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Miami Dolphins @ San Diego Chargers: 5 things we learned

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With the Miami Dolphins traveling to San Diego to face the Chargers, their win streak was on the line. Miami was 0-3 on the road but thanks to a strong run game are 4-1 at home. With their win streak in jeopardy, the Dolphins took on a stingy Chargers run defense. The outcome of the game is obvious, but how did they get it done.

A different Ryan Tannehill.
If there every was an opportunity for a turning point in his career this was Ryan Tannehill’s. While his stats were a modest 17/24, 240 yards, and 2 touchdowns the tape shows much more. Tannehill enjoyed a 4 game win streak for the first time in his career. What the stat sheet doesn’t show is how he got there. Miami has leaned heavily on the run game in this 4 game stretch, but don’t discredit the quarterback. For his 4th consecutive game, Tannehill has played mistake-free football. He’s moved the pocket. He set his feet, fired the football, and took hits. He kept plays alive scrambling for first downs. Late in the game his 56-yard catch and run by Devante Parker kept them alive. Everything you can ask of a quarterback, Tannehill did. If you didn’t watch the game, his stats would be average at best. However, if the 5th year quarterback plays as well as he did on Sunday, fans will forget they ever chanted “We want Moore.”

In the corner market.
While it was a day of interceptions for the Miami Dolphins fans shouldn’t get too excited. If Phillip Rivers makes a few better throws it’s a different ballgame. The defense made stand after stand to force 3rd and long situations and the corners ruined it. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is probably having nightmares of “holding, defense number ##…”. While all of that is negated by a victory, it throws a highlight on the team’s offseason plans. If the Dolphins want to continue building on their success, these momentum-killing penalties have to be eliminated.

Jay Ajayi, King of the second half.
It’s no secret that Adam Gase wants to continue to pound the football. As he should. Jay Ajayi has been one of the bright spots of the Dolphins offense. Since returning as a full-time starter, he’s rushed his way into the top ten running backs in the league. Averaging 5.7 yards per carry is impressive for a second year back, but there’s more to his success. Ajayi ran the ball 10 times in the first half for just 15 yards. After the halftime break, he burst out carries of 40 yards and 21 in the second half. Coming into this matchup, the Chargers were 7th in the league in run defense. Again Ajayi kept his legs churning and turned in a respectable 19 carries for 79 yards averaging 7.11 yards per carry in the second half.

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Defense struggles, but wins games.
Miami’s defense hasn’t been much to write home about. They’re near the bottom in run defense and don’t fair too much better in the passing game. However, somehow they’ve found ways to keep making big plays. Cameron Wake was his usual disruptive self, recording 2 sacks. Fans grumbled over Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso when Miami acquired them, but both had interceptions this game. Alonso was a pick 6 that put Miami ahead in the fourth quarter. Cornerbacks Bobby McCain and Tony Lippett often seem outmatched and out of place, but Lippett records two huge interceptions. The first in the back of the end zone and the second sealed the game. Miami’s defense isn’t the dominant force it used to be, but as long as they keep winning no one will care.

A different Miami team.
Miami might not be Super Bowl contenders. They might not even be playoff contenders. When it’s all said and done, you’ll have to admit the Dolphins are turning heads. There’s a different vibe surrounding this team. After a slow start, they seem to be getting in their groove. Adam Gase has the team believing they can win and actually pulling it off. Every player in every position has found ways to contribute to wins. That’s the difference in Adam Gase’s Dolphins and his predecessors. Previous regimes relied too heavily on one position or another. Miami might not be playing lights out football, but winning is winning. With tough divisional games ahead, the Dolphins might be brought back down to earth. If they continue to play the way they are, every game down the stretch is winnable. Every game gives fans hope they’ll have their first winning season since 2008.

Take nothing away from the San Diego Chargers. While their record may not show it they’re a tough team to beat. Traveling to the west coast and pulling off a road win is a step in the right direction for Miami. The team is buying into what coaches are selling and finding ways to win. In order to achieve a winning season, the Dolphins have to pull out all the stops down the stretch. A schedule littered with losing teams but tough defenses remain. If opponents don’t end up on the right side of a winning season look for them to play spoilers to teams with playoff hopes. Miami stays on the west coast to face the Los Angeles Rams. Kick off is at 4:05 pm.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com