After pulling off what might have been the biggest upset of the season, the Dolphins find themselves at 6-7 with an outside shot at a playoff spot. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest headlines that emerged from Miami’s improbable 27-20 victory.
Kenyan Drake is the Future at RB
The Jay Ajayi trade is the gift that keeps on giving. In each subsequent week since the front office shipped its lead back to Philadelphia the offense has gained momentum. This past week has been the culmination of it all.
Since Damien Williams went down with a shoulder injury in Week 12, Kenyan Drake has been the last man standing in the South Beach backfield. He has taken full advantage of the opportunity. Last week against Denver the second year back exploded onto the scene, accumulating 141 total yards of total offense along with scoring a scintillating 42-yard touchdown. His performance earned him the highest rank among all backs in the league (95.9) for Week 13, according to Pro Football Focus.
In his second full game as the starter Drake showed even more promise. On the ground he showcased his explosive, one-cut running style and his ability to make defenders miss. While he didn’t find the end zone, he totaled 25 carries for 114 yards, including 122 yards after contact.
What is more impressive than his ground work in this past matchup would be his production through the air. The Alabama product showed his versatility as the team’s leading receiver on the afternoon with 79 yards on 5 receptions. Head coach Adam Gase capitalized on his route-running ability by splitting him out wide on passing downs. This created matchup nightmares for Patriots linebackers that simply couldn’t keep up. He caught a slant early in the game for 12 yards and left linebacker Elandon Roberts in the dust for a 47 yard gain on a go route in the second. Drake even impressed in pass protection, reliably picking up blitzing linebackers enabling Jay Cutler to thrive against the blitz.
All in all, Drake has done everything in his power to win the position going forward in his brief stint as the starter.
Xavien Howard is Coming Into His Own
After being criticized by fans and media (including us at FPC) Xavien Howard’s play the past two weeks has been nothing short of a revelation.
Howard blanketed Demaryius Thomas last week and drew the unenviable task of covering Brandin Cooks in what looked to be a tough matchup against the high powered Patriots offense. Howard proved Monday night that he’s up to the task.
The second year corner shut down Cooks, not allowing a completion on the 6 targets Tom Brady threw his way. He was able to intercept Brady on two of those six attempts. Howard also deflected a pass, resulting in a 0.0 passer rating when thrown against. This earned him the highest PFF grade (92.1) of any cornerback in Week 14.
If the young corner can continue to play at an elite level the Dolphins should have a solid secondary for years to come.
The Defense can Hold a Lead
Leads are never safe when playing Brady and the Patriots, just ask the Atlanta Falcons.
Playing with the lead is also something that the Dolphins defense has become unaccustomed to this season, as Miami has repeatedly fallen behind teams early. Monday night gave us a glimpse of how disruptive the defense can be. Especially when they are able to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback.
After jumping out to an early lead, the Dolphins limited the Patriots running game on early downs. This forced New England into obvious passing situations on third down. This allowed defensive coordinator Matt Burke to be creative with blitz schemes and keep Brady out of rhythm. As a result, the Patriots went 0-for-11 on third down attempts on Monday night. That is practically unheard of in today’s NFL.
Brady, who is typically as calm and collected as anyone in the pocket, was visibly rattled all afternoon and unable to find openings in the Miami’s secondary. It all started up front, with Ndamukong Suh being the catalyst for much of the disruption. This pressure led to a 35.0 Quarterback Rating on the night, his second worst of the season.
So, You’re Saying There’s A Chance?
The first 14 weeks of the season have been a rollercoaster ride. After a solid 4-2 start the wheels fell off as the Dolphins lost 5 straight game before finally rebounding against a disheveled Broncos team last week. With all that’s transpired it’s hard to believe Miami’s playoff hopes are still intact but thanks to a top heavy AFC, they are.
With a record of 6-7, the Dolphins current sit at 10th place with three games to go. The Bills currently have a tentative hold on the 6th and final playoff spot, but face the Dolphins twice in the remaining three weeks. Miami needs to win out and get some help to sneak in, but there’s still plenty of football to be played and anything can happen.
- Granville Fox is a Contributing Writer for Full Press Coverage Dolphins. He covers the Miami Dolphins 365 days a year. Be sure to follow him at @granvillethefox on Twitter and check out Full Press Coverage Dolphins on Facebook!