As far as linebacker-wide receiver mismatches are concerned, Kenny Stills vs. Jatavis Brown wasn’t, at least on paper, completely one-sided.
Yes, Stills is faster, but not by all that much — at least when it comes to running on a straight line. Less than a tenth of a second separated their 40-yard dash times pre-draft.
And Brown was exactly where he was supposed to be when Stills lined up in the slot and raced into his coverage area less than three minutes into the third quarter Sunday.
And yet, it didn’t matter.
Jay Cutler, on the run, made the perfect throw. And Stills leaned in front of Brown just before the ball arrived for the Dolphins’ first (and only, so far) touchdown of the 2017 season.
“I was waiting for him,” Cutler said. “He was matched on a linebacker, so it was just a matter of time for him to use his speed and get across. The whole line just collapsed and there was an opening that came up.”
Added Stills: “The guy really had it covered. Jay just threw a great ball. I was able to make a play.”
Put another way, things went largely to plan in Cutler’s Dolphins debut.
Yes, the Dolphins could have scored more than 19 points (they were a worrisome 0 for 3 in the red zone). Yes, Cutler could have been more accurate on an errant would-be touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry.
But considering the circumstances — playing on the road against Los Angeles’ fierce pass rush after Hurricane Irma derailed their first two sweek — there’s reason to believe that the Jay Cutler Experience will work out.
“Jay did a good job,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “He executed what we asked him to do. He was good in the run game. He threw the ball well and made some great plays off schedule.”
Gase added: “They are learning each other. He keeps everything calm. He doesn’t get too high or too low.”
Cutler finished the day 24 of 33 for 230 yards, that touchdown and — most importantly — no turnovers. His passer rating (101.8) ranks 11th in the league.
He was particularly good when given time to throw, completing 20 of 24 attempts for 199 yards and the score when not under pressure, according to Pro Football Focus.
In short, he was more than a suitable replacement for Ryan Tannehill.
And Cutler’s historic weakness (throwing the ball to the wrong team) was negated, at least in part, by the talent around him.
Just ask Casey Hayward. The Chargers corner was in perfect position to pick off Cutler with L.A. up a touchdown midway through the third. But DeVante Parker wouldn’t have it. He jumped up and over Hayward, plucked the ball out of the air, and continued down the field for a 31-yard gain.
“You thought you had it, huh?” Parker said to Hayward after the play.
Hayward’s response: “Yeah, I didn't know you were right there.”
Cutler won’t always get that lucky. Parker won’t always be able to bail him out.
But that won’t stop Cutler from going to Parker whenever he sees one-on-one coverage.
Any of this would have seemed absurd just six weeks ago, when Tannehill was healthy and Cutler was preparing for a job in television.
But after Tannehill went down, the Dolphins made the change — and, though early, that switch appears to have worked out for both the team and Cutler.
Even more jaw-dropping: Cutler — the legendary grouch — is actually having fun.
“I am enjoying the fact that I am playing football,” Cutler said. “These guys, the locker room is contagious. It is a good group of guys. Young, enthusiastic, and they make me feel young.”
Cutler added Sunday: “This locker room is a little bit different. It is special.”