1) Tale of Two Halves on Offense
The Miami Dolphins have used fast starts to propel them in multiple games this season. Against a two-win Cincinnati Bengals team, Miami's offense was in neutral for most of the first half. Miami's opening two possessions ended up punting the ball back to the Bengals, and the third resulted in settling for a 25-yard chip shot field goal by placekicker Jason Sanders. The offense then took advantage of a missed field goal by Cincinnati, and turned it into another Sanders opportunity to get points before half. His kick was true from 48 yards out and Miami trailed by just one heading into halftime. That's when things turned around for Tua Tagovailoa and the offense. Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey wisely implemented an up-tempo, no-huddle offense in the third quarter. This adjustment changed the entire outcome of the game for the offense. Tagovailoa's timing and accuracy improved immensely, and this change seemed to energize the entire unit. The Dolphins took the opening drive of the second half and drove 75 yards for a touchdown. In fact, they were able to get points in their first three drives of the second half, and found explosive plays along the way. This change by Gailey allowed Tua and the offense to get on track, using both the rushing attack and the screen game to keep the Bengals defense guessing. Empty sets, tempo and decisive decision by Tagovailoa from the pocket allowed the skill positions to excel. I believe we'll be seeing a little bit more of this type of system over the next month of the season.
2) Impact Players Shine
It takes the entire team to play at a certain level of consistency to win in the NFL. The Dolphins found that type of play as this game went along, and some of the players found new heights along the way. Tight end Mike Gesicki had a career-high nine receptions for 88 yards and a touchdown. Geiscki has become one of the most productive tight ends in the NFL this season. His 537 receiving yards rank fourth among all tight ends in the league. His 13.8 yards per reception is third (min: 15 rec.) and his four receiving touchdowns are tied for ninth among tight ends. His one-handed snag deep down the seam showed his wide catch radius and his ability to make a difficult catch. On defense, it was the swarming to the ball, and harassing the quarterback that made this group shine. Allowing just 196 total yards and 12 first downs, Miami's defense was flying around the field. This group was even more stingy in the second half, surrendering just 25 total yards. It's the fewest yards allowed in a second half by the Dolphins since at least 2000 and tied for the third-fewest allowed by an NFL team this season. They were led by linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who arguably played his best game so far in a Dolphins uniform. Van Noy had a career-high three sacks in the game, and led the team with eight total tackles. He's the first Dolphin to record at least three sacks in a game since DE Cameron Wake had four on Oct. 18, 2015 at Tennessee. Lastly, the most consistent performer on defense all season long has been cornerback Xavien Howard. His first quarter pick of Bengals quarterback Brandon Allen was his eighth interception of the season, which is a personal high and also leads the league. It also extends the team streak of consecutive games with a takeaway to 18.
3) Play With More Team Discipline
Tempers will always get tested when you're playing a contact sport. Football players have always tried to get an upper hand or some kind of advantage by prodding or pushing someone's buttons to enact a response that draws a penalty. I applaud the entire team for the way they came to support specialist Jakeem Grant after getting laid out twice while trying to field a punt. But games will get more difficult down the stretch, and the Dolphins cannot afford to lose anyone to ejection, or be on the wrong side of the hidden yards due to mental or physical errors. This team might not be able to overcome, or have the luxury to commit, eight penalties against Kansas City or New England and have a chance to win. Playing with discipline has been a tool that this team has used to its advantage and must continue to do so in the remaining five weeks of the regular season. Playing quality football along with winning the turnover margin and hidden yardage of penalties could be the difference in getting to double-digit wins this year.