Grading Dolphins’ comeback win over Lions; plus stock up, stock down – The Denver Post


It wasn’t the dominant type of victory observers might have wanted to see from the Miami Dolphins against the one-win Detroit Lions, but in the NFL, some Sundays a team has to take the victory however it can get it.

On Sunday at Ford Field, it meant coming back from two different 14-point deficits. Miami started immediately in a 14-0 hole, giving up touchdowns on their first two defensive series and losing a fumble in between.

As the offense was buzzing behind quarterback Tua Tagovailoa against the Lions’ struggling defense, the once-reliable Dolphins defense appeared like it couldn’t get a stop. That changed in the second half as Miami shut out Detroit after halftime, but it was assisted by the Dolphins offense keeping the ball away from the Lions with long, sustained drives, and Detroit backing itself up with penalties on a critical third-quarter series. Ultimately, the Lions turned it over on downs on their last chance, and Miami ran out the clock.

Here’s how the Dolphins graded out in various areas of Sunday’s 31-27 win against the Lions to improve to 5-3 with the Chicago Bears up next.

Passing game: A

Overall exceptional. Through the air, the Dolphins remained in the game when their defense couldn’t get a stop early, and then put together the comeback with the sustained second-half drives.

Tua Tagovailoa was back in form, going 29 of 36 (80.5 percent) for 382 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions — nor near interceptions, which became a popular statistic after his Sunday night game last week against the Steelers. Taking advantage of a last-ranked Detroit defense that was down multiple defensive backs, his 138.7 passer rating was his best single-game figure in his career. On third downs, Tagovailoa was at his best, completing 8 of 9 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns.

Tyreek Hill, in going for 12 receptions and 188 yards, had six catches of 15 or more yards. He consistently got open under an over-the-top safety primarily concerned with not getting beat deep. On one seam route, he got beyond two Lions defenders and Tagovailoa underthrew him, not entirely stepping into the throw with an incoming pass rusher, but Hill came back and came down with his game-long 42-yard reception.

With Jaylen Waddle finishing with 106 yards on eight receptions, Hill and Waddle hold an NFL record for most receiving yards for a pair of teammates through eight games (1,688). The two worked in tandem well on Waddle’s two touchdowns, with Hill drawing coverage away from him. Tagovailoa and tight end Mike Gesicki were in sync on the go-ahead touchdown as Gesicki sat where he was open instead of continuing toward coverage on his corner route.

Running game: B-

Nothing too spectacular, but it was solid and complemented the passing game. The Dolphins had 107 yards on 26 attempts (a 4.1 average) and picked up eight of their 27 first downs on the ground.

Raheem Mostert continues to be the lead back. He had 14 carries for 64 yards. Tagovailoa scrambled for an 18-yard pickup — and he’s sliding now at the end of his runs. Alec Ingold provided a nice open-field block on that one, and the Miami fullback also scored on a 1-yard sneak, motioning under center to take the direct snap.

Defending the pass: D

The Dolphins started two undrafted rookies in the secondary, and it looked like it early. Verone McKinley, called up from the practice squad for the third time this season, is a good story in starting alongside former Oregon teammate Jevon Holland, but it didn’t pay off in the first half. Miami gave up touchdowns on Detroit’s first three drives, with multiple big plays surrendered through the air.

Cornerback Xavien Howard appeared a step slow on at least a couple of occasions again. Even Holland, who had a career-high 12 tackles playing in the box a lot with McKinley as the deep safety, had his share of mishaps, including the long catch and run given up to tight end T.J. Hockenson.

Kader Kohou was in coverage for the late fourth-down incompletion that sealed it. The one passing touchdown was on linebacker Jerome Baker against running back D’Andre Swift.

There wasn’t much in terms of pass rush, but defensive tackle Zach Sieler had a monstrous sack and two pass deflections. Jaelan Phillips got two hits on Lions quarterback Jared Goff, who had 264 of his 321 passing yards in the first half.

Defending the run: C+

The return of star running back D’Andre Swift wasn’t too impactful as the Dolphins held him to 6 yards on five carries, although Swift did have a receiving touchdown. It was mostly Jamaal Williams for Detroit on the ground. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry on his 10 attempts, which included two touchdowns up the middle.

Overall, Miami surrendered 4.3 yards per attempt rushing. Even then, the Lions feared the Dolphins defensive front enough on the most critical play of the game. Needing one yard on fourth down, after picking up 11 through the air the play before on third-and-12, Detroit didn’t go to the ground and ended up with the failed deep shot to Josh Reynolds against Kohou.

Special teams: B-

Kicker Jason Sanders made his one field goal. The Dolphins’ one punt was well executed, 38 yards by Thomas Morstead from the Detroit 46-yard line to the 8 with the coverage from Keion Crossen there to bring the returner down at the 12.

Miami may have something with Cedrick Wilson returning punts as the team showed its first signs of life in that area in his two chances, but there was a penalty on one of them. The Dolphins gave up the fake punt late in the first half, which was unexpected from the Lions’ 33-yard line, but the unit nonetheless must be ready for it.

Coaching: C

There was a message that got across at halftime; that’s for sure. Some adjustments defensively played a role in shutting out Detroit in the second half after 27 first-half points, but it was mostly just better execution and limited opportunities for the Lions, only getting three possessions after halftime.

Still, the defensive game plan to start was getting Miami torched against a Lions team that, coming in, hadn’t scored a touchdown in the previous two games.

Penalties were also an issue again as Miami had seven of them, but nine more that were declined because they still resulted in positive plays for Detroit.

Stock up: Tua Tagovailoa

That’s easy. He’s officially back. He shook off the rust from his first game back last Sunday night against the Steelers and was his usual accurate self, delivering balls on time, in the spot his receivers needed them and not really coming close to an interception. Some may grade it the best overall game of his career, as Pro Football Focus did.

Stock down: Eric Rowe

In what appeared primed to be Rowe’s opportunity with strong safety Brandon Jones out, he wasn’t even active for the game. The veteran who has ties from the Patriots with defensive coordinator Josh Boyer was a healthy scratch. The Dolphins opted instead to replace Jones Sunday with Holland playing Jones’ usual role in the box and McKinley largely as the free safety.



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