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Not so long ago, the Dolphins were 3-0 after stealing a road victory away from the Atlanta Falcons. After that incredible 4th quarter drive by QB Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins proceeded to get shellacked on the road vs. the might New Orleans Saints. Not to say this was unexpected or a big deal; the Saints are simply the better team. Entering week five the Dolphins had an opportunity to make a bold statement to the NFL: We are ready to make the playoffs this season.
Unfortunately, the reigning champs came into Miami and put the Dolphins on notice for the second time in as many weeks. After the bye week, the Dolphins face the reeling Buffalo Bills, with a chance to recover from the brutal opening 5 weeks. Below I will review the week 5 defeat, then go over the keys to a week 7 victory, using coaches tape as well as Pro Football Focus grades, which are used to re-assure what I’ve seen on film.
If you’ve read my past reviews, you will likely know I chart the formation usage of each play. The reason for my obsession with formation variety is to see how creative and challenging it is to defend the Dolphins attack. The two most important trends that I’ve noticed last week is that WR Mike Wallace has lined up at the right flanker position (Z-receiver), without being put in any motion, 51 out of 55 snaps. The other most important trend is the inability of the offensive line to sustain an effective rushing attack. I jump into these topics below.
I’ll start with the running game, because this is the most important issue the Dolphins must improve. In week 5, the Dolphins had 11 rushing attempts total, with 6 rushes from the shotgun. 6 of those runs went strong side, 2 went weak side, and the last 3 were up the middle. QB Ryan Tannehill accounted for 2 of those rushes, only one being designed. So, basically, the Dolphins called 10 rushing plays in what turned out to be a 3-point game. Obviously, questioning offensive coordinator Mike Sherman is needed, but that’s been done before. So, what did the film say?
Since the Dolphins rarely ran, and not one rush was very effective, I chose this play because it epitomizes the Dolphins’ ineptitude at running the ball. You can see that RG John Jerry has pulled across the formation. What happens? He runs right into LT Jonathon Martin’s backside, missing the edge tackler. He could’ve also attacked the hole to seal it, but he ends up making no difference.
But John Jerry isn’t the only reason the running game has been inconsistent. Tackles Tyson Clabo and Jonathon Martin have been even worse than Jerry in run blocking, according to PFF. Because each tackle is routinely losing to bull rushers, they get knocked backwards as soon as the play starts. With the inability to reach the second level, linebackers are running downhill, stopping the backs almost immediately. PFF backs my findings when I look at the performance of linebackers that face the Dolphins. Ravens ILB Josh Bynes had his best game of the year vs. the Dolphins because Mike Pouncey was horrible vs. star NT Haoli Ngata. The Colts’ Pat Angerer posted his only positive rush grade vs. the Dolphins.
Miami cannot afford sacks that end drives like this.
The fact of the matter is this: change needs to happen along the offensive front. Backup OT Nate Gardner is capable of replacing Tyson Clabo, who has been horrendous this year, allowing 13 QB pressures. Backup OG Danny Watkins should also be getting reps to replace John Jerry, who has had one positive grade through 5 games.
This is the pocket Miami needs.
Next, I’ll move onto the predictable usage of Mike Wallace. Against the Saints, I found that Miami lined Wallace up on the right side of the formation at a similar rate as the Ravens game (nearly 90%). Doing so allows the defense to gameplan to have a deep safety and their corner of choice sticking on Wallace, limiting his 1 on 1 chances. The good news is we finally saw a big time connection in week five, where the first picture shows Tannehill using a great pump fake to get the safety to step in. The second picture is Wallace being open.
On this play, Mike Wallace was moved into motion, finishing in the slot. Moving Wallace around helps Miami dictate his coverage and allows for massive mismatches.
Since QB Ryan Tannehill is still learning and developing, I took some screen shots of the good and bad from week five. The first picture is a beautiful pass by Ryan to WR Brian Hartline. This is a rhythm throw that he made as soon as Hartline broke to the sideline, with pinpoint accuracy from the far hash. That’s the hardest throw in football, and he nailed it. This led to a touchdown before half.
We know that Mike Wallace has had way too many drops this season, but I want to credit Tannehill for making the right read on this play. Wallace gets open on a deep slant over the middle, and although the throw is slightly behind Wallace, this should’ve been a third down conversion on the 5-yard line. Wallace needs to step his game up.
This second picture illustrates a bad throw by Tannehill on the first drive of the game. The orange line is what he should’ve done- a dart as soon as Wallace got his man to bite on the fake. The red line shows he put too much air under it, which allowed the deep safety to come over and almost intercept the pass.
Above, Tannehill doesn’t “climb” the pocket when he feels the pressure coming from the edge. As you can see, he has TE Michael Egnew and another man underneath wide open. Instead of stepping up, where he would’ve avoided a hit, he has his arm knocked while attempting a throw, causing an incompletion. He needs to stay confident and feel the pressure when it’s closing in.
- 93% of snaps had Mike Wallace as the Z-receiver
- 89% of snaps featured 1 RB and/or 1 TE (season high)
- 60% of runs went weak side
Due to the offensive struggles, the defense was stuck on the field for much of the 3rd quarter, leading to two scores and putting the offense in a difficult position to comeback. That being said, I do want to single out some specific findings. The first is the Dolphins continue to be a primarily 4-3 defense that rarely blitzes, instead relying on the front 7 to stop the run and let the zone in the back end force tough throws. The issue in week 5 was the poor coverage on crossing routes by star SS Reshad Jones and CB Brent Grimes.
Here you’ll see Grimes lose a step to Ravens WR Torrey Smith, who destroyed him throughout the day. I’m not sure what Grimes is doing on this play, but he allowed Smith to get over 40 yards, after shadowing him closely. Jones has also been getting beaten on TE crossing routes. This has to end, as crossing routes shouldn’t be a huge issue with their athleticism. Hopefully Kevin Coyle fixes this during the bye week.
Despite giving up 26 points, most of those points were due to a chunk play, but the defense was solid throughout the game. Specifically, I was very happy with the linebacker group and the young defensive end pair of Olivier Vernon and Dion Jordan. Sticking with the ‘backers, here is a picture of their effective blitzing.
Unfortunately, Coyle only brought the heat 10 times, and without star DE Cam Wake for all but 3 snaps, the Dolphins gave QB Joe Flacco too much time.
As for the ends, Vernon continues improving vs. the run, with his third straight week of being at least average, according to PFF. This picture shows how he is setting the edge effectively.
Rookie DE Dion Jordan also had a solid outing, and almost had a game-changing moment here:
On this screen, Jordan read and reacts perfectly, until the ball is in his hands. He dropped the ball, but his instincts and athletic ability were on show. I also want to highlight his pass rushing ability, where he was disruptive again. Remember the pick 6 Reshad Jones had? It was a direct result of Dion Jordan hitting Flacco’s arm mid-throw:
I’m really excited to see Jordan as the season progresses. Despite limited snaps, he’s been one of the best rookies so far this season.
- There were 0 snaps with a base of 3-4. So much for scheme diversity on defense.
- 68% of snaps had a base 4-3 defense.
- 27% of snaps had 3 or more corners, but there were less LBs on RBs (big problem vs. the Saints).
Keys vs. the Bills
- Attack OL Colin Brown. He’s been rated as the worst OL by PFF. Tackle Cordy Glenn has been very good this year, but their O line overall looks shaky.
- Don’t let Fred Jackson beat us. Force Thad Lewis to make throws, and not scramble.
- Block Kyle Williams. Williams has been a beast, according to PFF. He and Marcel Dareus have allowed ILB Kiko Alonso to have a monster rookie year.
- Get the ball out quickly. The Bills secondary is atrocious, but their pass rush is solid.
- Establish the run. Protecting Tannehill is a must, so reduce the pressure by running draws and when Tannehill is under center.