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In week 4, the Miami Dolphins finally ran into a team that, quite simply, was better than them. Although both teams entered the game 3-0, most people who follow the game closely had strong feelings that the 38-17 outcome was likely, as the Saints have a unique group of personnel that make defending them almost impossible, especially at home.
That being said, just because this was a mismatch at its’ finest, there is a lot of value in reviewing a game like this; seeing where your team stands against a bonafide top 3 NFL team is important. Let’s begin with the offense.
Dolphins Rushing Offense
Dolfans, if there’s one thing we should feel good about after this game, it’s that the Dolphins were very effective at running the ball in the first half. Of course, I’m mainly describing starter Lamar Miller, because backup Daniel Thomas continues to be unproductive. Miller ran confidently, hitting the holes hard with his fierce speed. Interestingly, the Dolphins only used a true fullback three times this game, and FB Tyler Cutts was released after the game. It’ll be interesting to see if Clay will get more snaps there.
What you’ll notice in the two screen shots below are the two best runs the Dolphins had, the first being the Miller 20 scamper on his first carry. Center Mike Pouncey and LG Richie Incognito played well when run blocking, earning Pro Football Focus grades of 2.3 and 1.6, respectively. The left side is definitely stronger for run plays. Besides RG John Jerry, who routinely struggles in run blocking and received a -1.4 from PFF, the Dolphins line was average at run blocking in week 4.
Tannehill, above, keeps the ball at the mesh point and runs to a 26 yard gain, which is something many fans want to see more of. As you can see, Tannehill reads the defensive end perfectly, as he’s committed to the back. Obviously now Tannehill needs to start sliding and taking care of the ball more often, but it was refreshing to see this play call because it’s so effective.
Dolphins Passing Offense
I’ll start with the offensive line, who looked bad in the second half due to the deficit Miami faced. Right tackle Tyson Clabo continues to be the weak link, earning his third negative pass block PFF rating of the season, this time at a -3.5 (that’s terrible). Left tackle Jonathan Martin struggled at times too with the bull rush, but altogether the rest of the line was average enough to give Tannehill enough time.
The wide receivers, besides Mike Wallace, were able to have decent days. Slot WR Brandon Gibson continues to be a stud that’s been a matchup nightmare. I really give credit to Coach Philbin and GM Jeff Ireland for finding this guy. When I did film study of him he NEVER played slot for the Rams, but he’s fit in well here. Brian Hartline had an average day but statistically couldn’t feast due to Miami’s turnovers.
Now, it’s Mike Wallace time. I was pretty heated, just like all Dolfans after last week. After watching the film, Wallace had 2 easy drops, and one would’ve been a 70+ yard touchdown had he caught it. He posted a -2.4 PFF grade due to his poor play. I’ve included a picture below of Wallace being open early and Tannehill making the perfect throw, just for the pass to be dropped.
I also have issue with Dolphins coach and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. Not only did Miami once again abandon the run (although he did better in the first half and had to pass in the 2nd half), but I’m tired of seeing Mike Wallace be mis-used. By my count, Wallace lined up at the Z position all but 4 snaps, and was put in motion only twice. This needs to end, but Philbin yesterday told Dolphins beat reporter Omar Kelly that he doesn’t see the advantage to moving him around. The foolishness of that belief is incredible, and Philbin shouldn’t be preaching about this high tempo offense and unique looks when neither of those are happening. Wallace should be moved at least once per possession to try to get favorable matchups. As of now, the defenses we face are simply keeping a deep safety in a cloud zone to keep Wallace from being open.
Now for Tannehill. He definitely had his worst game of the season, throwing three interceptions and missing open throws, but he had a lot of good moments too. Two of the interceptions were fluke plays and one was telegraphed by the play calling. Tannehill threw another slant to Hartline (3rd of the drive) and didn’t bother to consider the coverage, so easy pick. Hopefully this play will be a learning opportunity for him. Ryan was accurate throughout the night when he had rhythm play calls that allowed a 3 or 5 step drop back, but missed a few throws over the middle. He needs to lead his WR better at times, although he is improving. Below is a beautiful touchdown pass to Tight End Charles Clay, who once again was solid as a receiver.
- 44 out of 60 snaps featured one running back and/or 1 tight end
- Ryan Tannehill posted his first negative PFF graded game of the season, but should rebound vs a weaker Ravens secondary
Dolphins Rush Defense
The Dolphins were dominant in the first half against the Saints rushing attack. Defensive Tackles Paul Soliai, Jared Odrick and newcomer Marvin Austin were very strong vs the run, all having solid PFF grades and routinely blowing up run plays. Here are a few pictures. The second is Austin blowing up a play in the backfield.
The last picture I also want to give credit to Ends Olivier Vernon (circled) and Derrick Shelby. Vernon especially has really improved at setting the edge vs the run and has been a solid player. The line did a good job of exploding through the point of attack and disengaging when the ball carrier neared, which was a big problem last week. The linebackers were also acceptable vs the run, usually coming up and making the tackle within 5 yards. They slowed down in the second half, when the Saints became reliant on the play action.
Dolphins Pass Defense
It was a rough night for the secondary, where star safety Reshad Jones was burned on the first play for a huge Darren Sproles play, and Philip Wheeler was out of position and mismatched vs slot WRs and Sproles on 6 different plays. As far as Wheeler, defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle did a bad job of adjusting to what the Saints were doing, having a WR or RB in the slot and flexing a TE to the outside, where the safety would cover the outside man and the LB would cover the fast WR or RB in the slot. You can see this below.
The soft shell zone Miami plays also ended up costing the defense dearly as well on screen passes (3rd down and 20 to Sproles, anyone?) and intermediate passes, where Brees just abused Miami. Now, there’s not a ton you can do to stop it, but the pass rushing performance by Shelby and Starks have me wondering why rookie Dion Jordan didn’t play more. With only 23 snaps, his effect is minimal, and yet he should’ve been feasting on the Saints. Pressuring Brees was the only chance for Miami to create a turnover and stay in the game. I also want to note that rookie Jamar Taylor looked good, despite getting beat by star TE Jimmy Graham for a TD. Graham just made an insanely good catch.
- Dolphins played much more nickel defense, with 32 out of 60 snaps having a 3rd CB.
- I would’ve liked to have seen more though, to limit LBs on faster players. Brees feasted on these mismatches.
- Dolphins did not play any 3-4 fronts, but had 28 4-3 fronts, and only featured the LEO LB 3 times.
Week 5 vs the Ravens
With one more week until the bye, the Dolphins can make a big statement by beating the defending world champions at home. On offense, Miami will need to move Mike Wallace around to shake off star CB Ladarius Webb. They also need to establish the run to keep star pass rushers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs off of Tannehill. If they keep him upright, they should win, as the Ravens offense has been sputtering. Star RB Ray Rice is still damaged and they do not have a TE threat that Miami can’t handle. Limit speedy WR Torrey Smith and we should go to 4-1.