I have a few thoughts on tonight. This is my first analysis I’m posting on the site and it will be long. This game was bad and there wasn’t a whole lot to like about the product on the field tonight. I’ll highlight the few things the team did well along with the areas that need improvement. I’ll start by going over positives.
I really liked the Dolphins’ ability to move the ball against what has been called one of the top defenses in the league this year. They were running the ball with moderate success including some big gainers. The passing game looked really good for 30 minutes minus one play. Most guys were making plays and it really seemed like they could do whatever they wanted against the Saints defense.
On the defensive side of the ball I was pretty pleased with the run defense. Paul Soliai being back really made things easier for Odrick especially as he won most of his one on one battles in the run game. Guys were getting penetration against a less than stellar (but still NFL worthy) O-line.
The negatives were a little more obvious and numerous tonight though which is why the score is what it is.
Defensive game plan – Very disappointing. I lost count of how many times they tried having linebackers in 1 on 1 coverage against someone they have no business covering. Darren Sproles is not a running back. He is an offensive weapon (sorry Denard, the position was not invented for you). He is far too quick and shifty to be covered well by any linebacker with consistency. That abortion from Rashad Jones at the very beginning of the game was very poor but, from a personnel standpoint, is at least a better matchup than Wheeler or Ellerbe against Sproles. Don’t even get me started on Wheeler covering Colston in the slot.
Cameron Wake was missing tonight and the team really missed him. The Dolphins pass rush floundered for most of the game with the exception coming on an absolute pocket disintegration around Brees as well as a designed rollout that Shelby played very well. The only time Brees felt any pressure is when they blitzed and he made us pay for it. I don’t have exact numbers but I saw more 3 and 4 man rushes in this game than any other this season. The staff was clearly not comfortable blitzing against the Saints and for good reason. That said, when the defense puts the opposing offense into a hole on 3rd and long, rushing 3 men is a recipe for getting burned. Poor angles and poor contain really hurt against soft zone defense as the short pass was often enough for the first down or there was a man splitting the seam for a big gain. The defense needs to be more aggressive in these situations if they really want to be the playmaking turnover machines that they want to be and that starts with Coyle.
I was pretty impressed with the offense on 80% of their plays. Even most of the 20% wasn’t anything horrible. But this is the NFL and 1 mistake can kill a drive. In this case they had single mistakes kill several drives in both halves. I'd like to take this time to note (before getting into a rant about the passing) that the play call on 3rd and a centimeter on the 1st drive was a very poor call. There are 3 legitimate options in that scenario considering how the drive was going. The 1st, run straight ahead. Simple. The 2nd, a QB sneak for the 1st. I don't love exposing Ryan to that kind of play but it really isn't that dangerous if the line gets any sort of push. The 3rd (and my favorite option), is to run the play-action in an obvious run situation and go for the end-zone. The only worry is that Ryan takes a sack and they have to kick the field goal. But being that close to the end zone lets you throw the ball through the back of the end zone if necessary and going for it on 4th and a centimeter is perfectly acceptable in my book.
Ryan Tannehill was not totally on his game. He had some passes sail on him and the lack of chemistry with Wallace and his backs was put on display for the world tonight. It was more than just that though as ball security has been a consistent issue with Ryan. There was no excuse for the fumble. He wasn’t fighting to earn a 3rd down conversion or trying to score. He just got greedy and did neither of the things that could have protected their drive. He didn’t brace for impact and he didn’t slide. Bracing for impact in the NFL includes covering the ball with both arms. This is where quarterbacks have to learn on the job typically as they aren’t getting hit in practice. Sliding has not been something Tannehill has done nearly enough. This includes last year where I clearly remember him diving for yardage at a defender only to be helicoptered around causing at least 3 heart attacks. Obviously he is a tough guy but something has to give or he is going to be watching Matt Moore from the sideline.
Things were good for a lot of the night when throwing the ball. The final pick in garbage time was not something anyone likes to see but it’s hardly a major concern. The 1st interception of the game was a great play by the corner on a very common Hartline route. Tannehill needs to read that before making the throw like he did on a quick screen to Wallace where the corner zoomed to the line of scrimmage from about 15 yards deep right before the ball was snapped. He didn’t see the change in coverage to start the play but made the adjustment and picked up a few yards by keeping the ball. When the corner jumped that route Tannehill was just releasing the ball. This is something opposing defenders will try to do against Hartline especially and Mike Sherman needs to make a correction now. He needs to build more plays off of that look so that, if a corner plays inside technique against a perceived slant route, Hartline can go deep or break to a corner route. This takes advanced quarterback and receiver chemistry and I really think that, if the team has a chance at that kind of advanced WR option route, it’s with Hartline.
The other interception was more troubling to me and it brings me to my next point. Mike Wallace is the weak link in this pass first offense. That’s not totally fair to Mike as he really does need more time with Tannehill and vice versa to build the kind of chemistry Brian has with Ryan (they’re on a 1st name basis). But the connection was absolutely not there tonight and I have a hard time blaming Tannehill for the failure to get Mike the ball. The deep pass early in the game where Mike ran a streak down the sideline ended up on the turf because of the lack of chemistry between Wallace and Tannehill (they are not on a 1st name basis yet). Wallace has a step on his man but has to slow down just a little to catch that pass. Mike’s BFF got a hand on it but the ball slips right between Wallace’s arms, into his chest, and onto the ground. That’s a catch a 60 million dollar receiver needs to make and it’s unclear if Mike has the talent to cover up the poor chemistry between he and Tannehill.
There were 2 additional plays where their lack of coordination was plain as day. The pass to Mike running a slant flew right above his head because Tannehill did not throw a ball that was easy to catch and Mike was not ready for it. This was one that sails on Tannehill as throwing the ball high and hard leads to tipped balls and interceptions. That said, Mike was in position to catch that pass and turn it into a big play. He needs to be ready for that quick hitter. Finally the interception came on a play very similar to the one I just referenced. Mike read the zone coverage pretty well and slowed down in the place most susceptible a big gain. But when you’re working with a young QB like Tannehill that expects you to finish a route, you finish it. If you’re going to break it off then it needs to be absolutely clear that you have stopped and are ready to catch the ball where you stand.
My final thoughts on the Tannehill to Wallace connection, and really the whole team, are of a positive nature. I question the receiving ability of Mike Wallace but not the athleticism. This relationship needs time to grow into the one defenses have nightmares about. Regarding the streak to Wallace: if that throw is on the money then they have a huge gain (unlikely to be a touchdown as coverage was pretty tight). I don’t think Mike lets a throw out in front of him slip through his fingers. I also think that as Ryan matures he will begin to ask his receivers to break off their routes when they see the opening in the defense rather than relying solely on timing routes to get the ball into his playmakers hands. The offensive line will continue to gel in a blocking scheme that requires coordination. Things are looking up.
On the defensive side I have more concerns than solace. I didn’t see as many arm tackles. Grimes didn’t allow much on his side of the field. But when opposing offenses break out into spread formation with capable receivers that are versatile in their roles, we do not have the personnel to defend against them. Luckily we don’t have to face Sproles again and Ray Rice doesn’t look like he’ll be 100% against us. We need to find or develop the talent that is going to carry this defense to the level we believe they can play.
We’re just scratching the surface of what this team can be. For the 1st time in a while the team has the edges of its puzzle put together. Now it's just putting together the complete picture with additional talent and good coaching. It’s up to Philbin, Coyle, and Sherman to turn potential into production. There is a long road ahead but I believe the Dolphins are on the rise. Let me know what your thoughts are as I really enjoy picking the minds of Dolfans and look forward to seeing what you have to say. I will try to add some visual aids to make this a more interesting read later on. Go Dolphins!