• Achane is RB1: De'Von Achane was the Dolphins’ highest-graded player in the game at 80.6 overall. He made the most of his eight carries, racking up 101 yards, 72 yards after contact, two touchdowns and five forced missed tackles en route to a 90.0 PFF rushing grade.
• Connor Williams is crucial to the team’s success: Since the start of 2022, Williams’ 89.0 run-blocking grade ranks sixth in the NFL, regardless of position. He’s allowed pressure on just 2.3% of his pass-blocking snaps in that time, the fifth-lowest rate among all centers in the league.
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The Miami Dolphins staked their claim as the AFC's best team in September, with MVP contender Tua Tagovailoa leading the team to a 3-0 record and putting up league-leading numbers in a variety of metrics.
The Dolphins put on a historic offensive performance in Week 3 against the Denver Broncos, scoring 70 points (the second-most in NFL history) and breaking the record for most yards in a game with 726.
As expected, Miami’s trip to Buffalo presented the toughest challenge of its season so far, and the Bills ran away with a decisive 48-20 victory, pulling into a first-place tie atop the division at 3-1.
Here are three things we learned from the Dolphins’ Week 4 loss.
De'Von Achane is RB1 moving forward
Achane was the Dolphins’ highest-graded player in the game at 80.6 overall. He made the most of his eight carries, racking up 101 yards, 72 yards after contact, two touchdowns and five forced missed tackles en route to a 90.0 PFF rushing grade.
Achane has seen his playing time steadily increase over the last few weeks. He played just six snaps in his NFL debut in Week 2 at New England, and that number climbed to 30 in Week 3 against Denver. He led the running back unit with 39 snaps in Week 4 at Buffalo.
The reason why his snap counts are rising is pretty simple — he’s been too good for head coach Mike McDaniel to move away from him. Through four weeks, he leads all running backs in overall grade (93.5), rushing grade (94.6), missed tackles forced per attempt (0.39) and yards after contact per attempt (7.0).
#Dolphins running back De’Von Achane is the highest-graded RB in the league through 4 weeks
– 93.5 overall
– 94.6 run grade
– 6.93 (!) yards after contact per attempt
– 11 missed tackles forced on 27 carries
RB1 moving forward????????????#FinsUp
— Ryan Smith (@PFF_RyanSmith) October 2, 2023
For years now, Raheem Mostert has been one of the most productive running backs in the league on a per-snap basis. He’s off to another strong start this season, ranking fourth at the position in overall grade (80.0). Considering his age (31) and extensive injury history, though, it makes sense for the Dolphins to manage his reps week-to-week to keep him as fresh as possible.
Moving forward, Miami should give its electric rookie playmaker every opportunity to develop at the NFL level.
Connor Williams is crucial to the team’s success
Williams appeared in all 18 games — including the playoffs — last year in his first season with the Dolphins. His 78.4 overall grade ranked fourth among 36 qualifying centers. He was off to an even better start through three games this season, earning an overall grade of 80.0 and allowing just one pressure across 101 pass-blocking snaps.
Williams suffered a groin injury in the Week 3 victory over Denver and was forced to miss the game at Buffalo. Liam Eichenberg, the Dolphins’ starting left guard last season, stepped in to make his first career start at center and struggled mightily, finishing the game with career-low marks in overall grade (28.7) and pass-blocking grade (4.2). He allowed a team-high five pressures, two of which resulted in sacks.
The 2021 second-rounder has yet to find any consistency in the NFL. He played primarily left tackle as a rookie, then moved to left guard when the team signed Terron Armstead as a free agent last year. He was replaced by Isaiah Wynn in the starting lineup this season but is seeing early-season action with Williams sidelined.
Since the start of 2022, Williams’ 89.0 run-blocking grade ranks sixth in the NFL, regardless of position. He’s allowed pressure on just 2.3% of his pass-blocking snaps in that time, the fifth-lowest rate among all centers in the league.
Williams’ inconsistency with snaps has been a topic of conversation, but it’s clear he is among the best centers in the NFL. The offensive line takes a major step backward if he’s out of the lineup. The good news for the Dolphins is that Williams was practicing on a limited basis last week, so the expectation is that he should be back for Week 5 against the New York Giants.
The defense has to be stronger up the middle
The Dolphins had no answers for Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills in Week 4. Buffalo had put up 48 points with the best part of 15 minutes still left to go, and the Miami defense was seemingly outmatched all afternoon.
Needless to say, there weren’t many positives to take away from the performance. Jaelan Phillips was inactive for the second time in three games, but Andrew Van Ginkel stepped in and made an impact again, finishing the game with two sacks and a 73.1 overall grade.
It would not be difficult to point out flaws across the whole defense, but the middle is a particular concern. Linebacker David Long Jr. continued his up-and-down trend this season, grading out at 40.9 overall. Fellow linebacker Jerome Baker was better (61.9 overall), but his performance was still nothing to write home about.
Defensive tackle Zach Sieler’s slow start to the season continued in Buffalo. He earned a 58.3 overall grade and did not generate a single pressure on 23 pass-rushing snaps. Christian Wilkins had a solid game, grading at 76.9 overall, but failed to record a defensive stop for the first time since Week 8 of last season.
|David Long Jr.
For the season, Long’s 62.7 overall grade ranks 49th out of 81 qualifying linebackers. Baker ranks 72nd on that list at 52.5 overall. This is alarming because Long was ranked 14th at the position last year (76.2), while Baker was 17th (74.6).
The same can be said for the interior defenders. Sieler’s 61.4 overall grade (61st out of 137) is well off his 73.4 grade in 2022. Wilkins’ 74.3 overall grade ranks among the top 20 at his position, but he is also down from last year.
The Dolphins host the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers the next two weeks, so it is a good opportunity for the defense to get back on track. Following that, they will face the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs over a three-week span, offenses that will certainly test the unit in ways the Bills did in Week 4.