The two-game losing streak over. Not much more we can draw from this game other than that, given that the opponent was a 2-win team dealing with injuries to their starting QB, RB, etc., as well as a lame-duck GM, and perhaps a lame-duck coach. I would have been disappointed if Miami didn't win by double digits because of the weakened state of the opponent, and the Miami Dolphins pulled out a 21-point win.
I think that when we look back on this season, the evidence will point to the 2012 Miami Dolphins being an average team. Not a great team that came close to winning the division, not a good team that had a winning record and comfortably beat the weaker opponents, but an average team that usually (but not always) beat the "bad" teams on the schedule, was very competitive with average and good teams, and struggled up against the great teams (mostly due to an anemic offense). The Dolphins likely will finish the season 7-9 or 8-8, and you can't get more average than that.
Let's start with Special Teams - a good performance for the first time in weeks.
Field Goals: Dan Carpenter went 3 for 3 on field goal attempts, connecting on a 30-yard attempt, 31-yard attempt, and a 53-yard attempt. Carpenter is a perfect 19 for 19 under 45 yards but 3 for 8 (38%) between 45-55 yards for the season (22 for 27).
Special Section - Fake Field goal: Miami attempted a fake field goal after noticing that the Jaguars had failed to line up a defensive back to cover Anthony Fasano, who was standing by the sideline. Unfortunately, by the time holder Brandon Fields called the audible, a Jaguars defender noticed Fasano and moved to defend him. Fields saw this and intentionally threw a high pass rather than risk an interception. Good idea, but poor execution - watch here.
Kick coverage: On 6 kickoffs, 5 were touchbacks. In the 1 "returnable" kick, the Dolphins held the Jaguars to an average/long of 24 yards.
Kick returns: Marcus Thigpen had 2 returns for an average of 19 yards and a long of 24 yards.
Punt coverage: Brandon Fields punted 1 time for an average/long of 64.0 yards, with a net average of 54.0 yards, and 1 downed inside the 20. On 1 punt return, the Jaguars punt returner Jordan Shipley was held to an average/long of 9 yards per return.
Punt returns: Thigpen returned 0 punts. The Jaguars punter Bryan Anger averaged 47.4 net yards punting on 5 punts, with 2 downed inside the 20 yard line and a long of 53 yards.
Coaching/Overall - A performance by special teams that was solid in all phases and broke the streak of four consecutive bad games in a row. The fake field goal was a sound idea that failed because it took too long for the play to start, giving the Jaguars time to notice Fasano alone by the sideline. Other than that, no major errors were made, and Dan Carpenter's field goal kicking accuracy from beyond 45 yards continues its recovery towards his career average after he began the year with several misses.
Next, the Defense - which was mostly dominant for the entire game, hence the final opponent total of 3 points.
Run defense: Allowed 70 yards rushing on 18 carries by Jaguars running backs (3.9 yards per carry). If Chad Henne's 3 carries for 16 yards are included, that's a total of 21 carries for 86 yards (4.1 yards per carry). Overall, a good day in run defense, though Maurice Jones-Drew didn't play due to injury.
Pass rushing: Miami did a good job of generating pressure on Chad Henne. Kevin Burnett and Jared Odrick each finished the game with 1 sack. Cameron Wake had zero sacks but drew 2 holding penalties. Henne got rid of the ball quickly but for the most part didn't have much time in the pocket.
Pass coverage: Henne had a mediocre passing day - 18 of 34, for 221 yards and 0 TDs and 0 INTs (6.5 yards per attempt). He had only 144 passing yards before his final drive in the fourth quarter, which ended with him failing to score in the redzone and throwing 2 near-interceptions.
Jaguars receivers Cecil Shorts (6 catches for 101 yards) and Justin Blackmon (6 catches for 93 yards) gave Miami issues. Blackmon had a great touchdown catch negated by an illegal procedure penalty on their offensive tackle/blocking tight end Guy Whimper for failing to report as an eligible receiver. Jordan Shipley (2 catches for 13 yards) was barely productive, and no other WRs had a single catch. That's a total of 14 catches for 207 yards or 14.7 yards per catch for wide receivers - overall, a good showing, especially when you consider that 63 of those yards came when Miami played "prevent" defense at the end of the fourth quarter.
As for tight ends - Marcedes Lewis finished with 3 catches for 8 yards (2.7 yards per catch), our best performance against tight ends of the season. Miami has gotten a better at covering tight ends this season, after struggling mightily earlier in the season even up against "no-name" tight ends. However, I still don't fully trust our group to matchup well against the Patriots' elite duo when Rob Gronkowski comes back from injury given how the defense failed to contain Aaron Hernandez even with Gronk missing the game due to injury.
As for the running backs/fullback - Montell Owens had 1 catch for 6 yards (6.0 yards per catch).
Coaching/Overall: The Dolphins only allowed 3 points. Domination can't be any more thorough than that.
Our redzone defense was outstanding, with 0 of 4 Jaguars redzone possessions ending in a touchdown.
Our third down defense was solid, as Miami allowed the Jaguars to only convert 6 of 15 third downs (40%).
Kevin Coyle Effect: Miami failed to generate an interception. Out of 14 games so far, Miami's defensive backs failed to generate an interception in 8 games. The fewest takeaways the Dolphins have ever had in a season, per Ben Volin of the Palm Beach post, is 19 in 2010. This year, Miami has just 12 takeaway in 14 games - only 1 season removed from that 2010 season. When an issue like lack of turnovers is a persistent problem, despite changes in coaches and scheme, it makes me believe the issue is lack of talent in the secondary.
When you look at the list of quarterbacks Miami has faced so far, many of them are turnover prone (average >1 turnover per game), including Carson Palmer (14 INTs, 5 lost fumbles), Mark Sanchez (13 interceptions, 6 lost fumbles), Kevin Kolb (3 interceptions, 2 lost fumbles in 4 starts), Andy Dalton (14 interceptions and 4 lost fumbles), Andrew Luck (18 interceptions and 5 lost fumbles), Jake Locker (9 interceptions and 4 lost fumbles in 8 starts), Ryan Fitzpatrick (15 interceptions and 5 lost fumbles), and Chad Henne (4 interceptions and 1 lost fumble in 5 starts). Tom Brady, Matt Schaub, Andy Dalton, Sam Bradford, Russell Wilson, and Colin Kaepernick are the only QBs who turn over the ball less than once per game on average, and Brady and Schaub are the only 2 "elite veteran" QBs we've faced, yet the current Miami Dolphins defensive backs can't generate interceptions consistently.
Miami's defense allowed 3 points, the lowest total of the year. While Miami was aided by a procedural penalty on a touchdown catch by Justin Blackmon, overall the Jaguars offense wasn't able to accomplish much, and was also held to 0 for 3 on 4th down attempts.
Last, the Offense - which shows flashes of competency but struggles to score, regardless of opponent.
Offensive line: In terms of pass protection, Miami yielded just 1 sack. The strip-sack occurred on this play - watch here - and 1/2 of the blame for that sack goes to Jonathan Martin, while the other 0.5 goes to either Mike Pouncey or Ritchie Incognito. It's difficult to tell, but it appears that the defensive tackle who first gets ahold of Tannehill is initially blocked by Pouncey before he moves to the left side after the play has started and Incognito has been knocked back, but Incognito doesn't pick him up, forcing John Jerry to try to run around Incognito and block the tackle. Otherwise, though, Tannehill was well protected. Good game by Jonathan Martin overall, though Jason Babin should be considered mid-tier competition this year.
In terms of run blocking, Miami's running backs were regularly stuffed near the line of scrimmage. Reggie Bush broke off a huge 53 yard run courtesy of terrific run-blocking by the right side of our offensive line on 1 play and a couple of broken/missed tackles - watch here - but excluding that run, Miami's running backs ran for 75 yards on 27 carries (2.8 yards per carry). That number accurately reflects how successful most running plays were that day.
Interestingly, Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reports that Mike Sherman says Jonathan Martin "has a chance to be an excellent left tackle or right tackle, wherever he's starting next year." It would appear that the coaches view Martin as an option at LT next season, though it's important to note that failing to say that would have given Jake Long's agent more leverage in negotiations. Fan evaluation of Jonathan Martin at left tackle can be based on 3 regular games so far (with 2 more to go). Martin looked pretty good against an injury replacement defensive end in the game against the Patriots, and he held his own against the Jaguars' Jason Babin, a waiver-wire pickup who was cut by the Eagles and has 6.5 sacks this season. However, he was embarrassed by a top-5 pass rusher (the 49'ers Aldon Smith), which forced the team to send him help. As I wrote last week, signs so far point to Jonathan Martin being an average left tackle who can hold his own against inferior or average competition but struggles against elite competition (and requires help). It's fair to expect improvement from Martin as he gains experience and gets stronger, but that's all we can say about him so far.
Receivers/Tight Ends: Anthony Fasano had a very good game, after a 5-game stretch being held to 2 catches or less. He had 6 catches for 56 yards and a touchdown - watch here - which came on a very poorly defended play in which BOTH Fasano and fellow tight end Jeron Mastrud were left wide open in the endzone. He was also responsible for catching a pass to successfully complete a 2-point conversion.
Charles Clay had just 2 catches for 8 yards. After his breakout game against the Seahawks, the Patriots only allowed him to get 2 catches for 26 yards, the 49'ers only allowed Clay to get 1 catch for 3 yards, and again, the Jaguars held Clay to 2 catches for 8 yards, though he did have to leave the game with a leg injury. The good news is that Clay has had a catch in 4 consecutive games for the first time this season. The bad news is that he's back down to 1-2 catches per game. However, we learned on Monday that Clay had torn a ligament in his knee and was being placed on IR (with an expected recovery time of 3 months after surgery, per Omar Kelly).
Michael Egnew was inactive, as he has been all season. If Egnew is still inactive with Clay on IR, then that tells you how poorly the coaching staff views Egnew. If he's really been "improving every week in practice," as the coaches have said, and it's week 15, he should be good enough to be listed as a third string tight end behind Jeron Mastrud. I suspect he'll be active, but if he's not, that's a bad sign after 15 weeks of "improving in practice."
Davone Bess missed this game due to back injury.
Brian Hartline finished with 5 catches for 77 yards, and he reached the 1,000 yard mark for the season as our #1 WR. The lone blemish on Hartline's game came on a touchdown drop.
Marlon Moore had 2 catches for 33 yards as a starter opposite Hartline.
Rishard Matthews had 3 catches for 23 yards. Matthews also had a drop on pass that, despite being poorly thrown, was "catchable-enough" for Matthews to get his hands on it. Had Matthews caught that pass, it would have been a very big gain..
Marcus Thigpen has begun seeing the field as a slot receiver recently. In this game, he contributed 1 catch for 15 yards but also had 1 touchdown drop in 29 snaps lined up exclusively as a slot receiver.
Daniel Thomas left the game due to injury after 1 carry for 6 yards. He's not having the bounce-back season I was hoping for after his injury-riddled rookie season in which he dealt with concussion and hamstring problems.
Lamar Miller contributed 6 carries for 18 yards (3 yards per carry) and caught 1 pass for 2 yards.
Quarterback: My thoughts about Tannehill....
Good game by Tannehill against a weaker defense. 22 of 28 (79%) passing for 220 yards (7.9 yards per attempt), 2 TDs, and no INTs is what we should expect in games like this one. Tannehill didn't have any really bad throws, and he also suffered 2 TD drops (one by Marcus Thigpen, the other by Brian Hartline) that made his stat line look worse than it should have been. The only play I have to criticize Tannehill for is the strip-sack, in which he failed to secure the ball as the pocket steadily collapsed. It's great that he felt the pressure and tried to escape but part of that process has to be securing the ball. The Dolphins have one of the lowest fumble-recovery rates in the NFL, and John Jerry and Jonathan Martin both dived for the fumble before anybody else yet the Jaguars somehow ended up with the ball. That's been our luck with fumbles this season.
Of note - Tannehill made some great throws throughout the game, but especially in the second half, in addition to taking off for 52 yards on 8 carries. During halftime, he reportedly felt comfortable removing the knee brace he's been wearing during games since he suffered a hyper-extended knee in the second Jets game. He did seem to throw with better accuracy and velocity than he has recently, though it's debatable whether that's due to the knee brace being removed or him gaining confidence against a poor Jaguars secondary.
Coaching/Overall: Our offense was balanced - with 36 rushing plays compared to 29 passing plays. Miami's struggles on third down ended for a game as Miami went a great 6 for 11 (54%) on third downs. Mike Sherman came up with that nice Jorvorskie Lane TD play and has begun using Tannehill as a runner more, and while it's too little, too late for this season, and it's good to see him trying to be creative with the pieces we have on offense. The fact that our leading receivers this game, aside from Fasano and Hartline, were a star kick returner from the CFL (Thigpen), 7th round pick (Matthews), and a star special teams gunner (Moore) illustrates that Sherman doesn't have a ton to work with.
Referee Critique: No major complaints this week. Miami got burned by only a couple of calls, the worst being a defensive pass interference call against Sean Smith that was very questionable. However, Miami benefited from several calls, including a procedural penalty on the Jaguars that wiped out a touchdown catch that (according to the Jaguars head coach) was incorrect. OT/TE Guy Whimper of the Jaguars was flagged for failing to report himself as an eligible receiver, but Jaguars coach Mularkey insists Whimper did notify a referee as he was coming into the game. Regardless, this wasn't the type of game where a couple of calls played a significant role in the outcome.
In Summary: A near-complete team win against an outmatched opponent. Offense, defense, and special teams made a some mistakes, but Miami won in all 3 phases of a game against a 2-win team.
A Look Ahead: With 2 games to go, I'm predicting a 7-9 finish, with as high as an 8-8 finish.
Buffalo Bills - The Bills are coming off a demoralizing loss to the Seahawks. While they're a tough matchup for Miami, and proved that by winning in the Thursday night game, I think Miami wins this game. If Miami wins this game and the Bengals lose to the Steelers next Sunday, Miami enters week 17 with a theoretical shot at the playoffs (if the Bengals and Steelers lose in week 17). However, a Miami loss or a Bengals win (bringing their total to 9 wins) eliminates any chance of a Miami playoff berth.
New England Patriots - The Dolphins beat up Brady 2 weeks ago, with 4 sacks and several more QB hits. I don't know if the Patriots will be willing to risk Brady getting injured for an entire game in week 17. Even if Brady does play the whole game, I think Miami keeps things competitive. Given that the Patriots lost against the 49'ers, the Patriots can only get a first-round bye if the Denver Broncos lose to either the Cleveland Browns or the Kansas City Chiefs (unlikely). That makes me suspect they'll treat their game against us as their bye, but that changes if the Browns somehow pull of an upset next week and give the Patriots a realistic shot of claiming a top-2 seed. Another possibility for the Patriots' to gain a top-2 seed is if the Texans lose to both the Vikings and Colts (even less likely than the Broncos losing to the Browns or Chiefs).
An 8-8 finish would be a good building point for next season and would accurately reflect how our team has played.