Yet another beautiful outing in South Beach for the Fins!
This past weekend’s matchup was a true test to see how good this team really was, and it’s safe to say they passed. The Miami Dolphins (4-3) defeated the Los Angeles Rams (5-3) by a score of 28-17. The third win a row marks Miami’s longest win streak since they winning their first three games to open the 2018 season, according to Pro Football Reference.
While much of the hype for this game centered around rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa’s NFL starting debut, it was the defense who stole the show today and turned the tide in favor of the Fins.
Look out for a deeper dive later this weekend, but for now, let’s review the quick hits from Miami’s dominant victory.
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In all three of Miami’s previous wins, the team had fast starts and built early leads — but not today. Tua’s first drive couldn’t have gotten off to a worst start: a strip sack courtesy of DT Aaron Donald (3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF) deep in Dolphins territory.
The Rams would parlay great field position to points as WR Robert Woods (7 rec, 85 yards, TD) scored on a four-yard end-around run to give the Rams an early 7-0 lead. In previous years, Dolphin teams would typically pack it in after being punched in the mouth by a superior team on paper — but again, not today.
After the teams traded possessions, the Rams were starting to gain some traction on the offensive side of the ball. Miami needed a play, and DL Christian Wilkins (3 tackles, 1 INT) delivered, intercepting an errant throw due to pressure from running mate DE Emmanual Ogbah (1 tackle, 1 sack, 1 FF).
From this point on, it was the Dolphins’ world and the Rams were just living in it. The Fins capitalized quickly on the arm of Tua Tagovailoa, as the rookie hit WR Devante Parker (1 rec, 3 yards, TD) for a 3-yard score in a tight window for his first career touchdown pass to knot up the score at 7 apiece.
Tua would finish the game completing 12-of-22 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. Obviously not outstanding numbers, but he did enough to win and the way he bounced back after a rough start bodes well for the the future, especially as he gets more comfortable running the offense.
His raw athleticism also opened up the playbook for offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, as they were able to utilize more RPOs and play-action passing that wouldn’t have worked as well with incumbent QB Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Early in the second quarter, disaster struck again for the Fins as RB Myles Gaskin (18 rush, 47 yards, TD, 3 rec, 16 yards) fumbled deep inside Dolphins territory, giving the Rams a prime opportunity to take the lead.
Gaskin was bailed out by the Miami defense as Ogbah strip-sacked Goff, followed by a 78-yard scoop and score from OLB Andrew Van Ginkel earning the Fins a 14-7 lead in the process.
Following a three-and-out from the Rams offense, it was time for the special teams unit to join the party. Wide receiver/returner Jakeem Grant fielded a Johnny Hekker punt at his own 12-yard-line before wiggling his way through coverage en route to an 88-yard touchdown.
The 88-yard return was the fifth of Grant’s career, and the longest punt return in Dolphins history, eclipsing former WR Ted Ginn Jr.’s 87-yard score against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2007.
The defense’s ferocious first half continued on the very next drive, as DB Eric Rowe (5 tackles, 5 PBUs, 1 INT) found himself on the receiving end of a badly-thrown Goff pass due to pressure from LB Jerome Baker (13 tackles, 8 solo). It was QB Jared Goff’s second interception in a frustrating day on his way to completing 35-of-61 for 355 yards, a TD, and 2 INTs.
While the Fins couldn’t turn that mistake into more points, Tua and the offense were aided by yet another forced turnover courtesy of a DE Shaq Lawson (3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF) strip-sack at the Rams 1-yard line. Gaskin would plunge into the end zone for an easy score to extend Miami’s lead to 21 points before LA converted a 23-yard Kai Forbath field goal to enter the locker room at 28-10.
This was the third straight game Miami built a double-digit lead heading into the second half — obviously a great recipe for winning. The second half lacked the excitement of the first, beginning with both teams trading three-and-outs on their first possessions.
Perhaps this was a precursor for the entire third quarter, as neither team was able to score any points keeping the score at 28-10 heading into the fourth quarter.
At the onset of the final quarter, the Rams were able to get something going on the offensive side of the ball. Following three straight runs by RB Cam Akers (9 rush, 35 yards, 1 rec, 19 yards) to give L.A. a new set of downs, Goff dealt passes to five different receivers, including a wide open WR Robert Woods for an 11-yard score to trim the Fins lead to 11 points.
The Rams would have an opportunity to make it a one-score game on their next possession, driving down in range for a second Rams field goal attempt. Luckily, Forbath would go on to miss the 48-yard attempt, and gave Miami the ball back with a little under four minutes left in the game.
The purpose of the next Dolphins drive was to drain the clock, and the Fins did just that. Miami once again turned to Gaskin to close the game, running the ball six straight times, and bleeding the clock long enough to secure the 28-17 Miami win.
All-in-all, the new era in Miami under Tua Tagovailoa was a booming success.
While the rookie failed to reach the century mark in passing yardage, he was in complete control of the offense and made plays when he had to. Tua will only get better with time, and with emerging pieces around him, this Dolphins team can definitely contend for an AFC East title.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of this contest, is that it showed the Fins can win in every phase of the game, even without getting top-tier production from the offensive side of the ball — something that will bode well for the team later in the season when the stakes get that much higher.
Up next for both teams, Miami will visit the red-hot Arizona Cardinals (5-2), while the Rams will lick their wounds during their Week 9 bye.
(Featured Image Credit: Miami Dolphins)