The Miami Dolphins were expecting to crush the lowly Cleveland Browns in their home opener at Hard Rock Stadium. Instead, they were fortunate to escape with a 30-24 overtime win thanks, in large part, to an uninspired performance by quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
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1. Jarvis Landry – Aside from a couple of key drops and a needless 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Landry was Mr. Everything for Miami. He had 7 catches for 120 yards, 2 carries for 16 yards, and a crucial 13-yard punt return in overtime. Landry’s punt return gave the Dolphins their best starting field position of the game at the Cleveland 44 and helped set up the winning score. He also reversed course after catching a mid-range pass from Tannehill and broke it for a 42-yard touchdown to put Miami ahead on their opening drive of the third quarter.
Why it Matters: Landry has once again proven himself to be the most consistent playmaker on the roster, and given the team’s apparent penchant for playing close games, that could spell the difference between a run at a wildcard berth and the bottom of the division.
2. Reshad Jones – Jones had 9 solo tackles, including 3 for losses, and a half sack.
Why it Matters: While impressive, Jones’ statistics aren’t as important as the fact that he came through when the team needed him most, repeatedly shutting Cleveland down in crucial situations. His most important contribution came when he knocked down a pass on a third-and-seven with just over three minutes remaining in regulation. That outstanding effort forced Cleveland to go for the tying field goal instead of the win, and by doing so, he quite possibly saved the Dolphins’ season.
3. Matt Darr – Darr was the unsung hero of this game. He averaged 48.8 yards on six punts, and pinned the Browns inside their own 10 once, and inside their own 20 another three times.
Why it Matters: In a game where Cleveland kicker Cody Parkey, who was just signed this week, missed 3 of 6 field goal attempts, Darr’s ability to pin Cleveland deep in their own territory and forcing them into long drives may well have been the difference in the game.
4. The Offensive Line – For the second week in a row, their pass blocking was terrific. More important still, their run blocking improved.
Why it Matters: While we must take into account that Cleveland was the opponent, the Dolphins were able to mount a respectable ground game for the first time this season and that gives the running backs something to build upon moving forward.
1. Ryan Tannehill – While Tannehill put up respectable numbers, 25 completions on 39 attempts for 319 yards and 3 TDs, his 93.8 passer rating does not tell the full story. Tannehill opened the game with a quick slant to Kenny Stills that was picked off by former Dolphin Jamar Taylor, leaving the Browns with a first-and-ten at the Miami 33. Fortunately for Miami, disaster was averted thanks to a Cameron Wake strip sack of Cody Kessler, which was recovered by Jason Jones. Yet, a few drives later, Brien Boddy-Calhoun picked off a badly thrown Tannehill pass and returned it 27 yards to put the Browns ahead 10-7. Equally unnerving, the fifth-year QB looked shaky and off target in the final minutes of regulation.
Why it Matters: Tannehill has yet to put together a single consistent 60 minutes of play this year, and if he can’t get over that hump soon, the Dolphins are doomed.
2. Adam Gase – To put it in the simplest of terms, Miami’s offense still isn’t clicking the way Gase envisioned, and against a banged up Browns’ defense, that is a supremely damning indictment.
Why it Matters: Like many of his players, Gase is still learning. That much is evident. Nevertheless, if he can’t get the offense firing on all cylinders against the Bengals next week and take some pressure off the defense, the Dolphins will find themselves in a hole they may not be able to escape. Furthermore, while some of the fault lies with Tannehill’s inconsistency, the balance of the blame falls on Gase’s play calling, particularly on short-yardage situations.
3. Vance Joseph – From the onset it was clear that the Browns had designed their entire offensive attack around Terrelle Pryor. Nevertheless, for reasons that may never be understood, rather than doubling the QB-turned-receiver on a regular basis, Joseph continually left him one-on-one against Byron Maxwell. As a result, Pryor finished the game with 8 receptions for 140 yards. He also threw for 35 yards, and ran for another 21 and a TD. In other words, he almost single-handedly beat the Dolphins by helping Cleveland erase an 11 point 4th quarter deficit.
Why it Matters: Over the past two weeks the Dolphins’ defense has faced a second string quarterback (Jimmy Garoppolo), two third string QBs (Jacoby Brissett, Cody Kessler), and a fourth string signal caller (Terrelle Pryor). Yet, somehow, Miami has allowed them a combined passer rating of 103.7. Needless to say, there is no other way to describe that statistic as anything but an unmitigated failure.
Quarterback: D Despite leading the team to an overtime win, this was a game in which Tannehill seemed determined to prove his critics right with repeated bouts of poor judgment and lethargic play..
Running Backs: B Kenyan Drake set himself apart as the team’s best lead back thus far with 11 touches for 48 yards, while Jay Ajayi, Isaiah Pead and Damien Williams all put in solid performances in supporting roles. As a result, the Dolphins nearly eclipsed their combined rushing total from the first two games.
Receivers and Tight Ends: B While Landry was the star, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker had solid games as well. The big surprise was Dion Sims, who caught all 4 passes thrown his way for 46 yards after replacing Jordan Cameron, who left the game with a possible concussion.
Offensive Line: A The line allowed just 1 sack and did a better job of run blocking, particularly on the game’s last play, an Ajayi 11-yard burst for the winning score.
Defensive Line: B- Ndamukong Suh, 1.5 sacks and a tackle for a loss, and Cameron Wake, 1 sack and a forced fumble, led the way, but the line allowed too many open holes for Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr. to run through.
Linebackers: D Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi both left the game with injuries as the Dolphins allowed the Browns 169 yards on 32 rushing attempts. Beyond that, like the Seahawks and Patriots before them, the Browns were able to find success with the short passing game.
Defensive Backs: C- Reshad Jones was exceptional. Despite dropping an easy interception, Xavien Howard was solid. Isa Abdul-Quddus was okay. Byron Maxwell, on the other hand, continues to disappoint. Despite a couple of key pass defenses, he was woefully poor in single coverage.
Special Teams: B Matt Darr continues to have a Pro Bowl caliber season, and Andrew Franks did his job. Yet, for the second consecutive week, the opposition did everything humanly possible to ensure Jakeem Grant had little opportunity to return kickoffs.
Coaching: D Play calling on both sides of the ball still leaves a lot to be desired.
THE BIG PICTURE
It isn’t often that a win can leave the fan base nearly as depressed as a pair of close losses. Yet, that is almost certainty the case after Sunday’s narrow victory over Cleveland. The Browns were without a slew of starters, down to a third string QB, and a last-minute replacement at kicker, and still managed to extend Miami into overtime. There is no way to paint that in a positive light. The Dolphins need to find themselves, and quickly, because they are on the road again Thursday night against the equally inconsistent Bengals, and a win in Cincinnati is about the only thing that will help Dolfans forget this uninspired showing. Just as important, regardless of how absurd it may sound, a victory over the Bengals would put the team squarely back in the fight for a wildcard spot, and it is there where the one positive from the Cleveland game can be found. For if Miami had lost to the Browns, the only thing left to talk about would have been the possibility of an overall number one pick in the 2017 NFL draft.