For the first time all season, the Miami Dolphins’ offensive line consistently put opposing players on their backsides, leaving the impression coach Adam Gase’s team is finally headed in the right direction.
And it wasn’t just better blocking. Ryan Tannehill was efficient, Jay Ajayi ran hard, the defense tackled well and the secondary smothered. Many of the problems that have plagued Miami under their first-year coach were eliminated — for one week, at least.
The Dolphins (2-4) regard their 30-15 victory over Pittsburgh as the start of a turnaround, rather than an aberration.
“A lot of guys will build off this,” Gase said Monday.
The Dolphins will be at home for the third week in a row Sunday against Buffalo (4-2), eager to sustain what they began against the favored Steelers.
“That’s the plan,” guard Jermon Bushrod said. “We need to continue to have the mindset we had all last week. It’s a new week, a new opponent, a new opportunity to go out and show what we can do.”
The foundation for success Sunday was the offensive line, where the Dolphins were finally healthy and able to start their five best players for the first time. From left to right that was Branden Albert, Laremy Tunsil, Mike Pouncey, Bushrod and Ja’Wuan James.
“It was the first time all five of us were on the field together at the same time this year, and it looked really good,” Pouncey said. “This offensive line has been taking a lot of heat the first five games of the season, and it feels good for all the hard work to pay off. This is something our team can build off.”
In the first five games, because of injuries up front, Miami started three different players at each of three positions — left tackle, left guard and center. The lineup against Pittsburgh featured four former first-round draft picks, and a group eager to show what it could do.
“We wanted to a statement,” Albert said. “We don’t want to get overconfident, but we are healthy, all five of us. I wanted to see what we can do, and I think we did a good job. We can play ball. We can play physical.”
Tannehill, sacked 17 times in the first five games, wasn’t sacked once or pressured much in 32 pass plays. He threw for 252 yards without a turnover.
“They kept me clean,” Tannehill said. “I was able to go one-two in my progressions, and when you’re able to do that, you can actually throw the football and make a few plays.”
Ajayi benefited from huge holes, and when he reached the second level he ran over defenders. As a result, he nearly tripled his season rushing total.
That allowed Miami to enjoy a 13-minute advantage in time of possession, which benefited the defense. Looking fresher and more physical, the unit had few of the missed tackles which plagued the Dolphins in earlier games, and came up with two interceptions, the first since Week 1.
Ben Roethlisberger departed with a passer rating of 57.1, his lowest since 2011, and a knee injury that required surgery Monday.
“All year we’ve been looking for our offense to come out, play well and keep the defense off the field,” Tannehill said. “We’ve had our defense on the field way too much.”
The challenge now is sticking to the formula for success.
“It’s just complementary football,” defensive end Cameron Wake said. “You’ve got to play together. For weeks we’ve been saying, ‘Hey listen, once we get this thing a full game, 60 minutes, front end, back end, offense, defense, playing together, playing complementary, I think everybody will be happy with the outcome.'”
In Ajayi’s locker Monday, a teammate hung a gas can labeled, “Can you fill up your gas tank every single week?” That’s now the question for all of the Dolphins.
NOTES: DE Dion Jordan (knee) is not ready to come off the reserve-non-football injury list, Gase said. CB Chris Culliver (knee) and LB Zach Vigil (back) are expected to practice on a limited basis this week and might be activated soon.
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