No jokes to begin this review.
This is a tough loss in a winnable game that would have dramatically changed our outlook this season, and this is not going to be a fun recap. There were failures in nearly every phase of the game. Everybody is going to focus on Dan Carpenter's missed overtime field goal and Philbin's "freeze the kicker" attempt that came back to haunt us because those were the last impact plays that led to our defeat, but make no mistake - losing this game required a team effort, and almost EVERYBODY contributed.
The Jets did their very best to give us a win, but we couldn't seal the deal. I watched this game with friends who are a mix of Dolphins and Jets fans. Both sides agreed that the take home lesson from this game is that neither team's offense looks playoff caliber (sloppy performances), and both defenses have significant weaknesses. This closely-fought game revealed the two rival teams are near equals with eery similarities (good defenses stuck with poor offenses) and exposed huge flaws in both rosters.
Let's start with Special Teams - an "okay" performance, with inconsistency in field goal kicking and returns.
Field Goals: Dan Carpenter went 2 for 4 on field goal attempts, missing a 47 yard field goal and a 48 yard field goal. Either missed FG would have won us the game. To be fair, he did make a high pressure field goal at the end of the game that sent the game into overtime, but the missed FGs were one of several ingredients in our defeat.
Kick coverage: On 6 kickoffs, the Dolphins had 3 touchbacks. In the 3 "returnable" kicks, the Dolphins held the Jets to an average of 20 yards per return, with a long of 24 yards - so no very big returns.
Kick returns: Thigpen returned 4 kickoffs for an average of 23 yards and a long of 31 yards. We were penalized twice for illegal blocks in the back, with the guilty parties being backup safety Troy Nolan and an unknown player since NFL.com still doesn't list the other guy penalized.
Punt coverage: Brandon Fields punted 4 times for an average of 58.8 yards, with a net average punting yards of 42.5, with his longest being 62 yards. The Jets returned 3 of those 4 punts for an average of 15 yards with a long of 18 yards. Overall a good performance, with one huge mistake - allowing Tim Tebow to convert a fourth down on a fake punt, with the Jets eventually scoring a field goal.
Punt returns: Thigpen and Bess had 3 punt returns averaging 6 yards. The New York Jets' punter Robert Malone averaged 42.5 net yards punting on 6 punts, with 4 downed inside the 20 yard line. Our attempts to return these punts also were hurt by a penalty, a block in the back penalty called against Nolan Carroll, who had a bad day with the referees.
Coaching/Overall - Punting and kickoffs went well, but kicking field goals and returning both punts and kicks were poor. We were victimized by Dan Carpenter shanking 2 (near 50-yard) field goal attempts as well as our blockers being repeatedly penalized, which doomed our offense to terrible field position. This is the first week where we lost the field position battle in part because of our special teams unit. Very disappointing performance by a unit that was arguably elite before this week. As for the Philbin timeout - if Starks had blocked the second field goal attempt rather than the first, you'd call him a genius for freezing the kicker. Statistics show that the tactic of freezing the kicker is not helpful but it is also not harmful - kickers score around 80% of the time with or without the time out being called. It had a bad outcome in this case, but it was not a bad decision. Heck, it didn't exactly hurt the Jets when they used it against Carpenter.
Next, let's move onto the Defense - yet again a mixed performance, with reasons for optimism and concern.
Run defense: The run defense was solid for the third week in a row. Texans were held to 2.7 yards per carry, Darren McFadden was held to 2.0 yards per carry. This week, the "ground and pound" Jets were held to 84 yards rushing on 32 attempts, or 2.6 yards per carry. Burnett and Dansby combined for an AWESOME mid-air collision with Greene that sent the running back falling flat on his back after trying to vault into the endzone. The sample size of 3 games shows a clear trend - teams STILL CANNOT run against the Dolphins' defense.
Special section - Anti-Tebow defense: Sparano kept calling plays with Tebow, and the Dolphins kept humiliating the Jets whenever Tebow was on the field on offense. Whether it was Sanchez throwing the ball at Tebow's unsuspecting face, Tebow panicking while being chased down by Dansby and Misi for a sack, or the Tebow-option play being stuffed for a loss, the infamous Tebow plays on offense were a COMPLETE failure. For everybody who misses Sparano - Sparano kept STUBBORNLY using Tebow despite repeated failure, just as Sparano forced the Dolphins to keep using the Wildcat long after other teams figured out how to stop it, and that reminded me why I will never miss Sparano. Stupid playcalling is one example of the Jets trying to give the game away to the Dolphins - more to come.
Pass rushing: This is getting frustrating. We had guys in Sanchez's face, hitting him right after he threw, wrapping him up as he threw, but only sacked Sanchez once - a combined sack between Vernon and Odrick. Sanchez made SEVERAL key throws as he was being wrapped up. Sacks aren't all that matter, but sacks are important. Our guys - particularly Wake - have to bring QBs down when they wrap them up. Sanchez is not Big Ben Roethlisberger - he shouldn't be able to break the grasp of our pass rushers and make a big play. We definitely got pressure, and it kept the Jets out of sync for awhile, but the inability to complete the sack attempts hurt us tremendously.
Pass coverage: Jets wide receivers Shillens (2 catch for 16 yards) and Hill (0 catches) were held in check, thanks in part by Hill's multiple drops (including 1 dropped TD pass) - again, an example of the Jets TRYING to let us win. WR Kerley had 2 catches for 73 yards, with 66 yards coming on 1 catch after both Jones and Clemons missed tackles, so I put the blame on the safeties. However, CB Richard Marshall clearly lost his battle with Santonio Holmes. Marshall made some plays - a key interception on a throw to Gates and a great deflection while covering Holmes, but Marshall was penalized 3 times (1 pass interference call and 1 illegal contact call that were accepted, and 1 defensive holding call that was declined), and allowed Holmes to notch 9 catches for 147 yards with mostly Marshall in coverage. Holmes dominated us the way Andre Johnson did (118 yards) in week 1. Our inability to prevent an obvious #1 WR from getting 100+ yards is a disturbing theme.
The Dolphins only allowed 1 touchdown to a wide receiver this game (Kerley with Wilson in coverage), to go along with the 1 touchdown allowed to the unstoppable Andre Johnson, but this game revealed that we don't have a true cover corner who can shadow a #1 WR and make his life difficult. Sean Smith was rarely victimized but was bailed out by drops after getting beat a few times by Hill, and he was called for illegal contact. I've been rooting for Carroll to do well, but he KEEPS getting penalized for pass interference. I disagreed with the flag on Carroll, but the fact is he keeps getting penalized and that has to stop. Frankly, I was disappointed by our cornerbacks.
As for tight ends - we were massively helped by the athletically talented TE Dustin Keller missing the game with injury, yet coverage of tight ends wasn't great for the third game in a row. Against the Texans, tight ends had 5 catches for 104 yards. Against the Raiders, we allowed no-name guys to combine for 7 catches for 117 yards (16.7 yards per catch!!!!). This week, backups Konrad Reuland (2 catches for 16 yards) and Jeff Cumberland (2 catches for 25 yards) combined for 4 catches for 41 yards - 10.1 yards per catch. Not as bad in previous weeks, but again - I wouldn't call this problem "solved" after holding a couple of backups to 41 yards.
As for the running backs/fullback - coverage was mostly good. No big screen plays like last week, and Shonn Greene (2 catches for 9 yards) and Bilal Powell (2 catches for 24 yards) combined for 4 catches for 33 yards, or 8.25 yards per catch. No real complaints here.
Coaching/Overall: Run defense is looking dominant - we continue to defend the run at a top 3 pace. Pass rush was more consistent, but for some reason we cannot convert pressure into sacks. Coverage of wide receivers, particularly of a true #1 WR, looks very poor, due to a combination of poor CB play and our issues with pass rush. Coverage of running backs is solid, but coverage of tight ends continues to look questionable, though we weren't as badly burned this week when up against backups.
Our redzone defense was stout again - only 1 of 5 Jets possessions in the redzone ended with touchdowns (20% success rate). In week 1, 3 of 6 Houston drives that reached the red zone ended with a TD (50% success rate). Last week, neither of Oakland's trips to the redzone ended with a TD (0% success rate). We held the Texans to a 41% conversation rate on third downs (decent), the Raiders to 1 of 12 on third down conversions or 8% (awesome), and the Jets to 6 of 17 or 35% (good). Three games is a small sample size, but so far, the defense has been stout in the the situations that matter most - 3rd downs in the red zone, though we were helped by key drops by the Jets this week (again, thanks again to the Jets for trying to help us). Nonetheless, the defense only allowed 1 touchdown in 4 quarters plus overtimeand were were FANTASTIC defending against Tebow.
Lastly, I called out Chris Clemons last week, and he responded by making a nice interception (Sanchez threw an interception in the red-zone after the Daniel Thomas fumble - another example of the Jets TRYING to give us the game), and Clemons followed that up with a great tackle for loss. One of the reasons why we were excited to get Kevin Coyle was our hope that he could improve our secondary. Both safeties made mistakes this game, but Clemons and Jones have been making plays, so we're seeing flashes of potential in that duo.
Last, let's move onto the Offense - a glaring flaws revealed.
Offensive line: Quick summary.
LT: Jake Long no penalties or sacks allowed (hooray).
LG: Ritchie Incognito no penalties or sacks allowed (hooray).
C: Mike Pouncey had no penalties or sacks allowed (hooray).
RG: John Jerry had no sacks allowed but was penalized for a false start.
RT: Jonathan Martin had no sacks allowed but was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct after being goaded by a Jets defender.
Our offensive line, particularly the left side, yet again did a great job run blocking. The offensive line did pretty well pass blocking, and Tannehill for the most part had a decent amount of time in the pocket. No sacks recorded by the Jets on NFL.com.
Receivers/Tight Ends: We very clearly identified tight end coverage as one of the Jets' weaknesses as we repeatedly targeted Anthony Fasano, who made a few nice grabs, including one excellent sideline catch, on his way to 5 catches for 47 yards. He would have had even more yards if not for a few overthrows by Tannehill. Charles Clay was used as a blocker - no receptions or targets, so I'm feeling lonely on the Charles Clay bandwagon, and I'm noticing that the wheels are coming off. Third round pick Egnew was inactive again.
Bess was spectacular and continued to catch everything thrown nearby, with 5 catches for 86 yards, including several third down conversions and an amazing sideline catch. Bess has displayed solid hands and has made some great plays this year.
I mentioned last week that Hartline's big game against Oakland came with the huge caveat that he was up against an injury replacement at CB, not a starter. He was mostly bottled up by the super-athletic Antonio Cromartie this game. He was called for offensive pass interference, but it was because he thought the play was a quick throw and began blocking early. Hartline was able to gain some separation at times, but when he did the ball was slightly overthrown. Hartline did draw a long pass interference call and made a terrific sideline catch on a 41 yard pass that, if better thrown, might have allowed him to score a game-winning touchdown. For the most part, though, Hartline was held in check. On the Jets, Antonio Cromartie is a #2 CB, but on almost any other team he'd be the #1 CB, and Hartline in my opinion lost that battle. I still view Hartline as a capable #2 WR, but he failed to repeat last week's strong performance despite being targeted on multiple plays.
As for Legedu Naanee, he continues to see his playing time dwindle, and he was mainly used as a blocker.
As for Anthony Armstrong, I'm trying to be patient given his recent injury and the fact that he joined the team only a week before the regular season, meaning he had to learn the playbook and develop chemistry with Tannehill on the fly. Tannehill and Armstrong were slightly out of sync for most of the day, but there were two plays that stood out. Once, Armstrong caught a sideline throw but intentionally stepped out of bounds to stop the clock BEFORE getting both feet in bounds, leading to an incompletion. On a second play, Tannehill threw to Armstrong on a second and long situation, and it was a PERFECT pass. Great ball location, only Armstrong could catch it, reached the receiver at chest level, and Armstrong simply dropped it. Armstrong finished with 2 catches for 9 yards but had the chance to add many more yards to that total.
Whether it's Legedu Naanee or Anthony Armstrong, the theme this season is simple. Stop Bess and Hartline, and we don't have a third wide receiver who can make a play. The West Coast offense doesn't require a single alpha receiver, but it needs MULTIPLE receivers who can make a play (see Green Bay). Right now, Miami's only reliable WRs are Bess and Hartline, and Fasano is the only TE doing anything in the passing game. Tannehill has NOT been perfect, but a rookie QB needs receivers and tight ends who can help him out. Luck has Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, and fellow rookies TY Hilton, Coby Fleener, and Dwyane Allen. RG3 has Santana Moss, Pierre Garcon, Fred Davis, and Leonard Hankerson. Using Reggie Bush more in the passing game, since he is (at worst) our 4th best pass catcher, doesn't look like a great option since he's getting an MRI on Monday. We need Clay or Armstrong or Naanee to establish himself as a reliable pass catcher - right now, all 3 lead the team in drops and haven't earned anyone's confidence this season.
Running backs/Fullback: Official fan favorite Jorvorskie Lane had 2 carries for 4 yards (including a run for a first down on 3rd and 1 and a touchdown) and made some great blocks. Bush totaled 20 touches for 114 yards (5.7 yards per touch) against the Texans, 29 touches for 197 yards and 2 TDs (6.8 yards per touch) against the Raiders, and had 10 carries for 61 yards in the first HALF (in other words, he was set for a big day) before going down with a knee injury against the Jets, with diagnosis pending MRI on Monday. This game revealed both why we NEED to keep Bush and why keeping Bush is dangerous. Our offense COMPLETELY lost its rhythm without Reggie - the difference was night and day, and it took awhile for the offense to get moving again. HOWEVER, if Bush's injury is serious, then it makes his productive and mostly healthy year last year (he missed one game) appear to be temporary exception to the longstanding trend of Bush being injury prone. While we could afford to keep Bush next year (see Hollywood Dolfan's FanPost on the subject), we'll need to wait to see if he finishes this season healthy before we start the (legitimate) debate over the risks and benefits of locking down Reggie with a long-term deal.
Daniel Thomas continues to test the our patience. He once again rewarded the coaching staff for giving him a running play after a Tannehill interception by losing a fumble (similar to what happened in game 1, except thankfully Thomas wasn't injured). He finished the game with 69 yards on 19 carries (3.6 yards per carry) plus 1 catch for 11 yards (20 touches for 4 yards per touch). I hate to nitpick, but on that catch, he had two offensive linemen running downfield to block to the outside, yet he decided to cut inside. He converted the key third down, but I honestly think he might have scored a touchdown if he had followed the play's design and ran outside. One of the things that makes Reggie special is his vision - he's able to see his blockers and make good decisions. It's not completely fair to compare a veteran to a second year player, but Thomas must improve his running and limit his fumbles. His strong pass-blocking won't protect his spot on the depth chart forever.
Lamar Miller's strong play last week, combined with special teams gunner and 5th wide receiver Marlon Moore's injury, earned him a spot on the gameday roster. He had 9 carries for 48 yards (averaging 5.3 yards per carry), last carried the ball with 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter....and was never used for the rest of the game for reasons I don't understand. To be clear, I know he's a weak pass blocker, but Miller at this stage in his career is a poor man's Reggie Bush, and with Reggie out, Miller demonstrated last week and for much of this game that he can take advantage of a small crease and generate a big gain. He deserved a couple of carries late in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Quarterback: Poor game by Tannehill. 16 of 36 passing (44.4%) for 196 yards (5.4 yards per attempt) and 0 TDs with 1 INT. The interception came after the rookie made a classic rookie mistake. He saw a target (Fasano) get open crossing the field but hesitated for a second before throwing. Tannehill needed to anticipate Fasano getting open and throw the ball as Fasano slipped past a defender to the outside. Instead, that moment of hesitation gave LaRon Landry enough time to see Fasano get open, notice Tannehill staring at Fasano, and make a break on the ball. The late throw to an open receiver is a mistake I've seen RG3 and Luck make - it's a textbook rookie mistake, made when a rookie fails to make a quick decision then overestimates his ability to fit a throw into a rapidly closing window. However, just as Carpenter missing multiple field goals contributed to a narrow loss, a pick-six certainly helped the Jets get back into this game, so Tannehill has to accept the blame for those 7 points. While he made some great throws, he also overthrew a few receivers who actually got decent separation. I counted 5 throws in which a receiver gained decent separation but Tannehill overthrew the ball to the point where the pass went incomplete or the receivers (Bess and Hartline) had to make a difficult catch instead of being able to catch the ball in stride and gain yards after the catch. We were called for a delay of game penalty on our own 6 yard line, and as the QB, that falls on Tannehill for not keeping an eye on the playclock. I've repeatedly praised Tannehill for rarely putting the ball in danger - even in the Texans' game, 2 of his 3 interceptions game due to pass deflections at the line, not poor reads. However, this game, Tannehill made 4 truly bad throws to well-covered receivers that could have been intercepted. It's fair to blame receivers for not getting separation, but again, it falls on the QB to recognize when his receivers are losing their battles.
Now for the HUGE caveats: There were some factors out of Tannehill's control that led to his poor stat-line. He lost his safety blanket (short passes to Bush) due to injury. The playcalling was WAY out of whack in the fourth quarter (more on that later). He suffered 5 drops by receivers, none more devastating than the drop by Armstrong on 2nd and 25 on the Jets 46. That pass was PERFECT and was a big-time throw by a rookie QB, and a decent wide receiver catches that 99 times out of 100. If Armstrong makes the catch, the drive stays alive and possibly leads to a TD. Because Armstrong failed to make the catch, Tannehill on 3rd and 25 threw a safe pass to Bess for 17 yards, which leading to a missed 47 yard field goal attempt by Carpenter.
Continuing the theme of looking for trends - Tannehill had only 1 batted pass, so the Texans' game batted passes fiasco is looking more like the exception than the rule for Tannehill. That's something to be happy about. One of the most important things to look for this season is signs of development by Tannehill. Tannehill made some big time throws this game (though sadly his receivers didn't always catch them), but what should excite people the most are the game-tying and potentially game-winning drives by our rookie QB. On the two minute drive, Tannehill started off slow with a handoff then a completed pass for no gain. Later, he hit his stride, making some nice completions. The two most impressive plays:
1. He read the defense and audibled into the perfect running play that gained 9 yards. He didn't just go with the play called by Sherman - he made a decision in a VERY high pressure situation and (correctly) overruled the original playcall.
2. He used a hard-count to get a Jets defender to jump offsides, then IMMEDIATELY threw a deep pass downfield to Hartline, which led to a pass interference call.
Audibling at the line and using a hardcount to set up a free play downfield in a 2 minute drill - those are veteran moves. Similarly for the drive that shoulda/coulda/woulda led to a game-winning field goal in overtime, Tannehill made a big 3rd and 2 throw to convert and the key 41 yard throw to Hartline to set up a decent field-goal try. We're seeing flashes of potential in Tannehill, and that's a great sign for how he'll do in the future once we surround him with a better receiving corps.
Coaching/Overall: The playcalling in the fourth quarter was awful, just awful. How bad was it? One of my friends who is a Jets fan, after watching the Jets being stuffed at the 1 yard line and settling for a field goal, said, "F*ck, we can't score a touchdown starting from 1st and goal on the 1 yard line! The only way the Jets win this is if Miami is stupid and asks their rookie QB throw the ball instead of repeatedly running the ball against the pathetic Jets run defense." He had been cursing at long runs by Reggie Bush then later Lamar Miller.
Well, let's see what Mike Sherman called in the fourth quarter before we lost our lead - 10 passes to 3 runs.
So basically, Mike Sherman though it was a good idea to switch to passing heavily. He did this despite
1. Our receiving corps being ranked in the bottom 5 by most experts and all of them playing poorly (except Bess) against the Jets defense
2. Tannehill being a rookie who had completed under 50% of his passes this game and thrown a pick-6
3. Our offensive line's strength being run blocking, not pass blocking
4. Thomas and Miller combined averaging over 4 yards per carry (not as good as Reggie, but not bad by any stretch) - yeah, Thomas fumbled once, but Tannehill threw a pick six, so don't say running the ball was "riskier" than asking Tannehill to pass.
5. The Dolphins being in the lead, meaning that even a run play that gains no yards but still drains 30 seconds off the clock is better than a pass play that falls incomplete and stops the clock.
If we were a team like Green Bay that had a bad run game, veteran QB, and elite receivers, I'd favor the aggressive, pass-first approach. However, we are the COMPLETE opposite of that team. It's stupid football what he did, even with Revis injured.
In Summary: Neither team looked good out there. The Dolphins' run defense is genuinely elite, but one aspect of special teams (typically a strength) is becoming a concern, specifically Dan Carpenter's reliability as a field goal kicker. Our pass defense is questionable, not helped but our inability to sack a quarterback. Our run game is amazing with Reggie Bush, but only looked "good" after Reggie was lost to injury. Our list of weapons in the passing game without Bush is only 3 names long, yet we have an offensive coordinator who is Bizzaro-Sparano. While Sparano insists on calling run plays and Wildcat plays even without the proper personnel to execute those plays, Mike Sherman insists on calling pass plays even without the proper personnel to execute those pass plays. Until we make upgrades at receiver, we should be a run first team.
I don't believe in moral victories because the NFL does not count moral victories when determining playoff seeds. Last year, we had ton of "moral victories" - having leads against the Patriots, Giants, Broncos, and Cowboys late in games before losing due to fourth quarter collapses. Even with Matt Moore, Brandon Marshall, and Vontae Davis, we couldn't close out games last year, and that same issue popped up this game.
The one sincerely optimistic thought I can finish with is that Tannehill overcame terrible playcalling, the loss of our team's best player on offense, terrible drops by our receivers, and his own mistakes earlier in the game in order to put the team in position to send the game into overtime and then to potentially win the game in overtime. If a couple more of his well-thrown passes were caught, if Dan Carpenter had hit either of his two missed field goals, if we had stopped Santonio Holmes, and if we had sacked Sanchez on more third downs rather than allowing him to make a great throw, we would have won. We're not the most talented team in the NFL, but we had enough to win this game, and I believe we can win next week's game against the Cardinals - but we can't hurt ourselves and expect to be competitive.