The Miami Dolphins won on Sunday, beating the San Diego Chargers, thanks in large part to a defense that came up with four interceptions in the fourth quarter, including Kiko Alonso’s pick six touchdown that decided the affair.
That defense got great efforts all day from Cameron Wake. And Earl Mitchell.
But that same defense also had a defense that had two pass interference penalties, both on Bobby McCain, four defensive holding penalties -- one on McCain, one on Byron Maxwell and two on Tony Lippett -- a facemask penalty on McCain and three neutral zone or encroachment penalties, those on Jordan Phillips, Wake and Ndamukong Suh.
So either the referees were collectively freaking out over the possibility the Dolphins were about to win their fourth consecutive game and were trying to change that outcome (I don’t buy that) ...
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Or the Dolphins had some serious discipline and technique issues on defense relative to staying within the rules.
“We have to play better technique and compete,” Lippett said. “At the end of the day, I’m just out there trying to compete. The refs are going to call what they call and anything like that. I’m just out there trying to compete and play hard and try to make plays when they come my way.”
Credit Lippett. He had two interceptions. His first and second interceptions of this season. So he more than made up for his penalties. Maxwell also had an interception.
Rough day. And his grades from ProFootballFocus.com show that.
McCain had a brutal afternoon, mainly due to the fact he committed those four penalties after only having one all season prior to Week 10. He was graded as the worst cornerback in the league for the week by ProFootballFocus. That means McCain was 79th of 79 corners graded this week.
Maxwell stepped up for the Dolphins against San Diego, allowing only two receptions on five targets for 13 yards. Although one of those receptions did go for a touchdown, he made up for it by picking off Phillip Rivers and running it back 41 yards to change field position at a crucial juncture in the game. The only game Maxwell graded out better, per PFF, was Week Six against the Steelers.
Earl Mitchell played his first game since the regular-season opener at Seattle and gave the defense a much needed lift inside where they've been attacked all season. He recorded three stops, three hurries and was the top overall defensive player on the team against San Diego with a 81.9 grade.
”I was just so excited to be back out there,” said Mitchell, who spent eight weeks on injured reserve and also got an extra bye week to his credit to be ready. “I’ve been preparing this entire time ... I pretty much stayed in shape and made sure to stay in tune with all the meetings to make sure I was ready when it was time to come back.
”I’m definitely sore today. But I knew the scheme. I sat in the meetings. I got a lot of mental reps. I feel like a seven-year vet right now but it is what it is.”
Mitchell said he could have played with better technique. So if he does that, he might get better.
Mitchell, by the way, blamed the calf issues on some back problems he had previously. He says he did lose some weight to address the back issue.
”It was a long eight weeks and got an opportunity to talk to my teammates before the game and it all hit me at once,” Mitchell said.
DE Cameron Wake recorded five more QB hurries and two sacks and continues to see his playing time increase week-to-week. For the season, he's graded as the fourth-best edge defender in pass rushing with a grade of 87.3.
The Miami linebackers were attacked in the passing game early and often, before Kiko Alonso ultimately jumped a route late and took a Rivers pass back for the game-winning touchdown. Prior to that, he allowed five receptions on nine targets for 72 yards.
LB Jelani Jenkins was even worse, allowing four receptions on five targets for 94 yards and a touchdown.
Those are the grades from PFF on those two players. Let me tell you what I think:
Jenkins is playing hurt. He played with a club over his left hand which made tackling virtually impossible. He said he had to change the way he played -- moving his feet more to make up for the fact he basically only had one hand. Also, I was around Jenkins Monday at the exclusive resort and spa the Dolphins are staying at here.
He has a sleeve around his left leg and the guy cannot seem to fully extend his leg. He was walking with a clear limp and in obvious discomfort. Aside from calling into question Jenkins’s availability for Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, I would say it shows he gutted out a performance -- however poorly graded by PFF -- against the Chargers.
WR DeVante Parker had one of his best games as a pro, earning an 86.1 grade on the afternoon -- the best for all Dolphins wide receivers this game and third best in the NFL. He grabbed five of eight targets for 103 yards, not including a late 41-yarder that would have help put the game away but was called back on a penalty. This was Parker's first standout game since his first game of the season Week Two against New England, suggesting he may finally be past his hamstring injury that has lingered all season long.
“That was big for us because we needed it bad, because the other two guys were banged up and they gave us everything they had,” coach Adam Gase said. “Jarvis (Landry) played well and Kenny (Stills) made some big plays and just having (DeVante) out there, being able to go ... You could feel that during the week that he was different than what he had been.
“Getting him out there and knowing that he was going to make some plays this game, it makes life a lot easier when all three of those guys play together because it’s hard to take just one of them away. You’ve got to account for all three.”
With the running game contained for most of the afternoon, QB Ryan Tannehill was asked to do more through the air against San Diego. He was actually more effective facing pressure (7-of-9 for 142 yards and 1 touchdown) than facing no pressure (10-of-15 for 98 yards and 1 touchdown).
Either way -- pressure or no -- Tannehill was very good. His history, by the way, is that he is way, way better when not pressured.
Tannehill’s QB rating of 130.6 was second best in the league this week, behind only Marcus Mariota.
As a team, the Dolphins were able to rush for 106 yards on 25 carries. That’s solid. It is a 4.2 yard per carry average. But half the yards came on two runs -- a 40-yarder from Ajayi and an 18-yarder from Tannehill.
Of the 106 yards, 72 came after contact and as Miami overall was able to force seven missed tackles, including five from Jay Ajayi, which was second most in the league this week.
I asked Gase why the Chargers were able to contain the Dolphins run game when Buffalo, Pittsburgh and the New York Jets -- all solid run stopping teams -- could not.
”It’s a tough front. The movement that they have up front makes it very difficult,” Gase said. “It’s one thing when you’re playing the Jets. They’re stout. It’s tough to move those guys off the ball. This group, they move around and start stunting, and they’re getting into different gaps. You have to be really ... You’ve got to be on it. There were a few times where we had some things we had to clean up. It was a tough front. They played with great energy level.
”I think (Melvin) Ingram is playing about as well as I’ve ever seen him play. He was so disruptive yesterday. Going against him as many times as at least I have being in this division (with Denver), I don’t know if I ever remember him playing this well against the run and pass.”
C Mike Pouncey had his best game of the season, dominating in the run blocking-grade with a grade of 88.2. That was the best grade for any center in the league this week. Since returning from injury in Week Five, Pouncey has been effective in run-blocking but has at times struggled in pass-protection.
As a unit, the Miami offensive line allowed five QB hits this week, most for any team in the league. (That is bad).
The only starting offensive lineman not to allow a hit was Pouncey. For the season, the Dolphins' line ranks 31st out of 32 teams in pass blocking efficiency. (PBE is a weighted formula that combines sacks, hits and hurries relative to the number of passing snaps).
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