On multiple occasions, Dan Campbell has uttered these five words: “we’ve awaken the sleeping giant.” These five words captured the essence and, without a doubt, completely defined the Miami Dolphins Sunday in Nashville.
From the start, Miami showed what Dan Campbell and the rest of the coaching staff has preached since day one after Joe Philbin was shown the door and Campbell was promoted as the interim coach: toughness.
We’ve heard all week about the practices: the Oklahoma drill on day one; the tug of war contest; and the several drills that saw teammates fight mano a mano—a new breed of physicality for a team that certainly needed it.
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And Dan Campbell certainly practiced what he preached. For the first time all year, the Dolphins put the ball on the ground more than through the air Sunday against the Titans. From the second Ryan Tannehill and the offense jogged onto the field on their first possession, they showed us what we’ve been waiting for over the last 3 years: tough, physical football.
The Dolphins first half game plan was well designed. The Dolphins established the run, which opened up play-action. They ran several misdirections, screens, and a couple of trick plays, as well, that had Tennessee off-balance from the start. The Dolphins capped off the opening drive with a trick reverse play to Jarvis Landry who took it 22-yards to the house for six points—the first opening drive touchdown of the year for the Dolphins.
Campbell made a change on the offensive line replacing the struggling rookie guard, Jamil Douglas, for second year player—and former starter—Billy Turner. The new interim head coach believed Turner, a much more physical and, dare I say, dirty player, fit the Dolphins scheme better than Douglas. On the surface, he was right.
After what has felt like an eternity, Miami’s offensive line played well, particularly in the first half. The line kept Tannehill clean, and more importantly, gave Lamar Miller room to run his way one yard shy of 100 yards and a touchdown in the half.
It was a breath of fresh air to see the Dolphins stay committed to the run, which helped out the offense tremendously, especially Ryan Tannehill. Although Tannehill had a couple of hiccups and missed throws (something Dolphins fans are much too familiar with), he was efficient and showed off his arm on several occasions. It seemed, or maybe I imagined, Ryan Tannehill—and the rest of the team—showed more enthusiasm playing for coach Dan Campbell than they ever did for Joe Philbin. Tannehill put some extra mustard on a handful of throws and seemed more confident in his ability to put the ball where he wanted.
“I think he does a great job motivating and setting the tone of what we want to do,” Tannehill said of Campbell after the game. On the game plan, Tannehill, with a sideways smirk, said: “It’s great to sit back and see us get positive yards in the run game.” Miami’s signal caller finished the day connecting on 22 of his 29 passes for 266 yards, and a pair of touchdowns to go along with his two interceptions. Believe it or not, despite a few errant throws and interceptions, it’s probably the best and most comfortable Tannehill has looked all year.
But the Dolphins’ new attitude and intensity didn’t rest solely on the offensive side of the ball. No, in fact, the defense played great, as well—if not better.
Heading into the game, the Dolphins ranked at the bottom of the league in about every defensive category. Things changed on Sunday. Despite only registering one measly sack heading into week six, the Dolphins went berserk, getting to the quarterback six times. Cameron Wake completely ruined Mariota’s first half, sacking the rookie four times. Wake, who’s been hobbled by a hamstring injury he suffered several weeks ago, was well rested and refreshed. To say the least, he was back to his old, familiar ways.
The rest of the Dolphins defense was just as impressive. Relying heavily on the running game all year, it was uplifting to see Miami’s defense hold the Titans to only 63 yards rushing on 18 carries. The Dolphins did a much better job filling gaps against the run and tackling.
It’s a positive sign to see the Dolphins defense more aggressive. Sunday was the most active we’ve seen this group all year. Finishing the game with six sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and six points is hardly anything to ignore—it’s downright impressive!
Sometimes first impressions can tell you a lot; sometimes they don’t offer anything at all. But one thing is clear: the Miami Dolphins are a much different football team under Dan Campbell than ever were with Joe Philbin. The fire-breathing, bicep-curling Campbell is exactly what this group of players need in order to have any chance at saving their season.