Some of the same problem areas returned on Thursday night — turnovers, struggles in the running game, pass protection — forcing Miami to play from behind. A stronger defensive effort kept things close, but a pair of late interceptions ended the Dolphins’ comeback attempt.
Here are my five key takeaways from last night’s 19-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills:
- Running Game Nonexistent: It doesn’t help the continuity of an offense if it doesn’t have balance. Success in the running game can open up the passing game and vice versa. Last night, the Dolphins not only lacked balance, but also didn’t have much of a scoring threat. They finished with just 60 yards rushing after a really tough start on the ground (eight carries for 12 yards in the first half). It seems like any threat of allowing Reggie Bush to take over a game has been stymied by inconsistencies in providing ample space for him to operate. He’s been bottled up before he’s really been able to get anything going.
- Marcus Thigpen Was A Bright Spot: With the Dolphins in an early hole after a Leodis McKelvin punt return touchdown, it was nice to see Marcus Thigpen answer, igniting a team that was looking for a spark. His 96-yard kickoff return was really the only time the Dolphins offense threatened to score until the fourth quarter — the offense hadn’t moved into Buffalo territory until the second half. He’s only the third Dolphin in franchise history (Freddie Solomon and Ted Ginn Jr.) with both a punt return TD and a kickoff return TD, and he’s the first to do both in the same season. Every time Thigpen touches the ball, you feel like he can make a big play, whether it’s on a kickoff or a punt return.
- Turnover +/-: It seems like there have been multiple games where the Dolphins have had a chance to come away with a momentum-changing fumble recovery, or play center field and grab an interception, but they came away empty. Last night, there was again examples of both. Late in the first quarter, with the Bills up 10-7, Sean Smith was able to knock the ball out of Bills TE Scott Chandler’s hands after a big gain. But nobody in an aqua jersey was anywhere near the play, allowing Chandler to recover. Then, of course, there was the ball that went through Jimmy Wilson’s hands in the waning seconds of the first half. It was reminiscent of Smith’s near INT a couple of weeks ago in Indianapolis that may have altered the outcome. These two plays were no different; if either play is made, the Dolphins may have been able to jump back in the game much sooner. On the flipside, the Dolphins offense has been in a giving mood lately. The past two games the team has a discouraging -7 turnover margin. Needless to say, that’s not where you want to be. Not only will you lose, it won’t even be close. Tennessee proved this last week, turning a +4 turnover margin into 20 points in their 37-3 win. If the offense hadn’t settled in a bit in the fourth quarter, the fate would have been similar. Instead, though, they had a chance late in the game, but those hopes were dashed by two more late turnovers.
- Need Better Pass Protection: I’m not sure what needs to be done to provide Ryan Tannehill more time to throw the football, but right now it’s all a guessing game in the pocket for the young quarterback; from drive to drive, even play to play, Tannehill’s time in the pocket has been varied, at best. One play he’ll have a relatively clean pocket in which to operate; the next, though, he may be pressured immediately. Sometimes a running game can help an offensive line create a little extra time, because a pass rushing specialist can’t key in on a quarterback, forcing him to stay back and play the run. The Dolphins have become far too predictable in this regard, and as a result, the Bills’ defensive linemen, including Mario Williams and Shawne Merriman, were able to pin their ears back and collapse the pocket. For whatever reason, Tannehill consistently had more time in the fourth quarter. This is going to need to be a constant through the first three quarters, though, for an offensive turnaround.
- Reshad Jones Comes Ready To Play: It wasn’t just that Reshad Jones‘ name was called multiple times, but it was how he played: You could tell he was in the right mindset to get a win on the road. Not only was he productive in the open field — his 11 tackles lead the team — but the third-year safety played with emotion that should be contagious for the rest of the defense; Jones’ energy jumped off the screen all night, whether he was snuffing out a run in the backfield or breaking up a pass. You hope that not only he but the rest of the team feeds off of that spirited play to get some confidence during the long week leading into next week’s Seattle’s game. There were others — Cam Wake, Brian Hartline, Davone Bess — whose energy level and effort were high. But if the Dolphins are going to have success going forward, it can’t be just a handful of guys — everyone needs to be flying around the field.
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