Interim coach Dan Campbell clearly interjected passion, energy and emotion into a Dolphins team that dismantled Tennessee 38-10 on Sunday after playing listlessly in previous weeks.
But once the game started, more tangible changes also became evident, and none backfired. Among them:
▪ A stronger commitment to the running game. Campbell poked his head into an offensive line meeting last week and said, “We will run the ball!”
After passing 73 percent of the time in their first four games, the Dolphins on Sunday had more rushes (32) than passing attempts (29). And they ran effectively, for 180 yards on 5.6 per carry, with Lamar Miller closing with 113 yards on 19 attempts.
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It helped that left tackle Branden Albert and tight end Dion Sims returned from injury, and that Billy Turner replaced Jamil Douglas at right guard.
“It’s just refreshing to run the football,” center Mike Pouncey said.
▪ Turner’s promotion. Several teammates were surprised when the Dolphins gave the right guard job to Douglas instead of Turner late in preseason. But instead of sulking, Turner worked on his technique, which offensive line coach John Benton said had to improve.
Turner justified his promotion Sunday. Pro Football Focus gave him a grade of 75.2, which places him 24th among all NFL guards this season. Douglas ranks 100th at 31.6.
“Billy brings a physical presence,” Campbell said. “There were some things he didn’t do a great job at … with pad level. But he played physical. He did a nice job.”
▪ Changes in the distribution of wide-receiver snaps. As usual, Jarvis Landry played the most: 63 of Miami’s 67 offensive snaps.
But instead of playing Rishard Matthews, Greg Jennings and Kenny Stills a comparable amount, the Dolphins increased Matthews’ snaps (to 60), dramatically reduced Jennings’ (to nine), while giving 28 to Stills.
Matthews again validated Miami’s faith, with six catches for 85 yards. Meanwhile, DeVante Parker logged just six snaps; coaches want more consistency.
▪ Simplifying on defense. Though several defensive players said the Dolphins didn’t do much differently, Fox Sports reported that new defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo reduced the number of defensive packages to only about 10 base-play calls and that the defensive linemen were told to attack instead of thinking so much.
After Cameron Wake’s fourth sack, his agent, Paul Sheehy, tweeted: “Another sack by [Wake]. … Amazing what happens when you let players play and don’t try to overscheme things. #DanCampbell Fan.”
Said NBC’s Tony Dungy: “The coaching change in Miami has made a difference. Much more aggressive on defense.”
The Dolphins, who ranked last in the league in run defense entering the game, allowed only 63 yards rushing (3.5 per carry). Miami also had six sacks, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
▪ Subtle changes at running back. Backup Jonas Gray, who had just one carry in the previous game, got the ball seven times (24 yards) and played slightly more than Damien Williams (nine snaps).
Also, the Dolphins used defensive tackle Earl Mitchell as a blocking back on six snaps, which was helpful for a team that doesn’t carry a fullback. “He can play fullback in this league,” Campbell said. “He missed on a couple, but that’s also his first NFL game as a fullback. He’s only going to get better. We’ll keep working him in.”
▪ Minor changes among defensive snaps. Rookie defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, inactive in the third game, played more snaps than usual (26).
After platooning middle linebackers Kelvin Sheppard and Neville Hewitt at times early in the season, the Dolphins gave the vast majority of snaps to Sheppard (26). Hewitt (10 snaps) played late when the outcome had been decided.
THIS AND THAT
▪ Wake’s four sacks in the first half tied with Seattle’s Chris Clemons (2012) and Kansas City’s Derrick Thomas (1992) for the most by an NFL player in a first half since 1991.
“Cam Wake is back, not that he was ever gone,” Campbell said.
“The bye week did [his hamstring] well. He was an animal. He had four sacks. He should have had two more. A couple were holds. For any doubters that say Cam Wake is slowing down, I don’t think so.”
▪ Campbell said linebacker Jelani Jenkins “played one hell of a game; he was all over the field,” and said if quarterback Ryan Tannehill “plays like he did yesterday, we’ll be fine. I keep telling him, ‘Just be you.’ ”
▪ The Dolphins were administering tests to determine the severity of cornerback Brice McCain’s knee injury that twice forced him to leave Sunday’s game. McCain was walking without crutches after the game, and the injury is not believed to be serious.
▪ The Dolphins’ 38 points were their most in the first game under a new coach. Previous high: 34 points, in Nick Saban’s debut in 2005.
▪ The Dolphins cut former Raiders safety Jonathan Dowling a week after promoting him from the practice squad to the 53-man roster. To fill the open roster spot, the Dolphins promoted tight end Brandon Williams from the practice squad.