Well looky here! Seems like we had ourselves a lovely day, lovely day, lovely day. That’s almost certainly too much joy in response to the Dolphins’ 17-9 win over the Houston Texans. Then again, the Bills also lost to the Jaguars by a whopping score of 9-6. We all know this season has been a huge disappointment, so any week where the Fins win and the Bills lose is about as good as it gets until the Patriots join the losing side too. The Dolphins doubled their win total on Sunday and that’s always a good thing.
It feels good for the Dolphins to win, no matter how ugly
10-7 by way of 2-7? Probably not. A win is a win, no matter how small. I think that’s the Dr. Seuss quote, anyway. This game wasn’t pretty. It was two 1-7 teams fighting to cling to the last vestige of relevance for their season. It was two Dickensian orphans crawling toward the last piece of discarded bread on the floor, too emaciated to ever really make it the whole way. Is that too dark? Fine, it was two Care Bears trying to see who could snuggle the other more resoundingly. And snuggle the Dolphins did, kind of.
Jake Brisket loaded up his smoker once more and led the Dolphins as Tua hung out on the sidelines looking totally fine. We’ll get to that. The coaches mostly #letbrisketsmoke, giving him 43 pass attempts on the day, of which he completed 26 of them (60%) for 244 yards 1 TD and 2 INTs. He played fine, just fine. I know this will be hard to understand and I expect the push back such a hard line stance deserves, but our offensive line didn’t make the QB’s job very easy. Center Greg Mancz returned to action in time to get reinjured, bringing Austin Reiter onto the field again alongside the seemingly permanent sequence of LT Eichenberg, LG Jackson, C whoever’s handy, RG not Solomon Kindley, and RT not Robert Hunt. Even Omar Kelly, one of Jesse Davis’ early supporters, finally jumped off the train following yet another impossibly poor blocking performance. How’s that old chestnut go? “If it’s broken, never change anything and just suffer forever until one day you die?” Pretty sure that was Dr. Seuss too. How bad could Robert Hunt possibly be at RT? He played there last year and wasn’t as bad as Davis has been. The line is the weakest point on a weak team, so just try something for me. Anything at all.
We also managed to put up 47 total rushing yards against the league’s 31st ranked rush defense coming into the game. That includes a whopping 1.7 YPC average for Myles Howard, er, Gaskin. If you need any more indication that the offensive line is the DJ Khaled on Hot Ones of the NFL, look no further than that stat. I expected us to finally show a balanced offense with over 150 yds on the ground to take some pressure off of our backup QB and play some ball control against a bad opponent. Instead, both of our running backs averaged below 2 yards per carry. That makes me Mr. Grumpy.
We won, right? Let me find some goodness here. Jaylen Waddle continued his best Jarvis Landry impression, hauling in 8 catches for 83 yards, putting him on pace for 2,414 receptions for 4,679 yards on the year. He’s becoming a reliable target, but send the guy deep once in a season. Mike Gesicki continued catching everything thrown his way, grabbing 4 catches for 54 yards including two one-handed circus grabs: twice as many as the one that made Odell Beckham’s whole career. Can’t wait to see you in Miami Mr. Fussy!
The team also finally brought down the penalties, only being called for 2 on the day. So that’s nice.
It’s tough to truly celebrate a barely win over a barely team. The offense is still light years from where it needs to be, even accounting for a backup QB. At least they did just enough to take care of business. It really helps that the offense finally got a little help from their friends.
The defense showed up for a complete game
Miami’s defense was borderline elite last year before experiencing a precipitous fall into the Grand Canyon this season. Despite floundering at the bottom, they still would pop up every so often (like in the first half of the second Bills game) to remind fans that they’re a talented group that can be really effective. Yet they haven’t put it together for an entire game this year, until Sunday.
The run defense held Houston to 73 yards rushing. They prevented any touchdowns through the air. They kept the Texans to 9 points on three field goals. That’s good stuff. Houston clearly aren’t world beaters, but they’re an NFL team and those are good numbers against an NFL team. Brandin Cooks is a great WR and was limited to 6 catches for 56 yards on 13 targets. Without going to check my work (who has the time?), I’m pretty certain that every other time the Dolphins have ever faced Tyrod Taylor, he’s thrown for 850 yards and 7 TDs while running for 235 and 2 more TDs. He loved to beat us senseless. So I just naturally assumed that in his first game back, he’d go ballistic. Instead, he went 24/43 (56%) for 240 yds, 0 TD, and 3 INTs. That’s good stuff.
Jevon Holland looks like he’s finding a home in the defensive backfield, both as a center fielder (he had a pick in the end zone in the first quarter) and as a blitzer (he forced Taylor into errant throws multiple times). Let’s ignore his punt return fumble because that’s Special Teams, so that’s totally different and just look over there, oooh, ice cream. Emmanuel Ogbah recorded 2.5 sacks and was generally disruptive throughout the game. Rookie Jaelan Phillips, while only officially notching 2 tackles and half a sack, did nice work stretching plays to the sideline, pursuing the ball carrier, and moving the pocket. It likely wasn’t his best statistical game, but I noticed him more this week than ever before. It might be fool’s gold to think the defense is on its way to the defense of 2020, but I’ll choose to believe it’s still possible for now. The talent is there. Although...
The defensive schemes still seem a little squirrelly
I should have counted how many times Houston was in a down and distance situation like 2nd and 6, 3rd and 4, or 3rd and 8 only for me to check our defensive alignment and see our corners playing so far from their receiver that they were essentially in line for hot dogs. There was one play where our single high safety was so far off the screen that I’m pretty sure he set off the motion cameras at my house. I’ve said it before (and I’ll say it until it’s a lie): I’m not a professional defensive coordinator. Now that that’s out of the way, I can do simple math. If they need 4 yards and I give them 12 yards of space, they will be able to get 4 yards. In fact, they might be able to get 12 when the defender continues retreating after the snap until he disappears into the mist. Maybe our corners aren’t great at press coverage. Maybe we could still try putting them close enough to actually make a play that matters.
I know Jerome Baker pulled down a great interception this week (also teaching me a little about the rules in the process). Jerome Baker had 7 sacks last year and currently has 1. That pick, as nice as it was, is the only one he’s got, so the argument can’t really be that he’s a lights-out pass defender. He’s a good pass rusher. He should rush the passer.
My last complaint about coaching doesn’t even fit in this section, but too late. With 1:20 left in the 4th quarter, Miami is leading 17-9 and has the ball on the Houston 33 yard line. That’s a 50 yard field goal. The Dolphins let the clock wind down to :35, at which point they take a delay of game and punt. Yes, the special teams coverage downed the punt at the Houston 2. I don’t care that it worked. I hate the decision to punt there. It’s yet another instance of telling Jason Sanders that we don’t care that he was one of the top kickers last year, we no longer trust you. Sanders makes a 50 yarder, the game is guaranteed over. By punting, the Dolphins forced Houston to go an extra 34 yards for a game winning score. Even if Sanders missed, the anemic Texans’ offense would have needed to go 67 yards in 35 seconds with no timeouts, scored a touchdown, and completed a two point conversion just to take it to overtime. Trust your kicker. Kick the field goal. Seal the game.
Tua needs to get back on the field
Tua seems to be one of the unluckiest luckiest guys in the world. He’s in the NFL, so by definition, he’s almost as lucky as they get. Meanwhile, he hurts his finger just enough to not be ruled out of the game, but to instead serve as the backup to Jacoby Brissett, leaving the door open for naysayers and conspiracy theorists to come out of the woodwork and muckrake harder than S.S. McClure. According to Flores via PFT, Tua was positioned as the backup in a situation where, if Brissett had to leave the game, Tua would come in and be forced to use a reduced playbook. There are a few ways to take all the weirdness here: Tua is fragile and didn’t want to play through a small injury. Tua is tough and tried to push through it, but the coaches held him out. The GM did a bad job acquiring QB talent when a hurt starter on a reduced playbook is a better option than the 3rd stringer with the full playbook. Tua’s faking it because he put a huge bet down in Vegas that he’ll miss at least 6 games this year. Whatever your interpretation of the situation is: Tua really needs to play more football for the Dolphins.
The only way Tua can ever silence his critics is to play and dominate. He can’t dominate if he doesn’t play. I realize the downside to playing hurt (especially if they were really going to limit the playbook on him, which, as an aside: how could we possibly even do that with the way our offense is designed?) is that he could come out and lay an egg against a terrible team. The fault could very well be with his finger and the playbook, but evaluators may not acknowledge that. However, being injury prone is one of (if not the biggest of) the knocks against him, so fighting through a finger injury might look better than taking it easy. Regardless, there’s a really quick turnaround to Thursday’s game against Baltimore. If I were Tua, I’d be pushing as hard as I could to get on the field. Hanging with a solid Ravens team would go a lot further than cheering on The Pit Master from the sidelines.
Thursday night is going to be a challenge
I don’t want to doomsay. Here’s just a random list of numbers: 59, 40, 38. Those are the scores the Ravens put up against Miami the last three times the two teams played. 10, 0, 6. Those are the scores the Dolphins put up in those same games. For you non-mathematicians out there: That’s stupid bad. The Ravens are currently 6-2 coming off an overtime win against the Minnesota Vikings. They got thumped by a Bengals team that is kind of middling, but have also beaten the Chargers and Chiefs. The Dolphins, meanwhile, are not 6-2. Again, I don’t want to doomsay. I’m just prepared to set my expecatations a little low this go round. I want to see Tua play. If Tua’s starting, I want to see a competitive game kept within two scores. If Tua’s out, I want to see a huge amount of smoked meats cooked and served to those in attendance. Anything within 63 points is fine in that case. If I’m the coaching staff, given the team’s record, performance this year, injuries, etc. I would come out swinging like nobody’s business on Thursday night. Trick plays, special teams fakes, simulated crowd noise, laser pointers, deflated footballs, and Southern Louisiana waterboys ready to lay the wood in mama’s honor would all be on the table. Let the players go nuts and have some fun. What do you have to lose?
Are you so excited? And you just can’t hide it? Or you just think it’s neat that we won’t be the first 1-16 team in NFL history? Maybe you don’t think at all. That’s perfect for the comment section. Come join in.