Armando Salguero

PFF Week 11 grades: Wake, Branch, Maxwell, Parker excellent; Alonso, Tannehill struggle

Defensive end Cameron Wake smiles after the Dolphins’ victory over the Steelers at Hard Rock Stadium on Oct. 16.
Defensive end Cameron Wake smiles after the Dolphins’ victory over the Steelers at Hard Rock Stadium on Oct. 16. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

The Miami Dolphins got late heroics from the offense against the Los Angeles Rams. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill and company -- who struggled the first 55 minutes or so of the game, scored touchdowns on their final two consecutive drives to seal a victory.

But for those previous 55 minutes and even in the final five minutes the defense was STRAIGHT BALLIN’.

(Journalism professors across America are going into convulsions now that they’ve read that last sentence).

Here is the metrics translation of what STRAIGT BALLIN’ means from my pals at ProFootballFocus.com:

For the second consecutive week, cornerback Byron Maxwell had a fine game in the Dolphins' secondary. He recorded five tackles, two stops and allowed 43 yards on six targets. In terms of coverage grade, Maxwell was the fourth best cornerback in the league for Week 11 and the third best in overall grade.

Defensive end Cameron Wake continues to dominate in the trenches, and Sunday was the first time all year he graded out better in run defense than pass rushing. His pass rushing skills were still on display against the Rams, where he recorded four QB hurries and a sack. Wake has now recorded a sack in five straight games.

All of those are Miami victories.

So let’s all credit Cameron Wake, right? Well, do so knowing Wake would probably shrug at the suggestion he’s responsible for Miami’s success. The truth is Wake is the most unassuming star on the Dolphins now.

He is their best defensive player if not their best player overall. And yet, he’s fine if you notice. He’s fine if you don’t.

He was fine when coaches told him their best idea was for him to come into the game off the bench -- sometimes playing only 15 snaps a game earlier this season. He was fine when coaches told him their new best idea was for him to start and play a lot.

“I’ve always been confident in my abilities. I’ve always been a guy who knows who he is. And my whole goal is to win,” Wake told The Miami Herald last week. “I’m not a guy who needs to be out front. I’m not a guy who’s me, me, me. It’s about the team winning.

“And if the best situation and best scenario is me stepping back, I’ll step back. If it’s about me stepping forward, then I’ll step forward. If I have to sit out, I’ll sit out. I don’t have that in me. I think about the team. I think about the ultimate goal. And the ultimate goal is not Cameron Wake being on the front page or whatever.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have a decent career. I’ve had some accolades here and there. But, again, that’s not my goal. Me, me, me, I’ve never been that kind of guy. I’m looking for team success.”

Wake, who came to the Dolphins in 2009, has never been to the playoffs. The Dolphins, winners of five consecutive games for the first time since 2008, are on that arc so far this season.

In this case, team success and Wake success are crossing paths.

Meanwhile ... back to PFF:

Safety Isa Abdul-Quddus continues to quietly do a good job stepping up during the injury absence of Reshad Jones. He recorded five stops against the Rams in Week 11, most for any safety in the league. He was excellent in coverage as well, where he allowed only seven yards on three targets on the afternoon.

One week after being the hero with a game-winning pick six against San Diego, linebacker Kiko Alonso had a tough game against the Rams. Although he was strong in pass coverage (32 yards allowed on seven targets), he struggled containing Todd Gurley and the Rams' running game and was responsible for two penalties -- both 15-yard facemask penalties.

(Salguero: I remind you Alonso did force a fumble and recovered that fumble).

DE Andre Branch led the team in QB hurries, with five. He has now recorded at least four QB hurries in each of the last 4 games. His 13 hurries the last three games ranks third amongst all 4-3 defensive ends in the league, trailing only the Saints' Cameron Jordan and the Eagles' Brandon Graham.

COLUMN: Armando Salguero says Andre Branch is a keeper

The Dolphins' offensive line has been key to their success in recent weeks, particularly in the running game but that was not the case against the Rams. All five starters graded negatively overall and each struggled in run blocking. This should not come as a surprise, however, with LT Albert and C Pouncey missing the game due to injury and having backups start in their place.

For the second straight week, wide receiver DeVante Parker led the team in targets - grabbing eight of the 10 thrown his way for 79 yards and the game-winning touchdown. His 18 targets and 13 receptions the last two weeks ranks in the top 10 for all NFL wide receivers.

One week after having his best game of the season and arguably the best game of his career, quarterback Ryan Tannehill's up-and-down season continued against the Rams, as he graded out as the 22nd best QB in games played through Sunday.

It was evident the team was missing two starters on the offensive line as Tannehill struggled under pressure --- completing just 3 of 7 passes for 16 yards while taking four sacks.

Trailing much of the game until late in the fourth quarter prevented the Dolphins from giving the ball to halfback Jay Ajayi as much as they would have liked, but he was still effective in his 16 touches. Ajayi totaled 77 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per carry. He forced four missed tackles and recorded 63 of his 77 yards after contact where he has continued rack up the yards week after week with his aggressive running style.

Wide receiver Jarvis Landry has had his role diminished in recent weeks due to Miami’s run-first approach and this was the case once again against the Rams. Landy was third on the team in targets (behind Parker and Kenny Stills) but caught all 5 of the ones thrown his way and had a huge touchdown late in the game.

Landry has not seen double-digit targets in a game since Week 4 and that trend demands attention in the coming weeks, with Parker’s emergence and a continued focus on the running game.

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