The first-place Miami Dolphins will rest well during this week’s bye. And they should. Everything’s coming together for the team that started 3-0, endured a three-game losing streak, and is now riding a season-best four-game winning streak after Sunday’s 39-17 rout of Cleveland.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is playing the best football of his two-plus season career, newcomers Bradley Chubb and Jeff Wilson Jr., made noteworthy contributions in the Browns victory, the defense signaled it still has playmaking ability, rookie coach Mike McDaniel is making all the right moves, and dreams of making a playoff run are looking as though they might become reality.
Yeah, special teams has work to do, but there’s seven regular-season games left to get that straightened out.
Right now, it’s time to bask in being in first place.
When the Dolphins resume play on Nov. 27, they host Houston (1-7-1) to close out the so-called “soft” part of the schedule.
Passing game: A
Tagovailoa had several extremely accurate throws, including touchdowns to receivers Trent Sherfield and Tyreek Hill, and a dart to Jaylen Waddle. In the last three games, he’s posted his best passer ratings of his career — 138.7 against Detroit, 135.7 against Chicago and 135.0 against Cleveland. Pass protection was excellent as Tagovailoa wasn’t sacked and was hardly touched. Although neither Hill (five receptions, 44 yards, one touchdown) nor Waddle (four receptions, 66 yards) had big days, others such as Sherfield (four receptions, 63 yards, one touchdown) and fullback Alec Ingold (four receptions, 45 yards, one touchdown) made an impact.
Running game: A
The Dolphins rushed for a season-high 195 yards. This was mostly about Wilson (17 carries, 117 yards, one touchdown), whose physical style and all-around game is just what this offense needed. But it’s also about the offensive line and its blocking. Wilson had holes. So did fellow running back Raheem Mostert (eight carries, 65 yards). The offensive line led the way. Give credit to center Connor Williams, guards Robert Hunt and Robert Jones, tackles Terron Armstead and Brandon Shell, Ingold, tight ends Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe, and Hill, Waddle and Sherfield. Wilson and Mostert got the yards, but success of the running game involved many. Keep that going and life gets much easier for the offense.
Defending the pass: A
The Dolphins sent a steady stream of pass rushers toward quarterback Jacoby Brissett (212 yards passing, one touchdown, three sacks, 89.2 passer rating). Among Chubb (.5 sacks), Jaelan Phillips (.5 sacks), Melvin Ingram (one sack), Christian Wilkins (one sack) and others, the Dolphins were solid. And the rush came from the inside and outside. No one had big stats but there was constant pressure. The Dolphins had 14 quarterback hits on 35 pass attempts. On the back end, the secondary lost cornerback Keion Crossen to a shoulder injury but kept things going. Cornerback Xavien Howard shadowed receiver Amari Cooper and held him to three receptions for 32 yards. Wideout Donovan Peoples-Jones had five receptions for 99 yards, including a 38-yarder on the game-opening drive. But the Dolphins did the job.
Defending the run: A-
Nick Chubb (11 carries, 63 yards) was held in check until late in the game when he broke loose for a 33-yard touchdown run. But considering Chubb is among the best in the NFL and entered the game second in the league in rushing with 841 yards, the Dolphins did well. Cleveland rushed for 112 yards on 24 carries, an average of 4.7 yards per carry. Brissett was a big contributor with 40 yards on seven carries, and 27 of those yards came on two scrambles — one for 14 yards and another for 13 yards. The run game wasn’t a factor for the Browns, who added 55 rushing yards in the fourth quarter. It should be noted the game was over at that point as the Dolphins took a 30-10 lead.
Special teams: D
Kicker Jason Sanders is struggling. It’s obvious. He missed two extra point attempts Sunday. Beyond that, the Dolphins allowed a game-opening 48-yard kickoff return that the Brown turned into a touchdown drive for a 7-0 lead. Thomas Morstead didn’t attempt a punt, which says a lot about the Dolphins’ offensive success. There was nothing too significant in the return game from either team aside from the Browns’ opening kickoff return, but Mostert had a 24-yard kickoff return.
McDaniel and his staff continue coming up with the right answers. It’s not just game-planning, it’s also having players ready when it’s their turn. The successes of the pass rush and run game are prime examples from Sunday. And it’s not just Chubb and Wilson, the new acquisitions. Jones has turned in a pair of good games at left guard, where he replaced Liam Eichenberg. Rookie safety Verone McKinley (32 snaps) had a good game against the Browns. Fellow defensive back Elijiah Campbell (six snaps from scrimmage) did well in spot duty. But the gameplan was also brilliant Sunday when you consider the Dolphins won with Hill and Waddle combining for just nine touches among 11 targets.
Stock up: LT Terron Armstead
Did Cleveland All Pro edge rusher Myles Garrett play? He was silent all day. Armstead, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, held him to two tackles, no sacks, no quarterback hits. Armstead, who is battling toe, calf and Achilles injuries, has been stellar while shutting down talent pass rushers such as Garrett, who entered the game sixth in the league with 7.5 sacks, New England’s Matthew Judon (league-leading 11.5 sacks), Minnesota’s Za’Darius Smith (9.5 sacks, second in the league), Baltimore’s Justin Houston (8.5 sacks, tied for fourth), Chicago’s Alex Highsmith (8.5 sacks, tied for fourth) and Buffalo’s Von Miller (8.0 sacks, fifth in the league).
Stock down: K Jason Sanders
You can’t miss two extra points in a game. You just can’t. Sanders was an All Pro just two seasons ago, when he led the league in scoring. But for the time being, he’s lost his touch. He’s 27 of 30 on extra points and 13 of 17 on field goals, including a 29-yard miss at Chicago. Not good.