A resounding, dominating, complete 35-9 victory. It felt so good to be a Miami Dolphin, for this past Sunday, anyway.
Kenyan Drake, Kenny Stills, Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh, Cam Wake, Xavien Howard, Matt Haack — offense, defense, special teams — they all took turns. They all shined. A total team victory.
So, it came against the hapless Denver Broncos. They all count. And it gave Miami a week to feel good before the Patriots come again.
Dolphins coach Adam Gase says, “The Tape Don’t Lie.” Each week I give the game tape a closer look. Here are some things I noticed:
- Kenyan Drake has been an upgrade over Jay Ajayi. This is not a knock on all Ajayi did for the Dolphins last season, when his powerful running style sparked Miami’s turnaround and run to the playoffs. But Ajayi did not look as good this season as he did last season, when he was a Pro Bowler. Many shuddered at the Dolphins giving up Ajayi for just a fourth-round pick. But part of the decision was to clear the way for Drake, a more dynamic, explosive, shifty, big-play threat. Drake is faster, a better receiver, has superior vision and is stronger than the typical slashing back. On 138 carries early in the season, Ajayi averaged 3.4 yards per carry. On 65 carries this season, Drake is averaging 4.9, which would be tied for seventh in the NFL if he had enough carries. If he keeps toting it 20 times a game, Drake may qualify by season’s end. The last five games of this season are in large part about discovering if Drake can be a lead back, and on Sunday, he took a step toward that, flashing even when long runs were called back on holding calls. In the first quarter, a holding call on Mike Pouncey negated a 17-yard run. Although it didn’t count, it was an excellent example of how Drake is stronger than advertised. He may not be a bull like Ajayi, but he can break tackles. Drake was all but dropped for a two-yard loss. But he kept his balance, touched one hand to the ground and kept the play alive. A defender had his hand around Drake’s ankle, but Drake escapes and darted toward the left sideline, with great acceleration and burst. In the third quarter, Drake navigated through the middle for a key 42-yard gain. On the play, Drake showed off his ability to hop around in small spaces, to make defenders miss, to find seams and creases with vision and a feel for his surroundings. Those qualities are as valuable if not more than his blazing straight-ahead speed. And Drake is no one-trick pony. Not only did he go for 42, he also had runs of: 11, 9, 8, 8, 7, 7, 6, 5 and 5 on Sunday. That’s the type of consistency Miami craves. Even when it’s not blocked up perfectly, Drake can turn a profit.
- Xavien Howard and Miami’s secondary was outstanding. The Dolphins were facing Trevor Siemian, and no, John Elway wasn’t walking out of that Hard Rock Stadium visitors locker door. But Howard locked down Demaryius Thomas. Howard broke up five passes which is pretty much how many he’s broken up as a Dolphin. OK, so that’s an exaggeration. But this is the Howard Miami saw in the spring and summer. This is the Howard Miami thought could emerge as a number one corner, or, at worst, a very high number two corner. Not only did Howard have two interceptions, including a pick 6, but he aggressively broke up several other passes toward Thomas. On one memorable play in the second quarter, Howard showed off his innate instincts and the capability to close quickly, breaking up a 3rd-and-5 in Miami’s red zone (see below). Bobby McCain deserves kudos here, as well. What a job McCain has done all season, after there were some questions entering the season about if his starting status was in jeopardy. McCain played as well as any slot corner in the NFL on Sunday. T.J. McDonald picked up an interception and is gaining traction with more games played. Miami’s secondary bounced back in fine fashion after a terrible game against the Patriots last week. There is a wonderful opportunity for redemption on Monday night, against the Patriots. Oh, boy. This game is on national TV? Miami hasn’t done so well on national TV. But, hey, at least Gronk isn’t playing!
- Sign Jarvis Landry. Sign Jarvis Landry. Sign Jarvis Landry. Last year we banged the bongos for a Reshad Jones extension, and it came, and it was warranted. This season has shown, more than ever, that Landry cannot be allowed to get away. While DeVante Parker has disappointed in his lack of ability to attack the ball, that’s exactly what Landry does. It’s what he’s always done. The ball is his. He plays without fear. He turns into a running back after the catch. He makes the extra yards. He knows how to reach the first-down marker. As outlined in a post-game column on Sunday, pay Landry. Pay him about $13 million a season, which is about what Alshon Jeffery and T.Y. Hilton make, and sort it out. Make it work. Keep Landry in place because he represents everything you want Adam Gase’s Dolphins to be. Landry really compliments speedster Kenny Stills well. And we can all look forward to 2018, when Ryan Tannehill triumphantly returns to target Stills and Landry (we think) once again. Landry breaks tackles (see below). Landry may not be Julio Jones, A.J. Green or Dez Bryant, but he’s a irreplaceable player who brings a championship mentality. He is a competitor who produces and who brings the type of energy, passion and emotion that endears him to most every Dolphins fan, as well as his coaches and teammates.
- Miami’s special teams was dominant. Terrence Fede blocked a punt. Chase Allen forced a fumble after a punt that resulted in a safety. Cody Parkey made a field goal and four extra points. And punter Matt Haack set a team record with seven punts placed into the Broncos’ 20-yard line. Haack is second in the AFC with 26 punts inside the opponents’ 20. Haack punted nine times and allowed a total of -3 return yards. That’s incredible. Parkey had four kickoffs result in touchbacks and one returned only to the 15. No kicker has forced opponents to start in worse field position after kickoffs than Parkey. Even punt returner Jakeem Grant did a nice job, returning punts (15.3 average, including a 27-yarder) and kickoffs (18.5 average) with a ton of confidence. What a day for special teams coach Darren Rizzi and his unit. Oh, and one more point on Haack. He’s no longer a rookie. It went mostly unnoticed, but with about three minutes left in the game, John Denney uncharacteristically skipped a snap to Haack, who calmly picked it up, stepped left and booted the ball 52 yards with his left foot. No longer a rookie. Not a rookie move at all. A veteran move. A very nice play.
- EXTRA POINTS. The Dolphins used two- and three-tight end formations with some success. Adam Gase rolled out a Jumbo package, with Sam Young, Zach Sterup, Anthony Fasano and MarQuies Gray all lined up right on a 3rd-and-1… Cam Wake and Jordan Phillips deserve all credit for forcing a bad snap and forced safety on Siemian and the Broncos in the first quarter… DeVante Parker — ugh. How important is winning the ball to you? What’s more important to you, when the ball is in the air, headed toward you, then giving maximum effort to make sure you give your quarterback and your team every possible chance to win the play?… Conversely, Kenny Stills has good concentration and doesn’t give up on any plays. If he has to turn into a defensive back, he does, willingly… When Miami running backs have a nice day, Anthony Fasano and MarQuies Gray are typically heavily involved… Jordan Phillips, man or monster? In the third quarter, Phillips shed a block and threw down Jamaal Charles for a four-yard loss. He then stomped around in celebration. Later in the quarter, Phillips bull-rushed and overpowered the right guard and threw Siemian down for a sack. Good Jordan Phillips is oh, so, good… What a great play-call by Adam Gase in the third quarter. Jay Cutler ran all the way to his right and threw deep left to Fasano, who was wide open. Fasano started on the right end of the line of scrimmage, pretended briefly to block down and then took off for an open portion of the field.