This game tested the mental toughness of this young Dolphins team, as neither team truly felt in control until the waning moments of the contest. Going into the game, the team knew they would need to play great complementary football in all three phases to pull this one out, and they did just that.
This was easily the most entertaining game of the weekend by far, in my opinion; and if you didn’t catch it, you can read my recap here. But for now, let’s review What Went Right, What Went Wrong and the WTF moments from Miami’s fourth consecutive win!
As always, questions or comments? Ask me on Twitter! @Donny_Diablo7
What Went Right
A lot went right for Miami, as they were able to keep pace with the NFL’s top-ranked offense (419 YPG) this past Sunday.
The biggest shift in the offensive dynamic was giving QB Tua Tagovailoa more opportunities, especially throwing downfield. For my preview of this game, I made it clear the Fins were going to have to take shots down the field to keep pace with Arizona, and Tua performed very well in this area with objective improvement from the previous week, according to Pro Football Focus.
Last week, Tua was able to show poise in his first start, and he further developed his game this week, producing with both his arm and his legs. He would finish the game completing 20-of-28 passes for 248 yards, 2 touchdowns, plus 7 rushes for 35 yards.
The best thing about that stat line: zero turnovers. In last week’s affair, Tua fumbled on his first pass attempt of the game, but he and the rest of the Miami offense had no issues taking care of the ball this week.
Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey had some terrific calls, utilizing Tua’s mobility on a plethora of play-action passing, rollouts, and RPOs that kept the Cardinals guessing where the football was going.
One exemplary play, in particular, happened late in the first quarter as the Fins were driving to break a 7-7 tie. Following a deep strike to TE Mike Gesicki (3 rec., 42 yards) resulting in a 17-yard pick up, Tua would hit fellow TE Durham Smythe (1 rec., 19 yards) two plays later for a 19-yard gain before being tripped up at the edge of the goal line.
On this play, Tua first looked to WR/KR Jakeem Grant (4 rec., 35 yards) in the flat, then to RB Salvon Ahmed (7 rush, 38 yards) on the opposite side, before finding Smythe wide open with room to run in the middle of the Cardinals pass defense.
The play exemplified just one of the advantages of having an athletic quarterback like Tua at the helm, and showed Tua’s football IQ in being able to make the play after going through all three progressions.
This game also showed the depth the Dolphins have at the skill positions, with both running backs Myles Gaskin (MCL sprain) and Matt Breida (hamstring) nursing injuries, compounded with the exit of WR Preston Williams (4 rec., 60 yards, TD) injuring his foot after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter.
In their absence, running backs Salvon Ahmed, and Patrick Laird (1 rush, -1 yards, 1 catch, 17 yards) each made drive-extending plays, while Jordan Howard (10 rush, 19 yards, TD) scored from two yards out after the aforementioned Smythe reception, and was the closer late in the game when the Fins were trying to kill clock.
The Miami receivers stepped up following the Williams exit, with WR Devante Parker leading the charge. Parker served as a security blanket for Tua in the second half catching 6 balls for 64 yards, with all of his production coming after the Williams injury.
Wide receiver Jakeem Grant didn’t stuff the staff sheet by any means, but was reliable catching 4-of-5 targets for 35-yards, including turning a short pass into a 16-yard gain that moved the chains on Miami’s final drive of the half resulting in a Jason Sanders field goal.
The team’s trend of putting up points in the first half continued as well, as Miami has now scored 21+ first half points in four straight games. This is the second time this has happened in franchise history, and the first time since 1977, according to Pro Football Reference.
Part of the reason for all of this point production is due to the opportunistic Miami defense, and they came up big early.
On Arizona’s first offensive series, QB Kyler Murray (21-of-26, 283 yards, 3 TDs, 11 rush, 106 yards, TD) rolled out to his right and was immediately met by DE Emmanuel Ogbah (5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF) who then strip-sacked Murray, as teammate DE Shaq Lawson (3 tackles, FR, TD) recovered and raced 36 yards to the end zone to give Miami a 7-0 lead.
The play was extremely impressive, as the Cardinals were giving up the least amount of pressure and sacks at this point in the season. It was a boon for Miami’s defense to get home when rushing their front-four, and they would have had more sacks if not for Murray’s prowess evading defenders.
After this point, the Miami defense struggled containing Murray and Cardinals (more on that later), but they made the plays needed to win the game. With just a little over 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter, and the game tied at 31-31 Arizona was driving for a field goal.
The defense stiffened at the Miami 40-yard line, bringing up a 4th-and-1 decision for coach Kliff Kingsbury. With how well Arizona was running the football, Arizona went back to the well this time however LB Elandon Roberts and DE Zach Sieler stuffed RB Chase Edmonds (25 rush, 70 yards), giving the ball back to Tua and the offense.
The moment wasn’t too big for Tua, as he hit TE Mike Gesicki for a 19-yard gain on the first play of the series, and followed that up with a 9-yard strike to Grant to put Miami in range for a field goal attempt.
Kicker Jason Sanders took it from there, nailing the conversion from 50 yards out to give Miami a 34-31 lead they would never relinquish.
After conceding 35 yards on the first play of Arizona’s next possession, courtesy of WR Christian Kirk (5 rec., 123 yards, TD), the Fins bounced back, allowing just 9 more yards over the next three downs to set up a 49-yard Zane Gonzalez game-tying attempt.
The kick was dead on, right down the middle, but lost all its momentum and fell short, preserving the Dolphins win.
What Went Wrong
Despite the victory, the product that we saw on Sunday wasn’t perfect from the Fins by any stretch.
Miami conceded a grand total of 442 offensive yards, which isn’t really a surprise given how well Arizona offense has been playing all year. The cause for worry, however, is centered around how those yards were primarily gained: the deep ball, and on the ground.
The Dolphins have struggled to defend dual-threat quarterbacks this year; throw in Murray’s prowess on deep ball throws, and it was a recipe for disaster. Murray finished the game completing 21-of-26 of his passes for 283 yards and 3 touchdowns. The former Heisman winner also accounted for 106-of-178 rushing yards on 11 carries, and another score on the ground as well.
Murray did a great job of maneuvering around the pocket and scrambling for more yardage on the plays where he was pressured. The Cardinals utilized Murray on designed runs and RPOs as well, more often than not with the EDGE defenders biting on the fake, resulting favorably for Arizona.
Perhaps the most frustrating play came on a 4th-and-1 that had to be replayed due to offsetting penalties on the previous try. Murray faked the hand off to his running back, evaded a Kyle Van Noy tackle, and raced 28 yards for the first down.
With yet another dual-threat quarterback on the dock this week in Justin Herbert, it is imperative for Miami defenders to abide by the old adage and “stay home” when setting the edge on those type of plays in the future.
After having played fairly well defending the deep ball since the return of CB Byron Jones, the defense took a huge step back in that regard on Sunday.
Holding DeAndre Hopkins to just 3 receptions for 30 yards was a definite win, but the secondary had a hard time covering WR Christian Kirk. Miami was in a Cover 0 look, meaning there was no safety help over the top. Kirk used his speed to beat Byron Jones, and Murray hit him in stride for a 56-yard touchdown early on.
Kirk would make his presence known on the Cardinals last offensive series attempting to tie the game. Kirk lined up in the slot, and ran a post to the opposite sideline, where Murray found him wide open for a 35-yard gain.
All in all, Murray completed 5 passes traveling 15+ yards or more to five different Cardinals pass catchers, with two of those throws being for touchdowns.
On the offensive side of the ball, Dolphins runners had trouble finding any rushing lanes against a stout Arizona rush defense. Given Miami was without the aforementioned Myles Gaskin and Matt Breida, this has been a concern even with both players active.
The team once again failed to reach the century mark as a team on the ground. Running back Salvon Ahmed lead the Fins with 38 rushing yards, with the bulk of his production coming on a 19-yard run.
The typically dependable offensive line had a rough day as well, conceding three sacks and allowing Tua to be pressured more than they would have hoped. The three sacks each came off the edge at the hands of rookie tackles Austin Jackson and Robert Hunt.
Jackson having been just activated off IR was sure to be a little rusty, and he was just flat-out beaten to the inside by DL Josh Mauro (1 tackle, 1 sack). Hunt was also beaten to the outside by Markus Golden (5 tackles, 1 sack), who used his length to bend around and sack Tua, on a play which almost knocked Miami out of field goal range. The third sack came from a blown assignment from Ahmed who instead of blocking OLB De’Vondre Campbell, helped Hunt, resulting in a free shot on Tua and a loss of yardage.
|Stats||Miami Dolphins||Arizona Cardinals|
|3rd/4th Down Conv.||4-of-8||5-of-12 (2/3 on 4th)|
|Red Zone (Conversion-Attempt)||3-3||2-3|
|Time of Possession||28:57||31:03|
The WTF content in this game wasn’t as fruitful as it has been in weeks past this season.
For one, Jason Sanders’ performance dating back to last season has been phenomenal. Sanders has converted on 20 straight attempts having not missed a kick since Week 15 of the 2019 season. Sanders has been money in the bank this year, and his run now serves as the longest active streak in Miami history.
Holding WR DeAndre Hopkins to just 30 yards total was a WTF factor within itself, but Xavien Howard’s three pass interference calls were unusual for a player of his caliber.
The return of Jordan Howard: 10 carries, 19 yards, and of course, a short goal line touchdown to salvage his day. Howard registered his longest rush of the season: a whopping 8 yards, once again making the Fins look smart with their investment.
Emmanuel Ogbah has now registered at least one sack in his previous five games.
After having played four teams in the NFC West — objectively, the toughest division in football — Miami came away with a 3-1 record.
The Dolphins retain a firm grasp on their second-place spot in the AFC East with this win, and would currently be in the playoffs as the AFC’s 7th and final Wild Card team due to the expanded playoff format.
Next week, Miami will play host to a feisty team in the Los Angeles Chargers (2-6), who boast a budding star quarterback of their own in rookie Justin Herbert.
Arizona will stay at home, and will face another AFC East opponent in the Buffalo Bills (7-2).
(Featured Image Credit: Miami Dolphins)