The Miami Dolphins (5-9) had a very turbulent week adjusting to losing their head coach last Monday, but found a way to respond after being down early and defeated the Buffalo Bills (5-9) 30-23. Miami overcame a first quarter CJ Spiller 24-yard touchdown run (it was the first time in nine games the Miami defense has allowed a first quarter touchdown), and responded by scoring the next 23 points of the game for the victory. In doing so interim Head Coach Todd Bowles captured his first win as the leader of the Miami Dolphins. Here are some of the things that I learned watching the Dolphins win their fifth game of the season.
1) It All Starts With Defense – When I look back at this game, it would have been very easy to lay down and allow the Bills to build on an early touchdown lead yesterday. Buffalo capitalized on running back Reggie Bush’s fumble (4th of the year and 12th career fumble) and lead 7-0 early. The Dolphins offense only had 12 yards rushing offensively in the first quarter and it looked like the defense was going to need a supreme effort if this team had any chance of winning on Sunday! Dominating could be a word to describe the way the defense played the rest of the game shutting down the Bills, and forcing season-high three turnovers. Cornerback Vontae Davis picked off Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick twice (Fitzpatrick’s seventh game with two or more interceptions) and safety Reshad Jones was a beneficiary of a defection to get his first interception of the season. Third down again was a “No Trespassing Zone” for the Buffalo offense as the Miami defense shut out the Bills in eleven attempts on Sunday, and in sweeping the Bills this season, didn’t allow a third down conversion (0-23) in either game! In the last five games, Miami’s defense has held opponents to 13.8 percent on third down attempts (8 of 58) and forced nine turnovers!
2) Offensive Line Was Dominate - The absence of Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long could have been disastrous on Sunday, but the offensive line found a way to protect quarterback Matt Moore, and pave the way for running back Reggie Bush. It was the first game that Long has missed in his four year career, but helped second year pro John Jerry step into his position at tackle and be productive protecting Moore’s blindside. Jerry, along with Richie Incognito, Mike Pouncey, Vernon Carey and Marc Colombo paved the way for Bush to rush for 203 yards on a career-high 25 carries. His 76-yard burst in the fourth quarter was the longest play from the line of scrimmage this season for the Dolphins, and Miami’s offense has produced over thirty plays of 25 yards or more this season!
3) Chunk Plays Were The Difference – Big Plays were something this offense has been able to produce over the last seven weeks. Yesterday against the Bills was no exception as Matt Moore directed this offense to multiple plays of 20 yards or more, including the 65-yard completion to wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Marshall became the fourth receiver in Dolphins history with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons (Mark Duper 1983/84, Mark Clayton 1988/89 and Irving Fryar 1993/94), and it was his 13th reception of 25 yards or more. Receiver Brian Hartline only had three receptions on the afternoon, but catches of 26 and 43 yards ignited this offense. Tight ends Anthony Fasano and Charles Clay both had big plays deep into the Bills secondary with Fasano’s 22 yard touchdown in the second quarter, and Clay’s catch and run for 30 yards. The play that broke Buffalo’s back was the explosive 76-yard touchdown gallop by Bush starting in-between the tackles, and then racing past the secondary of the Bills into the end zone.
4) Dolphins Offense Needs To Find Red Zone And Third Down Consistency- Some weeks are better than others when it come to offensive third down conversions and red-zone efficiency. Yesterday it didn’t seem to matter because the Dolphins defense pitched a shutout (0-11 on third down) against the Bills on defense, but it will be a factor next week against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots offense. For all of the good things that Brandon Marshall can do for this offense, I don’t believe he’s the best option in the red-zone. Wide receiver Davone Bess didn’t have a catch yesterday, breaking his 61 game catch streak, but Bess could be the target to climb the Dolphins out of trouble in the red-zone. It’s all about match-ups and running the football to have success in the plus territory. Bess and Charles Clay might be two players to look for next week with Bush staying hot running the rock!
5) Special Teams Were Special – On a windy, blustery day in Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Dolphins special teams were not distracted by the elements! Placekicker Dan Carpenter was perfect on the afternoon converting 3 for 3 on his field goals (good from 20 yards and twice from 26 yards out) and punter Brandon Fields was just at his season average booming the football six times averaging 46.3 yards per punt. Long snapper John Denney goes most games unnoticed, but on a difficult day to handle the ball, Denney was on target all day long!
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