1) Generating Early Momentum
This Miami Dolphins team has done a fabulous job of creating plays early in the game that either set up scoring chances or find the end zone to seize the lead. Last week, it was the defense that created the strip-sack, scoop-and-score to rush out to an early lead. It gave the Dolphins the jump start it needed and a seven-point cushion on the scoreboard. When plays like that occur, it has a deflating impact on the opposing team. Yesterday against the Chargers, it was the defense and special teams that gave the team that early push towards victory and the juice to feel like they could start to take an upper hand in the game. The early blitz and sack by defensive back Nik Needham for minus 13 yards on the second play from scrimmage put the Chargers offense behind the chains early in the game. That type of play gave special teams coordinator Danny Crossman the green light to create confusion with the punt block unit. Two Dolphins players exchanged responsibilities on the perimeter of the punt block formation, and that movement created assignment confusion along the line of scrimmage. It created a void, along with a missed assignment on a block, that allowed Andrew Van Ginkel a path to Los Angeles punter Ty Long. The second-year punter bobbled the snap, and that's all the time that was needed to shorten the distance between Van Ginkel and Long. The blocked punt by Van Ginkel bounced towards the end zone, finally recovered by Jamal Perry at the Chargers one-yard line. Rookie running back Salvon Ahmed had little resistance walking in for the touchdown and capturing the early momentum and lead this team was looking to create.
2) Finding Hidden Yards
In a game where you feel like you're dominating the opponent, but the score says otherwise, you need to rely on playing with discipline and not give the opposition easy scoring chances. The Dolphins have been very good over the last five games in winning the starting field position battle, and not beating themselves with unnecessary penalties. Punt returner Jakeem Grant has done an excellent job of cleanly fielding punts, avoiding the first defender, and getting positive yards on his returns. He had returns of 18, 19 and 20 yards against the Chargers, and those types of plays take two first downs of stress away from the offense. It also allows the Dolphins to keep the field tilted in their favor, making the Chargers put together long drives or explosive plays if they are going to score points. Punter Matt Haack and placekicker Jason Sanders again did their part in the kicking game to apply even more pressure to rookie quarterback Justin Herbert. As an example of the starting field position Miami enjoyed, six of their 11 possessions started either in plus territory or within 10 yards of the 50-yard line! I believe that's why everyone wearing aqua and orange felt like the Dolphins were in control of the game, even though the scoreboard said otherwise. Lastly, the team got back to playing with better discipline, committing just three penalties for minus 15 yards. That stat is just another contributing factor to playing winning football.
3) Playing With Confidence
I believe the game plan on defense was to pressure rookie quarterback Justin Herbert early, and see if he can make the throws necessary to win. The Dolphins defense sold out on multiple plays, playing pure man coverage and daring Herbert to make the plays that would get the Miami defense to play softer coverage. The plan worked for the entire first half, and deep into the second 30 minutes as well. Herbert didn't have the luxury of time in the pocket to set and throw, which made him long and high when he had his chances to burn the Dolphins pressure. Anytime a defense can hold a talented player like Chargers wide out Keenan Allen to just three catches for 39 yards and one touchdown, you're playing excellent defense. Much of that credit goes to the pressure created, and tight coverage by cornerback Xavien Howard. His fourth-quarter interception put the offense back on the field with excellent field position. That field position ultimately led to a touchdown that gave the Dolphins a 26-14 cushion. On offense, I felt that rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa made some decisive decisions throwing the football, showing his arm strength and accuracy in some tight windows. He was assisted by fellow rookie running back Salvon Ahmed, who ran with elite quickness and vision that allowed the entire offense to play with patience. The offensive line did their part, sometimes providing gaping holes off the edge to spring Ahmed into the second level of the Los Angeles defense. It just seems like this team is going about their business in a workmanlike fashion, using some momentum altering plays along the way. It's fun to watch a Dolphins team win games that they should win, and doing so by getting comfortable in some uncomfortable situations.