1) Turning Turnovers Into Points
In a game that was dominated by the Miami Dolphins, you would expect that they would create more momentum-changing plays over the course of four quarters. They did but only after the Rams All-Pro defender Aaron Donald stripped the ball away from Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa on Miami's first offensive series, that led directly to a Los Angeles 7-0 lead. The Dolphins responded by scoring 28 unanswered points, and frustrating the Rams pass protection with multiple pressure packages that Los Angeles had trouble identifying all game long. It forced Rams quarterback Jared Goff to sometimes hold the ball, or throw it into coverage, where Miami defenders were waiting to force an incompletion or interception. Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and safety Eric Rowe had two of the four forced turnovers, and the Wilkins pick midway through the first quarter, led directly to Tagovailoa’s first touchdown pass as a pro! He connected with wide out DeVante Parker on a slant route to tie the game at 7. The Dolphins pass rush was relentless, getting two strip-sacks and returning one for a score. Those types of plays provided this team the cushion it needed to win on Sunday. Emmanuel Ogbah was untouched when he separated Goff from the football, and Andrew Van Ginkel was able to scoop up the loose change and sprint 78 yards to the end zone. Defensive end Shaq Lawson’s pressure came from the opposite side, but had the same result! His strip-sack was picked up by linebacker Kyle Van Noy, and the veteran linebacker rumbled down to the Rams one-yard line. From there, Myles Gaskin plunged into the end zone and Miami took a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
2) Special Teams Boost
Anytime you can win two of the three phases (Offense, Defense and/or Special Teams), your team should have a great chance to win. Sometimes fans are focused on the first two, and coaches are locked in about the latter! Special teams came through in a big way on Sunday, but overall it's probably been the most consistent part of the team through seven games this season. Return specialist Jakeem Grant looked like he's been one block away on numerous return chances this year, and against Los Angeles, he finally broke one loose. Grant’s 88-yard punt return for a touchdown was beautiful. It showed the speed of Grant to make the first defender miss, and then use that burst of speed to find his blocking. Two of those blocks were made Noah Igbinoghene and Kavon Frazier. Both players made plays to spring Grant not only into the end zone, but into Dolphins history. Grant now holds the record for the longest punt return in Miami Dolphins history, and it was the first punt return for a touchdown in the NFL this season. Also, punter Matt Haack again was solid, booting five of his nine punts inside the 20-yard line keeping the Rams offense on a long field for most of the day.
3) Total Team Win
The last time the Miami Dolphins scored on offense, defense and special teams was exactly 11 years ago, on Nov. 1, 2009. It shows just how hard it is to get all three phases to play at their peak performance level. Obviously the defense and special teams carried the afternoon, but their were some things to build upon seeing the offense for the first time with Tagovailoa at quarterback. It was a great position for Tua to be in when your team provides you with a huge lead early in a game. But it also makes it very difficult for a play caller to get aggressive knowing you don't want to put undue pressure on yourself if there's really no need to do so. As a result, we watched Tua and the offense have its ups and downs, especially in the second half. There were too many three and outs with some dropped passes by the receiving group, and a lack of continuity in the second half of the game when the offense was just trying to exhaust the clock. Remember that this Rams defense collectively was arguably the most talented group that the Dolphins have faced all season. Miami needed a star-studded performance from its defense and special teams if they were going to have a chance to win, and they got exactly what was needed.