As I wrote last week, the Miami Dolphins offense had grown stale and predictable recently, unable to run or pass the ball effectively, and that is why the team lost winnable football games against the Titans and Bills.
I also wrote that this reflected poorly on the coaching staff, and that it was on them to adapt to the adjustments defenses have made against Miami. Philbin vowed to use the extended break after the Thursday night game to make adjustments. Despite warning that Miami might not score any points on offense against the Seahawks in my last writeup, I decided to buy tickets to the game, and I was cheered by what I saw.
After scoring just 7 points against the not-so-mighty Bills defense and scoring just 3 points against the worst defense in the NFL (as measured by points allowed), the Titans, Miami's offense scored 24 points against the Seahawks defense ranked top 5 in the NFL in most categories.
With another solid game from the defense (which has looked improved since a bad two-game stretch against the Titans and Colts), and despite a mixed game from special teams, Miami pulled out a team win with the offense pulling its weight for the first time in weeks.
Let's start with Special Teams - a mixed performance.
Field Goals: Dan Carpenter went 1 for 1 on field goal attempts, connecting on a 43-yard attempt. Carpenter is a perfect 13 for 13 under 45 yards but 1 for 6 (17%) between 45-55 yards for the season (14 for 19).
Kick coverage: On 4 kickoffs, 2 were touchbacks. In the 2 "returnable" kicks, the Dolphins held the Seahawks to an average of 61 yards per return (long of 98 yards for a touchdown, watch here).
Kick returns: Marcus Thigpen had 0 returns averaging 0 yards, and a long of 0 yards (4 touchbacks).
Punt coverage: Brandon Fields punted 5 times for an average of 45.0 yards (long of 57 yards), with a net average of 35.0 yards, and 2 downed inside the 20. On 2 punt returns, the Seahawks PR Leon Washington was held to an average of 15 yards per return and a long of 15 yards.
Punt returns: Thigpen and Bess returned 0 punts for an average of 0 yards and a long of 0 yards (all fair catches and/or letting the ball bounce). The Seahawks punter Jon Ryan averaged 40.0 net yards punting on 7 punts, with 6 downed inside the 20 yard line and a long of 55 yards - in other words, outstanding punting day for the Seahawks.
Coaching/Overall - A performance by special teams that fell below expectations for the second week in a row. After allowing its first punt-return TD last week, the unit allowed their first kickoff-return TD. Additionally, Miami didn't get any returns from their kick/punt returners for the first time this season.
On the plus side, Dan Carpenter kicked a game-winner (on his birthday no less). A note on Dan Carpenter's clutchness - I've read people claim that Carpenter hasn't been "clutch" this year, but that isn't accurate. Carpenter has missed just 1 high-pressure field goal this year, which was against the Jets in overtime, and that was a 48 yarder. However, that same game, he hit the game-tying field goal in the final minute of regulation (which was under 45 yards). Most of Dan Carpenter's misses have been in the first 3 quarters of games, and ALL of them have been beyond 45 yards. He's 2 for 3 on game-winning/game-tying field goals in the fourth quarter and overtime, which my definition of "clutch" kicking.
The issue with Carpenter is distance. I have complete faith in Dan Carpenter on kicks under 45 yards, even if there's 4 seconds left in the game and Miami is down by 3 (high pressure). I have little faith in Dan Carpenter on kicks over 45 yards, even if it's the second quarter and Miami is ahead (very little pressure).
The poor special teams performance made the performance by our defense and especially the offense (which was pinned inside the 20 yardline 6 times) even more impressive.
Next, the Defense - which did a solid job.
Run defense: Allowed just 58 yards on 22 carries by Seahawks running backs/WRs (2.6 yards per carry). The Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch came in riding a 4-game streak of 100+ yard rushing games, and he was the NFL's second-leading rusher. This game, he had 19 carries for 46 yards, and a long of 16 yards (2.4 yards per carry). He had 6 carries for 0 or negative yards. Miami's strength against the run comes from our pair of defensive tackles (Soliai and Starks). Running backs who rely on elusiveness and outside runs (Spiller and Chris Johnson) bypass those guys, while guys like Marshawn Lynch (who run almost exclusively to the inside) play right into Miami's hands. Terrific run stops were made by Misi, Wake, and Odrick, but Paul Soliai was a monster today. Pete Carroll did Miami a huge favor by telling Lynch to run straight at Soliai repeatedly. There was also a Derrick Shelby sighting, with a run stop on 3rd down.
Including Russell Wilson's rushing total of 38 yards on 5 carries (7.6 yards per carry) hurts the numbers a bit, but most of that came on what were (in my opinion) designed passing plays that Wilson decided to scramble on. The two carries by Wilson that were clearly designed as runs were stopped quickly, most impressively by Cameron Wake in the open field several yards behind the line of scrimmage (recorded as a tackle, not a sack by NFL.com). Still, treating all 5 carries as designed runs leads to a rushing total of 96 yards on 27 carries (3.6 yards per carry).
Pass rushing: Miami did a pretty good job of generating pressure on Wilson. Some Seahawks fans are upset Carroll kept calling running plays when Wilson was putting up impressive numbers, but that was in part because his offensive line was struggling in pass protection.
However, how many sacks did Miami finish with? Just 2. Odrick had 1 (on the Seahawks' final third down), and Soliai and McDaniels each had 0.5.
The sacks the defense left on the field stand out because most of Wilson's biggest plays in the passing game came after Wilson made a Miami pass rusher look foolish. I counted 3 plays where it was Wilson versus a defender, 1 on 1 with no blockers in between, and the defender just missed. The Dolphins have issues with containing mobile QBs. I had flashbacks to our games against the Titans and Colts, in which the defensive line (particularly on third downs) had opportunities to bring down a mobile QB but failed, allowing the QB to make a big play. Out of 32 teams, there are 12 teams with a "mobile QB", which I defined as a guy who regularly makes plays outside of the pocket, either with his arm or legs): Dolphins*, Steelers, Colts*, Titans*, Cowboys, Eagles, Redskins*, Packers, Panthers, Tampa Bay, San Francisco (Kaepernick*), and Seahawks*.
6* of those 12 are first year starters (meaning the number has doubled in the past year). Mobile QBs are the wave of the future. Miami has to find a way to deal with them.
Pass coverage: Wilson had a terrific passing day - 21 of 27, for 224 yards and 2 TDs and no INTs - but most of the big plays came after Wilson extended plays with his legs, so I don't think our secondary played that terribly all things considered. 1/3 of Wilson's passing yards came on just 3 throws.
Seahawks wide receivers Golden Tate (4 catches for 56 yards) and Sydney Rice (3 catches for 49 yards) were the most productive WRs. Doug Baldwin (1 catches for 14 yards), and Jermaine Kearse (1 catch for 8 yards) were barely productive. That's a total of 9 catches for 127 yards or 14.1 yards per catch for wide receivers.
Sean Smith had another below-average game. He was beat by on key plays, mostly by Sydney Rice (whom he was shadowing for most of the game). With Smith in coverage, Rice caught 3 passes over 10 yards, including 1 26-yard pass on 3rd and 12 (though this was after Reshad Jones was sent on a blitz, got to Wilson unblocked, but failed to bring him down, watch here). Jones HAS to bring down Wilson or force a quick throw, but instead, Wilson calmly spins to the left and eventually finds Rice by the sideline. Smith also appeared to allow a TD pass to tight end - watch here - but as Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post broke down (read here), it was actually waiver-wire pickup CB RJ Stanford who was matched up against McCoy. Stanford appears to pass off McCoy (thinking it was zone) while the rest of the defense behaved like it was man-coverage. Smith saw McCoy was uncovered and tried to pick him up, but it was too late.
Nolan Carroll is an enigma to me. I do these reviews every week, and it's either feast or famine with Carroll. Some weeks, he looks like our best CB on the field and makes a few nice plays. Other weeks, he's penalty and mistake prone. He lost some snaps to RJ Stanford, but this game, we got "good Nolan Carroll", who had a couple of nice plays, particularly a well-defended deep pass to Tate (no flags).
Jimmy Wilson had a relatively quiet game, with no big plays allowed to the Seahawks or made by him on defense.
RJ Stanford got a decent number of snaps because he's been very good in practice. He got beat on a long catch by Golden Tate that looked a lot like offensive pass interference since Stanford had good position inside on a pass thrown to the inside, yet he ends up on the ground with Tate making a catch over him (more on this later).
Anyways, our secondary did an okay job this game. Wilson's scrambling, which was disappointing because Miami's front-7 failed to contain him, was also a sign that our secondary wasn't giving Wilson many open targets.
As for tight ends - coverage of tight ends was solid. Anthony McCoy (2 catches for 23 yards and a touchdown, watch here as Wilson spins away from Jared Odrick and completes a late TD throw), Zach Miller (3 catches for 16 yards), and Evan Moore (1 catch for 6 yards) combined for 6 catches for 45 yards (7.5 yards per catch) with 1 touchdown. Coverage against tight ends has looked better the past couple of weeks, but the real test will be the Patriots next week.
As for the running backs/fullback - Marshawn Lynch had 2 catches for 1 yard, and Robert Turbin had 3 catches for 47 yards, and FB Michael Robinson had 1 catch for a 4 yard touchdown (watch here - it looks like Wake gets caught staring at Wilson instead of covering Robinson) for a total of 6 catches for 52 yards (8.7 yards per catch).
Coaching/Overall: Run defense was outstanding. The Dolphins generated pressure but struggled to chase down Wilson. Pass coverage was generally okay except for a handful of big plays made by a variety of players, usually after Wilson had extended plays with his legs.
Our redzone defense was poor, with 2 of 2 Seahawks redzone possessions ending in a touchdown.
Our third down defense was poor, as Miami allowed the Seahawks to convert 7 of 14 third downs (50%), usually with a Wilson scramble or throw downfield. Miami's worst performances on third downs came against the Colts, Titans, and now the Seahawks. What do they all have in common?
I've cracked the code - when we're up against a traditional pocket passer, Miami's third down defense (which relies on pass pressure) is solid - think last week against the Bills, or the first few weeks of the season. However, mobile QBs can extend plays with their legs, and our secondary can't hold up that long.
Kevin Coyle Effect: For the sixth game this season (and fourth 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 are gone.
Despite all those flaws (lack of turnovers, poor third down defense, allowing big plays), Miami's defense only allowed 14 points, after allowing just 12 points last week, and shut down the second-leading rusher in the NFL. Also, Miami made a key stop late in the fourth quarter, giving Tannehill a chance at a game-winning 2 minute drive. Far from perfect, but overall, a good effort by the defense.
Last, the Offense - which FINALLY broke out of its rut. How big was this explosion? Miami scored 17 points in the fourth quarter against the (top-3 in the NFL) Seattle defense, after scoring just 13 combined points in the past 10 quarters against the Bills, Titans, and Colts defenses (all bottom-12 defenses). Let's go over how it happened.
Offensive line: A Seahawks fan told me their offensive line struggled switching to the zone blocking scheme last year, before suddenly "clicking" and doing well after 8 games or so.
That's the only explanation I have for what we witnessed this game. The same offensive line that struggled against the Bills, Titans, and Colts defensive fronts manhandled the Seahawks in the run game. Daniel Thomas and Reggie Bush had fantastic games, and Tannehill had time to throw.
In my opinion, this was a terrific game by the interior of our O-line (Pouncey, Incognito, Jerry), as our running backs (particularly Thomas) found success running to the inside, and Seattle's defensive tackles were quiet in the passing game. Long struggled at times in the passing game, giving up a sack, a hit, and multiple QB pressures up against Chris Clemons, but Long made some terrific blocks in the run game. Jonathan Martin's name wasn't mentioned much, which is a good thing.
This was the best our offensive line has looked in weeks, and it came against arguably the most talented defensive front Miami has faced since week 1. If this is the start of a new trend, Miami is a very dangerous team on offense capable of running and passing. If this was a fluke, then the problems of our O-line will become a fatal flaw of our offense again.
Receivers/Tight Ends: Anthony Fasano had just 1 catch (for the fourth week in a row), this week for 10 yards.
Clay had the definition of a breakout game. He not only made some terrific blocks, but he also made some great catches. He finished with 6 catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. While his touchdown came after being left wide open (a theme for the Dolphins' no-name receiving corps this year), his final catch (for 7 yards) was just as significant. That catch came on Tannehill's final 2 minute drive, and demonstrated that Tannehill trusted him on a key drive despite Clay's drop-prone season. This entire season, Clay had 7 catches for 90 yards coming into this game, so he almost DOUBLED his production for the season in just 1 game. I've been waiting for a game like this all year - those of you who read my earlier reviews might remember my weekly mention of a Charles Clay bandwagon. To This game was great for Clay, but it means nothing if he can't string together a couple more multi-catch games. Will Clay disappear again as defenses start paying attention to him (and don't leave him alone in the endzone)? We'll see.
Egnew was inactive.
Bess had 7 catches for 129 yards, primarily lined up in the slot. I didn't see any plays with Davone Bess running along the sidelines like last week, but I saw plenty of plays with Bess attacking the center of the field and leaving Seahawks CB Trufant in his dust. The Dolphins adjusted to the Seahawks early press-coverage by putting Davone Bess in motion, and the Seahawks struggled to cover Bess the rest of the game. Aside from 1 bad play where Bess caught a 4 yard pass on 3rd and 3 before spinning backwards and losing 2 yards, Bess was terrific. On one play, Bess was left completely open and likely would have had a touchdown had Tannehill not overthrown him. Despite the overthrow, Bess bailed out his rookie QB with a terrific leaping catch that unfortunately left him unable to sprint upfield but still gave Miami a 40 yard gain. Miami only has 2 receivers teams should focus on stopping, but the Seahawks' failed to stop Bess. He was also key in Tannehill's last minute game-winning drive (2 catches for 44 yards).
Hartline finished with 2 catches for 17 yards. He was matched up against Richard Sherman for most of the game, and Hartline was regularly sent downfield (with Sherman making plenty of contact), mainly as a decoy to open up things underneath. For example, as detailed in this clip starting at 1:25 (watch here), Bess' was left wide open because Brian Hartline drew double coverage (from the Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor) after running down the sideline, which left Bess by himself crossing the field as the Seahawks linebacker nearby failed to pick up Bess. Make no mistake - that was a clear communication failure by the Seahawks secondary, but that demonstrates the emphasis teams are putting into taking Hartline away.
Marlon Moore had 0 catches but was instrumental in my new favorite set of plays. Miami ran what appeared to be an end-around with Marlon Moore at WR several times, but each play, Tannehill did something different. A couple of times, Tannehill handed the ball off to a running back (once to Reggie Bush for a 20 yard gain). Another time, Tannehill handed the ball off to Marlon Moore for a 9 yard carry. And once, Tannehill faked a handoff to the running back, then faked a handoff to Marlon Moore, then turned around, and saw Charles Clay wide open running to the endzone on a wheel route, and hit him with a perfect pass for a touchdown (watch here). This was the dose of creativity I was hoping to see - running what appeared to be the same play repeatedly, but in each play, having Tannehill do something different, which kept the defense guessing each time.
Jabar Gaffney has been cut.
Rishard Matthews wasn't targeted at all while mainly covered by Brandon Browner, despite receiving plenty of snaps. Browner was a Pro-Bowler last year, so there's no shame in a rookie WR up against a Pro-Bowl veteran CB struggling to get open in his second game with significant snaps. However, Matthews was called for an illegal motion penalty on the final drive.
The take home lesson is that our passing game incorporated more play action passes and worked to establish Charles Clay and Davone Bess as regular targets (understanding that the strength of the Seahawks' pass defense is their boundary CBs and safeties, not their linebackers or nickel CB), and it worked.
Running backs/Fullback: Jorvorskie Lane has disappeared as a receiving and rushing threat, but made some good blocks. However, more snaps for Clay generally means fewer snaps for Lane, so Lane had another quiet game.
Reggie Bush finally got going again, mostly with runs to the outside. He finished with 14 carries for 87 yards (6.2 yards per carry) and one brilliant 1 touchdown (enabled by fantastic blocking from Clay, Long, and last but not least, Pouncey, who somehow manages to reach the sideline and block a DB before Bush gets there, watch here). He had 1 catch for -5 yards as the Seahawks swarmed him immediately after the throw (teams respect his ability in space). He was also targeted on a screen pass that was poorly executed.
Daniel Thomas had 9 carries for 60 yards (6.7 yards per carry) and a touchdown, with hard running between the tackles, several times behind John Jerry (watch his touchdown here). On his touchdown run, you see him fight through a couple of tackles at the end, but you also see Jerry and a pulling Incognito make terrific blocks. He also had a terrific third down conversion after taking a short dumpoff pass for 18 yards.
Lamar Miller was inactive.
Quarterback: My thoughts about Tannehill....
Tannehill had a really good game, especially when you consider the quality of the opponent - though that's not the same as a perfect game. He went 18 for 26 for 253 yards (9.7 yards per attempt), 1 touchdown, and 1 interception.
Let's go over the bad first. Tannehill had 3 bad throws this game - 1 interception, 1 near interception, and the near miss with a wide-open Davone Bess (which, as I mentioned, cost Miami an immediate touchdown). The first quarter interception on a rolllout to the right was bad decision/bad throw combination (watch here). Bess was coming across the field towards the sideline, but linebacker Bobby Wagner was there stride for stride just to the inside. Tannehill might have been able to sneak in a completion with a throw further to the outside. Unfortunately, the throw was to the inside, leading to the INT.
The next bad throw, a near-interception, was Brett Favre-esque. It was the classic Favre INT scenario: Nobody was open, and the QB decides to try a late throw, across his body, to the middle of the field. My amateur estimate is that 1/3 of Favre's interceptions came in this fashion. Favre was a terrific Hall of Fame QB who never learned not to do this, because every once in awhile, that type of throw ends up with a miracle catch. Hopefully, Tannehill doesn't make this a habit, as he won't be bailed out by a penalty next time.
Tannehill deserved 100% blame for both his INT and near INT. No excuse for either throw, as he was out of the pocket and free to throw the ball away each time, and I hope QB coach Zac Taylor goes over in excruciating detail why both INTs were poor decisions.
Enough of that negativity. Tannehill made some very nice plays, particularly on playaction passes with the run-game humming. He was also able to settle in and go through his progressions courtesy of the decent pass blocking by our offensive line overall, and he was able to extend plays with his legs when protection broke down by moving around in the pocket and also running for a couple of first downs.
Also, Tannehill led his third game-winning/game-tying drive. How is it his third? He led 1 late fourth-quarter drive at the end of the first Jets game, which ended with a (successful) Dan Carpenter field goal try to tie the game. He then led a second drive in overtime that led to a (missed) Dan Carpenter 48 yard field goal. So in my opinion, this was Tannehill's third drive that would have tied/won a game, and his second potentially game-winning drive, even though it was technically his first successful game-winning drive. By the same token, Tannehill has yet to lead a game-winning/game-tying touchdown drive on a 2 minute drill, but hey, baby steps. On the game-winning drive, Tannehill was 3 for 3 for 51 yards (excluding a spike to stop the clock), and one scramble for 15 yards
Coaching/Overall: Our offense was balanced and didn't follow the recent pattern of, "Give up on the run game by the second quarter and just force the ball to Hartline and Bess all game." Instead, we showed variety in both the passing and run games, and finished the game with a healthy balance - with 24 rushing plays compared to 27 passing plays. Miami has been poor on third downs recently, and that's because of the struggles of our run game and passing game. Today, Miami went 4 for 9 (44%) on third downs, which is an improvement from our normal performance.
Have to give OC Mike Sherman some credit - I disagreed with some playcalls, but he actually made some clear adjustments in response to our recent failures. However, Belichick surely watched this game during the Pats' extended break after their Thanksgiving game, so Sherman must continue to tweak our offense to prevent it from growing predictable. The set of plays with Marlon Moore appearing to run an end-around is nice, but it won't catch the Patriots off guard.
Referee Critique: Not a huge fan of the lack of an offensive pass interference call on his play - watch here.- in which CB RJ Stanford is in perfect position for an interception on a ball thrown to the inside of Golden Tate. Mysteriously, Stanford ends up on the ground, and Tate makes a catch over him (after clearing shoving Stanford with his right arm), despite Stanford having good position.
I also saw Richard Sherman making regular contact with Hartline down the field, but the referees haven't been penalizing Sherman for that all year (which has led Jim Harbaugh of the 49'ers to complain to the NFL and to the media). However, Miami's defensive backs weren't penalized for pass interference or illegal contact either, so the referees were giving both sides leeway (which is fair).
Now, in my opinion, the personal foul call after the hit to Tannehill's helmet was clearcut. Was there malicious intent behind the hit? Absolutely not.
Am I a fan of those hits being penalized? No - I think they're ticky-tack, and personal foul calls should be reserved for worse hits.
However, the NFL has clearly stated that malicious intent isn't required for the flag - make contact with a QB's helmet, and you're getting a flag. Period. That's been called in favor of and against Miami recently, and it's not exactly news that the NFL wants its referees to enforce this rule to protect QBs. The flag was correct based on the current rules, and it bailed out Tannehill after a dumb throw.
In Summary: A complete team win...though special teams needs to get back on track. The defense shut down Lynch, didn't allow more than 14 points all game despite allowing a few big plays, and got the final stop (after very conservative playcalls by Seattle) that gave the offense a chance at a game-winning drive. The offense had its best quarter of the season against arguably the best defense its faced all season, scoring 17 points to earn a come-from-behind win. Tannehill made some mistakes but also made big plays down the stretch. Other star performers this game include Jared Odrick, Paul Soliai, Cameron Wake, Koa Misi, the offensive line, Davone Bess, Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas, Dan Carpenter, and of course, Charles Clay.
A Look Ahead: Much like Charles Clay, what the Miami Dolphins did today was nice, but they have to do what they did today (beat a heavily favored opponent at home) more than once for the accomplishment to be meaningful.
The New England Patriots are coming down to Miami and would clinch the AFC East with a win. The Dolphins, if they win in an upset, would be in an excellent situation to finish 0.500, and perhaps make a playoff push.
I'm also going to restart my weekly playoff reviews now that Miami is (incredibly) the 8th seed in the AFC and still in the playoff race.