DAVIE - There is something different about this year's Miami Dolphins team, but I haven't been able to put my finger on it.
It could be second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill's steady development, or rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis' stellar consistency, or the Dolphins' ability to turn red zone opportunities into touchdowns for once.
How about the aggressive, blitzing style the defense now features? Or the unit's knack for bringing down turnovers?
It might just be the Dolphins' ability to rise to the occasion in the fourth quarter, when the game is on the line, like they've done against the Browns, Colts and now the Falcons.
I'm trying to put my finger on what is different, what is unique about these 3-0 Dolphins? What's this new flavor I'm not remembering?
But so much has changed from the losing teams I've covered the past four seasons, it is hard to find anyone associated with the team to provide a comparison.
That was the case for me on Sunday evening when I scanned the locker room to see who remembers what it felt like to be on the Falcons' side, to be on the other end of so many of those crushing fourth-quarter losses.
A year ago, or two the Dolphins would have been the team that couldn't punch it in for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, and would then miss a field goal.
But everyone is so new, so fresh, so green to the Dolphins way of life in the NFL the past decade I felt like my efforts were futile.
Then it hit me, maybe that is what's unique about what we're seeing? Maybe the lack of institutional knowledge of mediocrity, of having doubt creep in has provided this team a fresh canvas.
So far Miami's painting a masterpiece, and at 3-0 the Dolphins are now playing with house money heading into Monday Night Football's showdown with the Saints, another undefeated team.
Here's this week's film study of the Falcons game.
Team’s biggest issue: There is typically a theme to when Tannehill gets sacked, which is OFTEN (14 times so far).
Tannehill has HORRIBLE pocket presence, and there is a justifiable reason for it.
He's usually looking down field on passing plays, and his focus is locked on his targets. When you look at the bulk of the sacks he's taken in game one, and game three he was looking Mike Wallace's direction on most of them.
I'm not blaming Wallace, or Tannehill for trying to go big. But Tannehill needs to start addressing his pocket presence issues.
Tannehill needs check-down more (twice a game). The coaches need to move him out the pocket more (three times a game). He needs to scramble two times a game to keep defenses honest.
I suspect this pocket presence issue will be a problem all season, if not all his career. But in defense of Tannehill's terrible pocket awareness, I'd rather have a quarterback stare down field constantly than constantly buckle to pressure and check it down all the time (cough, cough....Check-down Chad comes to mind).
Stock up: Brandon Gibson, who led the Dolphins with six receptions for 49 yards against the Falcons, is a blossoming slot receiver. While I'm a BIG Davone Bess fan, I've concluded Gibson is a clear upgrade over the Dolphins' former slot receiver because he consistency produces run after catch yards. He generally makes himself very quarterback friendly, and plays a solid two man game with Brian Hartline.
Stock down: Reserve defensive tackle Vaughn Martin did not have a good game against Atlanta. His play got so bad the Dolphins stopped rotating him in. He was easily blocked by the Falcons interior line. The first touchdown the Falcons scored was a screen ran right through his gap after two Falcons O-linemen pancaked Martin.
If the Dolphins are going to be playing without Paul Soliai for a couple more weeks General Manager Jeff Ireland might need to think about adding another defensive tackle to the 53-man roster. Martin doesn't look like a 4-3 defensive tackle so far. He plays like a 3-4 end considering he struggles to anchor his position. I have a hard time concluding he's as good as Tony McDaniel, whom he replaced. For those keeping score, McDaniel has started three games for the Seahawks, which possesses one of the NFL's best defenses. The Dolphins worked out a few defensive tackles last week because of the incertainty surrounding Soliai's knee injury and it might be wise for them to pull the trigger on one.
Former UM standout Antonio Dixon gets my vote. Maybe have Kheeston Randall return, or claim A.J. Francis off the Patriots practice squad. #MakeItWork.
Surprise of the game: Miami's special teams unit was really sensational. I'm not just talking about Sturgis' field goals, or the fumble Don Jones forced on the punt return. The Dolphins called a block in the third quarter on a punt and it created a shanked 30-yard Matt Bosher punt, which also drew a holding call....
Osi Umenyiora beat Jonathan Martin for the game's first sack, but defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux helped by blocking Martin on a stunt. Not sure there was anything Martin could have done. He wasn't beaten one-on-one. It was simpley a brilliant play. Dolphins D-line should borrow it. For those keeping count, Martin has now given up two sacks in his first season as the Dolphins' starting left tackle.
By the numbers: 4.7 - That's the yards per carry the Dolphins are allowing on defense, which is a number that continues to grow each week.
The Falcons gained 146 rushing yards on 30 carries. That's right, one of the NFL's worst rushing attacks gashed the Dolphins, who were playing without Soliai. Bad edge setting, and tons of missed tackles were the main issue.
Last year this Dolphins defense held opponents to 4.0 yards per carry, and they were disappointed because that was a drastic drop off from their standard, which is 3.6 to 3.7 yards per carry. Clearly, the defense has some work to do.
At this point I'm getting concerned that middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe's torso injury - ribs, sternum, chest, we don't know because it changes every week - is becoming a factor.
Did you miss: Both Dion Sims and Michael Egnew caught their first NFL passes on the game-winning fourth-quarter drive. Egnew caught an 8-yard reception while lined up as a slot receiver, and Sims' 1-yard catch was the game-winning touchdown. He caught the ball with one hand because the Falcons defender was holding the other....
Watched Dion Jordan inherit Derrick Shelby's snaps as the third defensive end because of Cameron Wake's injury. Jordan is not physical enough at the point of attack on running plays. But it will come. He has gotten better at setting the edge (going from horrible to mediocre), and maybe by season's end he's starter worthy. For the record, Jordan's pass rushes are solid. That's when he shows off his athleticism. His pressure led to Jimmy Wilson's game sealing interception....
Rishard Matthews was a stud against the Falcons, bringing in four passes for 42 yards. Two of those catches came on the final drive, and Tannehill went to Matthews instead of a wide open Wallace. The Dolphins might need more from Matthews in the coming weeks because of Wallace's lingering groin injury....
After watching Matt Ryan pick apart Kevin Coyle's blitzes I'm now convinced he's officially an elite NFL QB. He was a surgeon (ZERO SACKS for the Dolphins), and I suspect Tom Brady will be able to do the same to the Dolphins when its time to play the Patriots.
For the record: John Jerry was the offensive lineman that opened up the hole for Lamar Miller's 49-yard run. Jerry turned out the linebacker on the second level. It should be pointed out that Miller is now averaging a respectable 4.2 yards per carry. However, the Dolphins rushing game is still in the 3.2 yards per carry range. Daniel Thomas' 3.1 yards on his 21 carries is dragging it down....
Sims didn't sustain his block vs. Osi Umenyiora on the second quarter sack, which Tannehill fumbled on....
Daniel Thomas also gave up his second sack of the season, which happens to be his second in two weeks. The Dolphins are having SERIOUS protection issues. The tailbacks are responsible for three of the team's 14 sacks. The tight ends are responsible for two.
The Dolphins need to consider more max protection packages to get Wallace more involved, but that's hard to do when the tight end and tailbacks can't hold their position.
Miami might also look into switching up the "go-go" snap count because its telegraphing the running plays.
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