“Well well well.. how the turntables”
In the famous words of Michael Scott from ‘The Office’, The December game between the Miami Dolphins (9-5) and New England Patriots (6-8) was much different than years past. This time around, the Dolphins were the team in the playoff hunt.
Here are some observations that were key and some that weren’t.
1. Miami’s bend but don’t break defense holds true yet again.
All season it seems teams have been able to move the ball against Miami’s tough defense, primarily between the ’20s. The Dolphins’ defense usually tightens up in the red zone, and Sunday showcased just that, as New England was held to 12 points off of four Nick Folk field goals.
Miami’s consecutive turnover streak continued in the way of three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Xavien Howard, Brandon Baker and Brandon Jones each forced one, while Elandon Roberts had the sole recovery.
Miami also kept New England out of the end zone with three sacks and five tackles for loss. Emmanuel Ogbah, after not having a sack in three consecutive games, picked up one Sunday to ice the game for Miami.
2. Special teams are again special but need fine-tuning.
Miami’s special teams unit is making a name for themselves with trickery and almost pulling them off. Players execute the plays, as punter Matt Haack looked like Dan Marino with a beautiful touch pass in the arms of Kamu Gruhier-Hill, which was nullified. Grugier-Hill did not report as eligible, similar to what Robert Hunt did against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Miami will need these simple mental mistakes to be corrected if they plan on continuing these plays that can have a huge impact on games to come. That’ll certainly come in handy if they find themselves wandering around in the playoffs.
3. Next man up as players fill-in for injured starters.
Starting with the receivers, or lack thereof, stepping up. Combining for only 145 yards total, receivers like Lynn Bowden and Isaiah Ford made the catches when needed. Sustaining drives with key receptions, though short-yardage helped keep Miami much more balanced than as of late.
With Mike Gesicki sidelined due to a shoulder injury, Durham Smythe stepped up, catching all five of his targets for 40 yards. Showing great strength, Smythe is one of the emerging ‘hard to bring down’ tight ends in the league. That’s a relief heading into the offseason, having one less position to consider a priority.
4. Tua again is nothing flashy but yet a steady hand.
Tua Tagovailoa’s performance against Bill Belichick’s defense could at best be described as efficient. Lucky enough, efficient was all that was needed. 2013 was the last time a rookie quarterback won versus a Belichick defense. Tagovailoa became the latest, completing 20 of his 26 passes for 145 yards and an interception. While having a less than stellar passing performance, Tua ran for two scores while building a 10 point lead at home late in the fourth quarter.
As this won’t carry Miami far into postseason play, it’s worth noting his excellent game managing and ball protection skills as a young quarterback. Tua has played much better in games where his offensive weapons were readily available.
5. Miami ran the ball… and ran it well.
In Week 15 of the 2018 season, Kalen Ballage carried the ball 12 times for 123 yards against the Minnesota Vikings, in which Miami lost 41-17. That was the last time a single Miami player crossed the 100 yard rushing mark.
That changed Sunday.
Miami’s Salvon Ahmed finally broke the Dolphin’s 31 game streak, garnering 122 yards on 23 carries, added a touchdown as well. Matt Brieda provided some noteworthy assistance, carrying the ball 12 times for 86 yards. In total, the Dolphins rushed for 208 yards.
If Myles Gaskin were to be available next week – COVID-19 list – Ahmed would likely remain the starter versus the Las Vegas Raiders. If anything, expect the duo of Ahmed and Breida to get significant touches in attempts to repeat a similar rhythm.
Sunday’s win and the elimination of New England from the playoffs is an incredible way of nearing the end of a disastrous year in so many ways. With huge games against the Raiders and the division-leading Buffalo Bills, there is still more meaningful football ahead of Miami in the coming weeks.