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Wild-Card Film Review: Miami Dolphins Show Reasons for Optimism in Tough Buffalo Loss

There are no moral victories in the NFL, but Dolphins fans have a lot to be happy about.

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AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Miami Dolphins v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

It doesn’t really matter that the Miami Dolphins were 13.5-point underdogs in Buffalo, dropping that one stings. They had several opportunities to build on their lead and another to reclaim it in the last five minutes of regulation. In the end, the Bills would prove to be just a little too much for a banged-up Dolphins roster missing their starting quarterback.

Fans are understandably frustrated by some of the circumstances surrounding this defeat, but there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the future of this franchise. Lets take a look at some of the Dolphins’ most impressive performers from this wildcard weekend and why fans should be optimistic going forward.

Is Jaelan Phillips the next great Miami pass rusher?

There’s no question that Miami Dolphins fans have been spoiled over the last twenty years when it comes to pass rushers. Jason Taylor, Adewale Ogunleye, Joey Porter, Cam Wake, Olivier Vernon and Robert Quinn all made stops (some shorter than others) in Miami. Maybe that’s why Dolphins fans have been a mildly impatient with the pass rush this season, but I can assure you the next pro bowl level pass rusher is already in a Dolphins uniform.

Jaelan Phillips came into the NFL with elite physical traits, but limited college experience. He was raw at times during his rookie season, but still made an impact with his athleticism and motor. This season we’ve seen Phillips improve and take the next step in his career progression.

Play 1: In real-time it’s almost imperceptible, but he swats Spencer Browns hands away and bends around the edge so quickly that it forces Brown mug him from behind (egregious no-call).

Play 2: He tries a similar move from before, but Brown knows what he’s doing and cuts him off. Phillips counters that with a slick inside spin move and is a fraction of a second away from hitting Allen. Instead the ball comes out and it’s intercepted.

Play 3: Phillips is more of a finesse/speed rusher, but we get to see him show off his power here. He sets up Brown to the outside but breaks this inside and powers through him to Allen. Not as bad as the first one, but this should probably be another holding call.

The battle that takes place between edge rushers and offensive tackles is as mental as it is physical. If you’re a one-trick pony when it comes to rushing the passer, quality tackles will adjust and shut you down. Once you get to the point where you can win in several different ways as a pass rusher, you become significantly more difficult to handle.

That’s what really excites me about Phillips’ development, he can beat you so many different ways. We’re talking about a second year player that looked unlockable at times and registered at least five pressures in ten of his regular season games (seven in the wildcard game-per PFF).

The Offensive Line has a strong base to build around

Connor Williams caught a lot of flack for his errant snaps in the preseason (and the occasional one in the regular season), but his signing and position change have proven to be a success. He was PFF’s 4th highest graded center (minimum of 600 snaps) and was a stabilizing force on the offensive line, even when so much around him changed.

The other big addition was of course Terron Armstead. While he dealt with injuries for the entire season and missed some time, when on the field he played at a high level. Between his elite play and leadership, I’ll take 750 snaps of Terron Armstead for 15 million APY all day long.

Between those two additions and Robert Hunt’s continued development, this offensive line has a sold base to build from (which is a significant improvement from last offseason). If Miami can figure out the left guard and right tackle spots-either internally or externally-the offensive line could start to become a strength of this team.

The Dolphins can save money on the QB position

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, but Skylar Thompson looked like an NFL quarterback this past weekend. He isn’t going to compete for the starting job or anything, but the Dolphins may have found a reliable and cheap backup option for the next three years. Let’s look at some of his more impressive throws that helped to keep the Dolphins close in this one.

I believe he showed that he has the ability to be an NFL quarterback in this game. He made his share of mistakes (which is completely normal for a rookie QB), but his receivers didn’t exactly help him out in this contest either.

I’m a Tua Tagovailoa supporter and I think he is the bona fide real deal, but his play style and smaller stature seem to lead to more injuries for him. Having a young QB that can stay in the system and grow with the offensive coaching staff could prove invaluable in the future.

The future is bright for Miami

Young players are developing and the Dolphins have seemingly chipped away at the chasm that existed between themselves and the Buffalo Bills. Moral victories are nice in the first year of a coaching change, but going forward these close losses will need to start becoming wins. If the Dolphins continue on their current trajectory, that shouldn’t be a problem.