It’s very appropriate that I write this on Halloween, the holiest of holidays, because it’s a day for tricks and treats and unmasking mysteries. Unfortunately, Week 8 against the Detroit Lions didn’t necessarily help us learn who the Miami Dolphins really are.
The defense has a split personality
At least right out of the gate, the defense looked like explorers wandering aimlessly through a labyrinth. Detroit came in having not scored a touchdown in two consecutive games. Miami’s defense ensured that wouldn’t continue to be an issue for Jared Goff and Friends. The Lions scored touchdowns on their first three (3!) drives and field goals on their next two en route to putting up 27 first-half points.
The Fins looked lost on their assignments, often communicating until after the snap. There was no pressure on Goff from the pass rush, coverage left huge cushions and gaps for receivers to run wild, and poor tackling persisted. It was, to quote famed NFL analyst Charles Barkley, turrible.
Then, as soon as it had crushed fans’ hopes and dreams, the defense found itself. Maybe they got a very stern a-talkin’-to at halftime or maybe they just remembered what they were supposed to be doing, but a very different and very effective defense came out of the tunnel for the second half. Detroit’s previously unstoppable offense was suddenly extremely stopped. Rather than the 27 first-half points surrendered, the Fins’ defense gave up 0 for the remainder of the game. The Lions had three drives total across the third and fourth quarters. Their first two drives managed -1 yard of offense. Their third went for 53 yards, but resulted in a turnover on downs. Miami’s defense was so schizophrenic this week that it would make Dr. Jekyll jealous. Its second-half revival was a complete reversal of fortune and served as a reminder that when the defense pulls itself together, it can be utterly dominant.
Young players were a little spooked
Wide receiver Braylon Sanders got his first NFL action against Detroit and had a less-than-stellar debut when he caught a pass from Tua and promptly fumbled it to the opponent near the end of a promising first offensive drive. Safety Verone McKinley III stepped in for the injured Brandon Jones and had some miscommunications while getting his feet wet. Last week’s standout performance from corner Noah Igbinoghene didn’t have a repeat showing as he played intermittently with the return of some other defensive backs.
Of course, in some cases, these are guys getting their first few snaps of real pro football action, so growing pains are to be expected. Hopefully, the team starts to see a blend of more experienced vets returning from injury and younger players growing more quickly into their roles.
It’s worth noting that corners Kader Kohou and Keion Crossen returned this week and, by the time the defense got going, played well. At the beginning of the year, defensive back depth looked like one of the weakest areas on the team, and yet, here are two newcomers holding their own and filling in admirably. That says a lot about the defensive backfield in terms of both players and coaches, and it’s a great thing to see.
I’m guessing those weren’t the same coaches who chose to scratch Eric Rowe while giving one carry to Salvon Ahmed. Early on in this game, that seemed like a decision that might have come back to haunt them, but they came away unscathed.
Penalties felt like a trick
Quick trivia question: What’s the NFL record for ‘defender lined up in the neutral zone’ penalties in one game?
I don’t know the answer, but seven (SEVEN) feels like it has to be in the running. Five (F-I-V-E) were called on Miami, with two more on Detroit. It was just so dumb to be a part of. It was unwatchable. If I wasn’t a Dolphins fan:
A) I would have stopped watching this game before the first half ended
B) My Sundays would be spent being a productive member of society
C) Fewer strangers would take pity on me as I move through life
D) All of the above
That’s right, it’s D. For Dolphins. And Detroit. And dumb. Sunday’s game had 7 accepted penalties against Miami, 6 against Detroit, and 53 more called on Miami, but declined. At one point, the refs threw a flag, but picked it up, and I’m convinced it was only tossed out there because it had already become muscle memory for them between the kickoff and that moment.
Michael Ronald McDonald McDaniel has to get that cleaned up. He showed improvement in getting play calls into the offensive huddle faster to avoid hurrying plays at the line and/or spending unnecessary timeouts. Next on his agenda has to be overall discipline, pre-snap penalties, and snagging a laser level on discount to teach dudes how to stand on the correct side of a line.
The offense was a treat
While the defense was wading its way through inconsistent-seas (not even a pun worth making), the offense was an absolute wrecking ball.
Tua looked every bit like a quarterback who should have been drafted fifth overall. He went 29/36 (81%) for 382 yds, 3 TDs, and 0 INT for a 92.8 QBR (138.7 on the classic scale). His accuracy was back on point, his decision-making was quick, and he protected the ball.
He also spread the ball around, completing passes to seven different targets, and helped produce more gaudy stat lines for Tyreek Hill (12 recs, 188yds) and Jaylen Waddle (8 recs, 106 yds, 2 TDs). Mike Gesicki continued to get involved more with his fourth touchdown of the year (3 recs, 38 yds, 1 TD) as well.
The running game racked up 107 total yards, with 64 coming from Raheem Mostert on 14 carries. Everything was coming up Milhouse.
It’s been a long, long time since I’ve been able to watch a Dolphins game where the defense gives up 27 first-half points, and yet still think to myself, “This is fine. The offense can come back from this.” That’s a rare and unfamiliar feeling that I don’t quite know what to do with yet. If it keeps up, I’ll have no choice but to take a good long look in the mirror.
Miami needs to decide what’s under the mask
Despite my praise for the offense, I realize that some of this likely seems similar to last week, where the team wins, but I come off as a bit of a downer.
That’s because this team keeps teasing us, the long-suffering fans, with greatness. Shutouts here, blowouts there, fireworks sprinkled throughout: the potential is screaming into the night. Yet, they aren’t always putting it together each week and I think that’s, in part, due to lack of an identity. Here’s a list of identities that don’t qualify:
- ‘General Hospital’, despite yet another major injury, this time to left guard Liam Eichenberg.
- ‘Benders, Not Breakers’ because that’s just a fun way of saying ‘turnover dependent’.
- ‘The Cheetah and Penguin Show’, where the ball only goes to Hill and Waddle and ignores balance on offense.
- ‘The Slump Busters’, where Miami makes struggling teams look like juggernauts.
- ‘The Ugly Ones’, where the Fins win by barely putting enough positives together to eek out a win.
They’ve shown they can be a balanced and dominant offense predicated on a capable rushing attack (when enough run plays are called), short passing to extend the run game, and downfield passing to the dynamic receiving corps to blow teams out of the water. The defense has shown they can completely shut down opponents with lock down coverage in the backfield and blitz-focused pressure to make quarterbacks squirm. Combine those two things, and we’ve got a monster on our hands.
I know. How about The Great Old Ones? A loose pantheon of ancient, powerful deities from space who rule the Earth. That way, even if somehow they can’t win football games (despite being all powerful), they can at least eat the announcers.
What did you dress up as for Halloween this year? Was it a brown paper bag with the eyes cut out, and you wore it to a Browns or Lions game? I know it was. I see you. We all see you. Show your face in the comments.