Can't start the season much better than two solid wins on the road. It feels as if the Phins deserved to win both games as well, and I think the team is truly starting to round into form in terms of understanding what it takes to win in this league. Translating that to play throughout a 16-week season is another story, but so far the team has had the mental and physical toughness to win two road games while we were down in the 2nd half. That is a phenomenal sign that cannot be understated. Road wins in season openers and in Indianapolis are both hard to come by (Colts were 7-1 at home last year), and the league is starting to take notice of the Dolphins. Rightfully so, I might add.
1. Offensive line play
After our anemic running attack in week 1, it was refreshing to see the offensive line get any sort of push at all. Keep in mind, the Colts' run defense is far from stingy, but seeing Lamar get a healthy 4.9 yards per carry average was encouraging. WIth the efficiency of the passing offense so far throughout the first two games, all we need is a running game to establish a balanced offense. With pass protection, I think the 5 sacks in the box score is fairly misleading. They only got 6 QB hits on Tannehill in total, so it was not like he was being harassed all day. Also, he could have helped his line out a little by taking off or getting rid of the ball a bit sooner, something Ryan still struggles with.
2. Keller's absence not as profound as once thought
While we never got a chance to see Keller's impact on the field during a regular season game, it appears we will be able to survive without him. Hartline and Gibson took up the majority of the workload (24 targets) last week as the Defense keyed in on Wallace. A week later, they combine for only 8 targets, while Wallace and Clay both have 100+ yard days (combined 18 targets). While Clay certainly has a ways to come as a blocker, he is a capable pass catcher and I think will fill Keller's role in the passing game well enough. Gibson, even with his quiet game, had a HUGE conversion on 3rd and 8 deep in our own territory after the Grimes interception, sparking a drive that burned 4:20 off the clock in the 4th quarter (I promise that sparking, burning, and 4:20 just popping up within 6 words was completely accidental). Hartline clearly has phenomenal rapport with Tannehill, and Wallace looked like a legit #1. With a true no. 1, a consistent and familiar #2, a chains-mover in the slot, and a fairly dynamic downfield weapon in the TE/H-Back slot, Tannehill is far from weaponless.
3. PLAYING WINNING FOOTBALL
As cliche of a phrase as it is the Dolphins did the "little things" that lead to winning football games. Came out of the game confident and energetic. Finished both halves strong. The Sturgis field goal before the half was ESSENTIAL in developing a > 3 point lead, allowing our defense to remain aggressive in the 2nd half, knowing the Colts needed to get in the end zone. The O-Line pushing a tired and disheartened Colts D back, allowing Lamar to convert that last 3rd and 8, and prevent Luck from getting the ball back with 40 seconds left . No penalties. These are all the differences between winning and losing in hostile environments like Indianapolis. EVERY good team does these things in order to win on the road. Road games like San Francisco, Indianapolis, Buffalo, and Arizona last year were all winnable. We're starting to understand what it takes.
1. Defensive line play
I may be nitpicky with our most formidable unit on either side of the ball, but I did not feel the same intensity from the defensive line this week as I did last. The Colts offensive line was ranked 26th by Football Outsiders, and last week was called out by Jim Irsay for lackluster play. The Dolphins should have FEASTED on this line, as we dominated a better line in Cleveland a week before. Even with an early injury to Donald Thomas, the D-Line didn't look special at all. We relied too much on LB and safety blitzes to pressure Luck, who will absolutely burn any secondary given time, nonetheless one that has been decimated by injuries like ours was this week (seeing Carroll in a starting CB spot again was giving me nightmarish deja vu). This was a week they really could have stepped up and they did not. However, I will give them credit for playing well in the 4th when the game was on the line.
Even with a small sample size, it seems as if all the talk of Thomas starting up a RB battle late in the preseason has not been reflected in his play on the field. Another sub-4 ypc game continues a long standing trend that evidences Thomas' inability to get to the second level EVER. He also had a key missed block in pass-pro that led to a Tannehill sack, something that he is supposed to be better than Miller at. I won't be ignorant and jump to conclusions off one play, but if the gap between the two running backs in pass protection is marginal, I think Miller should see even greater than a 14/8 split on carries. I think he should be dominating the touches. Hopefully Daniel proves me wrong as the season progresses, because I would hate to see a 2nd round investment not blossom to at least a 4.3-4.5 ypc type guy.
3. Get Tannehill on the move
One thing we had a decent amount of success with last year was rolling Tannehill out. While we originally did this in order to cut the field in half for him as a rookie, I still think we should take advantage of his athleticism and ability to throw on the run. I didn't recall many, if any, rollouts called for Tannehill (my memory may be failing me though). Also, not a single designed run for Tannehill. Trust me, I don't want my QB running and getting banged around like RG3 or Terrelle Pryor, but to not utilize Tannehill's abilities as a runner and a thrower on the run is a sin. If he's comfortable with the read-option, running the amount that Russell Wilson does for Seattle seems about right to utilize his talents without endangering his health unnecessarily.
Overall, I was hard pressed to even find negatives in the win this week. We went into one of the most hostile environments in the NFL and beat a 2012 playoff team. Tannehill improved to 3-1 against QBs in his class, and I think he has a quietly intense competitiveness that may go slightly unnoticed because of his calm demeanor in interviews. I love it. The locker room mentality, morale, and talent level in Miami are at their highest in quite some time. 2013 should be a hell of a season.