The 2012 Miami Dolphins are still a Wildcard contender but their chance of making the playoffs took an enormous hit.
I discussed the playoff situation in-depth in a separate FanPost (click HERE), but a win against Indianapolis was important for 3 reasons.
1. In the AFC, with so many teams between 3 and 5 wins, every win is crucial.
2. The Colts are a wildcard contender, and a loss means we lose a head-to-head tiebreak against them.
3. Our schedule gets tougher in a few weeks.
However, even more important than a potential playoff berth was how our team looked. With the exception of special teams, the rest of the team dramatically underperformed. I titled my Game 3 review, "Flaws Exposed" (click here) because in the first game against the (mostly healthy) NY Jets, we saw issues like a lackluster second-half offense, a secondary that can't cover teams with multiple competent receivers, and a struggling pass rush. I became convinced over the past few weeks that the Dolphins had developed their young players to the point where those flaws were being corrected, but they all came back in full-force today against the only team that we've faced so far that is over 0.500 at this point in the season besides the Texans.
Unless corrections are made, the 2012 Miami Dolphins will end the year looking a lot like the 2011 Miami Dolphins - a team that would regularly beat the "bad" teams, mostly beat the mediocre teams, but could not beat playoff-caliber teams. Last year, we held 4th quarter leads over the Patriots, Giants, and Broncos, but went on to lose those games by a field goal after struggling to score in the fourth quarter. Sound familiar?
The vast majority of the issues I'm about to describe have been a part of every one of our losses, and even a few of our wins.
Let's start with Special Teams - easily our best unit.
Field Goals: Dan Carpenter was a perfect 2 for 2 on field goal attempts, hitting on a 31 and 37-yard attempts. Carpenter is now perfect 11 for 11 under 45 yards but remains 1 for 5 between 45-55 yards for the season (12 for 16).
Kick coverage: On 5 kickoffs, 3 were touchbacks. In the 2 "returnable" kicks, the Dolphins held the Colts to an average of 26 yards per return, with a long of 34 yards.
Kick returns: Marcus Thigpen had 3 returns averaging 26 yards, and a long of 27 yards.
Punt coverage: Brandon Fields punted 4 times for an average of 53.3 yards, with a net average of 46.0 yards, and 2 downed inside the 20. On 6 punt returns, the Colts PR T.Y. Hilton was held to an average of 7 yards per return and a long of 14 yards.
Punt returns: Thigpen returned 1 punt for an average of 12 yards and a long of 12 yards. He had a long punt return to the 46 yard line negated by a questionable penalty on Marlon Moore. The Colts punter Pat McAfee averaged 43.5 net yards punting on 2 punts, with 1 downed inside the 20 yard line and a long of 59 yards.
Special section - Field goal coverage: Rookie Olivier Vernon blocked his field goal for the second game in a row, this time a 54-yard attempt. Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri is very reliable in domes so Vernon took 3 points off the board for the second week in a row.
Coaching/Overall - A third strong-performance by special teams in a row. No spectacular plays besides the blocked field goal, but the play of this unit was very sound throughout. It's hard find to fault with these guys.
Next, the Defense - which struggled against only the second above-average quarterback they've faced this year.
Run defense: Miami allowed a total of 97 rushing yards on 26 carries for an average of 3.7 yards per carry. That number is better than it has been in recent weeks, but as I've covered before, Miami has a run defense that is "Elite for every play except for 1 per game." The Dolphins has just been guilty of allowing one big play each past 4 games, which hurts the average. In this game, Miami allowed a 19 yard to Vick Ballard, but excluding that one run, Miami allowed 78 yards on 25 carries (3.1 yards per carry), which is impressive considering how deep the Dolphins DBs were playing (more on that later).
Pass rushing: Miami's defensive line went up against an offensive line that is ranked as merely average by Football Outsiders when it comes to pass protection and were mostly shut-down. For reference, Luck has been sacked 19 times this season, on pace for 38 sacks. The Dolphins finished the game with 1 sack on Andrew Luck's 50 drop backs. Cameron Wake continued his streak of games with a sack up to 5 games by strip-sacking Luck while up against a right tackle (Winston Justice) that had not yielded a sack this entire season. In addition, he flushed Luck out of the pocket several times and drew a holding call on the backup right tackle that came into the game after Justice was injured. ProFoootball Focus (click HERE) credited Wake with a sack in this game, three more hits, and three further hurries.
Against the Jets last week, Miami had 4 sacks, but 3 out of our 4 sacks came from DBs and a linebacker. Like against the Jets, Miami's front 4 (excluding Cameron Wake) struggled to generate pressure. Even when the Colts center Samon Satele left the game with injury, the Colts' interior offensive line managed to shut down Starks (who finished with 0 tackles and 0 sacks), and limited Soliai and Odrick (when lined up as a DT) to 1 combined QB hurry. Rookie DE Olivier Vernon, after his breakout game against the Rams, was shut down for the second week in a row, aside from 1 QB pressure that Luck side-stepped with ease.
Yet even with the blitz, Miami was mostly ineffective at generating pressure, whether it was sending linebackers or DBs like Reshad Jones or Jimmy Wilson. Against a QB like Luck, getting ZERO interior pass rush and almost no pass rush from the left side made it too easy for him to escape Wake by running to the left. Wake would probably have had 2 more sacks if Luck didn't have an easy escape route every play.
Pass coverage: Awful, awful game from the secondary. The lack of pass rush played a role, but the dropped interceptions, the cornerbacks playing 10 yards off the receivers, the safeties allowing receivers to get behind them, and blown coverage assignments are all on the defensive backs. Even when Miami only rushed 4, Miami couldn't cover anyone. 3 different wide receivers and 1 tight end finished with over 75 yards, meaning Miami took away absolutely none of Andrew Luck's targets.
Colts wide receivers Reggie Wayne (7 catches for 78 yards and a TD) and Donnie Avery (5 catches for 108 yards) and T.Y. Hilton (6 catches for 102 yards and a TD) were all very productive. WR Lavon Brazill also had 2 catches for 25 yards. That's a total of 20 catches for 313 yards or 15.7 yards per catch.
Sean Smith had an awful game. The Colts moved Reggie Wayne around pre-snap, and often lined him up well behind the line of scrimmage. This led to either a favorable matchup against Jimmy Wilson or prevented Sean Smith from jamming Wayne at the line. Smith looked ordinary this game when he couldn't be physical at the line of scrimmage. I mentioned in my writeups this year how Sean Smith had lucked out a few times with TD drops, particularly 3 drops by Jets rookie WR Stephen Hill in 2 games.
This game, Sean Smith was in position to make 3 interceptions. Here are the 3 results.
1.Lost sight of the ball, sidestepped to the right and went backwards despite being in position to get an interception, and allowed the Colts wide receiver to catch a touchdown despite being double-covered
The second drop was killer, as it would have given Miami the ball in Colts territory late in the fourth quarter down by 3 points. This was a classic Sean Smith 2011 game. I didn't mind him allowing the TD to AJ Green or Andre Johnson in our previous games since those were on perfect throws with Smith in good position. However, Smith completely failed to make a game-changing play despite 3 opportunities on bad throws. Also, Sean Smith was responsible for a converted 3rd down and 20, after he failed to make a tackle on Dwayne Allen, who managed to get the first down after breaking free.
This was the sort of game that will quiet the "Sean Smith for Pro-Bowl" campaign for a long time.
Nolan Carroll was finished with 10 tackles (often after allowing a completion) but also had 3 pass deflections and a near interception that was disrupted by a collision with a wide receiver.
Jimmy Wilson was picked on repeatedly by Luck, and finished with 3 tackles and 1 pass deflection that came off a CB blitz (not while in coverage).
As for tight ends - coverage of tight ends was pretty bad considering that Coby Fleener was out, meaning Miami faced just 1 known threat in Dwayne Allen. This bodes very poorly for our future matchups against New England, as Koa Misi still doesn't look comfortable in coverage. Dwayne Allen finished with 6 catches for 75 yards, similar to how Dustin Keller had 7 catches for 67 yards last game, but his catches converted key third downs, and Allen drew a huge pass interference call on Koa Misi on third down that isn't included in his stats. Karlos Dansby dropped potential pick-6 while in coverage on Allen.
As for the running backs/fullback - Colts running backs totaled 4 catches for 45 yards (11.3 yards per catch).
This was Chris Clemons' worst game in awhile, as he allowed receivers to get behind him, including on WR Donnie Avery's catch in the first quarter while being double covered. Meanwhile, Reshad Jones only pressured Andrew Luck once when asked to blitz 6 times, regularly being blocked by a Colts running back, though he did finish 1 pass deflection, a forced fumble, and a couple of stops in run support.
Coaching/Overall: Run defense was very good aside from 1 bad play, even with the entire secondary playing deep. Nobody in our front-4 aside from Wake was effective in generating pressure, so Coyle sent 5 or 6-man rushes, but unlike last week, the Dolphins were unable to generate much pressure or convert pressure into sacks. Coverage of tight ends was poor and coverage of wide receivers was non-existent.
Our redzone defense was fair, with 1 of 2 Colts redzone possessions ending in a touchdown, and a second redzone possession ending with a field goal. The Colts did most of their scoring from long range.
Our third down defense was awful, breaking a season-long trend - the Colts converted 68% of their third downs (13/19), including many 3rd and longs.
Kevin Coyle Effect: For only the third game this season, Miami's defensive backs failed to generate an interception. They looked outmatched by the Colts small and speedy receivers, and they often ceded 5-10 yards at the line of scrimmage before the ball was snapped.
In last week's win over the Jets, Miami had 3 dropped interceptions, but this week, the Dolphins' 4 missed IINT opportunities were crucial in a game this close. Smith easily had his worst game of the season, and the Dansby potential pick-6 was the type of big-play potential that led Miami to overpay to recruit him, but since he's arrived in Miami, he hasn't been making many of those plays.
It's fair to find fault with Coyle, as I definitely disagreed with Miami's strategy of playing off the receivers, but here are the facts. His defense left 3-4 potential interceptions on the field. Andrew Luck completed multiple passes of over 25 yards into double-coverage. As a defensive coordinator, all you can do is design a scheme to put your players in a position to make a play. The Dolphins weren't always in a position to make a play (so Coyle wasn't perfect), but even when players were in position, they failed to take advantage of a QB that, despite all his gifts, has averaged over 1 turnover per game. Luck had 11 interceptions + lost fumbles in 7 games coming into this game. Luck made brilliant throws, but when he made poor throws - and he did make several poor throw - Miami failed to capitalize.
Ultimately, it's clear that Luck had his best game of the year against us after struggling against the Titans and Browns, which says a lot about our defense, especially when you consider that the Colts' receivers dropped 2 sure-fire touchdowns.
Last, the Offense - the unit that scored 3 points in the second of the game, and CANNOT RUN THE BALL.
Offensive line: Quick summary.
LT: Jake Long was called for holding and allowed 1 sack and multiple QB pressures.
LG: Ritchie Incognito had no penalties and no sacks allowed (hooray).
C: Mike Pouncey had 2 false starts but no sacks allowed.
RG: John Jerry had no penalties and no sacks allowed (hooray).
RT: Jonathan Martin had a sack allowed, but no penalties.
The Miami Dolphins are NOT a good running team. I described this game as a "no-excuses" game for our run-unit. The Indianapolis Colts are 28th in the NFL against the run. The Colts allow, ON AVERAGE, 4.8 yards per carry.
Against the New York Jets 3 weeks ago, they allowed Shonn Greene and the other Jets running backs to run for 253 yards averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Mark Sanchez that game passed the ball 19 times and only completed 11 passes, yet the Colts were completely unable to stop the Jets' rushing attack. Miami had 85 yards on 17 carries (5 yards per carry), BUT if exclude the two big plays to Miami (1 20-yard run to Daniel Thomas on a sweep to the left and 1 18-yard TD run by Reggie Bush), they held Miami to 3.1 yards per carry. On 15 out of 17 running plays (88%) the Colts front-7 beat our run blockers. 3 yards per carry isn't going to cut it against an opponent who only punts the ball twice the entire game.
The "the defenses are stacking the box!" excuse is officially worn out. The Jets ran 43 times against the Colts. I didn't watch the All-22 film of the Jets game against the COlts, but it's safe to assume that the Colts stacked the box regularly, yet the Jets had no problem imposing their will.
Reggie Bush has 1 game this season with over 100 rushing yards. It came against an Oakland defense that this week allowed rookie Doug Martin of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to run for 251 yards on 25 carries (10 yards per carry) and 4 TDs, despite their All-Pro guard Carl Nicks being out with injury. In other words, Bush only ran well once, and it was against a bad run defense, and he's been unable to run well against teams like the Cardinals (who allowed Adrian Peterson to run for 153 yards), and against the Rams (who allowed Marshawn Lynch to run for 118 yards), and against the Bengals (who allowed rookie Trent Richardson to run for 109 yards), and against the Colts (who, as I mentioned, were steam-rolled by the Jets rushing attack). We can't run well against even average average defenses anymore.
So, our offensive line struggled at run-blocking for the fifth week in a row, as the Cardinals, Bengals, Rams, Jets, and now Colts defensive fronts beat our run-blockers more often than not. Our running backs were repeatedly met by Colts defenders at the line of scrimmage, aside from 2 plays where they were able to get some space for big games.
For the third week in a row, Tannehill was sacked by a completely unblocked edge-rusher. It all began with the Rams game, when an unblocked Rams' blitzer came from the blindside and strip-sacked Tannehill, leading to a 15+ yard loss as the ball bounced out of bounds. Last game, Jets linebacker Calvin Pace came completely unblocked from the right side, and the hit ended Tannehill's day. This game, Jake Long and Daniel Thomas were unsure of who to block, leading to Dwight Freeney coming unblocked, which is unacceptable. Thomas stayed towards the inside to block a blitzing linebacker, but Jake Long hesitated before electing to block the linebacker, leaving Freeney almost untouched coming from the outside.
It's hard to win games when a blocking unit routinely allows unblocked defensive ends and linebackers to hit their rookie quarterback.
So to sum up, our offensive line has been pretty poor. Joe Philbin described his offensive line's play this game as "average, at best" in his post-game press conference.
And just to recap
We're spending 1/5 of our salary cap on our offensive line to get "Average, at best" play from them. 4 out of the 5 offensive linemen are former draft picks by our team from the first 3 rounds, and the last (Incognito) was a third round pick by St. Louis who we signed as a free agent. The interior O-line didn't allow any pressures (per ProFootball Focus), as for the tackles.
Jonathan Martin allowed an early sack to Robert Mathis. However, Mathis never rejoined the game after halftime due to a second-quarter back injury, so that explains why Martin did better in the second half.
Jake Long flat-out struggled against Dwight Freeney the entire game. How bad was it? Over at Stampede Blue, the Colts SB Nation blog, wrote, "Dwight Freeney had his best game of the year today" while up against Jake Long. ProFootball Focus reports (click HERE) that Long allowed "a sack, three hits and two pressures, which was more than the rest of the Dolphins's [offensive line] combined."
Receivers/Tight Ends: Anthony Fasano had only 1 catch for 8 yards and was called for holding on a running play. After I jumped off the Charles Clay bandwagon last week, Clay had a great 31-yard catch this game and scored a touchdown after he embarrassed a linebacker who tried to cover him. I expected a 35-catch, 400-yard season from Clay before this season began, assuming 2-3 catches per game, and Clay's catch this game (like his 22 yard catch down the seam against the Bengals) was what I was expecting from him. He needs to build on this game and contribute more than once every 3 games. Egnew was inactive.
Bess had 6 catches for 67 yards.
Hartline finished with 8 catches for 107 yards, though he had 1 drop.
Marlon Moore was targeted once but finished with 0 catches.
Jabar Gaffney had 2 catches for 27 yards and drew a defensive pass interference call, though he had 1 redzone drop
Running backs/Fullback: Jorvorskie Lane had a quiet game, with zero carries or catches. His one drop came when he was well-covered, as teams have learned to watch him closely in the flat on passing plays.
Reggie Bush had 10 carries for 41 yards, but he got almost half of his yards on one 18 yard TD run (probably his best or second best run of the year). If you exclude his one 18-yard TD run, he had 9 carries for 23 yards (2.6 yards per carry), which accurately reflects how successful he was on most plays.
After his 18 yard TD run, here are Reggie Bush's carries:
2 yards, 3 yards, 4 yards, -1 yards, 3 yards, and 9 yards, for an average of 3.3 yards.
He wasn't running effectively before his TD, and he wasn't running effectively after his TD.
Reggie did finish with 2 catches for 25 yards, averaging 12.5 yards per catch. One of these days, we're going to try to make Reggie Bush a bigger part of our passing offense, and I suspect we'll be very successful when we do that. For some reason, Mike Sherman is reluctant to call plays where we pass the ball to Bush in space and tell him to make things happen, so we'll have to settle for just 2-3 catches per game for arguably our most electric threat in the passing game. Bush is averaging 8.5 yards per catch this season, his highest average since 2008, so I can't figure out why we're reluctant to use him.
Daniel Thomas had 6 carries for 37 yards (6.2 yards per carry), but again, if you exclude his one 20-yard run, his stats go down to 5 carries for 17 yards (3.4 yards per carry). He arguably was more effective than Reggie Bush this game, as he finished with 2 catches for 25 yards, but ultimately, our run-game is looking less promising by the week.
Lamar Miller had 1 carry for 7 yards and was never seen ever again for reasons I don't understand. Especially once Miami had the lead, you'd think they'd give him at least a few more carries, if only to see if that 7 yard gain was a fluke. Miller, in very limited opportunities, currently leads the team in yards per carry by a wide margin. I've heard the arguments about his pass blocking and playbook knowledge, but I don't understand the thought process where you give him 1 carry, he does a decent job, then he disappears.
Quarterback: My thoughts about Tannehill....
Reasons to be impressed
1. He played despite a knee/quad injury that limited his mobility and required a brace
2. He went 22 for 38 (57.9%) for 290 yards (7.6 yards per attempt) with 1 TD with ZERO turnovers (fumbles/INTs)
3. He dealt with subpar protection, mainly from his tackles, and his offensive line was repeatedly called for holding and false starts that put the offense in bad down and distance situations
4. He received little support from the run game but was still effective at moving the offense
5. His defense could almost never force a punt (just 2 all games) and forced zero turnovers, so Miami rarely had favorable field position.
Reasons to be not impressed
1. He was up against a bad secondary that was missing one of its starting cornerbacks (Vontae Davis) and lost its second starting cornerback (Jerraud Powers) to injury, meaning he was up against backups.
2. The offense scored 3 points in the entire second half, and despite the defense's struggles, the offense only had to score 6 points in the second half to tie the game.
3. Tannehill missed a few throws, including Fasano near the endzone and 3 of his final 4 throws on Miami's last drive. The last drive was the first time all year I felt Tannehill looked rattled - though to be fair, he's on a gimpy knee, and he was getting beat up on both sides as both offensive tackles were shaky.
4. Tannehill needs to stop throwing the ball short of the first down/endzone on fourth and long/fourth and goal situations. It's happened a few times this year. I understand he wants to avoid INTs, but when a short pass leads to a turnover on downs (and the game being over), it's actually better to try to force a deep pass and see if a receiver makes a play or draws a pass interference call than complete a safe pass that goes nowhere. Daniel Thomas made the catch but he had NO chance to get yards after the catch, as by the time the ball arrived, two defenders were there for a tackle.
Overall, I'm impressed, but Tannehill still has a ways to go. He was NOT the reason why we lost, but he also didn't outduel the opposing QB despite facing (in theory) a worse defense.
Fun fact: Tannehill has accounted for 0 turnovers (INTs or fumbles) in his past 3 games.
Coaching/Overall: Our offense was unbalanced with 17 rushing plays compared to 41 passing plays. Overall, Miami's offense was a tale of two halves, as it played well in the first half before getting stalled in the second half. Miami was very poor on third downs, only converting 4 of 11 third downs (36%). A large part of that was poor run-blocking, penalties that led to 3rd and long situations, and missed throws.
Referee Critique: Special teams coach Darren Rizzi was furious at a bad penalty call against Marlon Moore during Miami's final punt return of the game, and he was right to be upset since that bad call negated a punt return to the 46 yard line. Ultimately, Miami regained those lost yards, but the Dolphins offense completely stalled at the 45 yard line. Time wasn't an issue, as there was still over 1:48 left in the game and 2 time outs, but the Dolphins simply could not get a first down.
Other than that, the referees were fairly equal to both sides. They called more penalties on the Colts than on the Dolphins, and while the Colts offensive line was definitely holding the Dolphins defensive linemen at times, the Dolphins offensive line also benefited from no-calls several times. Trust me - Jake Long was called for holding once, but he definitely held Freeney more than that. I thought it was a fairly evenly called game, and I attribute our loss far more to our inability to score in the second half and completely humiliated pass defense than the referees.
In Summary: This was a team loss, with no "What if Dan Carpenter makes that field goal?" or "What if Tannehill doesn't throw an INT?" moment to blame the loss on. Aside from special teams, the team played sloppily, and the team looked lost at times. The big play opportunities were there on both offense and defense, and Miami failed to capitalize in the second half. Teams don't win road games that playing way, and Joe Philbin was right to be furious after the game.
A Look Ahead: The Dolphins made their lives MUCH more difficult after losing this winnable game. The way it stands now, Miami will need to sweep these 4 games (Titans, Jaguars, Bills, @Bills) and will need to win at least 1 (probably 2 now that we lose on tiebreaks to the Colts) out of these 4: Seahawks, Patriots, @Patriots, @49'ers. And I'm actually okay with that.
If we had won this game, we might have sneaked into the playoffs with 9 wins after only beating a bunch of mediocre/slightly above average teams like the Jets, Colts, Raiders, Bills (twice), Titans, Jaguars, Rams, and Bengals. Because of this loss, if the Dolphins want to go to the playoffs, they have to beat 2 playoff teams like the Seahawks, Patriots, and 49'ers in 4 games.
Right now, it's hard to say how good Fins really are, since our four wins came against teams that are all now 3-5 (Raiders, Bengals, Rams, Jets). If we can't beat 2 playoff teams in the regular season, such as the Patriots and Seahawks at home, then I won't be upset at missing the playoffs, since we'd be destined for an early exit like the Bengals of 2011 or Dolphins of 2008, who made the playoffs after beating sub-500 teams for the most part and were 1-and-done in the playoffs.
Miami is a wildcard contender, but the spot will have to be earned with wins against elite defenses (Seahawks and 49'ers) and an elite offense (the Patriots). If Miami is a top-12 team, then the Dolphins should be able to get 2 wins against top-12 teams in 4 tries. We'll see what this team is made of for the second half of the year.