The Miami Dolphins offense has gotten worse the past two weeks, and that is why the team is losing football games.
This game, the Miami Dolphins defense held the Bills offense to 12 points. Special teams allowed 7 points on a punt return TD but then made up for it with a kick return TD.
The Miami Dolphins offense only had to score 2 touchdowns to beat the Bills. That's it.
Would it have been nice for the Dolphins defense to shut out the Bills offense? Sure, and Miami would have won if they had.
Would it have been nice for Dan Carpenter to make that 50 yard field goal and for the team to not allow a punt return TD? Of course, and Miami would have won if they had.
But let's not kid ourselves. Despite those failures by the defense and special teams, if the Miami Dolphins offense scores just 2 touchdowns against a Bills defense that allowed 37 points last week, 21 points the week before, and 35 points the week before that (so they've been bad recently), and which has, on average, allowed 28.5 points per game this season (so they've been bad this whole season), Miami wins this game. Instead, Miami's offense scored 7 points....
For all the talk about how awful the Defense played against the Colts, if the offense had scored just 1 touchdown in the second half of that game, Miami would have won and would have been in a position to talk wildcard with a tiebreak over the Colts. And there's no need to recap how Miami's struggles and turnovers on offense led to easy points for the Titans.
Miami's West Coast Offense is truly offensive. It looks worse than the Brian Daboll-coached offense last year, which averaged more points and more yards per game than the Mike Sherman-coached offense this year. We're losing games because of our offense can't beat the worst defenses in the NFL.
Let's start with Special Teams - a below-average performance.
Field Goals: Dan Carpenter went 0 for 1 on field goal attempts, missing on a 50-yard attempt. Carpenter is a perfect 12 for 12 under 45 yards but is now 1 for 6 (17%) between 45-55 yards for the season (13 for 18).
Kick coverage: On 3 kickoffs, none was a touchback. In the 3 "returnable" kicks, the Dolphins held the Bills to an average of 25 yards per return (long of 25 yards).
Kick returns: Marcus Thigpen had 5 returns averaging 36 yards, and a long of 96 yards (resulting in a touchdown).
Punt coverage: Brandon Fields punted 6 times for an average of 49.8 yards (long of 65 yards), with a net average of 33.5 yards, and 2 downed inside the 20. On 3 punt returns, the Bills PR Leodis McKelvin was held to an average of 39 yards per return and a long of 72 yards resulting in a touchdown.
Punt returns: Thigpen returned 2 punts for an average of 15 yards and a long of 22 yards. The Bills punter Shawn Powell averaged 40.9 net yards punting on 7 punts, with 5 downed inside the 20 yard line and a long of 56 yards.
Coaching/Overall - A performance by special teams that fell below expectations. You could argue the net effect of special teams was -3, with 7 (1 scored TD) - 3 (1 missed field goal) - 7 (1 allowed TD) = -3.
I've been a Dan Carpenter defender because I felt like his misses earlier this season (while painful) were too small a sample size to draw conclusions about his range. However, 45 yards seems to be a magic line for Carpenter. Anything beyond that range is a VERY low percentage kick (17%). League average from 45-55 yards is 50-60%, so Carpenter needs a very strong finish to the season to reach "average."
Next, the Defense - which held up well against a pretty good offense (17th in total yards, 12th in scoring).
Run defense: Allowed 105 yards on 28 carries by Bills running backs (3.75 yards per carry). Bills are a very good running team who average 140.8 yards per game and 5.2 yards per carry, so that's a respectable total. I was happy to see our front-7 (and Reshad Jones) fight hard against the run to the bitter end, with Wake making a huge tackle for loss on the Bills second-to-last drive, which gave our offense a second chance to pull off a game-winning drive after the first Tannehill interception.
Pass rushing: Our front-7 proved that they can sack QBs, as Koa Misi, Randy Starks, and Cameron Wake each finished with a sack. All too often this season, the pass rush from the front-7 (outside of Cameron Wake) has disappeared against decent offensive lines (i.e., against everybody except the Cardinals and Rams), but the Bills' offensive line is very good (6th in the league in sacks allowed before allowing 3 to Miami), and Miami's front-7 held their own.
Pass coverage: At first glance, the secondary did an okay job for the second game in a row, but key penalties by Nolan Carroll had a nasty habit of keeping Bills drives alive.
Bills wide receivers Stevie Johnson (6 catches for 79 yards) was the most productive WR. Donald Jones (2 catches for 11 yards) and T.J. Graham (2 catches for 5 yards) were barely productive. That's a total of 10 catches for 95 yards or 9.5 yards per catch. On its face, that's a good performance.
Sean Smith had a below-average game. Like the rest of the secondary, he had limited opportunities to be exposed because Fitzpatrick threw only 27 passes, and Smith left the game early due to leg cramps, but he still was beat by Stevie Johnson several times. Smith did force a fumble but was called for defensive pass interference at the 4 yard line on 2nd and goal.
Richard Marshall is on IR.
Nolan Carroll played so poorly he was benched before Sean Smith's injury forced the coaches to put him back in. Carroll was very penalty prone earlier in the year with the replacement referees, but he hadn't been penalized that much the past few weeks. However, the flags came back with a vengeance this game. List of Carroll's penalties:
1. Defensive pass interference for 31 yards on 3rd and 5.
2. Defensive pass interference for 15 yards on 1st and 10.
3. Illegal contact for 5 yards on 1st and 10.
4. Defensive holding for 5 yards on 2nd and 10.
That's 4 automatic first downs, for a total of 56 "hidden" yards, that our secondary (specifically Carroll) gave up.
Jimmy Wilson had an okay game. He was ineffective on 10 pass rushes (just 1 QB pressure according to ProFootball Focus) but wasn't burned for any big plays and had a couple of nice run stops.
As for tight ends - coverage of tight ends was solid. Scott Chandler finished with 2 catches for 30 yards (1 for 22 yards), and Dorin Dickerson finished with 1 catch for 4 yards, for a total of 3 catches for 34 yards (11.3 yards per catch), with no touchdowns. That's our best performance against tight ends this entire season.
As for the running backs/fullback - CJ Spiller had 3 catches for 39 yards, and Tashard Choice had 1 catch for 0 yards, for a total of 4 catches for 39 yards (9.9 yards per catch).
Coaching/Overall: Run defense was solid considering the quality of rushing attack Miami was up against. CJ Spiller's average of 4.1 yards per carry was nearly 2 yards below his season-long average. The Dolphins were able to convert pressure into sacks because Fitzpatrick isn't nearly as mobile as Luck or Locker. Coverage of tight ends was solid, but the coverage of wide receivers was somewhat poor when you consider the penalties by Nolan Carroll.
Our redzone defense was excellent, with 0 of 4 Bills redzone possessions ending in a touchdown (last week, 3 of 4 Titans possessions in the redzone ended with a TD).
Our third down defense was back to its form of games 2-7, as the Bills converted only 2 of 12 (16%) of their third downs, so it looks like our vaunted third down defense came back for the first time in 3 weeks.
Kevin Coyle Effect: For the fifth game this season (and third game in a row), Miami's defensive backs failed to generate an interception, so the positive signs of playmaking from our secondary earlier in the season seems to be disappearing when we needed them the most.
I give Coyle credit - the Bills offense is actually pretty solid, yet Coyle managed to stop things on defense from spiraling out of control after 2 bad games. Miami's defense generated pass rush, Miami's defense did a decent job stopping the run, Miami's defense managed to cover tight ends. Nolan Carroll had one of his worst games of the season, but ultimately, the Miami defense allowed 0 touchdowns all game and gave the offense two chances in the final 5 minutes of the game to win the game.
It was far from a perfect performance, but it was certainly "good enough" for the team to win.
Last, the Offense - which unlike the defense, is still stuck in the rut that started during the Colts game. The offense scored 3 points in the second half of the Colts game (when 7 would have been enough to win), and went on to score 3 points in the entire game against the Titans, and then in this game, scored only 7 points in the entire game against the Bills. That's 13 points in the past 10 quarters.
Offensive line: A good run-blocking offensive line not only gets good push at the line of scrimmage, but makes second-level blocks, giving running backs a chance at a big play. Watch the 49'ers and Vikings offensive lines to see this in action.
A decent run-blocking offensive line doesn't open up massive holes at the line of scrimmage but at least keeps defenders out of the backfield.
Miami's offensive line can't even be described as decent at run blocking. At this point, we'll never figure out how good Daniel Thomas is if linebackers and defensive linemen regularly get into the backfield before he reaches the line of scrimmage. And as for getting Reggie Bush to the outside? Even with his speed, there's a good chance a defender is ready to tackle him for a loss.
What really bothers me are the unblocked defensive linemen. Kyle Williams is the best Buffalo defensive lineman, despite all the media attention Mario Williams gets, and Kyle Williams came unblocked to get a tackle for loss, which is ridiculous. It's like leaving Vince Wilfork unblocked while double teaming Rob Ninkovich. I don't know if it's personnel or the zone blocking scheme, but the O-line couldn't keep defenders out of the backfield, and only began winning battles at the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter.
As for pass protection, the Bills finished with 3 sacks. Jonathan Martin is young and has potential, but he's the clear weak-line of this offensive line.
ProFootball Focus reports that Tannehill faced pressure on 1/3 of his dropbacks, despite the Bills' defensive line dealing with multiple injuries and underperforming this entire season (aside from Kyle Williams). Ask any Bills fan, and they'll tell you that Mario Williams hasn't been dominant this year, and Shawne Merriman was CUT from the Bills during final roster cuts and was sitting unemployed for most of the season before being signed by the Bills and getting a sack this game. The only All-Pro on the Bills defensive line is Kyle Williams, but the Bills sack committee included Merriman (backup DE), Kyle Moore (backup DE), and Mario Williams (underperforming this year).
So yeah - when the O-line doesn't pass block or run block well, the running backs look bad and the QB looks bad.
Receivers/Tight Ends: Anthony Fasano had just 1 catch (for the third week in a row), this week for 8 yards.
Clay had 0 catches but managed to get open crossing the middle of the field for at least a 15 yard gain (and possibly more). However, Tannehill threw the ball to the outside (leading Clay towards the sideline as he did in the touchdown pass Clay caught against the Colts), but Clay began running downfield before the pass arrived, leading to a clear miss. I don't know if Clay was supposed to shift downfield or if he made a mistake by failing to keep running across the field, but that was a big-play opportunity that was missed due to poor communication between QB and TE.
Egnew was inactive. If he's not active in the next 6 games, feel free to add tight end to our list of draft needs because a tight end who can't beat out Jeron Mastrud for playing time should not be viewed as a surefire contributor next year.
Bess had 6 catches for 50 yards. Play that I liked the most? At the beginning of Miami's last drive, Davone Bess was lined up in the slot, got open on a quick route, made a solid catch, made a guy miss, ran horizontally as defenders stayed downfield, and showing great situational football instincts, ran out of bounds to stop the clock rather than run downfield to gain an extra few yards at the cost of draining time from the clock. That's how you use Davone Bess - in the slot, running short routes that allow him to use his quickness/shiftiness to make plays.
Plays I hated the most - sending Davone Bess downfield, mis-casting him as a deep threat. The results? 1 incompletion and 1 interception as a Bills safety beat Bess to the ball. The pass that was intercepted probably would have been caught by 6'5" Calvin Johnson but was just out of reach of the 5'11" Davone Bess.
I'm a huge fan of Davone Bess, but the list of players I'd rather see try a double move to get open downfield include: Brian Hartline, Jabar Gaffney, Marlon Moore, and Rishard Matthews. Those guys have advantages in speed, height, or both speed and height compared to Bess. I don't understand the thought process that went behind using Bess in this role, but I'm willing to declare the experiment a failure.
Hartline finished with 4 catches for 49 yards. He drew an illegal contact penalty, but he was also called for a semi-questionable offensive pass interference penalty. The worst part was that he didn't even need to push off to make that catch on the final drive of the game - the cornerback had his back turned - and the penalty erased a big gain on our final drive. And of course, he had a costly fumble, the second week in a row a veteran on the team fumbled the ball early (last week, it was Bush).
Marlon Moore had 0 catches.
Jabar Gaffney was inactive.
Rishard Matthews was targeted twice. Once, he got open and had clearly beat a cornerback before the cornerback tackled him with the pass in the air, leading to a 30 yard defensive pass interference penalty. The second time he was targeted, he caught a 19 yard pass. I don't want to overreact to one game where he was only targeted twice while up against a bad secondary, but that's a promising debut. I would hope that Matthews gets more opportunities to demonstrate what he's capable of. He probably isn't seeing the field due to poor practices, but going back to preseason, Matthews seems to make plays in game situations, and I'd hope he gets more opportunities after this game. ....Though, he did pull a "Lamar Miller" and lined up on the wrong side of the field, having to be told by Tannehill to switch from the right side to the left before the play could start.
Basically, our entire passing offense is Brian Hartline and Davone Bess (as usual), much like it was back in week 1. We've made no progress at establishing a third target after 10 games, and Fasano has been held to 1 catch per game 3 weeks in a row. At this point, why not give Matthews (and perhaps Egnew) some time just to see what they can do before we start preparing for the draft?
Running backs/Fullback: Jorvorskie Lane had another quiet game, with 1 carry for 0 yards and no catches for the second game in a row. He has completely disappeared after a very promising start.
Reggie Bush had 10 carries for 20 yards (2.0 yards per carry), but it's even worse when you consider 11 of those yards came on 1 play. He had 2 catches for 15 yards (including 1 14-yard gain). It's hardly his fault when he gets blown up in the backfield on a designed run to the outside because blocking is poor.
Daniel Thomas had 12 carries for 33 yards (2.75 yards per carry). No running back looks good behind this offensive line.
Lamar Miller wasn't given any carries.
Quarterback: My thoughts about Tannehill....
Tannehill had his third really bad game of the season. He went 14 for 28 for 141 yards (5.0 yards per attempt), 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions. The interception on a pass to Bess has already been mentioned - Tannehill gave Bess a shot to make a play downfield but Bess wasn't able to catch the slightly overthrown pass. His second interception came on a poor throw + poor decision combination (i.e., rookie throw) on Miami's final drive. The Bills decided not to blitz and had good coverage downfield. Tannehill should have thrown the ball away or thrown the pass to Bess earlier right before Bess entered a gap between two defenders. Instead, Tannehill held onto the pass too long, Bess stopped running his route, and then Tannehill threw a pass that missed Bess by 5 yards but landed right in the chest of a Bills defender.
I think Tannehill deserves roughly 50% blame for the first INT (I understand Tannehill going for a big play, just wish it was Hartline or Matthews running that route), but 100% blame for the last INT. What I've noticed is that Tannehill's recent interceptions have come when Tannehill holds onto the ball with the defense only rushing 3 or 4, and then tries to force in a very late throw after the defense has settled into their zones and begun reading Tannehill's eyes. If none of our receivers are getting open with 8 defenders in coverage, I completely understand, but Tannehill needs to throw the ball away in that case or take off running.
Now, in Tannehill's defense.....Just like in our recent losses, the O-line did a poor job pass protecting and run blocking, penalties and fumbles by other players helped put the team in a hole, and Tannehill was forced to carry the entire offense with a receiving corps of 2 guys.
Tannehill has had 3 awful/bad games (Texans, Titans, and Bills), 1 so-so game (Jets), and 5 solid/good games (Cardinals, Raiders, Rams, Bengals, Colts - 4 of which were games where our run game was completely shut down). Rookies make rookie mistakes, and they're magnified when a team's run game is awful and receiving corps has only 2 playmakers. Unlike RG3, Wilson, and Weeden, Tannehill doesn't have a good run game, and unlike Luck, Tannehill doesn't have more than 2 guys to throw to.
Coaching/Overall: Our offense was unbalanced, as usual, with 23 rushing plays compared to 31 passing plays. The offense regularly lost yards or gained fewer than 3 yards on the vast majority of running plays against a below-average run defenses (I feel like I've written that a lot recently). Miami has been poor on third downs recently, and that's because of the struggles of our run game and passing game (our #1 TE and #3 WR combined for 2 catches for the second week in a row). Frankly, Miami isn't very good running the ball or passing the ball on offense. Today, Miami went 3 for 10 (30%) on third downs, which is pathetic considering how poorly the opposing defense has played this year.
Remember how I said Coyle managed to get things stabilized and adjust? Sherman hasn't been able to do that, and the personnel failures (particularly the O-line) aren't making his life easier.
Referee Critique: The worst call against Miami was probably the Hartline offensive PI on the final drive that I've seen star receivers like Brandon Marshall get away with regularly. Pro-Tip: Whenever you see "1st and 20" or "2nd and 20", a punt for Miami is our best case scenario. Miami isn't going to get a first down, so you just hope the series ends with Fields punting the ball rather than Miami turning over the ball.
Nolan Carroll has been heavily penalized in about half of his games this year, so I'm inclined to believe the issue is his technique is poor. I wasn't a huge fan of most of the calls against him, but 2 were very obvious, especially when you consider that he had been flagged multiple times before and should have understood the referees were watching him closely.
In Summary: The good news is that the defense played with some pride this game. The mixed news is that special teams wasn't dominant but wasn't awful. The bad news is that the offense simply doesn't look good against even one of the worst defenses in the NFL who were missing 2 of their top 4 DE's and a starting cornerback.
A Look Ahead: If we lose the Seahawks at home, we'll likely be a sub 0.500 team for the 4th consecutive year given the remainder of the schedule. The only future wins I'd see would be Buffalo at home and Jaguars, and that's it. If we beat the Seahawks, we have a decent shot at 0.500, and a theoretical shot at a wildcard spot (assuming Ben Roethlisberger's shoulder and rib injuries make him miss the rest of the regular season, and Andrew Luck gets hit by a car and ends the year on IR).
Just to warn you, there's a pretty decent shot that Miami's offense simply doesn't score any points the entire game against the impressive Seahawks defense. I know the Seahawks are better at home than away, but the Seahawks' defensive performances even in away games have been FAR better than the defensive performances of the Colts, Titans, and Bills. And since Miami can't score against the defenses of the Colts, Titans, and Bills, the game could get ugly. Mike Sherman has 10 days to adjust our offense enough to keep Miami competitive against only the third playoff team Miami has faced this year. If Sherman manages to get the offense on track against the Seahawks (who in their last game held the Jets offense completely scoreless), then there's a reason to believe Miami can have a respectable finish to this season since the Seahawks defense is the 2nd toughest we face the rest of the year (behind only the 49'ers).