The best teams in the National Football League have multiple paths to victory on a given Sunday. This season, the Dolphins have relied upon late defensive stands, record-setting passing days, timely special teams, a near-200-yard ground game effort and everything in between. On Sunday, Miami had it all clicking in a 22-point win over Cleveland.
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Here are the three takeaways from the Dolphins' 39-17 over the Browns
1. MVP pace
If you look at any measurement of quarterback efficiency this season, you're likely to see Tua Tagovailoa's name at the top of the list. And it's a complete team effort that has the southpaw tops of the league in passer rating (118.4), touchdown pass percentage (7.3), yards per attempt (9.1), total QBR (82.6) and countless others.
Tagovailoa was asked after the game if he could've envisioned being firmly in the discussion for the most prestigious individual award in football and, as he typically does, used it as an opportunity to talk about his teammates.
"I would say I didn't because a lot of the hard work that we've put in, like, we're just so focused on how we can win games and what that entails," Tagovailoa said. For our backs to have long touchdowns, explosive touchdowns, one each, and then being able to throw to three different guys, touchdowns; you're just in the moment and you're just enjoying that and you don't necessarily think outside of any of that. I'm really proud of our team."
The numbers and company Tagovailoa has kept through 10 games of the 2022 season is hard to ignore.
Previously, the discussion was centered around a pair of star wide receivers who currently sit No. 2 and No. 6 in yards per game this season in Tyreek Hill (114.8) and Jaylen Waddle (87.9). Sunday, Tagovailoa did find Hill for one of his three touchdown passes. Touchdowns one and two on the day, however, went to wide receiver Trent Sherfield and fullback Alec Ingold, their first touchdown grabs in the aqua and orange.
In the process of throwing for 285 yards and a 78.1 percent completion rate, Tagovailoa completed multiple throws to seven different pass catchers. Five players had at least four grabs, including Waddle who led the way with 66 yards. Seven players had at least 22 yards receiving in the game.
"We've been waiting for a game like that," Head Coach Mike McDaniel said. "First of all, Tua is playing very, very high-level football. It's phenomenal to watch him commit to the process. It was rewarding and exciting because you can ask Tyreek and Waddle themselves. It's about a team and all of their production has to do with a team working in concert so that they can get those numbers."
2. Controlling the trenches
The Dolphins' pass protection numbers are perhaps as impressive as all the marks we discussed in takeaway No. 1
"When I took my shoulder pads off, [someone told me] 'Wow, your jersey is so clean.' Well, it's because of our guys up front," Tagovailoa said after the game.
Since his return in Week 7, Tagovailoa has dropped back to pass 150 times. The Miami line has surrendered just 21 pressures over that span, a pressure every 7.14 drop backs. It's the best rate in football over that span.
But it wasn't just the passing game. Miami was knocking on the door of 200 yards rushing with consistent chunk gains from the dynamic 1-2 punch of Jeff Wilson Jr. and Raheem Mostert. The former Niners teammates and current Dolphins duo produced seven runs of 10-plus yards Sunday. They forced five missed tackles and picked up 60 yards after initial contact. Mostert averaged 8.1 yards per carry and Wilson 7.0. They both found the end zone and combined for 10 first down runs.
3. Defense brings it home
The Miami defense did their part to control the game at the point of attack. Facing the league's leader in broken tackles and yards after contact, the Dolphins needed an aggressive, fundamentally-sound approach to deal with Browns star runner, Nick Chubb.
The Cleveland back sprung a 33-yard touchdown scamper in a three-score game in the fourth quarter, but he gained just 30 yards on his other 10 carries. Jacoby Brissett found some run-game success on scrambles late in a lopsided game, but make no mistake, Miami imposed its will in the trenches.
The Browns rushed for just 31 yards on 13 first-half rush attempts. The next time they touched the ball the scoreboard read 24-7 in favor of the home team. Making the Browns one-dimensional on offense was a key part in Miami's success in the win.
The Dolphins also turned up the pressure on the Cleveland passing game. Dropping Brissett for three sacks, the defense produced 28 total quarterback pressures (per Pro Football Focus). Half of those pressures produced hits on the quarterback (14 total). The secondary chipped in with seven passes defensed.
In front of the raucous Hard Rock Stadium crowd this season, the Dolphins are allowing just 15.4 points per game. Miami is now 10-1 in the last 11 games at Hard Rock Stadium, the best 11-game home stretch since the team went 10-1 between December of 2001 and December of 2022.
For more analysis, takeaways and breakdowns, check out the Drive Time Podcast with Travis Wingfield, available on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.