I wrote last week that I very much believe the arrow of this team is pointed upwards, but our game against Buffalo was a warning sign about a major problem with the Miami Dolphins, which is a severe lack of depth.
That lack of depth was exposed in a big-way in this season-ending game. This is the part of the season where a team's depth is tested, as virtually no teams are injury-free at week 17. The performance the Miami Dolphins put forth while missing its starting left tackle, #2 WR, #2 CB, and #2 RB was frankly pathetic. This is the type of game that should shove aside any "what-ifs" with regards to the playoffs and instead put the focus on how much this team needs to improve in the next few months to become a legitimate playoff contender.
Let's start with Special Teams - another good performance.
Field Goals: Nate Kaeding went 0 for 1 on field goal attempts, missing on a 41-yard attempt in heavy wind.
Kick coverage: The 1 kickoff (to start the game) was a touchback.
Kick returns: Marcus Thigpen had 3 returns for an average of 14 yards and a long of 22 yards.
Punt coverage: Brandon Fields punted 5 times for an average of 49.4 yards and a long of 57.0 yards, with a net average of 43.4 yards, and 3 downed inside the 20. On 4 punt returns, the Patriots punt returner Wes Welker was held to an average of 7 yards per return and a long of 13 yards.
Punt returns: Thigpen returned 1 punt for an average/long 14 yards per return. The Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko averaged 32.8 net yards punting on 5 punts, with 4 downed inside the 20 yard line and a long of 56 yards.
Coaching/Overall - A mostly solid performance overall. I find the decision to go for a field goal to be very questionable, given the fact that the game was meaningless, the wind was strong (to the point where the Patriots avoided kicking field goals from even closer distances), and giving more snaps to Miami's offense (featuring several young receivers) was more valuable than giving Nate Kaeding a field goal try while down by 14 points. Other than that, and a holding penalty on S Jonathan Amaya on a kick return, no major errors were made.
Next, the Defense - a poor performance with signs of questionable-at-times effort.
Run defense: The formerly elite Miami Dolphins run defense ultimately allowed 167 yards on 38 carries (4.4 yards per carry). I say formerly elite because the unit is now ranked 13th in overall rushing yards allowed, which is barely above average.
In our previous game against the Patriots, the run defense was solid until the fourth quarter, when the defensive line showed clear signs of being worn down by the Patriots' overwhelming advantage in time of possession. That led to Coach Philbin making late-game substitutions to the defensive line in the hope that fresh bodies would better hold up against the run, which turned out to be futile as the Patriots ran the ball at will on their final drive.
The fact that the Patriots were gashing Miami's run defense throughout the game was incredibly disappointing. It was shameful to see defenders fail to shed blocks. It was downright embarrassing to see highlights of Rob Gronkowski (a terrific blocker normally) making key blocks one-armed (due to his forearm injury). There's no shame in struggling while blocked by Gronk when he's healthy, but when a defender fails to shed a one-armed block, that's lack of effort.
Pass rushing: Miami did an awful job bringing pressure on Brady, finishing the game with just 1 sack on 37 Brady drop-backs. I noted last week the defense had to rely on blitzes to reach Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick for the most part. Having been burned when blitzing Brady in our last game, Coyle this game gave our defensive line a shot to generate pressure on 4-man rushes, and it was a complete failure.
In our last game against the New England Patriots, they occasionally doubled Cameron Wake, but largely asked their elite right tackle Sebastian Vollmer to block Wake one-on-one on some passing plays. That turned out to be a disaster for the Patriots, as Wake had his way with Vollmer, getting past him to hit Brady or flush Brady into the clutches of our other defensive linemen. This game, on the majority of pass snaps, Cameron Wake was double-teamed (not just chipped), most commonly by an OT AND a TE. None of the other defensive linemen was able to exploit their one-on-one matchups, as Koa Misi, Olivier Vernon, Randy Starks, and Jared Odrick were blocked with ease.
ProFootball Focus (PFF) reports that over 60% of the Dolphins defense's total QB pressures come from Cameron Wake. Even if you're not a fan of PFF, you have to agree that the effect of persistent double-teams on Wake was profound as Brady had literally all day to throw. The commentators were marveling at how much time Brady had to go through multiple reads. The Dolphins' only sack came on a blindside CB blitz that the Patriots failed to pick up. Otherwise, Brady was upright and comfortable in the pocket for most of the game.
Pass coverage: Brady had a terrific passing day - 22 of 36, for 284 yards and 2 TDs and 0 INTs (61% completion, 7.9 yards per attempt).
Patriots receiver Wes Welker (8 catches for 94 yards and a touchdown) had a terrific day against us. Deion Branch (1 catch for 16 yards) and Brandon Lloyd (1 catch for 9 yards) were well contained. That's a total of 10 catches for 119 yards or 11.9 yards per catch for wide receivers - overall, a good showing, similar to last week, except for the fact that we simply don't have anyone who can hope to keep up with Welker.
As for tight ends - All-Pro TE Rob Gronkowksi missed our last game, and I noted how it was a bad sign that Aaron Hernandez had a terrific game against us when he was the only TE threat to worry about. In this game, our defensive scheme to counter Gronkowski apparently was to not cover Rob Gronkowski and hope Brady didn't look in his direction. That strategy led to 2 catches for 42 yards and a touchdown for a clearly limited Gronkowski, which is a poor omen for our future matchups against the Patriots. Aaron Hernandez had 5 catches for 44 yards, leading to a total of 7 catches for 86 yards and 1 touchdown to tight ends (12.2 yards per catch). That's not awful, but it's not great either. I believe Miami has gotten a bit better against tight ends this season as compared to last season but still has a ways to go.
As for the running backs/fullback - Danny Woodhead looked unstoppable against us, as he had 5 catches for 79 yards (15.8 yards per catch). The Patriots demonstrated more commitment to getting Woodhead the ball in space than Miami has demonstrated in trying to get Reggie Bush the ball in space for most of this season, and Miami's linebackers struggled to keep up with him.
Coaching/Overall: The difference between Brady's performance when he has all day to throw versus Brady being harassed (as he was a few weeks ago) is profound. The main adjustments by the Patriots to the formerly effective Dolphins pass rush from a few weeks ago was to simply call more running plays earlier in the game and persistently double-team Wake rather than trust Vollmer with the task of blocking Wake one-on-one, and it worked. Because Miami's run defense wasn't stout enough to force the Patriots to become pass-heavy, the Patriots were able to remain very balanced (37 pass plays to 38 run plays) throughout the game, meaning the defense could never pin their ears back and aggressively go after Brady. The Patriots would have put more points on the board if not for some missed throws by Brady and dropped passes by receivers.
Our normally great redzone defense was AWFUL, with 3 of 3 Patriots redzone possessions ending in a touchdown.
Our normally good third down defense was sub-par, as Miami allowed the Patriots to convert 8 of 16 third downs (50%). The Patriots also went 2 for 3 on 4th downs.
Kevin Coyle Effect: Miami failed to generate a desperately needed interception against a superior foe. Out of 16 games, Miami's defensive backs failed to generate an interception in 9 games, compared to 7 games with an interception
Miami is among the league-worst in generating turnovers. The only defensive back who qualifies as a "ball-hawk" in our secondary is Reshad Jones. Nolan Carroll and Jimmy Wilson have 0 INTs, Clemons has just 2 interceptions (both off of Mark Sanchez), Richard Marshall had 1 interception before going on IR, and Sean Smith has just 2 interceptions (both off Kevin Kolb). Miami regularly finishes the year below-average in terms of interceptions. When that happens under multiple defensive schemes, including a new DC with a reputation for getting the most out of limited secondary talent, that means the issue is lack of talent in the secondary.
Last, the Offense - which abandoned creativity as our lack of O-line, WR, and TE depth doomed the team.
Offensive line: In terms of pass protection, Miami yielded 7 sacks, a season high, to 5 different Patriots defenders. A couple of those sacks were coverage sacks, but Tannehill was harassed for pretty much the entire game. Up until now, Jonathan Martin (aside from a poor game against the 49'ers) had played well at left tackle, and Nate Garner had held up at right tackle.
Martin was switched to left tackle during our previous game against the Patriots after Jake Long was injured, and Martin played reasonably well in that game. However, I noted in my writeup at the time that the Dolphins were fortunate enough to not face 2 of the Patriots' top-3 DEs, since Chandler Jones was out due to injury and Jermaine Cunningham was out due to a performance-enhancing drugs suspension. Those 2 guys were back this game, and the Patriots' rotation at DE completely abused our tackles. Nate Garner in particular had a Marc Colombo-esque performance. Martin was up against Patriots first-round pick Chandler Jones and was pushed around all game. Garner was beat by a variety of Patriots' defensive ends, even after starter Rob Ninkovitch left due to injury.
In terms of run blocking, Miami's running backs were completely stuffed for basically the entire game. To sum up the season, I'd rate Miami's pass blocking as inconsistent but above average, while the run blocking has been inconsistent but below average.
For this game, the Dolphins offensive line was comprised of
Jonathan Martin – 2nd round pick
Ritchie Incognito – 3rd round pick (acquired as free agent)
Mike Pouncey – 1st round pick
John Jerry - 3rd round pick
Nate Garner* – 7th round pick (acquired as free agent)
*Injury replacement playing due to injury to former 1st round pick Jake Long
At full health, Tannehill’s line is full of 1-3 round picks. Due to Long being on IR, he had one late round pick on his O-line.
For this game, the offensive line for the Patriots was
There's no real difference in terms of raw talent/draft pedigree - Miami has arguably invested more into its offensive line than the Patriots - but the results are dramatically different. The Patriots' offensive line is a top-10 run and pass blocking offensive line, while Miami is below average. That's part difference in quality of talent evaluation, but also partly due to a difference in the quality of coaching.
Receivers/Tight Ends: Anthony Fasano had an okay game until being forced to leave with a probable concussion after getting 3 catches for 31 yards in this game. He finished with 41 catches (a career high) for 332 yards (3rd lowest in his career) and 5 touchdowns (tied for 2nd highest in his career) for the season.
Michael Egnew was active, and like last week had 0 pass targets. Thus, Egnew will finish his rookie year with 0 catches and 0 targets and being active for just 2 games, solely due to injury to Charles Clay. That's a poor rookie season any way you slice it - Patrick Turner-esque.
Charles Clay was inactive since he's on IR, but he is solidly ahead of Egnew on the depth chart, despite having a poor sophomore season overall with 18 catches for 212 yards (11.8 yards per catch) and 2 TDs, which is fewer total yards, yards per catch, and touchdowns than he had as a rookie last year.
Davone Bess missed this game due to back injury, and our already-shaky passing game fell apart without him. Bess finishes the season with 61 catches (3rd highest of his career), 778 yards (2nd highest of his career), 12.8 yards per catch (Highest of his career), and 1 TD (tied lowest in his career), and 1 fumble that was recovered by Miami.
Brian Hartline finished with 5 catches for 69 yards in this game while limited with a back injury, for a total of 74 catches for 1,083 yards (both career highs), 14.6 yards per catch (near career average), and 1 TD this season (near his career average), as well as 1 fumble lost.
Marlon Moore had 0 catches, and finishes the season with 6 catches for 116 yards, 19.3 yards per carry and 1 TD.
Rishard Matthews had 3 catches for 36 yards. He had one drop on a slant route that was thrown a bit high (but was catchable), but otherwise has shown some potential as a target who attacks the middle of the field. He finishes a very modest rookie year with 11 catches for 151 yards, 13.7 yards per catch, and 0 TDs in 7 games active as a WR.
Armon Binns, a waiver-wire pickup from Cincinnati, lived up to his #19 jersey with several awful drops including one near-guaranteed touchdown on a route down the seam as well as a drop on 4th down. He finished the game with 3 catches for 40 yards. He ends his first year with the Dolphins with 6 catches for 67 yards (11.2 yards per catch) in 3 games.
Running backs/Fullback: Jorvorskie Lane had 2 catches for 14 yards. He finishes the season with 13 carries for 13 yards (1.0 yards per carry), 2 rushing TDs, 11 catches for 79 yards (7.2 yards per catch), 1 receiving TD, 1 2-pt conversion, and 3 fumbles (1 lost). Fumble rate = 3/(13+11) = 12.5% (That unreliability is probably why he disappeared around mid-season)
Reggie Bush finished with 8 carries for 26 yards (3.3 yards per carry), most of which coming on his final carry for 18 yards, as well as 2 catches for 23 yards (11.5 yards per catch). He finishes the season with 227 carries for 986 rushing yards (4.3 yards per carry), 35 catches for 292 yards (8.3 yards per catch), 6 rushing TDs, 2 receiving TDs, 4 fumbles (2 lost). Fumble rate = 4/(227+35) = 1.5%
Daniel Thomas is on IR, but finished a disappointing sophomore season with 91 carries for 325 yards rushing (3.6 yards per carry), 15 catches for 156 receiving yards (10.4 yards per catch), 4 rushing touchdowns, 3 fumbles (2 lost). Fumble rate = 3/(91+15) = 2.8%
Lamar Miller contributed 5 carries for 13 yards (2.6 yards per carry). He finishes the season with 51 carries for 250 rushing yards (4.9 yards per carry), 6 catches for 45 yards (7.5 yards per catch), 1 rushing touchdown, 0 fumbles. Fumble rate = 0/(51+6) = 0% (Encouraging for a rookie RB)
Quarterback: My thoughts about Tannehill....
Poor game by Tannehill. He went 20 of 35 (57%) for 235 yards (6.7 yards per attempt) for 0 TDs and 1 INTs. With this game, Tannehill has finished his rookie season with mediocre or bad passing numbers in his 5 games against our AFC East division rivals. The second Jets game doesn't count since he was knocked out of the game in the first quarter.
Like last week, he was playing without his #2 WR or #2 TE, and his #1 WR (Hartline) was limited by a back injury. Unlike last week, our offensive line looked completely awful at pass protection. Tannehill was under pressure the entire game, and instant replay consistently showed our receivers failing to get open, and accordingly, Tannehill's performance suffered. That being said, Tannehill did make some poor throws, including his interception which was either an overthrow to an open Hartline running a crossing route OR a forced throw into double coverage to Rishard Matthews. Tannehill rebounded after a hard hit appeared to leave him wobbly with a drive in which he went 5 for 6 for 57 yards, but that promising drive ended after a fumbled redzone handoff to Reggie Bush was recovered by the Patriots. As the Miami offense became more one-dimensional as the Dolphins fell further behind, Tannehill's protection broke down further, leading to a season-high sack total for the Patriots' pass rush (7).
As I wrote last week, it's hard to evaluate Tannehill's performance given how awful his supporting cast has become due to injuries to 1 offensive linemen (Long), 1 backup RB (Thomas), and 1 slot receiver being miscast as a #2 WR (Bess). While LG Incognito suffered a neck injury late in the game, our O-line was struggling even before he left the field. That level of adversity was too much for our offense to survive, which demonstrates our perilous lack of depth, particularly at WR and OL.
Coaching/Overall: Our offense was completely unbalanced - with 15 rushing plays compared to 42 passing plays. Miami's struggles on third down returned as Miami went 5 for 13 (38%) on third downs. While it was disappointing to not see any creativity from the offense, the fact of the matter is, when an offensive line can't pass block or run block, and when the running backs can't break tackles, and when the WRs and TEs can't get open, there's little a coordinator can do. The ability to win one-on-one matchups is the practical definition of talent, and the Miami Dolphins offense frankly looked severely lacking in talent in this game, as receivers were easily covered, blockers were easily shed, and running backs were easily tackled in the backfield. The only player whom I felt might have been under-utlized after watching the game was Hartline - nobody else was winning matchups with any regularity.
Referee Critique: I wasn't a fan of the no-call on the shoulder-to-helmet hit that knocked Fasano out of the game, but this frankly wasn't the type of game that was decided by a couple of controversial calls/no calls.
In Summary: A near-complete team loss against a divisional opponent that exposed the lack of depth Miami's roster suffers from, particularly on offense.
A Look Ahead: I wrote last week that Miami had a potential trend developing, which was that the first game against a division opponent resulted in a closely fought loss, while the second game against a division opponent resulted in a decisive victory for Miami.
Jets Game 1: 20-23 (OT), Jets game 2: 30-9
Bills Game 1: 14-19, Bills game 2: 24-10
That was encouraging since that was attributable to coaching. However, I also wrote that the "game against the Patriots will be key because out-coaching Rex Ryan and Chan Gailey doesn't mean much with those coaches on the hot-seat this year while Bill Belichick is the coach to beat in the AFC East." I also wrote that "how this team does against New England will tell us a lot about our future "chess matches" between Philbin's staff and Belichick's staff." Basically, it was a quick and brutal "checkmate" orchestrated by Belichick. This loss was an indictment of the effort-level players put forth on behalf of their coaches as well as the gameplanning done by the coaches. Neither DC Coyle or OC Sherman had any answers against the Patriots.
While Miami has finished the season second-place in the AFC East, the Dolphins are still a solid draft away from being contenders. Joe Philbin has expressed his preference of using cap space to retain current free agents and building a roster primarily through the draft. I for one believe that $50 million or so in cap space and 10 draft picks in 2013 is enough "ammunition" for a good GM to address the team's needs in a single offseason. Whether or not Jeff Ireland is up to the task will determine whether we're cheering on a playoff run this time next year or glumly debating the draft while other teams get ready for the playoffs.
Final Note: Just wanted to thank those of you who have read my reviews and provided insightful comments. My goal for doing these reviews was to present my viewpoint on how the game went, welcome different perspectives from the Phinsider community, and get a better sense of how this team is doing now and what it needs to do to become a contender in the future. I'll be posting occasional FanPosts looking at the offseason in the weeks ahead, but I had a lot of fun writing these reviews. Have a Happy New Year everyone!