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:
- Jay Cutler to DeVante Parker can be improvisational, imaginative and extraordinary. The most interesting offensive play in Miami’s 19-17 win at the Los Angeles Chargers came in the fourth quarter, with the Dolphins trailing 17-13. This was a play that showed what Cutler, at 34, can do to buy extra opportunities for his receivers and how he can capitalize with just a tiny bit of time and space. Cutler rolled to his right to move the pocket, approached the line of scrimmage but then in the face of a pass-rusher, stopped dead in his tracks. Cutler then backed up three yards and while moving backwards, off-balance, flicked a pass to Parker, who ended up one yard ahead of a defensive back who was literally draping him. The ball was perfectly placed in a bucket. Cutler had the confidence that Parker would make the play. Parker didn’t give up on the play. Cutler had excellent spacial awareness and also threw the ball while his body and arm were not at all in traditionally fundamental positions. When Cutler released the ball, it was to a place he imagined Parker could get to, and only Parker would get to. It was a thoughtful, alley-oop lob that should foreshadow some of what’s to come. Parker can truly win any ball in a 1-on-1 situation. You may also recall a play in the third quarter, when Parker seemed to snatch the ball off of a shorter defensive backs’ helmet. Cutler trusts Parker. And Parker seems to revere Cutler. Already.
- No other way to put it: Laremy Tunsil struggled as a pass-blocker. If Laremy Tunsil makes the Pro Bowl, the Dolphins Ring of Honor or the Hall of Fame, there won’t be any highlights from this game. Tunsil did contribute to several effective Jay Ajayi runs in his debut as a full-time starting left tackle. But Tunsil struggled in pass protection, his high school and college forte. Tunsil had a false start on the second offensive play of Miami’s season and it didn’t get better from there. In the second quarter, Tunsil and guard Jesse Davis were beaten on a stunt where Melvin Ingram started outside of Tunsil and then twisted inside. This created a pressure in which somehow Cutler escaped a sack. In the third quarter, on a third-and-goal at the Chargers’ 5-yard line, with Miami trailing 17-10, Tunsil was beaten around the edge by Ingram for a sack. It was a speed rush. Cutler may have had a shot at Julius Thomas matched 1-on-1 on a smaller corner. Tunsil didn’t seem move his feet quickly enough at the snap. Tunsil will undoubtedly be an excellent NFL offensive tackle. It seems he just needs to re-adjust to the speed of edge rushers after spending an entire season learning how to manage tighter quarters inside, at guard. Tunsil seemed disappointed with himself after this game and it’s easy to understand why. In the fourth quarter, former Dolphin Chris McCain ran around his outside creating a pressure that led Cutler to take a sack on third-and-goal, with Miami trailing 17-13 and 7:14 left.
- Jay Ajayi is still Miami’s most important offensive player, by far. And this is how we know Gase believes it, too. Trailing 17-16 with 3:02 left and the ball at midfield, in shotgun, when it would be so tempting to have Cutler air it out, Gase leaned on Ajayi and was rewarded. On first down, Ajayi took a handoff at his own 45, followed key blocks from Jermon Bushrod and Anthony Steen and Jarvis Landry (whose effort on these situations is a constant) and bulled his way to the Chargers’ 41, refusing to go down, continuing to churning his legs. A closer look reveals there were five Chargers trying to bring Ajayi down and he just won’t stop. Ajayi is one of the best, if not the best, fourth-quarter running backs in the NFL. Ajayi, the Brit, seems to always emerge from the rugby scrums victorious. With the game on the line, Gase called for Ajayi to run three straight times and a short pass to Ajayi to set up Cody Parkey’s game-winning field goal.
- Mike Hull had a few good moments against the run, but tough ones in pass coverage. Hull had 10 tackles, including one for loss, and played fairly well against the run, as Miami limited the Chargers, a huge plus after last year’s fiasco. But Chargers’ quarterback Philip Rivers exploited Hull’s lack of speed in the passing game. Before last season, the Dolphins added Kiko Alonso to play middle linebacker, in part because of his foot speed. Even if Rey Maualuga recovers from a hamstring injury within the next few weeks, it’s not as though he features coverage skills. Lawrence Timmons, if and when he returns to the Dolphins, can help some in pass coverage. But this is a potential issue to monitor. Fellow undrafted rookie linebacker Chase Allen is a player to watch as he has intriguing size and speed. Hull’s strengths and weaknesses were shown on back-to-back plays in the second quarter. First, Hull had a nice tackle of Gordon for a loss. But then Hull couldn’t keep up with Gordon on a completion out of the backfield. In the third quarter, Hull seemed to have Gordon lined up after a screen pass, but missed as he went to the ground while Gordon spun. Later, Hull took an inside path and Gordon took advantage to the outside. As we know, Miami does not appear to have sufficient depth at linebacker.
- Extra Points. The importance of Mike Pouncey’s return to health and to the Dolphins’ lineup cannot be understated. When Ajayi is at his best, it seems he is often following the blocks of Pouncey and right tackle Ja’Wuan James, who performed well on Sunday… As talented as DeVante Parker is, he needs to polish his blocking skills because it’s a key part of Miami’s offense and he has the body type to be an excellent blocker… The combination of Ndamukong Suh and William Hayes against the run was really, really promising. On one play, Hayes and Suh beat their men simultaneously and the result, predictably, was a tackle for loss. When these two are in the game, teams may have to run in the other direction. Hayes is no joke. He is a man. On one play, Hayes literally crushed L.A.’s poor right tackle. He threw him down on a bull rush and broke the man, who left injured… Anthony Fasano didn’t play much, but the veteran tight end had one nice block on an Ajayi run. There’s no reason Fasano can’t do what Dion Sims did last season in the blocking game…. Jesse Davis has the size, strength and mobility to be a sleeper at guard for the Dolphins. He just needs experience… Chase Allen can shed a block and maximize his speed. In the second quarter, Allen sprinted from left outside linebacker spot to the right sideline for a tackle… Charles Harris won’t play as much as he did Sunday if he doesn’t set the edge in the Wide Nine defense. On one running play, an over-eager Harris was just pushed way outside the play by an offensive tackle, resulting in a long gain… Jarvis Landry drew a smart upsportsmanlike penalty when at the end of a play he put his hands behind his back and took a left hand to the throat from a Charger. Landry used his emotional reputation to his advantage… Byron Maxwell continues to get beaten on plays where he has to run across the field and carry a receiver. On one memorable play, Maxwell just allowed way too much space to Keenan Allen… Adam Gase found a play-calling rhythm in the third quarter. Want to know what probably sounds like a nice sequence of calls to him? How about this, with 5:24 left in the third: Ajayi run. Landry short completion. Deep shot for Parker. Ajayi run. Ajayi run. Deep shot for Parker. Short pass for Landry. Ajayi run. This is the Dolphins’ offense. Yes, there will be some deep balls for Kenny Stills (and touchdowns) and yes, Julius Thomas may catch a few red zone touchdowns but it’s Ajayi or Landry short followed by deep shots to Parker.