In arguably Miami’s biggest game of the season so far, the Dolphins showed up big-time on Monday night, with a convincing 20-3 victory over the New Orleans Saints. In doing so, the Dolphins improved their record to 8-7, and became the first team in NFL history to have both a seven-game winning streak and a seven-game losing streak in the same season.
Here are 3 reasons why Miami was able to overcome New Orleans:
Reason 1: Aggressive Defense
We’re all well aware of how aggressive Brian Flores is on defense, but Monday night was something else.
The Dolphins ended the game with 8 sacks, 2 interceptions, and only allowed 164 yards of total offense. Also, the Dolphins defense managed to completely shut out the Saints on 3rd-down, as New Orleans converted ZERO of their twelve 3rd-down opportunities.
As usual, most of Miami’s success came through disguised coverages and blitz packages. Flores is a master at confusing an offense by giving different coverage looks at the line of scrimmage, and his methods are even more effective against a rookie QB. In fact, the Dolphins blitzed on 45% of the Saints’ pass plays, slightly above their season average of 39.2%. This aggressiveness led to a Dolphins pick-6 on just the Saints’ 2nd passing-play from scrimmage, and set the tone for the rest of the game.
Even after the game was essentially over, Miami just kept coming at the Saints. I get the feeling that Monday night was a message to the league, at least in the eyes of Brian Flores. “We’re the Miami Dolphins, and we’re not here to be pushed over.”
Reason 2: Creative Play-Calling
To put it nicely, Miami’s offense has been lackluster all season. Even on Monday night, the Dolphins still only generated a measly 259 yards of total offense, well below the league average of 344.5 yards per game.
However, even with a relatively poor day for the offense in terms of pure statistics, offensive coordinator George Godsey did exceptionally well (when it mattered) in terms of his play-calling. Trick-plays, flea-flickers, motions, and everything else under the sun—you name it, and chances are that Godsey used it against the Saints. With an offensive line as bad as Miami’s, you need to be as creative as possible on offense. You can’t just take a 5-step drop on every play, look for an open receiver, and expect to produce on offense. So, Godsey got creative, and called a number of different variations of common passing plays in order to confuse the Saints’ defense.
On a crucial drive in the 3rd quarter, leading 10-3, Miami desperately needed a score to silence the home crowd and reestablish their momentum. During this drive, for Jaylen Waddle’s 24-yard reception to take the Dolphins deep into the Saints’ territory, Waddle ran a simple crossing route. However, pair that simple crossing route with a flea-flicker, and suddenly the defense doesn’t understand their assignments, and we’ve got a man wide open. Godsey used similarly unconventional plays for the entire drive, as the Dolphins marched 86 yards down the field in 9 plays, eventually capping off their drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Waddle.
It’s something the Dolphins really haven’t shown all season, but I welcome the ingenuity and unorthodox play-calling, even this late into the year.
Reason 3: Tua’s Resiliency
Week 16 marked the 4th time this year where Tua has thrown an interception in the 2nd-half of a game. This is pretty worrying, as you can’t have your QB throwing away crucial drives late in games.
However, his ability to bounce back after throwing these interceptions has been remarkable. On the season, Tua has thrown four 2nd half interceptions. His stats in those games, directly following the interception? 26/32, 331 Yards, 5 TD’s, 0 INT’s, and a 149.35 passer rating. If you don’t know, that’s pretty good. In fact, it’s really good.
Following his interception against the Saints, Tua led the Dolphins 86-yards down the field, and tossed a 1-yard TD to Jaylen Waddle, increasing the Dolphins lead to 14 points. His ability to shake off an interception so easily can’t be overlooked, and it’s a big reason why Miami was able to beat New Orleans.
Yes, I’m sure we all want Tua to throw for 300 yards, 3 TD’s, and 0 INTs for every single game. But that’s not realistic for even the most elite of NFL quarterbacks, let alone a 2nd-year starter. His stats against the Saints don’t fly off the page, and he won’t be winning any Pro-Bowl votes off that performance. However, as he always does, he rebounded from a big mistake and was flawless for the remainder of the game. I don’t know about you, but I’d take that over empty statistics any day of the week.
The Dolphins meet up with a familiar face next week as they travel to Tennessee to take on Ryan Tannehill and the 10-5 Titans, who are currently the #2 seed in the AFC.
Head coach Mike Vrabel and the Titans are coming off a close 20-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 16. Although the Titans have already clinched a playoff spot, the #1 spot in the AFC is still up for grabs, so don’t expect an unmotivated Titans team by any stretch of the imagination.
At this point, every game for Miami is a playoff game. With 2 games left in the season, 2 wins essentially guarantees Miami a spot in the NFL playoffs. A win takes Miami to 9-7, and sets up a massive game at home against the New England Patriots in Week 18.