I had a chance to go back and study the game film to further analyze what went right and what went wrong for Miami. Here are several observations:
Middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard has struggled at times this season, but he had his best game of the year against Dallas. He was constantly around the football and made several read-and-react plays from the “Mike” linebacker spot that’s been mostly lacking in the middle of the defense this year. Sheppard finished with a season-high 14 tackles and must continue to step up his game with fellow starters Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi nursing injuries.
This was one of the few games where Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry was clearly pressing. He has the best hands on the team but had two relatively easy drops on Sunday. Landry also made a poor decision on a kickoff return. Miami’s offense is averaging just 14.5 points per game the past four weeks, and Landry is trying to provide a spark.
The Dolphins are hurting from the loss of starting right tackle Ja’Wuan James. Backup offensive tackle Jason Fox makes too many physical and mental errors that hurt Miami’s offense. The best example was his first-quarter holding call that negated a 15-yard run from tailback Jay Ajayi. It turned out to be a 25-yard swing with the penalty. Backed up in the end zone, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw a pick six two plays later to Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain. Too often Sunday, Fox didn’t keep his feet under him and lost his technique.
Speaking of the pick six, that play was strictly on Tannehill. Dallas did a good job of disguising their pass rush and fooled Tannehill by dropping McClain. It was McClain’s job to read the eyes of the quarterback, and Tannehill led him right underneath receiver Greg Jennings’ route and into the end zone. There wasn’t much pressure on the pass, and Tannehill rushed a bad read.
An under-the-radar area where Tannehill has improved throughout the course of the season is his deep ball. Tannehill made a nice, 29-yard touchdown throw to receiver Kenny Stills and another 47-yard gain to Landry. Tannehill also nearly made another long connection to Landry in the first half that was dropped by the receiver. These are throws that Tannehill often struggled with his first three seasons.
Dolphins’ defensive end Olivier Vernon played well in a tough matchup against Dallas Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith. Vernon finished with five tackles, a sack and two tackles for losses. But he also had one sack called back due to a penalty and caused a holding penalty on Smith.
I like some things I’m seeing from rookie outside linebacker Neville Hewitt. He blitzes well and has and decent timing to the quarterback. Hewitt’s pressure on Dallas quarterback Tony Romo helped cause the interception to Miami cornerback Brent Grimes. He also intercepted Romo in the third quarter. Hewitt was later beat by Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant for a touchdown, but that was a coaching error and a bad matchup for the linebacker.