ReFo: Dolphins @ Colts, Week 9
A game featuring dueling rookie quarterbacks often doesn’t smack of a classic, but the two passers in this game looked like they could be set for a career’s worth of interesting battles and rivalry. In the end Andrew Luck’s Colts came away with a three-point win over Ryan Tannehill’s Dolphins, and given how the two performed, it was appropriate to say the least.
Though Tannehill threw for more than 300 yards, Luck set a new NFL rookie single-game passing record by throwing for 433, adding a pair of touchdowns and escaping without throwing an interception (though he dodged a bullet when Sean Smith somehow conspired to put one on the ground when he had done all the hard work on the diving catch). It highlighted the belief that while this team is rebuilding, there’s hope for the immediate and not just the long term.
Aside from the rookie passers, what other performances stood out?
Miami – Three Performances of Note
Long on Problems
Remember when franchise left tackle Jake Long (-5.5) was arguably the best left tackle in the NFL? After a game like this I wonder if Long himself remembers those days, because he looked anything but it throughout. Long was beaten for a sack, three hits and two pressures, which was more than the rest of the Dolphins combined as he managed to make the struggling Dwight Freeney look reborn. At this point there doesn’t seem to be any one injury that can be blamed for his struggles but rather the accumulation of several may simply be taking its toll. His most notable play came with 9:30 to go in the first quarter when he was murdered by Freeney on his trademark inside spin move to give up a strip sack. Long then found the loose ball bounce right into his arms allowing him to take off for a 2-yard gain on the play.
Trailing in his Wake
Miami might well have the league’s most fearsome pure pass rusher in Cameron Wake (+5.7). He is a terror for offensive tackles with his combination of speed, power and leverage and though he only had a single sack, he added three more hits and three further hurries. He was too much for the Colts to handle and was the source of the majority of the pressure on Luck. The list of truly fearsome and dominant pass rushers in the NFL isn’t very long, but Wake would be right at the top, only adding to his league-leading total pressure count heading into this game.
Keeping up with the Jones
The Miami secondary may have been torched for yardage, but safety Reshad Jones (+5.2) actually had a fine display. He recorded a hit on Luck on one of his six blitzes, broke up the only pass on which he was the primary coverage, forced a fumble from Vick Ballard behind the line of scrimmage, and made another couple of plays in the run game. Twice he made impressive stops in the run game only for the play to be nullified by a flag as his hard work went unnoticed by the stat sheet. Still that’s what the PFF grading system is here to do and he was rewarded justly.
Indianapolis – Three Performances of Note
If anyone was under any doubt that the Colts made the right selection in the draft for their new franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck set about banishing that doubt with this display. His 433 yards are impressive, but he threw for 303 of them in the air (i.e. before yards after the catch from his receivers), and had another 77 left on the field by drops from his receivers. Off play-action his passer rating was a massive 152.1, hitting 80 percent of his attempts for 148 yards and a touchdown, but the most impressive aspect of his game was his work on third down. Here he completed 13 of 17 for 204 yards and a TD with a rating of 135.4 and turned all except one into a first down. At times it seemed the trickier the better as he converted on third and 11, 12, 14, 16 and 20.
The only real blemish on his record was the dropped interception on his last throw, which he tried to get rid of as he was sandwiched by Miami defenders.
The Mini Revival of Dwight Freeney
I was remarking yesterday before the game that Dwight Freeney’s troubles likely run far deeper than the transition to the 3-4, given how often he rushes with his hand in the ground in the new defense. I speculated that he might simply be on the decline. Within the hour he shows up with a sack and a few more dominant plays against Long and all is forgotten. Freeney’s strip sack was vintage work and is the same move that he has used to destroy tackles since he came into the league. He chipped in with another hit and pair of pressures to earn himself a positive grade. Still, it seemed more a reflection of how poorly Long has been playing than an indication that Freeney can rediscover his dominance. Just for a few hours though if nothing else, we got to watch the old Dwight Freeney once again.
Reggie Wayne is enjoying arguably his best season a year after some speculated that he too was on the decline. It’s becoming almost redundant to say just how good he is in games, but again he caught seven of eight passes thrown his way for 78 yards and a touchdown. Luck’s passer rating when throwing at Wayne was 146.9 and he beat four different defenders to get his yards.
The interesting thing is how much better the Colts look when Donnie Avery (+3.2) has a big day. Avery caught five of seven passes thrown his way for 108 yards including a ridiculous deep shot down field that involved a diving catch with Miami defenders yanking on his helmet to try and break it up. Wayne is great, but the Colts need a second option. All too often they can’t find one, but in this game Avery was that guy.
– With Robert Mathis still struggling with injuries, Jerry Hughes played far more snaps in this game (46 to 21).
– Reggie Bush may only have carried the ball 10 times for 41 yards, but his touchdown run looked like someone dug into the archives and found USC tape instead of NFL film. He forced missed tackles and blown pursuit angles while scampering his way into the end zone.
– The Miami offensive tackles surrendered all of the pressure Tannehill endured in this game outside of unblocked players coming through. The pair combined for two sacks, three hits and four hurries while the rest of the pass protection kept a clean sheet.
There were some impressive defensive performances but it would be tough to look beyond the play of Andrew Luck for the game ball.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam