Miami Dolphins Week 8: Right, Wrong, and WTF

Team1234Total
Dolphins (4-3)7210028
Rams (5-3)730717
Box Score via CBS Sports

The Miami Dolphins (4-3) entered Week 8 rested off their bye, and invigorated by the presence of rookie signal caller Tua Tagovailoa making his NFL starting debut.

Tua faced some tough odds against a Los Angeles Rams (5-3) defense led by DT Aaron Donald, and shored up on the back end with the likes of CB Jalen Ramsey. Tua’s debut went well, as he didn’t make any crucial mistakes and showed a firm grasp on the offense.

Obviously, much of the hype surrounding this game centered around Tua, but today, it was the underrated Miami defense who carried the team with an incredible first half performance, on their way to a 28-17 victory.

If you were still reeling from the Halloween festivities and couldn’t catch this game in the early window, you can read my recap here. For now, let’s dig in to What Went RightWhat Went Wrong and the WTF moments from the first win of Tua’s career!

As always, questions or comments? Ask me on Twitter! @Donny_Diablo7


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Photo Credit: Miami Dolphins

What Went Right

Outside of an early Tua mistake that gave the Rams prime field position (more on that later), this game was all Dolphins behind a dominating first half.

Starting on the offensive side of the ball, Tua would finish his debut completing 12-of-22 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. Those aren’t eye popping numbers by any means, but Tua bounced back after the aforementioned mistake and displayed poise against a Rams defense boasting a 48% pass rush win rate, sixth-best in the NFL according to ESPN.

It is also worth noting, outside of Tua’s first pass attempt, the offensive line did not allow another sack for the rest of the afternoon. This was a huge reason that Tua was able to bounce back, and not make anymore costly mistakes.

The Fins were aided on offense by the mysterious exit from CB Jalen Ramsey (illness) early on. It was strange, as the lockdown corner had no injury designation entering the contest, I’m sure more light will be shed on this as the week goes on.

Following an interception courtesy of DL Christian Wilkins (5 tackles, INT), the Fins found themselves deep inside Rams territory. Tua completed a myriad of quick strikes to four different Dolphins receivers, including a dart to WR Devante Parker (1 catch, 3 yards, TD) for a 3-yard score to tie the game at 7-7.

Which brings us back to the absence of Jalen Ramsey, Parker was being covered by Ramsey’s replacement David Long, Jr., who not only gave up the touchdown, but was also flagged for pass interference on the play.

The short pass highlighted Tua’s accuracy with the football; case in point, this statistic noted by Dolphins insider Travis Wingfield.

Tweet via Travis Wingfield

The game script Sunday favored a more conservative approach, considering how much of a lead the Fins had, but I’m sure Tua will thrive with more opportunities throwing the football moving forward.

On the defensive side of the ball, Miami had themselves quite an afternoon, to say the least. After giving up an early score set up by the Tua error, the Rams’ next seven offensive drives ended as follows: Punt, Interception, Punt, Fumble, Punt, Interception, Fumble.

The defensive onslaught began with the aforementioned Wilkins interception, buoyed by pressure from standout DE Emmanual Ogbah (2 tackles, sack, FF).

Following a RB Myles Gaskin (18 rush, 47 yards, TD, fumble) fumble recovered by Rams DB Taylor Rapp, the Rams were once again knocking on the door for a go-ahead score at the 7-yard line. This time, however, Miami tightened up as Ogbah strip sacked QB Jared Goff (35-of-61, 351 yards, TD, 2 INTs, 2 fumbles), while teammate LB Andrew Van Ginkel scooped it up and rumbled 78-yards to the house.

The sack was the sixth on the year for Ogbah — already a career-high at the midway point of the 2020 season — and a crucial reason as to why Miami has been getting consistent pressure on quarterbacks. In my preview for this game, I noted it was crucial that the defense apply pressure on Goff, as his performance drops considerably when he is taking heat.

“The key to the game was just to attack Jared Goff,” Ogbah said. “As a team, we did a good job rushing him and coverage goes hand in hand with the rush, and all those guys did a great job back there, too.”

The defense then forced a three-and-out their next time out on the field, shortly after WR/Returner Jakeem Grant poured salt on the wound with an 88-yard punt return for a touchdown to give the Fins a 21-7 lead.

The defense did a great job of derailing the Rams whenever they got anything going on offense. The Rams had great starting field position due to Jason Sanders kicking the ball out of bounds on kickoff, and were driving.

Once again, defensive coordinator Josh Boyer dialed up pressure, utilizing an array of blitz schemes — this time, in the form of Jerome Baker (13 tackles) — as it caused an errant throw to be intercepted by DB Eric Rowe (7 tackles, 5 PBU’s, INT). It was Rowe’s first interception, while his 5 pass breakups were the most by any defender in a game this year.

Miami couldn’t parlay this turnover into points, but were able to do so following yet another strip-sack from DE Shaq Lawson (3 tackles, sack, FF), recovered by LB Kyle Van Noy who almost reached pay dirt but was tackled at the 1-yard line. Gaskin would punch it in to stretch Miami’s lead to 28-7, as Miami scored 28 unanswered points to put this game out of reach before halftime.

As a team, the defense entered the game leading the NFL in third-down defense (31.3% conversion rate) and played very well on the money down, holding the Rams to a 4-of-13 rate through three quarters and 7-for-17 on the game. Miami also now holds the title of best scoring defense, giving up just 18.5 points per game.


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Photo Credit: Los Angeles Rams

What Went Wrong

While the Fins deservingly won this game yesterday, there were still aspects of the performance that can be improved on, mainly on the offensive side of the ball.

The Fins could muster just 145 yards of total offense as a team, and converted a paltry 8 first downs on 14 possessions. No one was expecting an offensive explosion against the Rams defense, especially considering it was Tua’s first start, but the team needs to objectively be better moving forward.

The mistake on Tua’s first pass attempt was caused by pressure from Aaron Donald and DL Michael Brockers. Given how careful Tua was with the ball after the fact, let’s chalk this up to Donald having a game-wrecker moment, as the Fins were never going to completely stop him.

With more time under center, Tua will get on track in regards to passing, but the main concern for both the offense and defense has to do with the run game. Miami once again failed to reach the century mark as a team, totaling just 55 yards on the ground.

Gaskin accounted for the vast majority of those yards (48) but often had trouble finding rushing lanes and also lost his only fumble. His longest carry of the day traveled just 6 yards, as Dolphins ball carriers averaged under a yard per carry before contact.

The defense played an outstanding game, and has improved in almost every area week-to-week except defending the run. Entering the game, the Fins ranked dead-last in the league in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) with a 12.7% rating against the rush. In terms of DVOA, a positive number represents more production, so you want it to be as low as possible.

Miami surrendered 131 yards rushing, including 103 yards for 5.7 YPC in the first half alone, including Woods’ 4-yard rushing touchdown early on. The Fins allowed three different Rams rushers to register a 10+ yard carry as well. The stat line probably would have looked worse had the Rams not been forced to abandon the run completely in the second half.

Speaking of Woods, the Fins must be tree huggers because they allowed Woods to thrive whenever he touched the ball. Outside of his first score, Woods would also be the beneficiary of a blown coverage late in the game that left him wide open in the end zone for an 11-yard score. Woods finished the game catching 7 passes for 85 yards, a receiving TD, and a rushing TD.

Woods’ running mate Cooper Kupp had a day as well, with the majority of his production coming in garbage time however. Due to Miami’s inability to stop the run, the Fins defenders often oversold the run defense and were bitten by a bevy of play-action passing.

Kupp was targeted an insane 21 times — by far, the most for either team — and converted those opportunities in to 11 catches for 110 yards, including a 22-yard reception.

The Fins also had trouble defending running backs in the passing game, as Darrel Henderson, Jr., Malcolm Brown, and Cam Akers each recorded a reception of at least 10+ yards that extended drives for the Rams.

These are troubling trends that must be addressed moving forward. Obviously, this has become a concern on both sides of the ball, and could be the thing that holds the Fins back against the upper-echelon teams that play well in regards to running the football.

StatsMiami DolphinsLos Angeles Rams
Total Yards145471
Rushing Yards55131
Passing Yards90340
3rd/4th Down Conv.3-of-127-of-17 (0-of-1 on 4th)
Turnovers24
Sacks For21
Penalties/Yardage3 for 30 yards4 for 45 yards
Time of Possession36:2923:31
Statistics via ESPN

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Photo Credit: Miami Dolphins

WTF

This game produced a bevy of WTF content for this column.

Jakeem Grant had an eye-popping performance, producing multiple big plays on special teams. He turned his only punt return to a 88-yard score, while adding on a 47-yard kick return later in the game. In a word, electric.

The sheer dominance this Miami team has displayed over the last few weeks is a WTF factor in itself. Since ceding 31 points to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 4, Miami has given up a combined 34 points in three games (SF, NYJ, LAR).

Miami has outscored opponents with +57 point differential this year, second only to the Baltimore Ravens (+66). Considering just how bad this team was last year, this is simply incredible.

The way in which Miami won on Sunday was historic for the franchise, as it was the first time the team scored in all three phases since 2009. It was also the first time in franchise history the team accomplished that feat in the first half.

Jared Goff’s 61 pass attempts were by far the most in his career, eclipsing the 53 pass attempts he had last year in a 30-23 loss at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles, according to Pro Football Reference.


Looking Ahead

The Miami Dolphins improved their record to 4-3, and hold their second-place position in the AFC East following the New England Patriots (2-5) loss to the Buffalo Bills (6-2)

The Fins will be a riding a three-game win streak into the desert next Sunday, taking on Kyler Murray and Arizona Cardinals (5-2) for yet another NFC West matchup.

The Rams, on the other hand, will fly home to a much-needed bye week after dropping back-to-back games.

(Featured Image Credit: Miami Dolphins)

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