The Miami Dolphins improved to 8-3 after a convincing, 30-15 victory over the Houston Texans this past Sunday.
Miami remains a perfect 8-0 in games that Tua Tagovailoa is available to finish, although his presence on the field was not even necessary in this game.
The Dolphins jumped out to a 30-0 lead in the first half and essentially cruised the rest of the game. While no one player jumps out in the box score, this game was an example of a team victory in which Mike McDaniel got solid contributions from top to bottom.
Sunday’s win keeps the Dolphins in first place atop the AFC East, tied with the Buffalo Bills whom Miami beat.
McDaniel and the Fins will hit the road to take on his former team, the San Francisco 49ers, next week. However, before they do, here are three things we learned from watching the Dolphins over the weekend:
Miami is no longer playing down to its competition
The Dolphins have struggled putting away some of the lower-tier teams on their schedule this season. Some examples of this include the Chicago Bears, a 3-5 team at the time that Miami just barely got past with a 35-32 victory. The Detroit Lions were another tough matchup for the Dolphins, who won 31-27. Detroit was 1-5 at the time.
Miami appears to have grown out of this with two, large-margin victories in its last two games.
The Texans were 1-8-1 entering this game – a team clearly in the midst of a rebuild. On top of that, head coach Lovie Smith decided to bench Davis Mills, the quarterback who had started every game for Houston this season, prior to this game.
Smith’s decision seems to have been the right one with backup Kyle Allen playing a decent game despite two costly interceptions. The four-year vet, and former undrafted free agent, went 26 of 39 for 215 yards, a touchdown, and a pair of interceptions.
His top target in this game ended up being Jordan Akins who finished with five receptions for 61 yards and a touchdown.
The Texans’ offense simply took too long to get rolling, the main reason why being Miami’s defense.
The Dolphins would win the turnover battle in this game 3-1 with Xavien Howard returning the lone fumble for a touchdown. Miami’s defense looked rejuvenated, be it against a bad team, following the bye week.
Miami’s pass rush is finding its form
The Dolphins ranked toward the bottom of the league when it came to sacks per game this season.
Prior to Sunday’s victory, Miami was able to successfully bring down the quarterback just 2.1 times per game. The acquisition of outside linebacker Bradley Chubb at the trade deadline was supposed to boost these numbers but had not been able to, to this point.
That all changed against the Texans where the Dolphins finished the game with five sacks, a game-high this season.
One could argue that a consistent and effective pass rush is one of the only remaining elements that the Dolphins lack. If the defense is able to build off of this strong performance, there is no reason why Miami should not remain atop the division and make a deep playoff run this season.
Linebacker Elandon Roberts led the way for the Dolphins in this game with nine total tackles and a sack. Jalene Phillips followed behind with seven total tackles and a sack as well.
Jerome Baker, Duke Riley, and Chubb were the three others who recorded a sack in this game.
Miami’s offense can be balanced and still win games
Many of the Dolphins’ wins this season have been largely in part due to large passing and receiving days or big rushing performances in the backfield. In a game that did not really feature either, Miami still got the job done.
Tagovailoa continues to make his case for league MVP with yet another solid performance. Miami’s franchise quarterback finished 22 of 35 for 299 yards and a touchdown. McDaniel ultimately pulled Tagovailoa from the game late in the third quarter with Miami still holding onto the 30-point lead.
The Dolphins’ star receivers led the team with 85 yards a piece, Tyreek Hill finishing with six receptions, and Jaylen Waddle finishing with five. Tagovailoa did a good job spreading the ball around rather than force feed his two stars. Nine different receivers finished the game with a reception.
Jeff Wilson Jr. had his lowest yards in a game in a Dolphins uniform but still led the team with 39 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. Former starter Myles Gaskin slotted into the backup role with Raheem Mostert unavailable to play in this game. Gaskin has not played much this season and finished with only six carries for 17 yards, but did clinch the game with a late first down.
Rookie Skylar Thompson came into the game in relief of Tagovailoa but struggled to find a rhythm going 1 for 5 for six yards.
While no one player dominated on the offensive side, this game served as a good way for any rust to be knocked off in preparation for next week’s big matchup.
The Dolphins will travel to the Bay Area to take on one of the premier NFC teams, the 49ers. San Francisco is 7-4 this season, and while it only managed to score 13 points during Sunday’s win, there is no doubt it has one of the most lethal offenses in the league.
McDaniel’s former team is stacked with stars on both sides of the ball, and this will surely be one of Miami’s toughest matchups. The game will be played Sunday, Dec. 4 at 4:05 p.m. and broadcast in South Florida on CBS4.