Miami Dolphins: Top 5 Performers From Week 11 Victory Over San Diego Chargers
Miami Dolphins: Fab Five Fins From Victory Over Chargers
The Miami Dolphins picked up a much-needed victory in Week 11, defeating the San Diego Chargers by a score of 20-16. The win keeps the Dolphins alive and well in the AFC playoff picture and quiets some of the scrutiny the organization has been taking from seemingly all sides in recent days, at least temporarily.
It certainly wasn't a pretty win for the Dolphins as San Diego out-gained Miami by nearly 100 yards and sacked quarterback Ryan Tannehill four times. But a win is a win, and style points are meaningless in the fight for a the AFC's final playoff spot, which the Dolphins are now arguably the favorite to claim.
With a 5-5 record and wins over the Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts and now the Chargers, Miami can argue it has the most impressive resume out of those teams lobbying for the AFC's sixth seed, even if that resume is still mediocre. But, it isn't what you can argue -- it's what you can prove on the field, and the Dolphins still have much to prove.
It's been a season of peaks and valleys thus far. Can Miami finally establish some consistency by playing solid football for the remaining six games of the season? They'll likely need to in order to qualify for the playoffs, as six 4-6 squads are nipping at their heels and the New York Jets remain tied with Miami at 5-5.
Before we look ahead to what could be an exciting finish to the season though, let's take one last look back at Sunday's win over the Chargers, highlighting the top five performers for the Dolphins.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.
5. Nate Garner and Sam Brenner
When starting center Mike Pouncey was ruled out on Sunday morning, the Dolphins' prospects of fielding a respectable offensive line versus the Chargers appeared bleak. All hope wasn't lost for the unit, however, as Miami's running game was able to produce over 100 yards on the ground and Tannehill had a decent amount of time in the pocket on many throws.
Sam Brenner, who was activated from the Dolphins' practice squad a day earlier, and Nate Garner, who was moved from starting left guard to center after serving as a backup before Richie Incognito was suspended, deserve the most credit for keeping the offensive line afloat.
Both linemen stepped in admirably given the difficult circumstances. Garner started at center and Brenner started at left guard, but at one point, Garner left the game with an injury and Brenner slid over to center.
The Dolphins don't beat the Chargers on Sunday without Garner and Brenner's versatility and ability to step in and perform at a moment's notice.
4. Olivier Vernon
The Dolphins' pass rush was nonexistent for much of Sunday's game, but down the stretch, it was propelled by defensive ends Olivier Vernon and Cameron Wake. While Wake had a key sack on San Diego's final drive, Vernon was surprisingly Miami's top pass rusher in Week 11.
Vernon sacked Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers on a key third down inside Miami territory with under five minutes to play. That sack forced San Diego out of field-goal range and well beyond a tempting down-and-distance to go for a first down.
Vernon was also able to generate an additional three quarterback hurries and one quarterback hit on the day, finishing with a team-best +2.3 pass-rushing grade according to Pro Football Focus.
3. Daniel Thomas
Coming off of the worst rushing performance in franchise history and entering a game without its starting center, Miami's running game didn't look to be poised for much production against even a mediocre Chargers' front seven. Then, Daniel Thomas came out of nowhere and ran with conviction to the tune of 5.7 yards per carry and a touchdown.
Thomas only carried the ball 10 times despite several impressive runs, which is an indictment on offensive coordinator Mike Sherman's play-calling. Still, Thomas' impact on the game was felt and came at a time when the Dolphins needed it the most.
Thomas had only been averaging 3.3 yards per carry heading into Sunday's game, so it will be interesting to see if he can build off of his strong showing versus San Diego. The Dolphins' offense desperately needs the balance.
2. Brent Grimes
10 games into the season, there's now no doubt about who the Dolphins' top free agent acquisition was during the offseason. Despite his small stature, No. 1 cornerback Brent Grimes continues to blanket opposing receivers with stellar coverage and make plays whenever quarterbacks work up the courage to test him.
On Sunday, Grimes only allowed three receptions in coverage and made two of top plays of the game for Miami when he picked off Rivers in the first quarter and batted down a pass in the end zone that preserved the win as time expired.
Grimes has been the complete package for the Dolphins. He can shut down the best receivers in football with lock-down coverage and has the playmaking ability to impact the outcome of games.
1. Charles Clay
Receivers Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline weren't able to torch a suspect set of cornerbacks like many Dolphins fans hoped on Sunday, but tight end Charles Clay continued to be a pleasant surprise and a much-needed playmaker for Tannehill.
Clay's 39-yard catch and run for a touchdown will perhaps go down as one of the most impressive plays of the entire season for the Dolphins. Clay ran over a defender, broke two additional tackles and outran the rest of the pursuit in a spectacular display of determination and inept tackling. His 90 receiving yards was the second-highest total of his career.