Armando Salguero

Dolphins enduring pass blocking failures from surprising players; PLUS PFF grades

Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi has been struggling to gain yards lately but, like all Dolphins running backs, has also struggled blocking in the passing game.
Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi has been struggling to gain yards lately but, like all Dolphins running backs, has also struggled blocking in the passing game. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Matt Moore was visibly upset after Thursday night’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens and that’s understandable because he had to know this game was his opportunity to prove he deserves consideration for more starts -- at least while Jay Cutler is still recovering from two broken ribs.

But Moore, like practically everyone else, struggled during this game. We know that. So Cutler, still not fully healthy, will be the starter for the Dolphins against Oakland Nov. 5.

But here’s what we didn’t know about Moore:

Yes, he was sacked three times against Baltimore, and yes, that reflects poorly on the offensive line.

But it also reflects poorly on the rest of the team’s pass protectors (running backs and tight ends). And it reflects poorly on Moore in a surprising way.

What way?

Well, as the quarterback, Moore is in part responsible for setting some of the blocking protections before the snap. And as CBS analyst Tony Romo, a former Pro Bowl quarterback, noted several times during the broadcast, Moore apparently didn’t do that. So if the quarterback is failing to manage one of his pre-snap responsibilities, that hurts the protection and it seems to everyone watching that it was a failing of the offensive line.

Here’s another thing that isn’t the offensive line’s fault: Dolphins running backs have been responsible for at least four of the 16 sacks the Dolphins have allowed this year. That’s 25 percent of Miami’s sacks on the running backs.

“To me it comes down to more than just the offensive line,” coach Adam Gase said. “The majority of the time, the offensive line at least knows who to go to and knows what to do. You’ve got to get the other guys to know what to do, too. (The offensive line) can’t block the running back’s guy.

“The running back, we never block the right guy. I don’t even know if we know who we’ve got. We’ve got to get that fixed. They can’t block their guy too. (The offensive line is) trying to do what they can and they’re fighting. There’s times where I wished they would do things better, but at least I’m getting effort.”

I’m sure the running backs are providing effort. But it’s wasted effort if Jay Ajayi, Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake (to a lesser degree because he’s been removed from virtually all third down back duties the past two games) have the wrong idea of who to block.

And the quarterback isn’t setting the protection correctly pre-snap.

What a mess.

Anyway, ProFootballFocus.com has the grades from this week’s game. My commentary or insights are in (parenthesis):

Moore helped spark a struggling Dolphins offense last week in a comeback win over the Jets, but struggled all game against the Ravens on Thursday night.

Moore completed 20-of-35 passes when he was under no pressure. Those 20 completions netted 109 yards and one interception for an NFL QB Rating of 50.8 when he was under no pressure.

Ajayi took his first carry of the game for a season-long 21 yards, but the next 12 carries gained just two yards. Despite having just 23 total yards for the game, Ajayi ran for 37 yards after contact, as he was hit all night behind the line of scrimmage. For the season, Ajayi has 382 yards after contact, fourth-most for all RBs.

Coming into Week 9, center Mike Pouncey had been one of the league’s best pass-blocking center but one of the worst in run-blocking -- a trend that continued in Baltimore. For the season, Pouncey’s pass-blocking grade of 80.2 ranks third for among all centers but his run-blocking grade of 46.5 ranks 26th.

It is also worth noting that this has been the worst run-blocking year in Pouncey’s career.

(I know what everyone is wondering ... Is this a function of multiple hip injuries? Or is the lack of practice, meant to keep him healthy, affecting Pouncey?)

Wide receiver Jarvis Landry was targeted a team-high 12 times, but only made five catches for 44 yards. Landry also recorded his fifth drop of the season (he has 50 catches on 77 targets) after dropping five all last year (on 105 catches with 136 targets). For the season, Landry ranks second of all WRs in both targets and receptions.

One bright spot on the Dolphins’ offense was Jesse Davis, who was starting for the injured Anthony Steen at left guard. Davis earned a grade of 80.2 overall on the night, allowing just one pressure in pass-protection and having several effective blocks in the limited running game attempts the offense had.

(Davis will be the starting left guard for another week or two until Ted Larsen, who should begin practicing next week, returns to action off the injured reserve list).

Defense

Penalties aside, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh had a monster game, earning a grade of 90.5 for the night; Suh led the team with three QB hurries and also recorded three stops in the run-game. For the season, Suh’s grade now stands at an elite 90.9, third-ranked for all interior DL.

Linebacker Lawrence Timmons led the Dolphins with a game-high six tackles. But Timmons also missed four tackles after missing just three his first four games combined. The four missed tackles is his most for any game since Week 5 of the 2015 season.

Linebacker Kiko Alonso missed just one tackle, his fourth missed tackle of the season, and was responsible for the Benjamin Watson’s touchdown in the game as well. Despite a couple of standout games earlier in the season, Alonso’s grade for the season now stands at 44.3 overall.

(PFF obviously is not a big Alonso fan. The Dolphins love the guy, so there’s that.)

Rookie defensive tackle Davon Godchaux quietly continues to have a solid season for the Dolphins. He was effective in his 32 snaps against the Ravens, recording two stops in the running game. His overall grade for the season now stands at a respectable 73.8.

Godchaux needs to clean up the penalties. He has eight of them thus far.

Defensive end Cameron Wake played 34 snaps and recorded no sacks or quarterback hurries. It was the first time Wake was completely shut out since Week 6 of 2016. He had also recorded a QB sack in five straight games, a streak that also ended in Baltimore.

(Yeah, not too many folks playing well in a 40-0 loss. Shocker.)

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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