife Stadium.