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Film Review: Breaking down the offensive line

One of my biggest initial concerns immediately following the Dolphins' preseason opener on Monday was how ineffective the first-team offensive line was at opening up rushing lanes.  One major problem last year, and one of the reasons the Dolphins went to the 'Wildcat' offense, was Miami's inability to run the ball between the tackles.  And one of the keys to the team's success this year will establishing an effective ground game without using the 'Wildcat' as a crutch.

So I decided to take a look back at all of Miami's offensive snaps with the first team offensive line in and see who was performing and who was struggling.  Below is the play-by-play breakdown.  And keep in mind that I don't have any idea of what blocking schemes the team is using.  So while I might single a player out for making a bad play, it might not even be completely his fault.  Even so, I figured this exercise might be useful.

Series #1
Jake Long, Justin Smiley, Jake Grove, Shawn Murphy, Vernon Carey

1st & 10: Ronnie Brown up the middle for two yards.  Jake Grove can't move John Henderson at all one-on-one.

2nd & 8: Chad Pennington pass incomplete.  The left side holds up well but Vernon Carey decides not to block anyone as two blitzers fly by him forcing an early throw from CP.

3rd & 8: CP has to avoid some pressure and throws incomplete.  The Jaguars rushed five.  The Dolphins probably should have slid protection to the right.  Jake Long and Justin Smiley ended up blocking one man while Shawn Murphy ended up on the ground.  Pressure came from the right side.  Grove seemed to hold up and Carey handled his man.  But the Jags rushed five and two of Miami's linemen were blocking one man over on the left side, leaving the right hung out to dry.

Series #2
Same line except Donald Thomas replaces Murphy

1st & 10: Play-action pass completed to Davone Bess.  The Jags rushed four and the line protected well.

2nd & 2: Ricky Williams for a yard up the middle.  Grove takes his man to the ground.  But Smiley ends up on his backside.  More defenders in the area than blockers - defense expected run.

3rd & 1: CP pass to Ted Ginn for first down.  Four man rush and CP has all day to throw.  Solid protection.

1st & 10: CP to Ginn again.  Again, good protection.  Carey takes Reggie Hayward one-on-one and stands him up.  Grove and Thomas double John Henderson and he gets to push up the middle.  And nice blitz pick-up by Ricky Williams and Lousaka Polite.  Jake Long and Justin Smiley were also matched one-on-one with their defenders and had no problems.

1st & 10: Ricky runs right side for two.  Thomas pancakes his man to the ground.  Grove and Smiley all have their men tied up, too.  Carey handles his man at first, but fails to sustain block.  However, Polite whiffs on the lead block in the hole.  If he takes out the safety who came up to make the play, it's a longer run for sure.

2nd & 8: Ricky takes end-around for 11 off right side.  It's actually David Martin, Anthony Fasano, and Davone Bess leading the way around the end.  But Thomas did a good job keeping his man out of the play.  Jake Grove completely whiffs on his block - but I don't think it made any difference anyway.

1st & 10: Holding on Ricky. No play.

1st & 20: Botched handoff between CP and Ricky for loss of five.  Sad thing about that is there may have been a cut-back lane for Ricky.  Long, Smiley and Thomas all have their guys blocked and Grove is down the field taking on a linebacker.

2nd & 25: Ricky loses two.  Quentin Groves just badly beats Long.  Jake whiffs on the block - bad foot work.  Smiley, Carey, and Thomas all had their men blocked well.

3rd & 27: CP to Bess for four.  Quick pass.  Nothing to note.

Series #3
Murphy back in replacing Thomas.

1st & 10: Pinned at own one, Polite runs up the gut for two.  Bad angle to see what happened - but everyone in the stadium was expecting a run.

2nd & 8: CP to Ginn for a pass interference.  The left side got pushed back a little but still gave CP enough time.

1st & 10: CP pass incomplete.  Jags rush five.  Line protects well.  Grove took Henderson one-on-one and held his ground.

2nd & 10: Reverse to Ginn for 14 yards around left side.  Solid blocking down field by Bess again.  He's definitely gotten stronger.  Shawn Murphy did a good job getting out in space and taking out a defensive back.  Grove takes Henderson one-on-one again.

1st & 10: Draw play for Ronnie for 2 behind left guard.  Grove was unable to sustain his block and that's the man who disrupted the play.  Long and Smiley each had their man taken care of.  On the opposite side, Carey and Murphy kept their men blocked as well.  If Grove keeps Henderson blocked, it could be a big gainer.

2nd & 8: Ronnie takes pitch from Chad Henne for 3 around right end.  John Nalbone does a nice job sealing off his man on the side.  But Sean Considine comes up from safety, reads the play well, and disrupts it.  Brown breaks his tackle but there's not much running room.  Brian Hartline could keep his man blocked, which is part of the reason the play failed.

3rd & 5: Brown goes to the left for three.  Long can't sustain his block on Derrick Harvey, who makes the stop.  Grove and Smiley got no push, either.

Series #4
Donald Thomas back in.

1st & 10: Ricky runs right for 10.  Poor job by broadcast - got to the play late.  From what I could gather, Carey and Nalbone did an excellent job sealing off the right side.

1st & 10: Ricky up the middle for two.  Smiley can't sustain his block at all and it's his man making the play.  Carey also ended up on his back as his man filled the hole as well.  I did notice Thomas easily handing his man yet again.

2nd & 8: Henne pass incomplete to Brian Hartline.  Excellent protection - good blitz pickup by Polite again.

3rd & 8: Henne to Hartline for 20.  Good protection again.  Ronnie makes a nice blitz pickup.

1st & 10: Ricky runs left for 4.  Williams had to make a nice spin move to avoid getting taken down in the backfield.  Donald Thomas was pulling and Vernon Carey just couldn't slide over in time to pick up the inside rusher.  John Nalbone did a great job sealing the edge, though.  The kid can block.

2nd & 6: Ricky runs left for one.  Justin Smiley is pulling and he whiffs on his block - and that's who makes the stop.  Carey did pancake his man and both Thomas and Nalbone did nice jobs on their defenders.

3rd & 5: Henne to David Martin for a first down.  Henne had one man bearing down on him and he threw.  Surprisingly, it's Long's man - Quentin Groves.  He squeezes by Jake on the inside.  But from what I could tell, Long lost his footing on the infield dirt.  Damn Marlins.

1st & 10: Handoff right side to Polite for a loss of one.  It was Jake Grove's inability to block the backup nose tackle that disrupted the play.  Grove just got no push at all.

2nd & 11: Henne to Patrick Turner for 10.  Three-step drop by Henne.  Good protection.

3rd & 1: Ricky for one yard and a face mask penalty.  Play designed to go left.  Long plows his man out of the play but Smiley gets shoved back and Grove gets no push at all.  Ricky, though, stays up, goes right and gets a tough yard.  Carey, Thomas, and David Martin all held their ground against their defenders.

1st & G: Henne to Polite for a yard.  Quick swing pass.  Good protection.

2nd & G: Ricky right side for one.  Solid blocking on the right side by Carey, Thomas, Nalbone, and Polite.  Carey actually picked up another pancake.  But the pulling Justin Smiley can't clear out the lane and Jake Grove ends up on his backside allowing his man to come in as a reinforcement.

3rd & G: (following Grove false start) Henne incomplete to Ricky on a wheel route.  Solid protection again - Henne had all the time he needed to make a nice pass.

Final Thoughts

The pass protection was solid for the most part.  But the line failed to consistently get the push it needs to run the ball effectively.  The two biggest culprits?  Justin Smiley and Jake Grove.  Both had numerous issues and we'll have to hope they both improve.  Smiley was playing very well last year before his injury so I expect him to bounce back.  As for Grove, we all hear how he's a very good run-blocker.  But we are yet to see it in a Dolphins' uniform.

As for the battle for the right guard spot, I think Thomas had the better game.  It probably isn't just coincidence that the two longest drives of the half for the Dolphins came with Thomas on the field.  He rarely got beat and, for the most part, handled his defenders with ease.  Murphy wasn't bad, either.  But he didn't have the success rate Thomas did during the first half.

It's going to be interesting to see if there are any depth chart changes when the team hits the practice field on Wednesday.  I wouldn't be shocked to see Thomas getting more first-team work following his solid performance.