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2015 Dolphins Draft Picks
Better than expected.
Not like you expected a 1% raise but instead your union managed to bargain for a 3% raise.
Not like you expected your mother-in-law to cook her favorite meatloaf recipe but ended up ordering pizza instead (praise God!).
Not even like being pulled over by the state police in a speed trap going 20 miles over the limit and somehow driving away with a warning.
No, this was monumental. This was being set up on a blind date with Scarlett Johansson, or buying a $5.00 scratch-off lottery card and winning $5,000.00.
This was so much more than we had any reason to hope for as Dolphins fans, and it was exquisite not only because the team played so well but precisely because they had played SO FANTASTICALLY BADLY the week before that... I couldn't even post a blog with this title. I Sifted for Gold and all I found was Jakeem Grant's punt return. (Hats off to Jakeem; it was fun to watch and I get the sense it won't be his last.)
It is easy to over-react as fans, both negatively and positively. It is perfectly justified to want to withhold too much enthusiasm for the team after a good performance until seeing some sign that it will last more than a week or two. Lack of consistency is what has defined this team since Dan Marino's retirement. So, I won't climb aboard Finfever poster Finesse's playoff bus just yet in spite of the beat-down our beloved team handed to the Steelers this past Sunday. I just want to list some things I saw... some obvious, some maybe not as much, that should give us hope for a brighter future.
1) Coaching. Adam Gase shook up the team by (finally) releasing two players that we as fans were SO done with. By cutting Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner, the message was sent that his warning about "doing the job right" was not to be taken lightly. Furthermore, he benched (deservedly) two under-performing members of the defensive line (Mario Williams and Jason Jones). The message seems to have been heard and responded to by the team, if this week's performance is any indication. The point is that Gase is setting the bar where he wants it and will not compromise based upon a players salary or draft position. This is exactly the kind of leadership we have lacked in recent years, and is reason for hope.
2) Running Game. It all started up front. Having the starting 5 in the game made an amazing difference. It pointed out just how badly we need quality depth on the line, but it also pointed out just how good our line can be when they are in there. But it didn't stop with them. The tight ends blocked better than we've ever seen recently, and it made a difference. (More on that in a bit.) Gase gave the rock to Jay Ajayi over and over, and Ajayi finally showed himself to be the kind of physical, downhill runner that we thought we were getting when he was drafted. He showed burst, broke tackles and was decisive the whole game. The running game wore down the Steelers' defense and is largely responsible for the win and the hope that we have for the rest of the season.
3) Byron Maxwell. This guy was being written off as a bust in our trade with the Eagles so far this season. He hasn't just been underperforming, he has been BAD. He doesn't tackle and yet played with no confidence and rarely made a play of consequence. Yet there he was, running stride for stride with arguably the best wide receiver in the league and frustrating him so badly that it seemed he was completely in Antonio Brown's head. He was largely responsible for limiting Brown to a mere 4 receptions for 39 yards. So which guy is he? Well, if he can roughly approximate the guy that played this past week on a regular basis this season, than that is a huge reason for hope.
4) MarQueis Gray.Who? This guy has so little name recognition that I had to look him up on NFL.com to confirm how to spell his name. And that's about all you can read about him on that site, too. Who is this guy? Well, he's the guy that caught 3 passes for 81 yards, including a 53 yard bomb from Ryan Tannehill that we should all watch over and over when we are feeling hopeless. This guy (I have learned) is 6' 4", 255 pounds and faster than many wide receivers. He's a former QB that can run, catch and isn't afraid to block. Call me intrigued. With the injuries to Jordan Cameron and Dion Simms, I suspect we'll be seeing more of this guy, and I hope he doesn't disappoint.
There are others that deserve mention in a game like this. Tony Lippett seemed to have a good game, considering how deep Pittsburgh is at WR. Ja'Wuan James played maybe his best game of the season. Isa Abdul-Quddus had his second interception of the season.
So is all of this nothing more than fool's gold? Maybe. Some would even say probably, and who could argue? If these Dolphins are the same as the Dolphins of the recent past, they will come out and get embarrassed by a Buffalo Bills team that is flying high right now. The smart money is on the Bills. But...
...what if this team learns to be the team we saw on Sunday on a regular basis? What if they play smart, passionate, physical football against another team that has been playing really well the last few weeks? What if coach Gase is FINALLY a Miami Dolphins head coach that GETS IT?
My list of building block players (see here http://www.phinfever.com/index.php/9-blog/266-sifting-for-gold-and-hope-for-the-future-week-4) is seemingly growing to include guys that were previously listed as "players to be named later." Jay Ajayi. Jakeem Grant. Jordan Phillips. Isa Abdul-Quddus. All have demonstrated in the last 2 games that they have the potential to be the kind of players we can build around. That we can turn the TV on for, to see what they might do.
They give us a reason to turn on the game. To show enthusiasm. To have hope.
Let's start with the offensive line, because after so much criticism, this unit deserves a lot of credit. First of all, Tannehill was never sacked. And he was rarely hit or pressured. Second of all, 222 yards rushing on 36 carries and 3 TDs is huge. It was nice to see the 5 starters on the field for the first time this season. The results speak for themselves.
Jay Ajayi was the beneficiary of solid run blocking by the offensive line, but once he hit the hole, he finished his runs. He got outside and gained yards. He gained the tough yards inside. And when the Dolphins needed to put the game away, he broke one for 62 yards and a touchdown. Ajayi finished the game with 204 rushing yards and 2 TDs.
Jarvis Landry was his usual self with yards after the catch and a 39 yard catch. Landry caught 7 passes on 9 targets and served as the emotional leader of this team.
Ryan Tannehill has been criticized heavily this season by many, including yours truly. But today he played a solid game. It is interesting to see what he can do when he gets time and is not being hit on every other play. It was also good to see him make plays on the run.
Byron Maxwell flat out balled today. He had 4 passes defensed, two of them against All-World receiver Antonio Brown. Maxwell made a huge difference on third down.
Andre Branch played extremely well as a situational pass rusher. He contributed 1.5 sacks.
The safety duo of Reshad Jones and Isa Abdul-Quddus played well. Each getting big interceptions when the Steelers were beginning to mount drives.
Andrew Franks missing a kick and having another one blocked. Those plays kept the game closer than it needed to be. Even on the block, Franks didn't appear to get the kick high enough.
Need to clean up those penalties, especially at inopportune times. 8 penalties for 95 yards, guys pushing guys after the play.
The run defense played better in the second half, but in the first half they didn't show up. It was good to see them tighten up in the second half, but we need a full game from the run defense to become a more consistent team.
The Dolphins played their most complete game of the season against a Superbowl contender. This wasn't like the Cleveland win, where the team got by on Cleveland errors. The Dolphins dominated the Steelers, with the ground game, time of possession, by pressuring Big Ben and by creating turnovers. What does that mean for the rest of the season? Who knows. The red hot Buffalo Bills come into town next week. They have reeled off 4 wins and have dominated the competition, including the Cardinals and Patriots, during that streak.