The Miami Dolphins are one of the most popular teams in the UK, and as a result they have played three times in London in the last four years. They were in the first International Series game all the way back in 2007 against the New York Giants.
If any team should know how to deal with the rigors of traveling to London to play an NFL game it should be them. However, after a 20-0 defeat, in which they were the first team to get shutout in London, there is a definite air of disappointment in the locker room, and a million questions to be asked before they finally get to play in Miami on Sunday.
Dolphins offense all at sea
Last week the Dolphins narrowly avoided a shutout against the Jets. A bad week can be forgiven, especially on the road against a defense that can bring pressure and has exciting rookies in the middle of the field.
Against a defense that is traditionally a sieve there is no excuses. Miami finished with 186 total yards. They gained just 3.9 yards a carry in a game that many expected to be dominated by offenses and home-town icon Jay Ajayi.
In his press conference, Adam Gase looked lost for words. When reminded that his Dolphins went 1-4 last year before rallying to make the playoffs, Gase made it clear that this is far from the same situation.
“Last year was different issues. This year, we got the guys here, we just gotta figure out what’s going on, why are we stumbling.”
Stumbling is right. After a good first drive of 15 plays and 81 yards ended with an interception, the Dolphins didn’t threaten the end zone again. 11 penalties didn’t help matters in the slightest. But the Dolphins offensive line, that was so good at opening up holes last year, struggled all day to create space for Ajayi and Kenyan Drake, who both made tacklers miss for their biggest gains of the day.
“We gotta get back to the drawing board.” Said right guard Jermon Bushrod, “I gotta take a good look in the mirror and figure out what I’ve got to do to fix myself. We need to find our way […] We’re not going to make excuses. We just got to find a way to go out and get the job done.”
After missing their Week 1 game against Tampa Bay due to Hurricane Irma, the Dolphins have been to Los Angeles, New York, and now London without the chance to feel a true home atmosphere.
If getting back to their own beds and their own practice facilities can’t help to fix this team then maybe nothing can.
Alvin Kamara is the real deal
The Saints offense on the road is nothing like the Saints offense in the Superdome, this has been well-known for years, however the addition of Alvin Kamara added a different dimension for the Saints offense.
The rookie ended up with 15 touches (ten catches, five carries) for 96 yards and a late score. He was always available for Brees, and on the opening drive that ended in a missed field goal he had six touches out of 13 plays.
“My number was called a lot tonight and I had to take advantage.” Said Kamara “I think we was just clicking. The O-line was clicking, Drew was on a roll, we just executed.”
“It was a play we just dialed up this week. That’s one of those special plays were you like ‘alright we’re practicing but are we gunna run it?’ […] perfect pitch from Drew and I got into the end zone”
Kamara is providing the kind of spark that Darren Sproles used to give the Saints offense, because while Mark Ingram can run screens and leak out, it’s not his forte and he is certainly not elusive in open space. Kamara is, and as the Saints start to roll through the season don’t be surprised to see more Kamara and a whole lot less of Adrian Peterson.
Michael Thomas is unstoppable
Along with Kamara, Drew Brees’ other favorite target was Michael Thomas, who caught eight of his 11 targets for 89 yards and the opening touchdown at the start of the third quarter.
Brees’ first throw on three of the four first half drives went to Thomas, who had the size and positional awareness to out-muscle the Dolphins corners on almost any route.
Saints defense shows teeth
“I don’t know when we last pitched a shutout. At the end of the day these are far and few between. […] We have a lot of upcoming talent. […] At the end of the day we kept them out of the end zone and that’s huge.”
– Cam Jordan, defensive end
The energy in the Saints locker room after the game, especially on defense, was palpable. They got the first shutout of the International Series in London, and their first since 2012. The mixture of young talent like Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley, who picked off Cutler in the first quarter, together with the veteran presence of Cam Jordan and a maturing AJ Klein is giving the Saints some hope on defense, where there has been little for so long.
They used a few interesting looks to try and combat a screen and run game that can dominate at times.
“We were in a lot of three safety looks. […] Dennis Allen’s staff did a great job just looking really closely at how we can hold up against the three-receiver sets with maybe a little bit more size. Kenny, the other safeties, Vonn and Marcus… Rafael, they all did a good job.”
– Sean Payton, head coach
Where next for Miami?
Frustration and disappointment can’t overcome Miami. Last year they turned the ship around, but this year is a lot harder. They face Tennessee next week before going to play the Falcons. Oakland, Kansas City, and two games against the Patriots also loom on their schedule, and without a bye week there is little time to reflect and decompress.
Last year with Matt Moore under center this offense still functioned, this year with Jay Cutler pulling the strings there is very little rhythm, saying:
“Offensive football is tough. We got to figure out how to work as a unit and as a team. There is no magic bullet for that, there’s no magic recipe but the clock’s ticking and we have to figure it out.”
Cutler did have a good connection with DeVante Parker on shallow and intermediate routes, but there was a distinct lack of downfield plays for Parker, Kenny Stills, or anyone.
Both Parker and Stills, who was one of three players to kneel for the national anthem, declined to give comments in the locker room after the game, with the desire to simply get home and move on humming off them.
They aren’t in a position to simply brush this performance off though. Two shaky games in a row, against defenses that contending sides have man-handled, should be enough to shake them. If it’s not then Adam Gase’s side are in for a very rough 13 weeks until the end of the season.
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