For three-plus quarters in Sunday’s game against the Rams, the Dolphins’ offensive line struggled to protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill, giving up four sacks and often failing to provide a sustained pocket for its passer.
That all changed in the final two Dolphins drives, as the suddenly stout Miami pass protection resulted in two touchdowns passes by Tannehill late in the fourth quarter to give the Dolphins a 14-10 come-from-behind road win and a fifth consecutive victory.
“We were inconsistent the first three quarters. Our defense held them to a low score, but we weren’t playing complementary football until the fourth quarter, when we saw a little bit of light,” offensive guard Jermon Bushrod said.
“It just goes to show the type of team and type of players we have. There was never any negativity the whole time on the sideline. It was just keep going, keep going, our defense kept bailing us out and the next thing you know we were able to get it going.”
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The final two Miami drives for scores took eight plays for 77 yards in 2:38 followed by a seven-play drive for 75 yards in 1:35. The Dolphins had a net total of 240 offensive yards for the game, 152 of which came in the final two drives.
“Once we got the ball back with 2:30 to play (actually 2:11), we knew we were going to score, absolutely,” Bushrod said.
“[The Rams] are one of the most talented defenses that we are going to play all year. They are physical, and we had to match that intensity. We found our way; that’s all you can ask for.”
To be fair, the Dolphins were playing with a patchwork offensive line. Regular starting center Mike Pouncey was inactive because of a hip injury and was replaced by Anthony Steen.
In addition, regular starting left tackle Branden Albert was also inactive because of an injured left wrist. Laremy Tunsil replaced Albert, who had ligament surgery last week. Albert said he has not ruled out playing next week against San Francisco.
The Rams’ defensive front — led by ends Robert Quinn on the edge and Aaron Donald and Dominique Easley up the gut — pressured Tannehill relentlessly for most of the day. The Dolphins contributed to their woes with a few penalties and misfires on offense.
“There was a lot of self-inflicted stuff in the first half,” Dolphins guard Kraig Urbik said.
To put more stress on the offensive line, Tunsil exited the game in the first half with an injured shoulder and did not return. Backup tackle Sam Young came in to replace Tunsil.
“We just started clicking the last two drives, that’s the best way I can explain it.” Young said. “Five wins in a row, something is going right.”
Bushrod said of Young’s contribution: “When Tunsil left, Sam Young came in, and he did a tremendous job against one of the best pass rushers in this league [in Quinn].”
For the game, Tannehill was 24-of-34 passing for 172 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Prior to the final two drives he was 12 of 21 for 57 yards and zero scores.
In the final two drives, Tannehill was 12 of 13 for 115 yards with scoring passes to Jarvis Landry (10 yards) and DeVante Parker (9 yards).
Clearly, when Tannehill was under duress he was inconsistent but when he had time during the final two drives he went through his progressions and threaded multiple pinpoint passes into tight coverage.
The offensive line played a large part in the fourth-quarter turnaround by giving Tannehill the critical protection he needed.
“That’s a lot on us [offensive line]; we have to make sure [Tannehill] is comfortable,” tackle Ja’Wuan James said. “When he is, he is starting to play great and is in rhythm and everybody plays in rhythm.”