The 2012 Miami Dolphins are a Wildcard contender in name only.
Miami has gone 0-3 against the second-weakest division in the entire NFL, the AFC South. Only the AFC West is weaker. The Dolphins are 1-1 against the NFC West so far, with 2 games against the two best teams in that division coming up. The Dolphins are below 0.500, and have 2 games against the Patriots coming up. The only 3 games left against teams below 0.500 are 1 against the Jags and 2 against the Bills. The Jags could have Maurice Jones Drew back from injury by the time Miami faces them, and the Bills are coming off an inspired performance today against the Patriots in which they nearly upset the defending AFC Champions.
Miami, meanwhile, just lost to one of the 8 worst teams in the NFL.
I titled this game review the "Failure of the Parcells Vision" because this team was built based on the belief that football games are won at the line of scrimmage. Looking at our biggest investments in terms of salary cap and draft picks, and the team has in every year since 2008 spent most of its resources on offensive line, defensive front-7, and running back.
Offensive Line: Long (1st round pick), Incognito (free agent, Rams), Pouncey (1st round pick), Jerry (3rd round pick), Martin (2nd round pick)
Defensive Front-7: Wake (free agent, CFL), Soliai (former 4th round pick), Starks (free agent, Titans), Odrick (1st round pick), Vernon (3rd round pick), Burnett (free agent, Chargers), Dansby (free agent, Cardinals), Misi (2nd round pick)
Running backs: Thomas (2nd round pick, traded up), Miller (4th round pick, traded up), and Bush (trade with Saints)
Let's compare that to -
Our highest drafted wide receiver is Brian Hartline is a former fourth-round pick. Our highest paid wide receiver is Davone Bess (former UDFA). Our #3 WR is a guy who was unemployed in the middle of the season (Gaffney), and our #4 WR is a former UDFA whose best skill is special teams (Moore). Our highest paid tight end is Anthony Fasano, whose best skill is his blocking. Our 2nd-string tight end is Charles Clay (6th round pick). We have a former third round pick at tight end (Egnew) who isn't good enough to beat out somebody named "Jeron Mastrud" for playing time.
Our highest drafted defensive back is Sean Smith (2nd round pick). Nolan Carroll, Reshad Jones, and Chris Clemons are all former 5th round picks. Jimmy Wilson is our nickel CB/backup safety and is a former 7th round pick. Richard Marshall, a free agent pickup from the Cardinals, was named a starter, and played just long enough to get smoked by Santonio Holmes before going on IR.
Joe Philbin took over this year, but this is a roster largely built with Parcells vision in mind, and it has failed. This team will be undergoing a massive overhaul this offseason, and frankly, it should. Miami is likely on a path for a 6-8 win season for the fourth year in a row. This team has some good talent, but lacks depth and playmaking ability on both sides of the ball. Keep in mind this chart of how this team spends its money, and see if the production we're getting matches our investments.
Let's start with Special Teams - a below-average performance from our most consistent unit.
Field Goals: Dan Carpenter was a perfect 1 for 1 on field goal attempts, hitting on a 40-yard attempt. Carpenter is now perfect 12 for 12 under 45 yards but remains 1 for 5 between 45-55 yards for the season (13 for 17).
Kick coverage: On 2 kickoffs, 1 was a touchback. In the 1 "returnable" kick, the Dolphins held the Titans to an average of 19 yards per return (long of 19 yards).
Kick returns: Marcus Thigpen had 3 returns averaging 25 yards, and a long of 29 yards, and had 1 kickoff return called back due to a block in the back.
Punt coverage: Brandon Fields punted 6 times for an average of 48.5 yards, with a net average of 39.2 yards, and 1 downed inside the 20. On 4 punt returns, the Titans PR Darius Reynauld was held to an average of 14 yards per return and a long of 27 yards.
Punt returns: Thigpen returned 2 punts for an average of 8 yards and a long of 16 yards. He had 3 punt returns negated by 3 penalties - 2 block in the back calls (one on Jimmy Wilson and another on CB Bryan McCann), and one on Marlon Moore for running out of bounds when unforced. The Titans punter Brett Kern averaged 48.0 net yards punting on 4 punts, with 3 downed inside the 20 yard line and a long of 71 yards.
Coaching/Overall - A performance by special teams that fell below expectations, mainly due to penalties. This unit failed for the first time in weeks to boost Miami's field position. They certainly were NOT the reason why Miami lost, but they didn't help Miami much either.
Next, the Defense - which held up well until being overwhelmed by the incompetence by the offense.
Run defense: Worst performance of the year. Chris Johnson had one of his best games of the season (23 carries, 126 yards, 1 TD), and Miami had tremendous difficulty tackling either Johnson or Locker (who had 36 yards on 4 carries). Misi was guilty of overpursuit on the Johnson touchdown, as he had backside contain but ran horizontally across the field, which allowed Johnson to cut back with no linebackers between him and the endzone. Frankly, the front-7 played like a defeated team much of the second half and allowed 180 yards rushing on 34 carries (5.3 yards per carry) total rushing by the Titans.
Pass rushing: For the second week in a row, Miami went up against a young quarterback and finished the game with just 1 sack. As usual, Miami struggled to put pressure on the QB with its 4-man fronts, and when the Dolphins blitzed, Locker (like Luck last week) was made to look like vintage Michael Vick (i.e., un-sackable). Wake drew a holding call and was able to generate pressure but wasn't able to bring Locker down, and the rest of our defensive front did worse. For all that money and investment in the defensive front-7, we can't seem to sack any QBs who can run faster than a punter.
Pass coverage: The secondary actually did an okay job this game, though they were greatly helped by drops. Locker went 9 for 21 for 122 yards. However, multiple dropped INTs again cropped up, and the secondary allowed 2 passing touchdowns.
Titans wide receivers Kenny Britt (2 catches for 36 yards) and Kendall Wright (1 catch for 9 yards and a TD) and Damian Williams (2 catches for 31 yards) were all somewhat productive. WR Nate Washington also had 1 catch for 5 yards. That's a total of 6 catches for 81 yards or 13.5 yards per catch.
Sean Smith had a below-average game. Like the rest of the secondary, he had limited opportunities to be exposed because Locker threw only 21 passes, but Smith still had plays he wish he could have back. On a 3rd and 2, he lost track of Kenny Britt and watched Locker as he ran out of the pocket. Locker saw this and lobbed a nice easy pass to a wide open Britt. Smith also dropped 1 INT.
Richard Marshall is on IR.
Nolan Carroll had an okay game. No big plays allowed or made. He's been arguably Miami's best cornerback the past 2 weeks, which isn't saying a whole lot.
Jimmy Wilson had an okay game. Allowed a 9-yard TD pass, but he had the team's only sack and wasn't burned for any other big plays.
As for tight ends - coverage of tight ends was mixed. Karlos Dansby did a fine job (dropping a potential INT in the process), but when he was sent to blitz and Reshad Jones was left one-on-one against Jared Cook, he allowed a 26 yard TD on a perfectly thrown ball.
As for the running backs/fullback - Chris Johnson had 1 catch for 8 yards, after Olivier Vernon made a hustle play and chased him from behind.
Coaching/Overall: Run defense was poor, especially in the second half. Nobody in our front-4 aside from Wake was effective in generating pressure, as usual, so Coyle sent 5 or 6-man rushes, and like last week, the Dolphins were unable to convert pressure into sacks because of an "elusive" opposing QB. Coverage of tight ends and wide receivers was okay in the few Titans passing plays.
Our redzone defense was very poor, with 3 of 4 Titans redzone possessions ending in a touchdown, and a fourth redzone possession ending with a field goal.
Our third down defense was poor, as the Titans converted 47% or 8 out of 17 of their third downs (compared to the Colts last week who converted 68% of their third downs), so it looks like our vaunted third down defense is falling apart in the second half of the season.
Kevin Coyle Effect: For the fourth game this season, Miami's defensive backs failed to generate an interception, but they did continue their trend of dropping potential INTs.
I'm beginning to wonder if opposing teams have seen enough of Coyle's tendencies on film to start beating the Dolphins at their own game. Teams have been especially efficient at picking up Miami's DB blitzes, with only 1 sack from the DBs the past 2 games. Of course, the inability of Miami defenders to bring down QBs even when they reach them probably makes Coyle's playcalls look worse than they really are.
The defense held up reasonably well for 3/4 of the game, despite being put in awful situations by the offense, but towards the end, they just fell apart. No defense in the NFL can overcome 4 turnovers by the offense, so I won't grade these guys too harshly, but Miami definitely could use upgrades at DE, CB, safety, and OLB, with DE taking greatest priority in my opinion.
Last, the Offense - the unit that scored 3 points in the entire game.
Offensive line: I'm no longer doing a quick summary anymore. Frankly, this unit looks downright bad. Before the season, I expected to be concerned with the right side of the offensive line, particularly John Jerry, but guess what? Jerry has arguably been our second most consistent offensive linemen this season.
How many times this season has John Jerry been responsible for a really bad play or penalty? I can remember 2 sacks and a couple of false starts all year.
Now, compare that to Jake Long, Ritchie Incognito, and Jonathan Martin. See what I mean?
So Long was called for holding again (last year, which was a 'down year' for Jake Long, he was penalized for holding once the entire season), Incognito had a stupid personal foul that negated a 10-yard run by Thomas that would have put Miami in the redzone AND Incognito allowed a sack, and Pouncey (our best offensive lineman) was called for holding. And those are our 3 highest paid offensive linemen. Martin required help on several passing downs.
The offensive line did an okay job at run-blocking for after 5 bad weeks in a row, but unfortunately Miami was so far behind due to turnovers and was often put into 2nd and long and 3rd and long situations due penalties that Miami couldn't run the ball enough times to get into rhythm. Because Miami had to pass so heavily, and the other team KNEW Miami was going to pass frequently, the Titans defenders were able to pin their ears back and come after Tannehill, and the offensive line failed to consistently protect him.
Also, do NOT underestimate the effect of repeated penalties by the offensive line on our offense's struggles. No team can regularly overcome 2nd and 20 after holding calls.
Receivers/Tight Ends: Anthony Fasano had only 1 catch (for the second week in a row), this week for 4 yards and was called for holding (for the second week in a row) on a running play. He was also targeted while well-covered by a linebacker. A catch would have been tough with coverage so close, but Fasano should have either caught the ball or batted it to the ground. Instead, he managed to keep the pass alive long enough for it to be intercepted. The pass probably shouldn't have been thrown, but it probably shouldn't have been intercepted either.
Clay for the second week in a row had a catch, this time a 15 yard completion. He needs more than 1 catch per game to be considered a true weapon, but it's a start. Despite Jeron Mastrud being injured and inactive, Egnew was inactive.
Bess had 4 catches for 53 yards, including 1 truly terrific grab for 17 yards, and drew a defensive pass interference call, but also had 1 drop.
Hartline finished with 8 catches (for a second week in a row) for 79 yards. Defenses are aware that he's our #1 WR, but he's been making plays recently despite that attention.
Marlon Moore had 0 targets.
Jabar Gaffney had 1 catch for 11 yards. He also gave up on a slant-route as Tannehill threw a pass that was nearly intercepted.
Basically, our entire passing offense is Brian Hartline and Davone Bess, much like it was back in week 1. We've made no progress at establishing a third target after 9 games. Gaffney seems to be stuck at 1 to 3 catches per game.
Running backs/Fullback: Jorvorskie Lane had a quiet game, with 1 carry for 0 yards on 3rd and 1 and no catches. He is quickly disappearing after a very promising start.
Reggie Bush had 4 carries for 21 yards (5.3 yards per carry), and 1 costly fumble that led to him being benched for the rest of the first half. He had 1 catch for 8 yards and 1 pass drop. Bush is currently on pace for fewer rushing yards than he had last year.
Daniel Thomas had 5 carries for 21 yards (4.2 yards per carry), and had a 10+ yard carry negated by an Incognito penalty. He also caught 5 passes for 34 yards.
Lamar Miller had 3 carries for 12 yards (4 yards per carry) and 2 catches for 13 yards.
Miami was not committed to running the ball in the first half (11 run plays versus 21 pass plays) and fell too far behind to run the ball much in the second half.
Quarterback: My thoughts about Tannehill....
Tannehill had his second really bad game of the season. He went 23 for 39 for 217 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. The interception on a pass to Fasano has already been mentioned - Tannehill later said he was hoping to draw a pass interference penalty, which isn't a terrible idea, but he should have thrown the ball on the side of Fasano opposite from the defender then to minimize the risk of an interception if a flag was the goal. A second interception occurred as Tannehill attempted to throw to an open Charles Clay on the sideline. A defender who was assigned to cover Fasano was near the line of scrimmage since Fasano had stayed in to pass protect. The pass was too high for that defender to intercept, but it was low enough for him to tip it, leading to a pick-6. His third interception came on a poor throw + poor decision combination (i.e., rookie throw) with Miami down by 3+ TDs and Tannehill desperate to make something happen.
People will disagree, but I think Tannehill deserves roughly 50% blame for the Fasano INT (Fasano was well covered but could have easily batted the pass away), 50% blame for the tipped pass to Clay (the defender made a great play to tip it, and unfortunately, it was deflected to a defender), and 100% blame for the last INT.
Now, in Tannehill's defense.....Receivers and running backs were guilty of multiple drops, special teams had a bad day and never really gave him good field position, the offensive line did a poor job protecting him, his run game gave him no support and turned over the ball once, and he had multiple promising drives hurt by special teams and offensive line penalties. And yes - he only has 2 reliable receivers.
So it's a situation where clearly, Tannehill couldn't carry the offense, but in his defense, the way this team is built, he shouldn't have to do it alone. We should be a terrific running team. We might not be able to shut down Andre Johnson, but we should be able to shut down Chris Johnson. We might not score TDs on special teams like Devin Hester, but we should be able to get decent field position for our offense. Yet none of that happened, so Tannehill was in an awful situation, and defenses only had to worry about Hartline and Bess after Bush was benched. Thomas, Fasano, Clay, Gaffney - who else on Miami's offense were the Titans defenders supposed to fear?
To me, the game seemed truly lost after the drive that followed the Tannehill pick-6. Tannehill shook off the bad throw and went 7 for 7 on the next drive, driving Miami deep into Titans' territory. Daniel Thomas burst out for a 10+ yard run, with the Titans defense in disarray due to expert use of the hurry-up offense by our rookie QB...then Incognito gets called for a 15-yard personal foul after the play is over, which kills the drive. We were in prime position to score a touchdown and get the game within 2 TDs, yet that penalty threw our offense out of whack, and the offense never regained that rhythm. Miami abandoned the run after this drive. We need the veterans on this team to help the team in that situation, not sabotage a desperately needed TD drive.
Coaching/Overall: Our offense was unbalanced, as usual, with 13 rushing plays compared to 41 passing plays. The offense was turnover-prone and penalty-prone, and given the lack of playmakers, that spelled disaster. Miami has been poor on third downs recently, and that's because of the struggles of our run game (see Lane getting stuffed on third and 1) and passing game (our #1 TE and #3 WR combined for 2 catches). Frankly, Miami isn't very good running the ball or passing the ball on offense. Today, Miami went 2 for 13 (15%) on third downs, which is pathetic considering how poor the opposing defense has played this year.
Miami desperately needs playmakers for the passing offense (WR and TE), and yes, upgrades for O-line despite all that money and all those draft picks already spent on O-line...
Referee Critique: The most egregious call against Miami was a probable fumble by the Titans that was whistled dead too early, but really, given how awful the offense looked, even if Miami had gotten the ball, the drive probably would have resulted in a punt after a holding call against the Fasano around mid-field, so it's not worth ranting about.
In Summary: For the second week in a row, Miami experienced a team loss. A team built to stop the run couldn't stop the run. A team built to dominate opposing defensive lines couldn't protect its QB or open holes in the run game. A team that has invested money and draft picks in its defensive front-4 could not generate pressure with a 4 man front. And a rookie QB who was asked to carry the team with no support in the run game and shaky pass protection couldn't do it with only 2 reliable receivers (Hartline and Bess) and a third playmaker (Bush) in team-imposed exile for most of the game.
A Look Ahead: At this point, there are no "easy" wins on our schedule anymore, with the Jaguars not being much worse than the Titans this year. There's a good chance we're going to be the underdogs in most of our remaining 7 games. If we lose on Thursday to the Bills, our season is done, and it's as simple as that. If we beat the Bills, we have a tiny glimmer of hope for this season, but that's not worth discussing until our team earns the win.