Ten notes from the Dolphins’ 20-13 win against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium:
▪ Rookie quarterbacks continue to be the gift that keeps on giving for the Dolphins and coordinator Vic Fangio in recent years.
Raiders quarterback Aidan O’Connell, with his three interceptions and two costly overthrows and 56 passer rating on Sunday, was the latest rookie to be forced into key mistakes by a Dolphins defense over the past half decade.
During the past five years (the Xavien Howard/Christian Wilkins/Jerome Baker era), the Dolphins are now 8-2 against rookie quarterbacks: 6-2 when operating a blitz-heavy approach (under Brian Flores and Josh Boyer) and now 2-0 under Fangio, who blitzes far less than Flores and Boyer.
Only Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence and the 49ers’ Brock Purdy beat the Dolphins as rookie QBs over that time span. Miami should face one more: Tennessee’s Will Levis on Dec. 11 in Miami.
Fangio, meanwhile, is now 22-9 against rookie QBs, as a coordinator or head coach, per the Denver Post. In Fangio’s last four games against rookie QBs, the passer ratings against his defenses are 37.2 (by Lawrence) and 42.6 by the Jets’ Zach Wilson, and now with the Dolphins, 85.1 by Carolina’s Bryce Young and 56 by O’Connell, the rookie fourth-rounder from Purdue who threw for 271 yards but also the three interceptions on Sunday.
The players deserve the bulk of the credit for all of this; on Sunday, the defensive excellence was headlined by Jalen Ramsey (two interceptions), Jaelan Phillips (two sacks and an interception), Christian Wilkins and Kader Kohou, among others.
But there’s a clear difference in how the Dolphins have defended rookie quarterbacks in their past two defensive regimes.
While Flores and Boyer blitzed a lot, Fangio primarily rushed four against O’Connell, especially on the Raiders’ final possession. When Fangio switched it up and sent six on Las Vegas’ next-to-last drive, the Dolphins’ pass rush forced a rushed, errant throw on 3rd and 6 and 3:12 left.
With four rushing, Wilkins then forced O’Connell to hoist the ball on fourth down, and Phillips picked it off.
During this five-year, 10-game stretch of success against rookie QBs, Miami has limited those players to 10 TD throws (compared with 11 interceptions) and an 80.2 rating. In the eight wins against rookie QBs, they’ve beaten Justin Herbert, Mac Jones twice, Ian Book, Wilson, Kenny Pickett, Young and now O’Connell.
And Fangio’s defense is rolling, allowing 17 points (New England), 14 (Kansas City) and 13 (Las Vegas) in its past three games.
“We knew Vic’s defense could cause some havoc on offenses but that it would take time… to mesh,” linebacker Jerome Baker said.
▪ Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill reached a speed of 20.07 mph on his 38-yard touchdown catch and run. Per Next Gen stats, Hill has reached or exceeded 20 mph on 12 occasions as a ball-caller this season, twice as many as any other NFL player this season.
Hill hit his hand against the helmet of a Raiders player - and went to the locker room late in the first half - but said it was “nothing serious.” He played through a “little pain” in the second half.
Hill, incidentally, is on pace for 2077 receiving yards; no player in NFL history has 2000 yards receiving in a season. Through 10 games, he has 79 receptions for 1222 yards.
▪ In his first three games off knee surgery, quarterbacks have targeted Jalen Ramsey 13 times in coverage and Ramsey has intercepted three of them, with only five completions against him.
And kudos to Kohou, who had his best game in weeks, including stout tackling and a breakup of a pass to Davante Adams on a 3rd and 7. On another play, a Kohou blitz disrupted a Tre Tucker run, and Jevon Holland made the tackle for a loss of seven.
Kohou entered with the four-worst passer rating against (from a defensive standpoint) among qualifying cornerbacks.
▪ The Dolphins entered a minus 4 in turnovers and stayed that way; only Atlanta, New England, Las Vegas and Chicago began the day with a worse turnover differential.
Typically, winning with a lot of turnovers isn’t sustainable.
But Miami has a winning record (4-1) when losing the turnover differential battle under Mike McDaniel this season, while the 31 other NFL teams entered the day 31-85 when they are on the wrong side of the turnover differential.
Sunday’s turnovers were fumbles by Tagovailoa and tight end Julian Hill and an interception by Tagovailoa.
“We’ll be a better offense when I stop turning the ball over,” Tagovailoa said afterward.
McDaniel said Tagovailoa’s interception was the result of a miscommunication in single-high coverage. Jaylen Waddle went underneath the safety and Tagovailoa threw it as if Waddle was going over the top.
▪ Jason Sanders’ 51-yard field goal, after missing a 50-yarder earlier in the day, should lift his confidence.
Sanders’ regression on long kicks has been one of the mysteries of the past few years.
He began his career 12 for 15 on field goals of 50 yards or more. Since the start of 2021, he’s now 5 for 15 on those kicks.
Overall, Sanders is 9 for 12 on field goals this season, attempting the fewest in the league for kickers who have been with their team all season.
He had attempted only two field goals in Miami’s previous four games but said he’s not rusty because extra points are longer than they used to be (33 yards beginning in 2015; it used to be 20 yards).
Besides the 51-yarder, he also hit a 41-yarder on Sunday.
▪ Count CBS analyst and former Super Bowl winning coach Bill Cowher among Dolphins believers. He called the Dolphins the biggest AFC challenger to the Chiefs.
“They’ve got five of their last eight at home [and] Tua is a guy that can take them,” Cowher said. “I think they got confidence from the loss to Kansas City.”
▪ McDaniel is now 3-9 in his career on coaching challenges after winning Sunday, a challenge that reversed a Tucker catch because he didn’t get his second foot completely in bounds.
▪ In two games with their full starting defensive backfield playing every play, the Dolphins defense is now permitting just 4.9 yards per play on average (4.8 by Kansas City, 5.0 by Las Vegas). For the entire season, that would rank sixth in the league.
▪ The Dolphins entered 28th in fourth down conversions at 38.4 percent.
And this needs to change: Per Miami Herald colleague Daniel Oyefusi, Miami is 27th (13 of 25) on third-and-3 or shorter and 31st on fourth-and-3 or shorter (3 of 7).
In the first half, Miami failed on a 4th and 1 from the Las Vegas 3 when Tagovailoa’s short pass to Hill lost four yards; Nate Hobbs tackled Hill before River Cracraft had a chance to block him.
McDaniel said he wishes he could have that call back based on what the defense showed.
▪ It looks like the Dolphins (7-3) will get to face beleaguered Jets quarterback Wilson twice in the next month, beginning at 3 p.m. on Friday in New Jersey (Amazon, CBS-4 in South Florida).
NFL Network said Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers is targeting a Dec. 24 game against Washington, not the Dec. 17 game in Miami, for his return from a torn Achilles.