After the week one loss the Dolphins suffered that had some (very reactionary) fans claiming this Dolphins team was on an embarrassing path to consistent 2012 struggles, things weren’t nearly that bad. The running game was solid vs. Houston and many of the offensive mistakes were correctable.
Now, after a thrashing of the Oakland Raiders, Dolphins fans and the media (hopefully) realize that this team still has a chance to be consistently competitive all season long.
Run, Reggie Run. And Thanks the Offensive Line Too
With a rookie quarterback, maybe three NFL receivers, and three top 40 picks invested in the offensive line, there shouldn’t have been much doubt that the Dolphins would ofcus on running the ball this season. And while Reggie Bush hasn’t been viewed as an elite between the tackles runner in his career, he flashed that ability last year and thoroughly impressed this the Dolphins Week 2 win.
As a runner, Bush has seemingly taken the next step as an explosive running back. Now not afraid to go through contact, he’s showing fantastic vision up and through the hole and taking good angles once through contact to maximize his quickness and top speed. His 6.6 yards per carry for 172 yards and two touchdowns were even more impressive in action than the stat sheet.
But when you consider that Lamar Miller also ran for 65 yards and Jovoriskie Lane had four solid runs, it becomes clear that the other side to the running game coin, the offensive line, stepped up as well. This unit was able to open up huge holes downfield, finding their block and driving to create seams for the quicker runners Bush and Miller. While Jake Long struggled a bit in pass protection, the left side and the interior of the offensive line were the difference in this game that made Ryan Tannehill’s life substantially easier.
Tannehill Continues to Grow as a Quarterback and Utilizes Brian Hartline
The running game will be the focus of the offense on Sunday’s, Ryan Tannehill and these receivers likely will remain at the forefront of the practice schedule and in the eyes of the media. Tannehill struggled with field vision, finding throwing lanes, and ball placement in the team’s week one loss that saw him throw three interceptions.
But in this week 2 effort, Tannehill remained calm and cool (how he seemingly always appears) but also more decisive, accurate, and confident in his reads. While some of his throws were simple and designed to keep him confident, he looked great at driving for 15-20 yard routes that are a staple of the vertically stretched version of Joe Philbin’s “west coast” philosophy.
The big four “receivers” for the Dolphins re-emerged in this game as well, with Brian Hartline stepping into the leading role, snatching 9 passes for over 100 yards. His resurgence into the passing lineup gives this team two outside targets for the Dolphins, along with Davone Bess. Reggie Bush only grabbed three passes, but his role as a runner, especially to the outside, stretched the defense laterally the way his receptions would anyways. And Anthony Fasano’s touchdown reception up the seam is one that Tannehill feels comfortable making and likely will target in the red-zone consistently. With four solid options that, I anticipate, will remain his focus points as a passer all season, Tannehill should be able to grow more and more each week as a passer.
Dolphins Run Defense Remains Strong as the Staple of the Team
The Miami Dolphins have allowed just one 100 yard rusher in the last 18 games they’ve played. That 100 yard game was against arguably the best rushing team in the country, the Houston Texans, and it was 103 yards for Ben Tate.
The Dolphins held Darren McFadden to just 22 yards on 11 carries, with a long of 4. As a team, the Raiders had just 23 total rushing yards. That allowed the Dolphins offense to consistently get the ball back for Reggie Bush and Ryan Tannehill along with forcing Carson Palmer to throw the ball 48 times.
The pass defense wasn’t ideal for the Dolphins, but in part that is thanks to the run defense shutting down the Raiders ability to pick up first downs on the ground. The team still struggled to cover running backs out of the backfield and seam routes from interior receivers.
But as a whole, the defense showed why it’s been among the NFL’s best over the past 11 games (dating back to last year). They control the run game laterally and up the middle. They generated some interior pressure to force offenses to go horizontally or take chances downfield. As long as they can continue to both of those things, along with get better play from their linebackers in coverage and show some better aggressiveness in the middle of the field routes by safeties, this defense will remain strong all season long.
Quick Week 3 Preview
Next week’s game against the Jets may be the tale of what this Dolphins team thinks of itself. Sure, in the pre-season, the Dolphins were set to be the bottom 10 of the NFL by season end. But they are 1-1 so far this season, tied for first place in the AFC East (with the other 4 teams). A win against the Jets puts them in 1st place in the division. Sure, it’s a lofty goal, but why can’t the Dolphins be in the mix.
As for the Jets match-up specifically, it’s too difficult to get a feel on them right now. Some can be gleaned by what stayed consistent in both games. Mark Sanchez is playing well. Tim Tebow is not a major part of the offense. And their offense AND defense need a lead early to stay on track. They were solid in run defense vs. the Steelers, but let CJ Spiller explode for 169 yards in week one (who is very similar as a runner to Reggie Bush). I’d expect the Dolphins to run early and often, especially in the B and C gaps, disguise coverages rather than focus on getting pressure on Sanchez, and giving Ryan Tannehill throws in the middle of the Jets defense.