There was plenty of back-and-forth between Dolphins and Jets players all of last week, but in the end, the Dolphins let their play do the talking, soundly beating their AFC East rivals, 30-9.
Despite losing Ryan Tannehill to injury early in the first quarter, the Dolphins were able to control each facet of the game — offense, defense, special teams — in a dominating performance.
Here are five key takeaways from the Dolphins’ 30-9 victory over the New York Jets:
- Special Teams Steps Up: Special teams was the main decider because the Dolphins came out aggressive and never let up. It had been the coaching staff’s intention to attempt the onsides try had the Dolphins been kicking off to open the game. Instead of shelving the idea after the Jets chose to defer, though, the coaching staff used it at the next possible opportunity. This was aided, undoubtedly, by the Dolphins’ relatively successful opening drive, which ended with a Dan Carpenter 33-yard field goal. With that early confidence boost, Carpenter and the kicking unit executed the onside kick to perfection. On the blocked punt, Jimmy Wilson blew by Tim Tebow and the subsequent recovery by Olivier Vernon resulted in a big touchdown. Two other big plays stood out: (1) the deflected field goal, a demoralizing way for the Jets to end the half after finally sustaining some limited success; (2) Marcus Thigpen’s 57-yard kick return that led to an Anthony Fasano touchdown catch, his fifth career TD against the Jets. Brandon Fields was exceptional, too, as is typically the case, pinning the Jets deep in their own territory several times. He continues to be quite the asset for a coaching staff that has shown it likes to be the aggressor if the opportunity presents itself.
- Pressure Defense: The Dolphins defense harassed Mark Sanchez with relentless pressure the entire afternoon, setting the tone for a dominating performance. They stymied the Jets offensively until the end of the game — when, protecting a lead, the defense showed more of a prevent look — both by pressuring the pocket with creative blitzes and playing gap-control defense against the run. In the first quarter, the Dolphins D held the Jets to just two first downs, 22 total yards and forced a turnover (A Nolan Carroll strip sack that knocked the ball out of Sanchez’s hands and into Paul Soliai’s). After struggling to sack Sanchez in Week 3, the Dolphins finished with four sacks. But it wasn’t just the front seven that flew past the Jets’ offensive line. Dolphins defensive coordinator mixed things up, sending Carroll and Wilson on blitzes; each ended the game with a sack. That was a key difference in this second matchup with the Jets. In the teams’ first meeting, Sanchez did an excellent job eluding the initial pass rush, completing several passes after being flushed from the pocket. This time, however, the heavy pressure got to Sanchez early and often.
- Matt Moore Ready to Play: The veteran quarterback proved he was a true pro, stepping in for Ryan Tannehill when he suffered a hyperextended knee/thigh bruise in the first quarter. Although Tannehill directed a 9-play, 63-yard drive, it was Moore who led the Dolphins offense the majority of the way. It seemed that with Moore — who went 6-3 down the stretch last season — the Dolphins offense didn’t miss a beat. The line continued to control the line of scrimmage, It’s very difficult to play at a high level in the NFL when you only receive 10-15 percent of snaps in practice, but Moore made the most of his playing time on Sunday, coming off the bench to lead the Dolphins to an important, momentum-saving victory over their division rival. He was able to play within himself, limiting mistakes, something that helped Miami’s defense and special teams to continue to keep the foot on the pedal. It was an impressive display of poise and leadership in the face of uncertainty.
- Miami at Indy–Big Game?: When the NFL schedule was released it may have seemed like just another game. Both teams, starting rookie quarterbacks, weren’t expected by many to contend for playoff spots, even at this point in the season. At the least, it would have been a nice story–Tannehill and Andrew Luck, two top-10 picks, likely linked for the rest of their careers, facing off this early. Now, though, it takes on a whole new meaning, with both teams fighting to ride momentum to an earlier-than-expected playoff berth. The Dolphins, coming off three straight victories, will travel to Indianapolis to face a team that’s has used a similar blueprint: win close games, solid QB play, etc. The one thing I do know — and expect Joe Philbin to continue to preach — is that there will be little concern about the past and plenty of focus on going 1-0 this week. He will, no doubt, have the attention of the coaching staff and players on Sunday.
- Young Players Coming Through: By the end, it was hard not to look at yesterday’s game as a small piece of the larger picture. Several of those who made a direct impact — Jimmy Wilson, Nolan Carroll, Chris Clemons, Daniel Thomas all come to mind — are in their first three years league. A quick look at the Dolphins’ two-deep shows that the last several draft classes are filled with important pieces, from Mike Pouncey to Jonathan Martin to Reshad Jones and the list goes on. The Dolphins are building through the draft and are on the right path to winning now and for the long haul. Sunday was just another pleasant reminder.