Jay Ajayi was the most important part of the Dolphins offense (shocker) against Atlanta. No, he didn’t record any points, which at the end of the day is the most important part of the game. However, his impact was absolutely felt between the endzones (pretty sure some of the Falcons defenders are still feeling it). Ajayi racked up 130 yards on 26 carries on Sunday for an impressive 5.0 yards per carry. What is even more impressive, albeit pretty normal for Ajayi, was his 96 yards after contact. That alone would’ve ranked in the top 10 in rushing for all backs this week.
According to PFF, Ajayi finished the week with a grade of 91.0. To put that in comparison, La’Veon Bell had a much better game statistically than Ajayi, but graded out just below with a 90.8. The Dolphins may boast one of the worst offenses in the league, but Ajayi is not letting that stop him from being one of the best backs in the NFL. Although many Dolphins fans are considering his season somewhat of a down season so far, Ajayi currently ranks fifth amongst all backs in terms of overall grade and forced missed tackles…even with one game less than the majority of backs across the NFL.
It’s always good to see a rookie here, as Tankersley is making just his third start in as many weeks for the Dolphins. He was targeted just three times on the day and allowed just one catch for 13 yards. He also was a key factor in the play of the game for the Dolphins. With the Falcons driving down the field and already in position to kick a field goal to send the game into overtime, or possibly score the game winning touchdown, Tankersley deflected a pass intended for Atlanta’s tight end Austin Hooper which led to a Reshad Jones game-winning interception.
Jones’ interception sealed the game and provided a bright spot in an otherwise down game for the Pro Bowl safety, who was playing in his hometown of Atlanta for the first time since he was a standout as a Georgia Bulldog. If Tankersley can keep improving at this rate, the Dolphins will have a solid backfield for the next few years as Tankersley, Jones, Xavien Howard, and T.J. McDonald (the presumed starting safety after his suspension) are all signed through the 2019 season.
The offensive line:
Finally! Miami’s offensive line has been under some well-deserved scrutiny all season, but they were able to put together their first solid game of 2017 against the reigning NFC Champions. They paved the way for Ajayi to have his best game of the season in terms of total yards, yards per carry, and rushes of 15+ yards (3). They stepped up in the big moments too. Out of those three big gains from Ajayi, two of them came on consecutive plays on Miami’s final drive in the fourth quarter. A drive that allowed Cody Parkey, who also had a bounceback game, to kick what would eventually be the game winning field goal.
On the previous drive, on an (obviously crucial) fourth down play, the offensive line gave Cutler enough time with a clean pocket to find Jarvis Landry over the middle for a nine yard gain. At the time the Dolphins were trailing 17-14 with roughly ten minutes left in the game. That play would eventually lead to a 49-yard field goal by Parkey to tie the game up at 17. One of the odd things about their stellar performance is that they played the entire second half without their leader, center Mike Pouncey, who left at the end of the second quarter with concussion like symptoms. The cherry on top, for the first time all season, Jay Cutler was not sacked. This is the type of offensive line play Miami is going to need if they are going to contend for a playoff spot and beyond.
It may be a bit of a blanket category here, but this is becoming a real issue for Miami this season. The Dolphins currently rank number 30 in the league in terms of dropped passes, dropping 20 percent of “catchable” balls, going into Sunday’s matchup with the Atlanta Falcons. And for those who watched the game last Sunday, they did absolutely nothing to improve that ranking. They dropped five of the 24 catchable passes, 24 being a terrible number considering Jay Cutler attempted 33 passes in the game. Even Jarvis Landry, who literally just won the best hands competition in last years Pro Bowl, had three drops on the day. For a unit that was ranked as the third most talented group in the league, this is unacceptable. Head coach Adam Gase had better get all of the offensive skill positions to do some extra work on the jugs machine until this gets fixed.
Second year corner Xavien Howard had a flat out terrible game against the Atlanta Falcons. Granted, he did have to cover arguably the best receiver in the NFL in Julio Jones. That still doesn’t excuse him getting burned, badly, by rookie Marvin Hall for a 40 yard touchdown with two minutes to go in the first quarter. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan picked on Howard all game targeting him eight times and completing six of those for 91 yards and a touchdown. Howard is not having a good season after having a stellar training camp. After grading out with an abysmal 29.8 for the week, Howard is currently ranked 111th out of the 114 qualifying corners on the season with an overall grade of 37.4 this season. Miami’s second year corner needs to hurry up and turn this season around, and quick, if he wants to keep his spot on this otherwise standout defense.
Drake isn’t making the progression that one would expect after having a pretty good season for a backup running back in his rookie campaign. Drake’s snap count this season since Miami’s week 1 bye has gone as follows 1, 20, 9, 2, 1 for an average of 6.6 snaps per game through the first five. In comparison, Drake played 1, 18, 27, 7, and 7 snaps through the first five games last year for an average of 12 snaps per game.
The issue is less about the amount of snaps as much as it is what he is doing with those snaps. This season, Drake has amassed a whopping three yards rushing on four carries. He’s also been targeted five times and has three catches for seven yards. Not exactly lighting it up. He is also one of Miami’s primary kick returners, splitting the duties with Jakeem Grant. So far he has five returns for 106 yards and no touchdowns. In comparison to Drake’s first five career NFL games last season, he ran the ball 15 times for 68 yards and a touchdown, garnering a very respectable 4.5 yards per carry. He was also targeted seven times and recorded six receptions for 33 yards.
Clearly Gase is clearly trying to lean more on the workhorse Jay Ajayi, but Drake was initially seen as the number two guy going into the season. But so far Damien Williams, Miami’s other backup running back, has been given more snaps, carries, and targets through Miami’s first five games. Maybe they’re keeping him fresh for the end of the season, maybe he’s showing poor practice habits, or maybe Williams is just outperforming him behind the scenes. Whichever the case, Drake has clearly shown a slight regression in terms of production through the first five games of the 2017 season.