Miami Dolphins Finally Play with a Lead

Tongue-tied and twisted just an earth-bound misfit, I...

Dolphin fans must be feeling like a Pink Floyd song… The last time Miami scored more points was over two seasons ago. It’s been 41 games, since Miami won by a larger margin. In 2016, Miami won all those close games that statistically must average out and to expect a repeat in 2017 was probably naive. This season’s previous four victories were by margins of two, six, three and three points. The formula is unsustainable and in hindsight, the five game losing crash was probably predictable.

Perhaps it was Vance Joseph or John Elway, all smug up in his box after yucking it up with Dan Marino before the game, “nanny, nanny poo poo, I won two Super Bowls after blowing it three times!” The mighty have fallen. It’s hard to say Jay Cutler is better than Denver quarterback Trevor Siemian, but it wouldn’t matter because this game was about the Miami defense.

Earlier this season, Adam Gase was roundly criticized for saying something like, “this defense is designed to play with a lead.” After a Cutler to Thomas touchdown followed closely by a Xavien Howard pick six, Miami finally had that lead.

The defense responded, Howard picked off the first two passes of his NFL career and broke up a league-leading five passes. Siemian was sacked by Andre Branch, Jordan Phillips and Bobby McCain and T.J. McDonald added a third pick.

This game highlighted players like Phillips who along with the sack, had two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits and deflected a pass that Howard intercepted. Playing with a lead in the second half, the Dolphin defense punished Denver, with three sacks, six tackles for loss, an unheard of 12 passes defensed and hit Siemian six times. For the first time in the franchise’s 52 year history, Miami had two safeties in the same game. The absence of names like Wake and Suh are what make this game unusual.

Denver has now lost eight consecutive games, but maybe there is something to this playing with a lead thing. It ignited Kenyan Drake who set career highs in yards (120) and carries (23). Drake included 42-yard touchdown run all against the fourth ranked run defense in the NFL. There was the usual interception thrown near DeVante Parker, but Kenny Stills busted Denver open with 98 receiving yards, including a touchdown.

Special Teams did not score, but Terrence Fede blocked a punt. After the safeties, Denver was forced to kickoff (punt) from the 25 and Miami enjoyed excellent field position the entire game. Trying and converting an onside kick while up 24 points was a like jabbing a needle into the side of Elway and Joseph. Clearly Adam Gase showed a side Miami fans are not accustomed to, playing with a lead…

An onside kick leading by 24 points could be construed as piling on, but Miami rarely has the cut-throat mentality needed to make a statement in the NFL. The trophy-for-everyone, anthem kneeling millennials will be aghast, while long suffering Miami fans can finally smile at the Belichickian move.

“Designed to play with a lead.” It is a rather presumptuous statement to believe you will be leading prior to actually leading anything. It’s a vague answer to the question, “what is your identity?” Knowing the identity and achieving that identity are two distinctly different things. The game showed that aside from some linebacker issues, this Miami defense can indeed play well with a lead.

The real change in the offense seemed to be a split from the predictable first down “A” gap running plays to a more spread, short passing outside the tackles running game. The talk of taking advantage of a player’s skill was evident in not forcing Kenyan Drake between the tackles on early downs. When Drake did venture inside, it was when the defense was expecting pass or outside runs. The 42-yard burst came on a counter between the tackles. This offense was much better coordinated than any previous game this season.

The onsides kick was a product of the frustration Adam Gase undoubtedly felt coming into this game. It’s hard to conceive Gase was unhappy with Joseph for taking the Denver job, but Joseph does seem in over his head as a first year head coach.

Miami comes into a rematch with New England in a much better place mentally. Belichick saw how Miami played with a lead and he’ll be working on playing outside-in on defense. It is hard for Miami fans not to peak at the end of the season now that the playoffs are all but a dream, but losing is just losing. With a glimpse of what it’s actually like to play with a lead, let next season stay in the future and win now.

The Denver Broncos game showed there is an identity. It lies in an offense that scores points early and often. Couple that with a defense that becomes relentless once an opponent realizes it will have to throw the football. We know now where Adam Gase wants to go, he’s designed this thing to play with a lead. It’s up to the Miami Dolphins to go and get it.

Tongue-tied and twisted just an earth-bound misfit, I...