1) Early Execution Sets the Tone
The Dolphins offense exploded in the first quarter on Thursday night, paving the way to a 31-13 win in Jacksonville. The Miami offensive attack, led by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, was unstoppable from the opening kickoff. Fitzpatrick began the game completing his first 12 attempts, and capped off the opening drive with a strike to Preston Williams to take an early seven-point lead. This drive had balance, using second-year running back Myles Gaskin eight times on the ground, and finding four different options in the passing game. After the Dolphins defense forced a three-and-out, Fitzpatrick went back to work. He again got his play makers involved, using Jakeem Grant on a fly sweep for a 30-yard gain, and called his own number on a key third-down conversion as he scrambled for a first down. That led to a 14/point lead for the Dolphins. A 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mike Gesicki on the next possession gave Miami a touchdown on their first three drives of the game. Scoring three touchdowns on the first three possessions hasn't happened for the Dolphins offense since 2011. A total of 17 first downs helped the Dolphins control the tempo of the game through 30 minutes of action. The simple execution of all 11 offensive players on Thursday night provided a blend of a tough running game, mixed with eight explosive plays of over 11 yards in the first half alone!
2) Defensive Wake Up Call
The third time was a charm for the Dolphins defense. This defensive group showed signs of not only slowing down a rushing attack, but getting after the opposing quarterback with consistency. They forced two turnovers on second-year quarterback Gardner Minshew, and also harassed him in the pocket, sacking him four times. It was the first multi-takeaway game for the Dolphins defense this year. More importantly, highlighted players that needed to step up their game, did. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy is starting to stack positive performances together, and that type of play gets contagious to other defenders. Van Noy forced his second fumble, this time getting the strip-sack on Minshew, and finding the fumble at the bottom of the pile. This gave the Miami offense instant field position and led to a short Fitzpatrick rushing touchdown. It wasn't just the veteran linebacker making all of the plays for this group, as Andrew Van Ginkel, Zach Sieler, Kamu Grugier-Hill and Emmanuel Ogbah pitched in as well. Four sacks and 10 quarterback hits will slow down most opposing offenses, and it was the type of effort that needs to occur with more consistency as the season progresses. Rookie cornerback Noah Igbinoghene bounced back after a difficult game last week and challenged Jacksonville receivers all evening long. He'll need to continue to raise his level of play if veteran corner Byron Jones misses next week's game with a groin injury. Lastly, it was nice to see Xavien Howard get his first interception of the season on Jacksonville's last possession of the game. Howard is getting closer to 100 percent and that's a great sign for the secondary.
3) A Complete Team Win
This group executed for 60 minutes in all three phases to get a win. It was the first time that they played complementary football. The offense found a way to finish drives and score points while the defense didn't bend against the run, or give up the explosive play that gave the Jags offense life. Special teams again were solid and the kicking game with punter Matt Haack and place kicker Jason Sanders couldn't be in a better spot. At 1-2, the Miami Dolphins have a chance to continue to improve as a team, but need to keep the standard of play high heading into the month of October. The Fins are heading into a difficult stretch of their 2020 schedule, facing Seattle at home next and then back to back road game out west versus San Francisco and Denver. The Jacksonville game has set the bar and for this team to have future success, there's no going back. Winning the turnover margin must be a priority for this group each and every week. Also, staying away from the negative plays on offense helped them stay ahead of the chains, and not chasing first downs to start the game. Defensively, slowing down the run helped turn up the pressure in the pocket. It also led to tougher and tighter coverage in the secondary. Better teams and competition arrive next month, and hopefully the Dolphins will be ready to accept that challenge.