The football season FINALLY began Sunday Night with the glorified scrimmage that is known as the Hall of Fame game. For Dolphins fans, it was a time to see the results of the plan that Jeff Ireland and Joe Philbin have in place. In reality, that was never going to happen, as this game is rather meaningless except for the fringe roster guys trying to realize their dream of becoming an NFL player. Nevertheless, it was a Dolphins game and fans wanted to watch.
What they saw was a sloppy game that the Dolphins lost. There were some exciting moments and big plays from the backups that was fun to watch. Unfortunately, the first team offense looked pretty rough. Given the offseason excitement and hype from a major free agency spending extravaganza, fans expected to see a little better product. As the offense sputtered, the media started doing what they do best: create controversy. The true story is that this game is as I mentioned a glorified scrimmage; a nationally televised practice against another team. Not much of anything should be gleaned from this game except that Miami has some fringe players that could be worth watching the rest of the preseason.
But there is one story that fans can take away from this game and that is the play of the left tackle. Miami thought they had that position taken care of with Jake Long. But he started breaking down and took his talents to St. Louis as a free agent this offseason. Miami could have drafted a left tackle, or traded for one, but instead chose to give the job to second year player, Jonathan Martin. Martin moved from right tackle to left tackle when Jake Long took his annual vacation on injured reserve last season. The results were mixed as he had good moments and bad moments. Martin worked hard this offseason to get bigger and stronger so he can become the starting left tackle.
Once training camp began, the word from camp was that Martin once again was struggling. Second year defensive end Olivier Vernon was getting the better of him, or so we were told. Once third overall pick Dion Jordan entered the mix, tales of his getting the better of Martin emerged. Being the skeptical fanbase that we are, we assumed that Martin was just bad, instead of our defensive ends being really good. We expected to get some insight to that dilemma once the team entered preseason.
When you add those two ingredients together - the reports from camp and the sputtering offense in the game - the inevitable conclusions start to fly. In less than 24 hours, reports flying from media sources are that Martin contributed to the problem. Fans have taken the bait and ran with it, with comments about how Martin's struggles are going to be an issue flying left and right..
But when you break down the film of the game, one question comes to mind: "Exactly what game were these folks watching?" To paraphrase Rasheed Wallace, "Tape Don't Lie." The articles, reports, and comments don't match up to what the game film actually shows. Being the football nerd I am, I watched and re-watched the few plays that Martin was in the game for and came away with an ENTIRELY different set of conclusions than what the media seems to be portraying and others are parroting. Without further ado, here's a breakdown of each play that Martin was involved with and the results of his play alone. Unfortunately, I don't have screen shots to post, so I will have to describe the situation. (NOTE: If allowed, I will continue to breakdown Martin's play WITH screen shots for the rest of the preseason games).
Play 1: This was the Tannehill-Miller fumble play. The result of the play was a disaster, but the blocking was superb. On this play, Martin drives the defender out of the play, opening a HUGE hole for Miller to run through (also thanks to a great lead block from Clay). Had Miller held onto the ball, he would have had a big gain. Martin did his job though. Grade: A
Play 2: The first passing play of the game. Martin simply allows his man to get upfield and then drives him out of the way. In other words, basic left tackle kinda stuff. The play breakdowns however, not because of Martin, but because one of the Cowboys' defensive tackle drives Tyson Clabo back into the pocket, forcing Tannehill to run. I get the sense that was a miscommunication on the part of the right side of the line. Martin did his job on that play and the right end was not a factor. Grade: A
Play 3: This was an outside run play to the left, looking like a classic stretch play. Dustin Keller lines up in-line beside Martin. At the snap, Pouncey and Incognito pull to the left. Martin and Keller are tasked with sealing the defensive tackle and end to the inside. Martin pushes the tackle inside and got an inadvertent chip from Samuda who was attempting to get to the second level. The tackle gets into the backfield, but due to the play design and Miller's speed, is a non-factor. Martin does his job on that play. Grade: A
Play 4: This was a run play to the right. Martin and Keller double team the defensive end. Since the play was a run to the right, all they needed to do was keep the defender occupied. Pretty much a non-factor in the whole play. He did what he had to do. Grade: A
Play 5: This was a quick pass play to McNutt on the left (poor throw and bad drop). Tannehill makes the right read here as McNutt has NO ONE on him. Even with the bad throw, McNutt should have caught it. Anyway, because Tannehill takes such a short drop (1 step), Martin never gets a chance to engage the defender and in fact, never gets to hit him at all. By the time the defender reaches Martin, the ball is already at the receiver. Martin and his defender were non-factors. Grade: no grade.
Play 6: Another passing play, which was a slant to McNutt on the right. The ball was slightly behind him (Tannehill wasn't sharp this game) and resulted in an incompletion. It was a three step drop so Martin didn't have to do much. The defender slipped a little bit and Martin drove him into the ground. NBC even replayed this one. Grade: A.
Play 7: This is the most scrutinized play of the game in terms of Martin. On the surface, it looks like Martin surrenders a pressure and gets beat. However, this is not entirely accurate. Thanks to freeze framing and frame-by-frame viewing, I can break this play down a little more in depth. This play is clearly a screen pass. Right as the defensive end is getting to Martin, you can see Pouncey and Samuda release down field. Pouncey doesn't have a defender and Samuda is initially blocking defensive tackle #96. As Samuda is releasing 96, Miller, who appeared to be in pass pro, drops and turns waiting for the pass. Incognito has released his defender and is setting up for the screen. As the play progresses, Martin still has a hand on the defender. If this was a traditional pass play, Martin would have gotten enough of the defender to allow Tannehill to step up into the pocket. In essence, Martin would have driven him upfield and out of the pocket. But this is a screen pass, so the interior defenders are unblocked at this point, ergo, no pocket. Number 96 rushed straight toward Tannehill forcing him to retreat to the right. It is at THIS point that it looks like Martin has been 'beat'. However, Tannehill has a clear path to throw to Miller and the screen pass would have been a success. But Samuda whiffs on a downfield block of a linebacker (#59) and he blows up the screen pass. In Samuda holds that block, Tannehill gets the ball to Miller. Tannehill sees 59 (who basically wraps up Miller before the ball is thrown) and throws the ball in the dirt to avoid a sack or possible interception.
If you watch the play at full speed, you think Martin has been beaten badly. In frame-by-frame viewing, you can see that #96 and #59 are the players that cause this play to fail for Miami. I give Martin a B- grade because while he technically didn't get beat, I thought he could have done a bit better in sealing the edge. His defender played a small role, but was NOT the initial defender to force Tannehill from the pocket (96) Even if Martin stonewalls his defender, Tannehill would still have been forced to the right anyway by the interior defenders and the play design. Overall though, I believe Samuda's whiff was the problem and he should have done a better job downfield, which would have given the play a chance. Grade: B-
Play 8: This was a cutback run play to the left. Martin pulls right and cut blocks the defenders, as are all the linemen. Daniel Thomas sees the cutback lane and tries to hit it. Unfortunately, Keller, who had lined up in the backfield, had an ineffective cut block and Clabo was unable to seal off his defender. Had those players done a better job, Thomas may have gotten a respectable gain. Martin ends up in the pile so it's hard to tell how effective he was. Grade: B
Play 9: Another pass play and the first completion of the night - a dump off to Keller who sat down in the zone. Both Martin and Clabo give Tannehill a good pocket to throw in. Martin completely erased his defender. Grade: A
Play 10: The last play of the night for the first team. It's a slant route to Gibson to the left. Martin keeps the defender out of the play, but doesn't engage him quick enough for my liking. To be fair, Tannehill would have had a clean pocket to step up into had he needed to. He was already in the shotgun, so he was high in the pocket. All in all, Martin did his job, but I thought he could have done a little better (just being nitpicky). Grade: B
Dallas Thomas came in after this play and Martin was done for the night. I went back again and re-watched Martin on pass plays to observe his technique. Overall, he was very solid. He stayed low in his stance, didn't reach or bend at the waist, and didn't overextend his slide, allowing for a double move. A couple of times, he seemed to lose his footing after initial contact, so he can probably work on that a bit. For the most part, he was technically sound.
Honestly, nothing much can be taken away from a game like this. Starters play very little and everything is scripted and vanilla. But what we CAN take away is that the media is making a bigger deal out of Jonathan's Martin's play than the actual game tape indicates. Its easy to see why; they see a sputtering offense and one busted screen play and declare that Martin is struggling, simply to maintain a camp storyline. But the 'tape don't lie' and the tape says Jonathan Martin did a pretty darn good job in a limited sample size. In fact, the tape says Martin did what he's supposed to do as a left tackle: keep the defenders off of the quarterback. This will be a continuing story to monitor throughout the rest of the preseason, and Jonathan Martin has started out positively.