This is starting to get a little weird.
I grew up heading into games often being convinced of the outcome ahead of time. That is, Miami would be outplayed, lose decisively, and any silver lining would be found by analyzing individual performances to seek some hope for the future.
The Fins are the ones forcing their opponents’ fans to resign to their fate even before the opening kickoff.
And I gotta say: it’s pretty fly.
Replacements held their own
This late in the season, it’s standard practice to see players missing games with bumps and bruises (if not season-ending injuries). On Sunday, the Dolphins had their fair share of replacement players forced to step in for one reason or another, and they didn’t disappoint.
Jaelen Phillips (out for the year with a torn achilles tendon) was supplanted by a combination of Andrew ‘Van You Feel the Love Tonight’ Ginkel and Emmanuel Ogbah. Based on the stat sheet, no one would have known Phillips was out of commission.
AVG finished with 5 tackles, 2 passes defended, and a magnificent pick six. While he’s had his moments before, perhaps we’re seeing AVG’s saga truly begin.
Meanwhile, Jerome Baker left with an MCL injury, to be replaced by Duke Riley, who played well in his stead.
The offensive line became a revolving door again with Kion Smith filling in for Terron Armstead, Liam Eichenberg in for Kendall Lamm, and Lester Cotton for Robert Hunt.
Jevon Holland had been ruled out before the game and Brandon Jones took his place in the defensive back end.
Historically, Miami has had issues with depth, especially when it comes to the offensive line. But this week, the team showed an ability to change out a good chunk of players and still deliver a dominant performance. That bodes extremely well for a late season push.
And I’m a guy who loves to bode.
Fangio started to show some more versatility
On the Commanders’ first offensive drive, I saw a sight that’s become akin to spotting Bigfoot outside of his seasonal luxury cabin retreat in Humboldt County.
I saw Vic Fangio send a blitz.
I like to believe that the team on both sides of the ball came into this game with the expectation of a cushy win and was using it as a chance to try some new looks and possibly some high-risk, high-reward style plays. But whatever their justification, it was nice to see.
Ever since Jalen Ramsey rejoined the secondary, it seems like Fangio has able to open up his playbook a bit more. Ramsey’s locked down either the other team’s top target or his half of the field, which has allowed the defensive scheme to become more variable.
A few times against Washington, the defense dared to be stupid, surrending a handful of big plays over 25 yards, but by and large, they smothered the Commanders’ offense. They held former-league-leader-in-passing-yards Sam Howell (which was a nuts stat to start with) to 127 yards passing and 0 TDs.
Terry McLaurin finished the game with 0 catches. There’s just not a whole lot more to say than that.
The offense got back in business
Miami’s offense hadn’t exactly sputtered over the last couple of weeks, but they certainly hadn’t been firing on all cylinders either. Against Washington, they got back to their old ways.
Tua found Tyreek Hill twice for TDs over 60 yards (making Hill the first Dolphins receiver to do that since 1971) en route to putting up 38 points. On Hill’s first score, it looked like De’Von Achane could have been hit on the same type of deep route on the other side of the field for an equally impressive score. They really just lit Washington up.
Unlike some games where the plan appears to zero in on one weapon, this week the ball was spread around nicely among Hill, Waddle, Mostert, and Achane. Tua completed passes to 7 different receivers and 4 players had rushing attempts. The Fins need to stick with that diversity if they want to keep putting pressure on better defenses.
Tua even showed a little wiggle in the pocket, stepping up to avoid the pass rush and making good decisions. Really the only thing I can knock is a bad drop by Jaylen Waddle early on, but all the positive outweighs that miscue this time.
It was a great showing all around. Hopefully from now through the end of the year, they’re aching to come out every week and perform this way.
Playcalling was solid
I’ve picked on Mike McD’s playcalling after some games when it felt like he was spending too much effort on motion, trickery, and complexity instead of taking the simple approach. This week, it was better. It wasn’t perfect (is it ever?), but it was noticeably better.
Perhaps there was slightly too much reliance on toss plays in the run game, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. One, it’s a staple of the offense, so it never hurts to practice. Two, they could have been banking on cruising to a win so easily they just didn’t care that much about mixing it up.
Either way, the offense showed a commitment to the run game (34 team rushes) that allowed them to control the clock and the pace of the game, especially on the final drive. Already leading 38-15 with 9:47 left in the 4th quarter, Miami executed a 13 play, 7:50 drive entirely composed of rushing attempts (sans one shovel pass that’s essentially a run). It culminated in a touchdown to take the score to 45-15 and leave Washington with under 2 minutes to work with.
That kind of drive is exactly what elite teams need to do.
I don’t care how white and nerdy coach McDaniel might be if he’s calling games like that.
Miami just might find themselves in the driver’s seat
Presently, the Fins sits atop the AFC. Like, the whole thing. Tied with Baltimore at 9-3, the Dolphins are setting themselves up for a meaty playoff run.
The next two games are huge (like any games aren’t). Week 14 they’re at home against the 4-8 Titans, who will be without Jeffery Simmons and possibly Derrick Henry, then staying at Hard Rock to host the 4-8 New York Jets the following week.
The team has to avoid looking too ahead and take care of business. If they win the next two games, they’ll be 11-3, meaning the worst they can finish is 11-6 which, while likely not a first round Bye kind of record, should guarantee a playoff spot.
Obviously, this year we fans want more than 11-6 and a playoff appearance. But if they go into Week 16 at 11-3, there won’t be a chance to stumble at the finish line and miss the postseason like in recent years past.
At this point, it’s becoming a game of momentum and health. Baker will be a big loss on defense, but early indications are he could be back relatively soon. Getting the whole roster healthy heading into the playoffs is critical.
If the Fins can avoid injuries and keep on cruising, they just might end up in paradise.
Think the Dolphins are on their way to glory? Think they will take care of business next week? Just want to watch this music video? Sing your heart out in the comments below.