1) Offensive Explosion
This was as good of an offensive performance as you could wish for from start to finish by the Dolphins. Four touchdowns and five field goals was more than enough to totally dominate a good San Francisco 49ers team. The offense was led by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had one of his best games of his 16-year career, going 22 of 28 for 350 yards and three touchdowns. His ability to push the ball downfield early led to explosive plays all afternoon, something this offense was lacking. Fitz protected the football, while at the same time, keeping the peddle down finding points on six first-half drives. As good as Fitzpatrick was, the skill positions almost matched his execution. Wideout Preston Williams had career-high day with 106 receiving yards, and it marked his first 100-yard receiving game of his 13-game career. DeVante Parker came up with a huge touchdown reception on a third and goal from the 22-yard line, running past the corner for six points. His big play heroics was matched by tight end Mike Gesicki, who slipped behind coverage to snag a 70-yard reception, getting the Dolphins offense into the red zone and leading to points. This offense was missing those chunk yardage plays that can spark the entire team, flip the field, and lead to easy scoring opportunities. Sometimes as a playcaller, you just have to script taking shots down the field, especially when you have the size advantage of this three talented pass catchers.
2) Stifling Defense
The Miami defense wanted to have some fun as well, and they got their hands on the football with consistency. This group recorded two interceptions, five sacks and seven passes defended while pressuring 49ers quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and C.J. Beatherd. The defense had the San Francisco offense confused and frustrated all day long, limiting the 49ers to just 128 passing yards. They got off to a fast start, forcing a three and out on their first defensive series, and that led directly to a touchdown by the Dolphins offense. Multiple defensive looks at the line of scrimmage seemed to confuse the San Francisco offensive lineman, and that led to the consistent pressure from the Dolphins front seven. I mentioned the five sacks, but this defense also tallied eight quarterback hits and two strip-sacks. One by defensive end/linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel and the other by defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah. Ogbah's fourth quarter strip was recovered by defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. The secondary flew around and held tight pass coverage for 60 minutes. It was safety Bobby McCain and corner Xavien Howard who came up with the takeaways, both leading to Sanders field goals. It was also great to see a healthy Byron Jones contributing and his speed and agility adds to an already aggressive secondary. The best performance might have been by safety Eric Rowe, completely shutting down 49ers tight end George Kittle. Kittle is arguably a top three tight end in the entire league, was coming off of a 15 catch night last week against the Eagles. Rowe allowed just four receptions for 44 yards, and played in Kittle's kitchen all day long.
3) Playing With Energy
Young football teams normally have a lot of energy, and they sometimes play with undisciplined emotion. That can lead to mistakes and penalties that disrupt the flow of a game. This team, with the leadership of the entire coaching staff, has found that balance of playing with extreme emotion, but still having the discipline to execute under pressure. I had a coach of mine a long time ago call it playing on the edge! Pushing that excitement as far as it can go, while playing under control and getting the task at hand accomplished. That's been the key for this team so far, and it can only build after the way they performed on Sunday. Setting the bar higher and higher, while having fun doing it will continue to raise the level for each individual player. When that happens, everyone can feel it and you feed off if that everyday at practice until it becomes habit. Hopefully this group will continue down this path because they have a chance to be a very good team, one that will continue to challenge teams week in and week out.