The good news is Jay Cutler played really well for the Miami Dolphins Sunday night. He played really well despite missing the previous game with two cracked ribs. He played really well despite no longer having the other Jay (Ajayi) in the same backfield.
The Miami Dolphins quarterback was on point.
The bad news?
Jay Cutler played really well and the Dolphins still lost.
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Cutler completed his first 16 passes in the first half and the Dolphins only scored 9 points as a result and trailed 13-9 at halftime.
How does this happen?
Your quarterback is on fire. He is not missing on any throws. And you’re getting beat at home?
That’s not only stunning but should be depressing because there are maybe a handful of formulas for winning in the NFL and having a quarterback playing lights out is one of those. And the Dolphins got that Sunday night.
And they trailed at halftime. And lost the game.
Let’s examine this closer, shall we?
So on the Dolphins first drive Cutler didn’t miss a pass. He was 3 for 3. The problem with that is that on his fourth attempt, Cutler connected for 14 yards to Jarvis Landry to convert a third-and-6 situation. The Dolphins should have had a first down at the Oakland 44 yard line.
Except right tackle Ja’Wuan James was called for lining up wrong on the play. Illegal formation. And that wiped out the 14-yard completion and gave the Dolphins a third-and-11 situation back at their 37 yard line.
And coach Adam Gase, calling plays, must have blacked out or something because in that obvious passing situation he called a run to Damien Williams. (Maybe it was run-pass option, I don’t know). Williams gained four yards.
So the Dolphins, with a hot quarterback to start the game, blew up their first drive with a penalty that wiped out grand possibilities and a weird play-call on third down. Zero points.
Cutler connected on his next five passes the next time the Dolphins got the football. And the Dolphins turned that into touchdown. But then Cody Parkey missed the extra point. Yuck.
No worries, Gase got up the nerve we expected earlier on that third down call and tried an onside kick. And it worked! And Cutler was off again, completing his next two throws.
The Dolphins had something cookin’.
And then Kenyan Drake fumbled. Killing the drive. Killing momentum. Killing hope.
Stuff like this went on all night, folks. The Dolphins’ quarterback finished the game with three touchdown passes. He didn’t throw an interception. He passed for 311 yards.
His overall QB rating was 121.3. That’s his second-highest rating dating back to 2014.
And here’s the thing, how Cutler plays is apparently not often an indication of whether the Dolphins are winning or losing.
Remember when he broke his ribs against the Jets weeks ago? He had thrown 2 TDs and one interception and had a 114.1 QB rating but his team was losing.
The previous two weeks against Atlanta and Tennessee. Cutler was unspectacular. He had a 76.7 rating against the Falcons; he had a 52.1 rating against Tennessee.
And the Dolphins won both games.
The point here is the quarterback is very important. But these Dolphins are capable of doing so many other things wrong (and sometimes right) that they can both wash away a fine performance by Cutler and lose, or cover up a stinker by Cutler and win.
Cutler’s play has not been a great indicator of team success or failure this year.
And you thought it’s all about the QB.
Obviously, it’s better when Cutler plays well. And, going back to the 27-24 loss to Oakland, Cutler played well.
By any standard, including ProFootballFocus.com’s metrics, Cutler had his best game of the year. He started the game as the 30th-ranked QB against the blitz, but completed 9 of 12 passes for 63 yards and two touchdowns against the Raiders blitz. That was good for a QB rating of 126.0 in those pressure situations.
Cutler completed 28 of 32 passes for 246 yards when facing no pressure on the night. His overall grade of 85.0 was the second best for any QB in Week 9.
Other PFF stuff...
In the first game since the Jay Ajayi trade, the running-back-by-committee approach was taken with Damien Williams who got the start and played 30 snaps and Kenyan Drake playing 37 snaps. Williams gained just 14 yards on seven carries on the ground but was effective as a pass catcher, grabbing all six targets thrown his way for 47 yards and a touchdown.
Drake was far more effective on the ground, racking up 69 yards on nine carries (55 of which were after contact) and forced three missed tackles, too. Drake did lose the crucial fumble mentioned earlier.
Tight end Julius Thomas had his best game of the season, grabbing six of seven targets thrown his way for 84 yards and a touchdown. The targets, receptions and yards were all the most for any game this season, the touchdown was his first as a Dolphin.
Gase said it was all a function of the coverage the Raiders used against the Miami offense.
Thomas’s 88.0 overall grade was the best on the team and the highest for any tight end in Week 9.
Guard Jesse Davis had a solid fill-in performance for the team in Baltimore (good matchup for him) but he struggled all night against the Raiders, as evidenced by his 36.6 overall grade. He struggled in both run-blocking (34.2) and pass-blocking (44.8 and allowed a QB hit).
Davis is going to be replaced in the starting lineup by Ted Larsen for the Carolina game, according to a team source. That, is of course, if Larsen doesn’t get re-injured in practice this coming week.
Center Mike Pouncey continues to have his worst season as a pro in run-blocking, per PFF. His grade for the game was 29.2 and for the season it is 40.3 which ranks 35 out of 37 qualifying centers in run-blocking.
(The Dolphins believe this grade is bogus because they’ve previously been asking Pouncey to carry out blocks most humans cannot execute. That was supposed to change this week.)
Wide receiver DeVante Parker returned from an ankle injury to earn the highest-grade for any WR in Week 9 at 86.9.
Parker played 54 of 67 snaps and caught five of eight targets for 76 yards, highlighted by a spectacular one-handed catch late in the fourth quarter. Cutler has a reason for thinking of Parker as his favorite target.
Cutler has a 103.0 QB rating when targeting Parker and that’s the reason Parker has been targeted at least eight times in every game he’s played in except Tennessee, a game he left with the ankle injury in the first quarter.
Rookie defensive tackle Davon Godchaux had another productive game, earning the highest grade on the Dolphins defense with an overall grade of 82.3. As a pass-rusher he recorded one quarterback hurry and a batted pass, but was the best run-defender on the night, recording five stops.
Cornerback Cordrea Tankersley was targeted five times and he allowed two receptions for 41 yards and defended one pass. Cornerback Xavien Howard was targeted two times and allowed just one reception for 16 yards. Slot cornerback Bobby McCain was targeted two times and allowed one catch for negative one yard.
(Yeah, um, the Dolphins coverage problems Sunday were in the back end and at linebacker).
Linebacker Kiko Alonso struggled all night in coverage against tight end Jared Cook, allowing five catches for 82 yards while also allowing another 12-yard pass to Michael Crabtree as well. Five of the six catches against Alonso went for at least 10 yards, including four first downs. His overall grade for the game was 33.7.
Dolphins linebackers missed five tackles. This is noteworthy because the unit combined to miss seven as a group the previous week in Baltimore. Lawrence Timmons has missed nine tackles in his six games this season. Timmons missed 17 tackles all of last season in Pittsburgh.
Defensive end Cameron Wake led the team with four pressures in his 33 snaps. For the season, Wake has a PRP (pass rushing productivity measures sacks/hits/hurries per pass rush snap) of 15.9, the highest for any 4-3 defensive end.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero