This week's grading session, courtesy our colleagues at ProFootballFocus.com, is about redemption.
All the grades you are about to read, collected from the Dolphins' 30-15 thrashing of the Pittsburgh Steelers, focus on players who have been previously been criticized one way or another. (I've added the grade for Reshad Jones because he played hurt this game and, as I reported Monday, the team is waiting later today or tomorrow for what could be bad news.)
So here are the grades and I'll explain the redemption part afterward:
RB Jay Ajayi had the best game of his young career, where he turned 25 carries into 204 yards and two touchdowns. In terms of a rushing only grade, Ajayi was the second-highest rated RB of the week, trailing only Dallas' Ezekiel Elliot. He had 148 yards after contact, which was significantly more than the second most (Elliot had 98) and forced three missed tackles.
The missed tackles stat is interesting because Ajayi is almost exclusively a downhill, contact runner. Adding a little shake to his game makes him even more dangerous.
And the redemption part for him? Well, you know he was in the doghouse to start the regular season. He dogged it the final preseason game because he apparently didn't think he should be playing -- as most first-line players were not. Then he screwed up in the days following and got left behind as punishment when the team traveled to Seattle for the season-opener.
So is it surprising he has come back to reclaim his starting job and just delivered such a great game?
“I don’t know if anything surprises me, because he did [Sunday] what he had showed us all through the spring," coach Adam Gase said. "He had done it in training camp practices. I think I’ve said it; he had a rough seven days between the last preseason game and the first game, or 10 days, whatever it was. But every other part of it, he has been the same guy. I felt like yesterday was a good example of letting him get into a rhythm, and he’s a big man running down a hill at a good rate, and he can break tackles, and he knows where to go as far as what we’re doing in our run-scheme. If we get him going, we just keep trying to get him the ball.”
QB Ryan Tannehill's up-and-down season continued against the Steelers. He followed a terrible outing against the Tennessee Titans by ranking as the seventh-highest QB overall for Week Six. The formula for getting a good game out of Tannehill was explained in detail by me in this prescient column the morning of the game.
And sure enough, Tannehill was pressured only five of his 32 dropbacks against the Steelers and was effective both under pressure (4-of-5 for 73 yards) and under no pressure (20-of-27 for 179 yards). Tannehill ranks as the 13th highest-graded QB through six weeks of the season thus far.
Oh, yes, please don't make me explain why this performance qualifies as redemption, although fleeting until next game, for a quarterback who left the field at home the week before to chants of "We want Moore," as in backup Matt Moore.
After ranking dead last in the NFL in terms of pressures allowed per passing play and overall PBE in weeks 1-5 (pass blocking efficiency is a formula that combines sacks/hits/hurries relative to the number of passing plays), the Dolphins' offensive line was graded as the fifth best unit in Week Six. They did not allow a sack, only one QB hit and five total pressures on 32 passing plays against the Steelers for a PBE of 90.6.
Remember, however, that despite the ranking from the previous five games, Sunday marked the first time this particular line -- with all its starting players -- played for the Dolphins this season.
One week after being targeted a career-low three times, running some wrong routes and blocking poorly, WR Jarvis Landry grabbed 7 of 8 targets for 91 yards with 44 yards after catch (YAC). He was the fourth-highest-rated WR in terms of receiving grade in Week Six, and ranks ninth of all WR in targets (52) and second in receptions (41) through six games. Landry has also forced 10 missed tackles on the season, most of any WR.
First-round rookie Laremy Tunsil returned to action after missing Week Five with an injury that happened when he slipped in the shower -- yes, embarrassing. The redemption?
Although he continued to struggle in pass protection (as has been the case all season aside from Week Two at New England), he had a great game run blocking. He was the fifth-ranked guard in Week Six for run blocking, and ranks in the top 20 of all guards in run blocking through six weeks.
DE Cameron Wake played 41 of 55 defensive snaps against the Steelers in Week six, his most snaps played on the season for any single game and by far the highest percentage of snaps he's played. The extra work did not negatively affect Wake's performance, as he once again posted a strong grade in pass rushing, registering half-a-sack. In terms of 4-3 DE's, Wake graded out as the fifth best at the position for the week and through six games this season, he trails only Cameron Jordan for the top pass rushing 4-3 DE position.
The redemption issue here isn't about Wake, although he is proving concerns about his surgically repaired Achilles are unfounded. The redemption here goes to defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and the other coaches who initially decided Wake needed to be limited in his snaps to save him for future use. And I've been saying more use was necessary. Pretty much everyone has been questioning why such little use of Wake.
Last game, in which Wake started ahead of the benched Mario Williams, showed the questions were legitimate. At least the defensive staff adjusted to what seems a better plan now.
Speaking of Williams ... no redemption for him after he got called out for needing to "play harder" by Joseph.
Williams played 13 of 55 snaps against the Steelers, which was a significant change since he had played at least 45 snaps in every game this season before it. He had a solid although unremarkable game despite the limited snaps and recorded his 12th QB hurry of the season, 16th most at his respective 4-3 defensive end position. Williams did miss two tackles while collecting one tackle. So, yes, he missed more tackles than he made.
But back to redemption ...
After being benched earlier in the season, CB Byron Maxwell responded in a big way against the Steelers. He was targeted eight times but allowed only four receptions for 29 yards (including only 23 yards on five targets against star WR Antonio Brown) and had four passes defended, which is exactly how many Maxwell had in the five previous games.
In terms of pass coverage grade amongst cornerbacks in Week Six, Maxwell was the 2nd-highest rated CB, trailing only New England's Malcolm Butler. Excellent.
DE Andre Branch has had significant trouble setting and holding the edge on run plays this year. You'll recall the New England and Tennessee games in particular. But he had 1 1/2 sacks and three stops on the afternoon. Only Ndamukong Suh (48) played more snaps on the defensive line unit than his 44.
Needing no redemption but clearly at risk of being out for the season pending a second opinion on his shoulder, Reshad Jones had another good game for the Dolphins. Generally known for his run defensive abilities over the course of his career, Jones has taken his game to another level this season in pass coverage. He was targeted only two times on the afternoon and did not allow a reception while also grabbing an interception in the process. Through the first 6 weeks of the season, Jones ranks third at his respective position in both overall grade and pass coverage grade.