The three-game losing streak is over, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and left tackle Terron Armstead are back, and now the Dolphins can focus on piling up a few wins. Well, that’s what people thought before the Dolphins’ 16-10 victory over Pittsburgh.
Actually, the thought remains the same, but now people realize those victories might be a bit tougher. Yes, the next two games are against Detroit (1-5) and Chicago (2-4), but they’re both on the road, and the Dolphins continue piling up injuries and struggling to score points.
Still, a victory is better than a loss, so the Dolphins will take this, celebrate their defensive prowess, hope better days are ahead for the offense, and keep it moving.
Passing game: C
It was so-so. The biggest problem was they didn’t score enough touchdowns, and that’s while acknowledging running back Raheem Mostert had an 8-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter against Pittsburgh. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (21 of 35, 261 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, 92.7 passer rating) was OK, but nothing special. Wide receivers Tyreek Hill (seven receptions, 72 yards) and Jaylen Waddle (four receptions, 88 yards) were productive. But running back Chase Edmonds had yet another drop. Pass protection was outstanding, marked by the return of left tackle Terron Armstead. Tagovailoa wasn’t sacked and was only hit once. But this group absolutely must produce more touchdowns. The Dolphins have 17 touchdowns (16 by the offense; linebacker Melvin Ingram has a touchdown), and 12 of those are via the air. But that’s also just 12 touchdowns in 28 quarters, and that’s not enough when your running game isn’t scoring touchdowns, either.
Running game: C
Mostert ended with 79 yards on 16 carries (4.9 yards per carry), fueling a ground game that totaled 111 yards on 27 carries (4.1 ypc). But Edmonds was stonewalled on a questionable fourth-and-3 call. Still, the ground game was consistent, totaling 66 yards on 12 carries in the first half. Blocking was good, which was another concern. Give credit to the offensive line, running backs, tight ends and wide receivers. It’s a group thing. The problem here is Miami needs to get to a place where the running game is reliable, and it’s not there. You knew it would take a while, and they still might be on schedule. After all, Mostert has shown signs of springing to life since the Cincinnati game, averaging 78 yards per game. But they need it now.
Defending the pass: A+
The depth in the secondary continues to impress. Three interceptions, including two in the final 2:57, one by safety Jevon Holland and the other by cornerback Noah Igbinoghene at the 1-yard line with 18 seconds left. The first interception belonged to cornerback Justin Bethel. Neither Igbinoghene nor Bethel had received regular playing time before the Steelers game (although Igbinoghene had played recently). The pass rush produced two sacks, with linebacker Jaelan Phillips (1.5 sacks) leading the way, along with defensive tackle Christian Wilkins (.5 sacks). The pass rush produced six quarterback hits but not a lot of pressure on Kenny Pickett (32 of 44, 257 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions, 66.2 passer rating). Wide receiver George Pickens (six receptions, 61 yards, one touchdown) was kept under control, which is impressive considering the Dolphins’ secondary entered the game without cornerbacks Byron Jones (Achilles), Nik Needham (Achilles), Kader Kohou (oblique) and Keion Crossen (knee), and during the game they lost safety Brandon Jones (knee), possibly for the season. No problem. Guys such as safeties Verone McKinley, Clayton Fejedelem, Eric Rowe and Elijiah Campbell came off the bench and made plays. Absolutely amazing.
Defending the run: B-
Pittsburgh running back Najee Harris (65 yards on 17 carries, 3.8 ypc) is capable, but he was kept under control. Linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel produced a team-best eight tackles, but Phillips also produced eight tackles, sharing the team lead. Clayton Fejedelem had a key stop on Harris on third-and-1 early in the fourth quarter. The Steelers had 19 first downs, but only four on the ground. The Steelers ended with 95 yards rushing on 23 carries (4.1 ypc) but they didn’t have many runs of consequence. This was yet another example of the defense setting the tone for the team but simply doing its job. It wasn’t fancy, but it was consistent and effective.
Special teams: B
It was nice to see improvement here. Kicker Jason Sanders hit three field goals (24, 42 and 47 yards) to remain a perfect 8 for 8 on attempts of less than 50 yards. Punter Thomas Morstead was strong again with six punts that averaged 42.7 yards, including four inside the 20. Wide receiver Cedrick Wilson made an uneventful debut at punt returner, but he added another option aside from Holland, Hill and Waddle. Coverage units were solid. Special teams often get affected when the injury bug goes around the team as it’s doing with Dolphins, and that’s surfaced recently. But special teams were good against Pittsburgh.
That fourth-and-3 call. Yikes. Coach Mike McDaniel rolled the dice at a bad time, while clinging to a 16-10 lead with 8:37 left in the third quarter at the Pittsburgh 14-yard line. He should have kicked the field goal. But it worked out. In the grand scheme of things, give the coaches credit for getting guys ready to play. That’s huge. It’s really apparent on the defense, but also shows on the offensive line with right tackle Brandon Shell. Special teams turned in a good performance, and the Dolphins cleaned up the penalty issues that haunted them the past couple of games. Still, the offense struggled to score, and that’s a major issue, especially when you have Hill and Waddle. But overall, nothing to see here, which might be a small issue.
Stock up: Secondary
They returned to their game-changing, game-winning style. Three interceptions, and those final two in the fourth quarter by Holland and Igbinoghene were absolutely clutch. They won the game. These guys continue to find ways to go deep into their ranks and make plays. They’re easily the most impressive group on the team. The secondary is a testament to players, coaches and the front office. Well done all around.
Stock down: Offense
You’ve gotta score more points. Mostert was good with 109 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown. Hill was good with seven receptions for 72 yards, and Waddle was good with four receptions for 88 yards. On one hand, there have been injuries, and you figured it might take the offense half the season to find its identity. On the other hand, you’ve got Tyreek Hill! The defense gets the job done. Figure it out.