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Miami Dolphins: Anatomy Of A Play

This week, we will look at the six sacks that set the offense back against the Baltimore Ravens.

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Give this guy some time in the pocket, and he can make plays.
Give this guy some time in the pocket, and he can make plays.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

I took a week off from this series because frankly, there wasn't much to take away from the Saints game. Miami lost a heartbreaker against the Ravens last Sunday. It was a game they should have won and losing it stings. What hurts worse is that there was so much going wrong for the Dolphins that contributed to that loss: the lack of running game, dropped passes, questionable penalties. However, the most egregious issue was the lack of protection that quarterback Ryan Tannehill had. He has been sacked 24 times this season, on his way to full blown David Carr Syndrome. There is some question as to who is responsible for these sacks. Is it the backs, tight ends, the offensive line, or Tannehill himself? This week, the answer was clearly the offensive line. Here is the breakdown of each sack.


It's 3rd and 10 at the Miami 20 yard line. Miami is in a 3 wide set with Wallace wide right, Hartline wide left, and Gibson in the slot left. Tannehill is in the shotgun, with Miller offset left. Michael Egnew is in-line to the right. The Ravens are showing a 3 man line with Suggs lined up at ROLB and other linebacker showing double A-gap blitz


At the snap, the Ravens bring 5 rushers with one linebacker blitzing to the offensive left and the other linebacker dropping off into coverage.


It appears to be well blocked, but Upshaw crosses behind the blitzing linebacker after he is engaged by Miller.


You can clearly see that Incognito is severely off balanced and cannot recover to block Upshaw (91). Miller could switch over and block him, but then the linebacker he was blocking has a clear path. So in either case, a rusher is free.

Now the common refrain around the site is that Tannehill should have better pocket awareness or throw to his check down options. Let's see about that. After numerous timing of this play, I come to a grand total of 2.2 seconds from the snap of the ball to the sack. So Tannehill has 2.2 seconds to do something. Here's what he's looking at...


This shot is 1.7 seconds after the snap. Tannehill has just now hit the top of his drop and the defender is within arm's reach of Tannehill. As you can clearly see, there are no receivers open. Gibson is almost open and Tannehill could have hit him, but you can see the defender is too close for him to even attempt the throw. Here's another shot of it.


This is roughly the same shot but at a different angle. Gibson is not quite open yet and Tannehill already has a defender bearing down on him. The only escape lane he has is to run backwards, around the edge of the pocket. But do you really want your QB running backwards? You might say, "Hey, there's a huge lane between Jerry and Clabo. If Tannehill had better pocket presense, he'd have run through that." That wouldn't work for two reasons. One, he would be running straight into the area the defender is about to occupy. The second reason is the sheer lack of time. Remember, this frame is 1.7 seconds after the snap. There is about a half second from the moment the ball leaves Pouncey's hand and ends up in Tannehill's hand. Tannehill also drops back a few steps in the pocket, meaning he is moving away from the area he needs to be in. Based on the time factor, Tannehill has no chance to escape the pocket. By the time he hits the top of his drop, it is too late to retreat.

VERDICT: No check down option, no clear escape route, absolutely no time for anything. Can't blame Tannehill for this one. This is a mistake either by Incognito or Miller.


Miami is in a 4-wide set with Wallace alone wide right, and Clay, Gibson, and Hartline in a bunch formation left. Daniel Thomas is set to the right of Tannehill in the shotgun. Baltimore shows a 5 man front. It's 3rd and 5 at the Miami 42.


At the snap, Baltimore sends 4 rushers (no blitz). Thomas is staying home to block. The next shot is interesting.


I chose this shot for a reason. One, it appears that Tannehill has two open receivers with Wallace and Gibson. But you can also see that Tannehill is still setting up to throw. While those players are open NOW, Tannehill is in no position to actually get rid of the ball. All he needs is to get set and throw. However you can already see John Jerry getting beat. And remember folks, this is happening QUICK. The next shot...


This is 1.4 seconds after the snap. Factoring in the roughly 0.5 seconds to get the ball from center to QB, Tannehill has less than ONE SECOND before he has pressure in his face. Remember the previous shot, that was just before this one, as you can see Tannehill set to throw. Here's an end zone angle.


This would appear that Tannehill has escape lanes all over the play, right? Well not really. This shot is the exact moment Tannehill hits his back foot in his drop. He could run to the left I suppose, but that would required that he never stopped at all and just took off running. And remember, Martin and Incognito are also moving backwards in this shot. Again, the time factor is the key here. This isn't Tannehill holding the ball forever and then getting sacked. This is his O-line getting beaten immediately and him having no chance. I suppose he could have just let it fly, but he would have not been able to step into the throw. Daniel Thomas stays in to block and makes the choice of helping the struggling Clabo against a good pass rusher in Dumervil. He could have helped perhaps, but Clabo wasn't exactly doing his job great either. Two O-linemen get beat here and Thomas makes a good decision by helping on the outside rusher, whom is a more dangerous threat.


Here's the All-22 shot at roughly the same point in time. As you can see, Wallace is less open than originally thought. There are two defenders that could have defended the pass had Tannehill thrown it to Wallace, and since it would have been off of his back foot, they could have likely intercepted it. Gibson is open, but as you can tell from the previous shot, Wallace was the first read. If Tannehill had another 0.3 seconds, he could throw to Gibson. You can also see that there is a defender within the vicinity of Gibson. If Tannehill cannot put enough on the pass, it can be defensed or intercepted. And even if Tannehill somehow does get the ball to Gibson, he is well short of the first down.

VERDICT: Gibson was the best option on this play, but the play it self never got a chance to develop. Tannehill is sacked before he can ever look that direction (sack took 2.1 seconds). Perhaps, Gibson should have been the first read. But he was still short of the first. But in any case, the O-line was the reason behind this sack.


This is the only sack of the day that nears the 3 second mark. It's 2nd and 2. Miami is in a 3 wide set with Wallace wide right, Hartline wide left, Gibson slot left, Clay lined up in-line on the left, Miller to the right of Tannehill in the shotgun formation. Baltimore is in a 4 man front.


At the snap, Baltimore rushes 4 (no blitz). This next shot is Tannehill at the top of his drop (1.3 seconds into the play).


This is an interesting shot. You can see Miller running to the flat. Wallace is covered and I would assume from this shot (and this shot only) that he was the read on that play otherwise Tannehill would have just checked down to Miller. You can see Martin is clearly beaten on this play.


This shot is 2 seconds into the play. It is clear now that Wallace was not the first read, but Miller was the primary read on a wheel route (like the play where he dropped the ball on the final drive against Atlanta).The linebacker has dropped off of Wallace to cover Miller. Wallace is now open as the check down option, but Suggs is bearing down on Tannehill as he is clearly around Martin (who is falling down). And remember this is only 0.7 seconds after the previous shot. The intent here is for Tannehill to loft a pass over the LB to Miller in an obvious mismatch. But there is a safety over there so Tannehill wisely didn't throw it. But wait, there's more! The ONLY rusher in this shot who presents a danger to Tannehill is Suggs, whom Tannehill cannot see. A QB with bad pocket presence would not sense him at all. Just stand there and get hit.


From this shot, you can see Tannehill has pulled the ball down and started to run. This is one instance where he had some time, but the play he wanted didn't develop so he tucked and ran (20 sacks will do that to a QB). Here's the end zone shot:


Tannehill decides to get out of Dodge. There is a couple of things here to note. One, this moment is 2.3 seconds after the snap. Why is that important? Here is an excerpt from the Refocused article on PFF:

the average time to throw in the NFL this season is just under 2.8 seconds and only 37% of passes have been thrown in less than 2.3 seconds.

You know how football people talk about 'that clock in a QB's mind'? Remember that infamous buzzer that Sparano and staff used for Chad Henne? The buzzer was set at 3 seconds. It reminded Henne that if he still had the ball after 3 seconds, he had held it too long. The same could be said for 'the clock' too. That quote from PFF corroborates that idea since the average throw time is just under 3 seconds.

In THIS particular case, Tannehill's clock went off at 2.3 seconds. Not only is that less than the NFL average throw time and the assumed normal pocket time, but that's as faster than the majority of throws most QBs make (63% are thrown past the 2.3 second mark).

Why all this discussion about time? It's to reiterate a point. Tannehill did what any good QB would do in this situation. He ran his play, it didn't work in the appropriate amount of time, and he bailed on it. He was not oblivious to the pressure around him. He sensed it, and took the right measure to get out. Perhaps he could have thrown the ball away here and that's a valid point. But at the same time, he did tuck the ball and attempt to run with it. Had Martin given him another 3/10ths of a second, Tannehill gets out of the pocket and runs for a first down. Ultimately, it didn't cost the team because the next play was the big play to Charles Clay (thrown in 2.1 seconds). But the fact remains that Tannehill was sacked which is a negative play on the offense.

VERDICT: I'm going to be generous and call this a draw. Tannehill clearly showed the pocket awareness to attempt to escape when the play broke down. Martin was obviously badly beaten which didn't give Tannehill enough time to actually escape. However, I'll say it was a draw simply to appease those that would say Tannehill should have thrown it away.


Miami is in a 4 wide set with Hartline wide left, Gibson slot left, Wallace wide right and Clay slot right. Tannehill is in a pistol formation with Miller as the back. Baltimore has a 4 man front. Just before the snap, Miller shifts to the left of Tannehill.


At the snap, Baltimore rushes 4 (no blitz). Tannehill runs a play action with Miller, who crosses in front of Tannehill running into the flat. The next shot is 1.3 seconds into the play, which is when Tannehill hits the top of his drop.


You can see Gibson appears to be open in the flat, Wallace and Clay are still in their routes, and Miller is just not clearing past the pocket.


This is 1.7 seconds into the play. You can see Tannehill has looked back to the middle of the field off of his read to the left side. You can also see Suggs up in his face also. If Martin holds his block, Tannehill has a clean pocket.


Martin doesn't hold his block and Suggs is able to get a sack on Tannehill. This sack happened 2.0 seconds after the snap. You can see Miller (the check-down option) is JUST NOW open. Tannehill is already in trouble on this play. Of course, you could argue, that Tannehill should have stepped up into the pocket more, or took off running. But again, if he runs, he'd have to do so almost immediately out of the snap. If he steps up into the pocket...


You can see from the end zone angle that if Tannehill steps up, Suggs will still get the sack. But why didn't he throw it to Gibson? He appears open from the other shot...


From this shot, Gibson appears less open, although it would have only been a short gain at best. But it was 1st and 10 and the pocket WAS holding except for Martin. There was no reason for Tannehill NOT to attempt a bigger play here. Martin just gotten beaten so badly with the bull rush that Tannehill had no chance.

VERDICT: This one is clearly on Martin. Yes, it seemed Tannehill had options. But that's assuming he's working at a much faster pace than league average (1.3 seconds as opposed to 2.8 seconds, or even Tannehill's average of 2.3 seconds). The pocket collapsed far quicker than Tannehill could have anticipated and by the time he realized it, it was too late.


Same drive, and now 3rd and 14. Miami lines up 3 wide with Wallace wide right, Hartline wide left, Gibson slot right. Clay is lined up in the backfield, offset to the right. Tannehill is in shotgun, with Miller to his left. Baltimore has a 4 man front.


This next shot is 1.7 seconds into the play, which is when Tannehill reaches the top of his drop.


A key point here: Tannehill clearly has Clay coming open in the flat. It appears he is not the first read since Tannehill is still looking downfield. If Tannehill wants to throw to Clay, now is his chance.


From the previous shot, you can already see the pocket breaking down. This shot is a mere 0.2 seconds later... two tenths. Does Tannehill have options? Sure. Does he have time to look at them? No.

Because this was just a long down and distance, and because of the time on the clock, Tannehill was forced to think about a long play here. Honestly, given that this was the fifth sack, Tannehill should have just spiked the ball or dumped it off to Clay immediately and hoped for the best. I'll spare you the All-22 look because all of the WRs are covered.

VERDICT: I'm once again calling this a draw. Tannehill could have thrown it to Clay, albeit he would have already been thinking about it pre-snap. This sack was just a failure across the board. Not a great play call (3 verticals with a shaky O-line?), not great execution by Tannehill or the offensive line. This would be all on Tannehill if the sack hadn't come within 2 seconds after the snap.


Final drive: Miami is in a 3 wide set, with Wallace wide right, Gibson slot right, Hartline wide left, and Clay in-line to the left. Tannehill is in the shotgun with Miller to the right. Baltimore lines up with a 4 man front.


At the snap, Baltimore rushes 4 (no blitz). Tannehill hits the top of his drop at 1.4 seconds. This is what happens a mere 0.3 seconds later...


Yes, that's Elvis Dumervil about to crush the Dolphins' chances of winning. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Do you see Tannehill's check down option there? Miller isn't even off the line of scrimmage before Tannehill is getting sacked. The rest of the receivers...


There they are... still coming out of their breaks. Gibson is covered. Hartline would have been open, you know, if the O-line could block. Wallace is doubled. Clay is covered. Miller is just now open, but Tannehill is already going to the ground. This was terrible

VERDICT: This is all Tyson Clabo. The Dolphins called for a five man protection against a four man rush. Martin blocked Suggs, who'd eaten his lunch all day. Incognito blocked Ngata with help from Pouncey. Jerry blocked Upshaw and Clabo got beat by Dumervil. Are schemes the issue here? Who needs help here? Martin held his block, but was getting beaten most of the day and had just been abused the previous play (disregarding the spike play). Ngata is a player who almost has to be doubled. I guess you could take your chances with Incognito against one on one. Jerry handled Upshaw, but maybe he should have doubled Dumervil with Clabo. In any case, the O-line failed. Maybe it was scheme, but I doubt it. This was just a player getting beat at the wrong time. If he had received help, would anyone be surprised if another O-linemen yielded the sack? If the O-linemen do their job, this sack never happens.


I wanted to end this post on a good note. The previous play before the last sack was one of sheer beauty, at least in terms of quarterback play. Here we go...

Miami is in a 3 wide set, with Wallace wide right, Gibson slot right, Hartline wide left, Clay offset right in the backfield, Miller left of Tannehill in the shotgun. Baltimore has a four man front. It's 4th and 10... ball game on the line.


At the snap, Baltimore rushes 4 (no blitz). Martin gets pushed back into Tannehill by Dumervil almost immediately. However...


There is something here that Tannehill didn't see on the previous 5 sacks... open field. He has plenty of space to his left to escape and does so.


Tannehill sees Brandon Gibson running across the field (just above the 50). This shot shows the moment Tannehill releases the ball. He's running to his left (tougher for right handed QBs) and throws the ball from the 14 yard line. This is where Gibson catches it...


I used that shot for two reasons: one, it shows the AMAZING throw from Tannehill. That is an elite throw. Not many QBs in the NFL can make THAT throw, on the run to their left. The second reason is that Gibson, in my opinion should have stayed on his feet instead of jumping for it. If he stays on his feet, he gets at worse another 6 or 7 yards, maybe even scores a touchdown. And though he didn't, it was still a big play that would have been the talk of the game, had the Dolphins prevailed.


There has been plenty of discussion regarding the ridiculous amount of sacks that Tannehill has endured this season. He is not perfect by any means and has been the cause of the problem on occasion. However, reviewing this game, the offensive line was the cause the problem. Tannehill was sacked 6 times in this game, not because of lack of awareness or unwillingness to find a better play. He was sacked 6 times because his offensive line failed to give him enough time to think on those plays, let alone attempt a pass. PFF mentions in the article linked above:

but the average pressure came in just 2.3 seconds

Tannehill has the third fastest passing time of all NFL QBs this season at 2.3 second. Despite getting rid of the ball 0.5 seconds faster than the average and faster than 90% of all QBs, he was getting pressured/hit/sacked at or before the moment he would normally be throwing the ball. Meaning, that he's already playing fast and throwing fast, but to avoid the pressures against Baltimore, he would have had to play even faster. That's just not acceptable. The O-line MUST hold their blocks long enough for Tannehill to have a chance, if only another half of a second. In this game, that 0.5 seconds could have been the difference between a big play and a sack - a win or a loss. In the plays I've highlighted, they didn't and it resulted in sacks. No amount of checkdown options or pocket presence will make up for the fact that Tannehill just didn't have the necessary time on those plays.

I'm sure those players on the offensive line know they did poorly and they will work harder than ever to correct the mistakes. They, like us fans, hope to never see a performance like this one again.