Despite a slow statistical start, the Dolphins were able to do enough to beat the St. Louis Rams, 17-14.
The Dolphins defense was gashed a handful of times in the first half, but they tightened up, holding the Rams to just 25 yards in the game’s final 30 minutes.
Here are my five key takeaways from Sunday’s 17-14 victory over the St. Louis Rams:
- Ugly, But the Dolphins Have Good Personality: It wasn’t pretty, but the Dolphins were able to gut out a game in which they were out-gained across the board, an indication, perhaps, that the team is the learning the art of closing out tight games. The numbers didn’t look so good — the Rams finished with 270 more total yards than the Dolphins — but an inability to turn some big plays into points cost the Rams, and the Dolphins defense adjusted on the fly to test depths of Rams rookie Greg Zuerlein’s range. A couple of important stats the Dolphins did win: turnover margin and penalty differential. St. Louis committed 12 penalties for 94 yards; the Dolphins just five for 40. Winning the turnover battle and avoiding penalties masked some noticeable flaws, even neutralizing the large yardage deficit.
- Halftime Adjustments: The Dolphins defense just had no answer for the big play in the first half. Steven Jackson is the known commodity in the St. Louis backfield, but it was Daryl Richardson, a seventh-round pick out of Abeliene Christian, who attacked the Dolphins’ stingy front seven early. The little-known running back — to Dolphins fans, at least — ran for 44 yards on the second play from scrimmage to set up a Zuerlein field goal–it was the longest run the Dolphins have surrendered early this season. On the Rams’ second offensive possession, Sam Bradford hooked up with Chris Givens for a 62-yard bomb that led to another Zuerlein field goal. In the second half, though, the Dolphins defense found a way to limit the Rams to just 168 yards of total offense and kept them off the scoreboard until midway through the fourth quarter. The offensive adjustments after the break resulted in immediate returns, too. Mike Sherman opted to move the pocket, allowing Ryan Tannehill to attack on play action, and he utilized the screen game to supplement the struggling ground game. Those two adjustments helped key what ended up being the game-clinching touchdown drive.
- Third Receiver Found: For at least one game, the Dolphins had a third receiver step up to ease some of the burden on Davone Bess and Brian Hartline. It wasn’t an All-World performance, but Marlon Moore was exactly what the Dolphins offense needed. He asserted himself as a viable option as the third receiver in Mike Sherman’s West Coast Offense. Without an extra receiver to draw attention, there is almost no margin of error for Bess and Hartline. Hartline struggled to get open against St. Louis’ big, physical corners, so Moore’s three-catch, 46-yard performance gave Tannehill someone else to look for. His speed can be an asset for Tannehill because it gives the offense the ability to spread the field vertically, allowing the rookie quarterback to show off his arm strength.
- Youth is Served: It’s nice to see production from so many fresh faces. Return specialist Marcus Thigpen consistently makes you sit on the edge of your seat because of his aggressive; he’s not afraid to out any kick, against any type of coverage. His 44-yard return to open the second half gave the Dolphins instant field position that jump-started a crucial scoring drive. I’m really glad it’s getting boring to say Ryan Tannehill played another solid football game. He played smart, efficient football and, again, handled every pressure look the Rams defense threw at him. Defensively, Olivier Vernon is beginning to emerge as a bookend opposite veteran Cam Wake. His two sacks made a definite impact, and Kevin Coyle should be able to utilize him more ways as the season progresses.
- Not Surprised with 3-3: If you told me the Dolphins would be 3-3 during the preseason, I wouldn’t have believed you. After watching this team for six weeks, though, I’m taking the glass half-full approach. The Dolphins’ DNA isn’t going to allow them to be satisfied with being .500–they’re just not wired like that. The team is at a position in their season where they hope to ride momentum to a strong run to separate themselves from the pack–all four teams in the AFC East are 3-3, and 10 AFC teams have two or three wins. It won’t be easy playing three of their next four games on the road–it never is in the NFL. But the schedule sets up for them to make a midseason run.