In one of the bigger matchups of week 3, we saw a fairly surprising upset, as the Dolphins were able to hang around the entire game, with the defense bending but not breaking in the redzone. The biggest development of them all? Despite Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill having little help from the running game (again), he out-lasted Falcons star QB Matt Ryan (whom had tons of help in the running game).
Through use of All-22 film, I’ll tell the narrative of this matchup, including pictures and illustrations.
Entering this game, there was a lot of talk about the Falcons being injured, and how the lack of size in their front 7 would harm them in the run game. Welp, sans a 49 yard run but Lamar Miller, the Dolphins again could not steadily pound the rock.
Despite the Dolphins lowering the predictability of directional runs, the lack of a true fullback, and the lack of execution by the line, clean lanes are rarely open. Backup RB Daniel Thomas has been able to brute through the clogged lanes more effectively than Miller, but calling him effective would be a stretch. But don’t put full blame on the coaches, because the plays (especially the 02 personnel package with Charles Clay offset and sweeping to lead block) are creative, but G John Jerry’s inability to effectively pull, and RT Tyson Clabo’s horrible start to the season usually lead to a blown play before it really even begins.
What needs to change in the short term for the running game to improve is puzzling. A personnel change isn’t going to help right now, but calling more run plays could. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman has the tendency to forget the run game, but he played a more balanced game this past week, and he needs to continue to trust it. Due to the poor performance of the run game, the Dolphins have been relying heavily on short, quick passes. Now, since QB Ryan Tannehill has improved significantly thus far, Miami has overcome the deficient run game. However, the film is out now and more cover 3 zone will likely be coming since the deep balls aren’t connecting either. The offensive line hasn’t been terrible in pass protection, as evidenced by PFF scoring both Miami tackles positively this past week. The issue is interior blitzes, where the guards and backs are struggling to pick them up. For Tannehill to connect with Wallace deep, he needs some time.
Moving to the passing game, the Falcons game showed Tannehill’s growth in progressions and accuracy. He did an excellent job avoiding Falcons CB Asante Samuels’ attempts to jump routes, which he’s known for. Although Tannehill still can hold the ball too long at times, he has great timing on underneath routes, as evidenced by this picture:
Throughout the game, Charles Clay, lined up as the tight end, was able to get good separation on seam routes. I counted 4 times he was open. Once Tannehill delivered a strike. Once was a slight overthrow that could’ve been caught, but was tipped and intercepted. The other two times Tannehill completed throws elsewhere.
Below are two examples of decision-making that could be improved by Tannehill:
The first is a read option play that Tannehill hands off. If he keeps it, he’ll eventually be 1v1 against the safety, and will be near the goaline. Instead it’s a modest gain. This could’ve been a designed RB run, but Tannehill needs to run more.
The second is a late throw to Wallace. If he pulls the trigger on time, it’s a touchdown. He also had two underneath guys wide open.
The third is a great 20-yard completion, but could’ve been a touchdown. Wallace has a step on his man and with a good throw, a scoring play.
I want to reiterate, Ryan Tannehill played a very good game with only a few mis-throws/reads. He’s clearly grown into an above average QB. I’m just pointing out where he needs to improve to become elite.
- The Dolphins ran 21 out of 44 plays in “11” personnel, or with 1 TE and 1 RB.
- Tannehill is clearly most comfortable with throws to the near hash, often making his first read there and ignoring the other half of the field. This isn’t a negative, but Wallace is being missed at times.
For this game (and every game) I tracked the formations the Dolphins defense line up in. I was shocked to find only 1 play that the base defense was 3-4. This was likely due to the absence of NT Paul Soliai, who is a monsterous run stuffer that the Dolphins need to re-sign immediately. DTs Randy Starks and Jared Odrick were shoved around all day, which led to a huge performance by the Falcons backs. Starks made a few plays pass rushing, but Odrick had possibly the worst performance of any defender. LBs Dannelle Ellerbee and Phillip Wheeler struggled too, with Wheeler rarely being around the play. Part of this blame goes on the line, where star Cam Wake played poorly before getting hurt, and the tackles couldn’t penetrate the right gaps.
Here is a picture of the poor gap integrity because of too many stunts:
The positives hold constant to what I saw weeks one and two. The defense backs were solid in coverage, often providing little to no windows for Matt Ryan.
This picture shows the excellent zone integrity by the Dolphins LBs and DBs. This play resulted in an incompletion.
What I really liked from defensive coordinator was the use of DE Olivier Vernon as a LEO rush LB in a 4-3 base, which happened 14 times. The 15th time a LEO was used, Derrick Shelby was in. Vernon is athletic enough to drop back into coverage, and to avoid becoming predictable should be dropped back occasionally. Here is a picture of what the LEO LB looks like:
He’s standing up as a DE/OLB hybrid, as made popular by the Seahawks. This puts an athletic yet undersized OLB in space, which allows him to rush off the edge, more like an end. Vernon and rookie DE Dion Jordan played very well, and scored highly in PFF rankings. Here is a picture of Vernon excelling off the edge, using a killer swim move:
The defense played too much 4-3 personnel in the first half, causing LBs to be matched up on slot WRs, but they adjusted well and played 18 snaps total in nickel coverage, which added speed and let Misi and Trusnik take breaks.
- 48 out of 69 plays were in base 4-3.
- The LEO rush LB position was used 15 times, a season high.
This game wasn’t pretty, but was an enormous win. The offense came together when it needed to and the defense overcame a lot of bad breaks and play. They need to get healthy quickly for the Saints because Brees, Colston and Graham are even more dangerous than the Falcons attack.
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