The narrative surrounding the Miami Dolphins this week has been all wrong. The chatter, coming from fans and media, was centered around quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the bad game that he had. Twitter had erupted with just how awful he looked while the local and national media lined up to take shots at him. Questions continued after the game during interim head coach Dan Campbell's press conference and articles came flying out on Monday.
I get it. The mainstream media has made this a quarterback driven league and thus, mostly everyone is drawn straight to the quarterback. The local media did no favors by putting Tannehill on blast after the game and continuing into the early part of the week.
I understand that Tannehill was bad during the game against the Baltimore Ravens. I understand that he needs to improve to be the franchise quarterback beyond 2016 or 2017. We all know that. But whether you like it or not, he's here to stay at least one more season. There is nothing any of us can do to change that. I would even go so far as saying that the front office, even if they wanted to, couldn't go in another direction because there is simply no one out there, whether a free agent or a player in the upcoming draft, who can supplant Tannehill from day one and take over the starting quarterback position.
So, why continue to dwell on it? Why not talk about all the positives that happened in the game. For example, Lamar Miller rushed for 113 yards on 20 attempts, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. He did this against a Ravens defense that is in the top ten in run defense throughout the entire league! With former offensive coordinator Bill Lazor out of the picture, the Dolphins wanted to commit to the run and that's exactly what they did throughout the entire game.
"At the end of the day, I felt like we did what we had to do to win against a football team like that," said Campbell. "You know, every team, every game that you play has got its own unique set of challenges, and we felt like this was the type of game we needed to be able play. And certainly you'd like to be more productive in the pass game...I'll tell you what, any time you win with good defense and running the football, I don't have a problem with that. Look, this team...this is twelve games in a row that this team, this Baltimore team has been in a one score game. We knew this thing was going to come down to the end. It was going to be a dog fight. That just shows the character of the guys in the locker room. They fought."
Moving on from Miller, why isn't anyone talking about rookie defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and the huge impact he made in the game against the Ravens? In the second quarter, with the Ravens at fourth and one from Miami's three-yard line, quarterback Matt Schaub tried to sneak in for the first down. However, Phillips was right there to stop his momentum and push him back, thus stopping him short at the line of scrimmage. Phillips also tipped the ball at the line of scrimmage, which led to an interception.
Why is this important? It's because Phillips was a questionable draft pick. There wasn't a huge need for the Dolphins at the defensive tackle position and there were other players on the board, such as linebacker Denzell Perryman. Additionally, there was an intense debate in the draft room between Vice-President of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum and General Manager Dennis Hickey. Tannenbaum wanted Phillips and Hickey wanted running back Ameer Abdullah.
Fast forward to December and Phillips has made the bigger impact thus far and is only going to get better from here on out. This isn't lost on Campbell, who said that Phillips took a step up during the game against the Ravens. He continued that praise in his press conference on Monday.
"Phillips, I mean he got a really full load for the first time. He got a lot of plays and he finds a way to produce for us. He got his hand on the ball and which was Reshad's interception, but I mean those guys are playing good football and they dominated the line of scrimmage pretty much all day. So, you know I was proud of the way those guys played. I mean they set the tempo for the day to be honest with you. We gave up that one boot for the touchdown, long touchdown and that was disappointing but I mean that was, that was it, really through the day."
With Earl Mitchell coming back, Campbell didn't make any promises as to whether or not Phillips would keep the starting job but did say that there would be a good three-man rotation where Phillips is seeing more playing time if in fact Mitchell does regain the starting job. Nonetheless, this was an encouraging sign from Sunday's game.
Besides Phillips, rookie wide receiver DeVante Parker and cornerback Bobby McCain held their own throughout the game. The highlight was a 38-yard touchdown pass from Tannehill to Parker, where Parker climbed the ladder and came down with the pass.
"I felt the rookie class stepped up," Campbell said after the game. "I said this before, I feel like we have some good young players on this team. And you can see they've produced for us. They are producing for us. Look, everybody saw - there were a few plays out there where Bobby (McCain) was on the other end of stops. There were stops or hitches or these things. It's the same thing. What you see is a guy who is continually competing. He didn't get frustrated by it. It didn't bother him. He gave up a few throws, but he did rally. There again, he's another young guy that the game is not too big for and I expect him to get even better from that."
While McCain wasn't perfect, Campbell said that was proud of the way he battled and never got frustrated even after getting beat on numerous plays. Moving forward, Campbell said that McCain will remain the starter. Again, another positive moment from Sunday with the rookie class stepping up and making an impact.
Finally, how about Oliver Vernon and the rest of the defensive line? They had a big part in producing five tackles for a loss, three sacks and an impressive ten quarterback hits. Tannehill gave a lot of credit to the line and said it was a reason why the Dolphins were able to stay fresh throughout the game.
"The D-Line was huge," he said. "Every time I looked up it seemed like they were getting pressure on (QB Matt Schaub) and making him move in the pocket and adjust his throw ... making him uncomfortable in the pocket. I know it's tough to drop back and be facing that type of pressure all day. It's fun to see those guys make those plays. And Shelby and the interception, the only thing I said to him was ‘Hey, that's a once- or twice-in-your-career type play. You got to have a celebration in the end zone or something."
After a slow start to the year, many were talking about how it would be an easy decision to let Vernon go at the end of the year when his contract expires. However, ever since Cameron Wake has been injured, Vernon has really stepped up his game. According to Pro Football Focus, he has a positive grade in seven of the last nine games. This includes three weeks where he graded out at 7.4 (Week 10), 7.1 (Week 11) and 7.0 (Week 13). Vernon attributes that to being healthy after he was nicked up in the early part of the year.
"Actually I feel a whole bunch better now," he said after the game on Sunday. "The first quarter of the season I was kind of hurt, but now I'm just feeling good. I'm feeling good right now, I'm feeling back healthy and it's time to get after it now."
With Vernon re-emerging and becoming the dominant player we all thought he could be, it will give the Dolphins a tough decision at the end of the season. He'll either get a nice contract with Miami or he will move on with the dolphins likely getting a third round compensatory pick. Again, another positive moment from Sunday's game.
The trend here is obvious. There were so many bright spots to Sunday's victory over the Ravens. One can easily say it was a bad Ravens team and they would be right. But, the Dolphins have their own injuries and their own adversity. They have their problems too and they were the team who was able to grind it out and overcome it. They were the team where they had players step up and make an impact.
Of course, there's a ton of work to do and yes, that includes Tannehill. However, the narrative from the victory should not be focused and centered around him. It should be talking about just how much other parts of the team are finally starting to come together.
This column was written by Matthew Cannata. Follow him on Twitter! Follow @FinsInsider