Dolphins coach Adam Gase says, “The tape don’t lie.”
So each week, I’ll give the game tape a closer look. Here are some things I noticed:
- Because of injuries, Miami is asking some defensive players to do more than anyone planned. There was a goal-line stand in the fourth quarter on Sunday in which four of the 11 Dolphins defensive players were Ndamukong Suh, Kiko Alonso, Earl Mitchell and Jordan Phillips. And the seven other players might not have been in on the field in this situation at the start of this season. This is not to disparage their legitimacy as NFL players, or to criticize their effort. But I noticed the other seven players were: Terrence Fede, Nick Williams, Jason Jones, Donald Butler, Neville Hewitt, Spencer Paysinger and Michael Thomas. Miami’s depth has been stretched more than would have been imagined. Two of those players were claimed off waivers. Three of those players are known primarily for their very strong special teams play. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph tried so many different formations and coverage schemes on Sunday, but it was nearly impossible to compensate for the absence of injured players like Reshad Jones, Isa Abdul-Quddus, Byron Maxwell, Jelani Jenkins, Koa Misi and the disappointment of benched free agent signee Mario Williams. Oh, and in case you forgot, LeGarrette Blount scored on that play, a 1-yard run to give the Patriots a 35-14 lead.
- Bacarri Rambo has got to make that tackle. Last week in this space, the Daily Dolphin wondered if Rambo hadn’t realized he needed to help out Xavien Howard on a long completion to Sammy Watkins. Well, it turned out that coverage mistake was Howard’s, not Rambo’s. Once again, and this is somewhat understandable to an extent with all the personnel changes, Miami had communication issues on defense on Sunday. But there were also a few key missed tackles, none more critical than one by Rambo in the third quarter which contributed to a 77-yard touchdown by Julian Edelman and a 27-14 Patriots lead. Coach Adam Gase said Joseph made a good call. There were eight Dolphins on the line of scrimmage with Kiko Alonso peeling off to help track Edelman. While a memorable moment during the play was Patriots wide receiver Michael Floyd obliterating Dolphins cornerback Tony Lippett, Rambo had a clear shot at Edelman at the Patriots’ 31-yard line and lost his footing. “We’ve got to make that tackle,” Gase said Monday. Rambo has taken a few poor angles in recent weeks. Rambo is and was supposed to be a safety valve/last line of defense. In this case, it failed.
- On a bright note, Jordan Phillips came to play. There were only 51 players taken ahead of Jordan Phillips in the 2015 NFL Draft and it hasn’t always been easy to see why. In truth, Phillips has lost a ton of snaps to defensive tackle Earl Mitchell in recent weeks. But Phillips is 6-feet-6, 335 pounds, and when at his best, shows lightning quickness and power at the snap. Anyone who is ready to give up on Phillips should watch nine snaps at the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth quarter on Sunday, when the Oklahoma product completely and utterly dominated a man named Joe Thuney, who plays left guard for the Patriots. First, Phillips beat Thuney inside with a very explosive first step and blasted LeGarrette Blount for a 1-yard loss. Six defensive snaps later, Phillips overpowered his man, threw him backwards and bear-hugged Dion Lewis for a 1-yard loss. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Phillips overwhelmed the left guard again and drew a holding. Second snap of the fourth quarter? Yeah, again. You get the idea. This is the Phillips Miami needs on a more consistent basis.
- Matt Moore can move and would give Miami a fighting chance. When Adam Gase says Matt Moore has played well, he’s not just saying Matt Moore has played well. I mean, he really has. Moore’s best attribute may be his composure. Yes, Moore threw touchdown passes to Jarvis Landry (short) and Kenny Stills (deep) but there was one simple play in the third quarter that jumps out to me. Moore was faking a handoff to a crossing Jay Ajayi when the ball was knocked out of his hand for a fumble. Moore, the veteran Californian, calmly picked up the ball, without a scent of panic or distress, and spotted a crossing DeVante Parker to his right for a short gain. Moore carries himself on and off the field with confidence. I highly doubt a start at Pittsburgh would overwhelm Moore, even if he’s never made a playoff start in 10 seasons. The other thing Moore showed in this game is some athleticism that is better than advertised. Moore did throw a poor interception at the end of the first quarter, intended deep for Dion Sims. But one thing that could be lost on that play is how Moore escaped danger in the pocket and showed some quick feet and a veteran pocket awareness. Moore is more comfortable throwing passes on roll-outs (a Tannehill strength) than may have been known. In fact, it’s fair to wonder if a healthy Moore would be more mobile than an injured Tannehill on Sunday. Here’s an unexpected stat: Moore has attempted 87 passes this season — and been sacked once.
- EXTRA POINTS. There was an interesting stretch in the second quarter when Miami utilized inside linebackers Kiko Alonso and Mike Hull on the field at the same time. On one play, Hull covered nice ground and drilled James White after a 7-yard gain. Hull is a hard-nosed tough player who uses great technique. There are fans who want to see Hull at inside linebacker and Alonso at outside linebacker. But Alonso prefers middle linebacker and the whole point of adding Alonso this offseason was to increase the Dolphins speed in the middle of the field. And let’s be honest. The Dolphins defense, overall right now, does not seem fast enough… Terrence Fede made a few solid plays in the first quarter and played more than usual in this game because of his size, strength and ability to be effective against the run. Fede showed good motor and pursuit in chasing down LeGarrette Blount from the left defensive tackle position to the right sideline. Later, Fede shed a block of the right tackle and tackled LeGarrette Blount after a 3-yard gain. You could tell in the game that Miami was going to try anything it could, using anyone at their disposal, in an attempt to improve against the run… If healthy, there’s no reason to think Jay Ajayi won’t be a Top 10 NFL running back next season. Every game he shows he can not only break tackles, but makes defenders miss, and is a more than adequate receiver.