Three down, seventeen to go. The undefeated Miami Dolphins moved their record to 3-0 this past Sunday in a game against the Buffalo Bills that looked, at times, more like Woodstock ‘99 than an NFL matchup. Players were dropping like flies in the sweltering South Florida heat. The Fins’ defense did the heavy lifting, while the offense was only on the field for as long as it takes Ken Dorsey to clear his desk.
What do I think (I think) about this incredible success? I thought you’d never ask.
A couple of tweaks will make this defense elite
I get it. How hard can I really attack a defense that held the NFL’s #1 scoring offense to 19 points (17 earned)?
Not that hard. But not not at all, either.
Call it ‘bend don’t break’ or ‘pretty bad until it isn’t’, but the Dolphins’ defensive style is the second leading cause of heart problems in America behind the McRib. It’s either a genius move intended to wear out opposing offenses in the heat, a la Sunday, or a system predicated almost entirely on luck. Hopefully it’s the former since the latter will eventually run out. Regardless of your stance on the overall defensive concept, there were some glaring nits to pick:
- Miami blitzes more than any other team in the league. That’s great as far as I’m concerned. The not-so-great part is when the defenders who aren’t blitzing leave the player across from the blitzer all alone, uncovered, having a nice relaxing soak while they stare into the backfield and allow for instant completions. Even in zone coverage, a player simply sliding near the just-abandoned receiver will take away the totally free play. The blitz could have gotten home so many times if there wasn’t a wide open receiver to immediately slip the ball to. If that subtle change is made, opposing quarterbacks are in for a really rough time.
- The Dolphin defenders need some stickum on those hands. By my count, Brandon Jones, 2022 Defensive Player of the Year Jevon Holland, Xavien Howard, and Jaelan Phillips all dropped should-always-be interceptions. Two of those were likely pick sixes. Howard also could have had another in the end zone, though it didn’t fell like a gimme the way the others did. When you’re against a top caliber QB (and as much as I dislike him, Josh Allen undoubtedly qualifies), you have to make him pay for mistakes. Letting him off the hook will come back to bite a team in the Butt Punt more often than not.
That’s it. Cover the free receiver. Catch the free interceptions. That’s a pretty short list.
For everyone armed and ready to complain that I’m being too harsh, these shortcomings are the difference between being a great defense who just smothered a top offense and an elite defense who will smother the earth. Miami very well could be on its way to becoming the league’s best and the best don’t rest on their laurels. I expect the coaches to fix these areas and build this great defense into a beast.
A couple of tweaks will make this offense elite
That sounds familiar.
The Dolphin’s offense hardly had a chance to show their merit with Buffalo taking ninety (90!) offensive snaps to Miami’s thirty-nine. When they did, they had a few missteps that I know Coach McDaniel will correct with his McDolphins:
- Extremely short drives kept the defense on the field entirely too long. Miami had drives of just 2:26, 2:09, 1:58, and 1:40, all resulting in punts. The worst offender of all was (obviously) the 3 play, -1 yard drive from their own 2 yard line, which ultimately ended in a safety. The Bills had a 20 play, 87 yard drive from their own 2 yard line, so starting field position alone isn’t the culprit. It’s no secret that the offense needs to extend drives to give the defense a break every once in a while. I’m sure MM knows this too and will take care of it.
- Raheem Mostert lost a handful of one-on-ones against a linebacker. It’s not that big of a deal, it’s just noticeable since he’s got such big play potential and just one miss could have sent him off to the races more than once. Chase Edmonds looked like the better back and might deserve more opportunities. Meanwhile, Teddy Bridgewater has gotten a lot of flack for his, let’s say, shaky appearance while Tua was being evaluated. I don’t think it’s entirely doom and gloom with him since those were his first snaps in a game, but in the event that Tua has to miss any significant time, I hope the coaching staff is leaning hard on him to be ready and avoid a massive drop off in production if he’s called upon. If nothing else, we know he can handle the heat. (Because of the beanie. In Miami. In September. When dozens of players were falling victim to the conditions. Nevermind.)
That’s it. Sustain drives a little more and look at improving some specific parts of a couple players’ performances. Not a whole lot to bring up.
Plus, no matter the minor deficiencies I can point out, the most important characteristic of this year’s offense shone through: They can pull it out in the clutch.
Zero tweaks are needed to make this team’s mentality elite
Where does that clutchness (come at me, Merriam Webster) stem from?
It could be QB1. Tua’s been unflappable this season so far. Maybe that comes from his NFL experiences up to this point: being injured coming in, dealing with varying coaching staffs, and having some higher ups actively trying to replace him. All of that adversity might have built an unmoveable golem of resilience.
It could be coach McD. The players seem to love him. The media seems to embrace him. The fans seem to believe in him. It’s a small sample size, of course, but his team has shown more in the first three weeks of this season than a lot of past coach’s teams have shown in their whole tenure.
It could be decades of the team coming up short and carrying the reputation that the Dolphins aren’t real contenders. Even if the players themselves weren’t part of those teams from the past, the impression likely carries through to them and they might just be tired of it.
Whatever the root cause, this Dolphins team has shown they can overcome just about anything thrown their way and, when push comes to shove, they’ll be doing the shoving.
That being said:
Depth is about to be tested
Three days is not a long time to heal up after a war of attrition like that. The Fins’ defense has got to be feeling it. Talking with Peter King, 2022 Defensive Player of the Year Jevon Holland told him: “People were going down. You had people coming in who didn’t really play much. It was chaotic. Fans were loud. People cramping. Drives … going 10 plays, 14 plays, 20 plays. The game was a beast. Just a beast.” King asked “What hurts right now?” “Everything,” Holland said. “Everywhere.”
Miami’s Monday theoretical injury report listed nine players who would not have practiced and added six who would have been limited. That’s a high number of fellas who need to take it reeeeeeal easy for a few days.
Cincinnati has a lot of star power on offense. I expect the Dolphins’ offensive game plan to aim for methodical drives to give the defense more time on the sideline. When the defense does get on the field, I look for a lot of pressure on Joe Burrow to force the Bengals into mistakes. If Miami can jump out to a lead and force Cincinnati to pass more often, they could soon be staring at 4-0.
Regardless of the outcome of Thursday’s short week game:
Miami can hang with the big boys
People can cite all of the Bills’ injuries coming in. There’s no doubt they had an impact. Granted, it wasn’t a very big one when all of the missing starters were on defense and the offense spent 90 snaps on the field en route to a whopping 17 points.
People can cite the weather. As we all know, Stephen Ross moonlights as Ra, the Egyptian god of the sun. Here’s a crazy plan for future visiting teams: go to weather.gov, put in the zip code for Miami, and take a gander. When it says ‘feels like 99’ and you know your job is performed on a field in the sun, bring some ice packs.
People can cite should-haves and would-bes. What if Matt Milano catches his free interception? What if Josh Allen makes his free TD throw? What if Isaiah McKenzie runs out of bounds? It’s true that any of those plays changes the game considerably. However, Miami had five (4!) easy INTs dropped. If any of those are caught, it likely changes the game considerably too. All that ever matters is what actually happens. And what happened is that the Dolphins stepped up when it counted most and delivered a tough win against an excellent opponent.
The Dolphins can not only hang with the big boys, right now (and yes; it’s Week 3), the Dolphins are the big boys.
Want to make a bunch of lame excuses why this win didn’t count for anything? Want to complain about the weather? Want to whine and cry and throw your papers all over the place? Come down to the comments and get your free Bills gear!