When the Miami Dolphins were 1-4, if I had told you that the 2016 season highlights tape would be filled with drama, excitement, and some really, really impressive plays, you might have called me, well, a liar.
Dolphins coach Adam Gase says, “The tape don’t lie.”
And I assure you, I’m no liar.
So each week, I’ll give the game tape a closer look. Here are some things I noticed:
- Jay Ajayi has played better than Lamar Miller. This was typical Jay Ajayi. In the first quarter, a run that personifies his season. It’s only a two-yard touchdown run but it’s impressive. Ajayi takes the handoff from Matt Moore and he’s immediately hit, four yards behind the line of scrimmage by a defensive lineman. The lineman has his arms around Ajayi’s waist, then both his hands on Ajayi’s left ankle. As he’s breaking from that defender, a defensive back tries to close space but Ajayi uses a quick right stiff-arm to put his hand to the Bills’ face. Ajayi throws him to the ground and takes off for the right corner of the end zone and the first score of the game. It’s a great example of Ajayi’s strong legs and dogged determination. Ajayi has outperformed all expectations, his draft status and salary. Ajayi has 150 more yards than Lamar Miller of Houston this season, on 24 fewer carries. Ajayi also has more carries of 20 yards or more, more touchdowns, more yards per carry and more first downs than Miller. One of my favorite things about Ajayi is his blatant disregard for the rights of any initial tackler to bring him down. On the 57-yard run in overtime to set up the game winning field goal, Ajayi uses his right arm to simply swat away Kyle Williams, an excellent Bills defensive tackle, as if Williams had no right to be even be bothering. Ajayi’s will is and likely will always be his greatest strength as a runner.
- Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake are one of if not the best DT-DE combinations in the league. Suh disrupts plays before they have a chance to begin. On a second quarter fourth-and-1, Tyrod Taylor hands to LeSean McCoy. But before McCoy even has the ball, Suh has beaten Buffalo’s right guard, who is desperately reaching back to grab him. This allows Kiko Alonso (as is usually the case) the chance to crash a gap and finish off McCoy for no gain. McCoy never had a chance. Suh is so fast at the snap of the ball it’s unfair. Suh and Alonso have been involved in multiple fourth-down stops this season. In another key under-the-radar Suh play, he jumped up to tip a third-down pass with four minutes left in overtime, forcing a punt that led to the game-winning drive. As for Wake, please don’t try to block him with a tight end and a running back (in this case, Charles Clay and McCoy). On a second-quarter third down, Clay gets an initial punch and strikes Wake to the ground. But Wake, 34, maintains his balance by placing his right hand on the turf. Clay thinks he has help but Wake quickly scoots past McCoy and Taylor is dropped. This play illustrates how Wake doesn’t give up on a play even when it seems unlikely he’ll have time to make a sack or even when it seems obvious his momentum is going to force him to the ground.
- DeVante Parker appeared really, really healthy against the Bills. Here’s what struck me about DeVante Parker’s long touchdown, watching the coaches’ film in slow motion: Parker’s right hamstring must be much better. I mean, look at how insanely high off the ground it is in that freeze-framed photo. Parker looks like a long jumper. He has such long strides and the ability to turn short passes into long gainers, even touchdowns. What makes Parker such a potentially devastating weapon is he can do at least three things well. He can catch diving passes in a fully extended position, he can win 50-50 jump balls along the sideline or back of the end zone or he can take a short slant, break a tackle and take off, almost in a manner that reminds you of Jarvis Landry, who obviously is much smaller and plays more often in the slot. This is a 56-yard touchdown in which Parker breaks a tackle, and really it’s the type of play that breaks the spirit of an opponent.
- More Neville Hewitt and Earl Mitchell and less Donald Butler and Jordan Phillips might help Miami’s defense. It seems as if linebacker Donald Butler is on the field when long touchdown bursts through the middle occur. The same can be said of defensive tackle Jordan Phillips. But in particular, it seems like Butler doesn’t make enough plays and doesn’t do enough to put himself into the right place to make stops. He just hasn’t been a factor since signing. On LeSean McCoy’s 19-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, Butler was tied up and forced way outside of the play as McCoy burst through a huge hole in the middle of the field vacated in part by Phillips. Miami’s front seven has just been vulnerable to middle run far too often this season. One consideration is less snaps for Butler and more for rising youngster Neville Hewitt, who diagnosed a Tyrod Taylor option run in the fourth quarter, exploded into the backfield and dropped the quarterback for a 6-yard loss. Hewitt also had a great breakdown on Reggie Bush after an end-around in overtime, dropping him for an 8-yard loss. Hewitt was not fooled. As everything was going to his left, Hewitt sensed the play would come back to his right. The once-dynamic, now slightly shifty Bush tried, but was unable to out-juke Hewitt, who didn’t overreact to Bush’s twerks. Also, Earl Mitchell has overtaken Phillips as trusted defensive tackle alongside Suh. Mitchell had 58 snaps in Saturday’s game and Phillips had only 29. There were 16 Dolphins defenders with more snaps played than Phillips. Telling.
- EXTRA POINTS. When Matt Moore loaded up to throw a deep post to Kenny Stills into the end zone just before halftime, Coach Adam Gase might have been thinking “No, no, no. What is he seeing? Where is he going with this ball?” Moore didn’t get enough on the throw, but more than anything, Moore needed to be aware of the situation and process the risk. The chance at a field goal was far more important there than a shot at the end zone. That’s where even Sunday’s start against New England, a third consecutive one, should really help Moore if he has to start a playoff game at Pittsburgh or Houston. Moore did make a strong-armed, confident, 17-yard throw to Kenny Stills with 1:07 to play in regulation.
It appeared safety Bacarri Rambo either didn’t realize he was supposed to help pick up Sammy Watkins after Xavien Howard released him and/or he didn’t have the foot speed to catch up the speedster on a 53-yard completion in the third quarter. Howard was pointing to Rambo to help but Watkins was really wide open on the play. Communication and chemistry in the back end hasn’t been seamless and the absence of Byron Maxwell, Reshad Jones and late in the Bills game Isa Abdul-Quddus would not bode well against, for example, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Dolphins really need to hope Abdul-Quddus does not have a serious injury. It would be helpful to have Maxwell back this week as well, as Howard did not play as confidently as he had in the previous game.
Really nice game for sophomore cornerback Tony Lippett, who had two pass breakups in the first quarter. Lippett breaks well on comebacks and gets his hand in to disrupt pass attempts. Lippett’s growth has been discernable. He’s got great upside and great ball skills… We didn’t notice veteran center Kraig Urbik much, which is a good thing. Urbik is a solid, consistent scrapper and that’s what the Dolphins need right now. It’s been an improvement over injury-hobbled and inexperienced Anthony Steen… Moore may have had a poor throwing first half, but under the radar a bit was a key block he threw on a Bills defensive back to help spring Kenyan Drake for a 45-yard touchdown along the right sideline. Drake decided to reverse course after he ran into the backside of right guard Jermon Bushrod, who was being pushed, and seeing another defender right in his face. Even though the play worked, coaches will likely discourage Drake from trying that move too often, and settling for a short or no gain by carrying through with the run as designed. That said, Drake showed his incredible explosiveness as he kicked into his gear down the sideline. Drake should be a very valuable weapon, in conjunction with Ajayi, next season. It was a really big step forward for Drake that Gase trusted him with consecutive carries in overtime. Drake contributed with the touchdown but also a key kickoff return to set up the game-tying field goal at the end of regulation. Miami’s rookie class, especially Laremy Tunsil, Howard and Drake, shows promise.
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