Another year. Another year of waiting till next year. The Miami Dolphins (7-6) failed to perform against the Baltimore Ravens (8-5) in a pivotal game that would've put them on the fast track to making the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
The Dolphins proved themselves to be pretenders at home while the Ravens were able to win in Miami for a fourth straight time and seizing their own playoff destiny in the process.
Here are my observations on the what was a disappointing performance by the Dolphins.
1. Dolphins fold in the trenches
The Dolphins allowed six sacks and 183 rushing yards to the Ravens. The Dolphins actually did worse in the trenches this year than in 2013's matchup between these two teams when Miami allowed six sacks and 133 rushing yards.
The Dolphins held their own in both the offensive and defensive trenches early in the game but seemed to wear on as the game went on.
By the second half of the game, the Dolphins were being abused in the trenches and were unable to get anything going. When they could get things going, they couldn't stay out of their own way.
It was a tough game to watch in that regard. This game can be characterized as a physical domination by the Ravens, which continues to be the storyline when these two teams meet.
2. Just win?
Last week the narrative around the Dolphins was "just win" after a subpar performance ended in a victory against the Jets. Well, this week's narrative is "bad December football". The Dolphins now have a four-game streak of bad games in December, dating back to 2013.
This is not a positive stat for Joe Philbin, and one he will need to provide a solution to if he wants to keep his job. Something else along those lines that Philbin should focus on is....
3. Dolphins fail to put together a full 60-minute game (again)
The Dolphins won the first half 10-7, but lost the second half 21-3.
The Dolphins have only put together two games where they played well from start to finish, and those were the games against the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders. And both of those games were basically decided by halftime.
The Dolphins inability to put together full games and play at a high level consistently are extremely troubling factors for this team. These things fall on the coach as the Dolphins always seem to have mental lapses, play at half speed and sleepwalk at times in games.
These brain fart, low-intensity moments can be traced back to every game, but the most notable are in games against the Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, New England Patriots and Denver Broncos.
Now, the Dolphins' second half collapse against the Ravens in a December game that decides their playoff fate can be added to that list.
4. Dolphins beat themselves
With ill-timed penalties and mistakes.
Two questionable "ineligible receiver downfield" penalties on Mike Pouncey stalled two promising drives for the Dolphins. The first one was the most devastating as it erased a big gain on a beautiful rollout throw by Tannehill and diving catch by Mike Wallace to set up a 2nd and 15.
The next play was another rollout (which was an odd play call) which ended in a strip/sack and huge loss. After this sequence the Dolphins once-promising possession was abruptly over and Baltimore had another chance to score before half.
After that offensive debacle, the Dolphins could not allow the Ravens to score before half to cut the deficit from 10 to three. But Miami' defense failed and the Ravens scored a touchdown with two second left on the clock. The whole sequence was a huge a huge swing in points and momentum, a game-changing blunder.
A drop by Brandon Gibson may have been the turning point of the game. The Dolphins two opening possession had ended in points. On their third possession, Miami was faced with a 3rd and 12. Tannehill threw a 14-yard dart to Gibson while the pocket was collapsing, only to watch the bounce off of Gibson's hands and fall to the ground.
Had Gibson caught that pass, the Dolphins would've received a boost of confidence from converting a long third down and would have likely ended their third straight possession with points.
The Dolphins beat themselves in key parts of the game, which led to Baltimore beating up a deflated team by the end of the game.
5. Offensive play-calling goes from great to abysmal
In first half, the Ravens physical dominance over the Dolphins in the offensive trenches was not abundantly clear, mainly due to great play calls by offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.
Screens, misdirection, rollouts, everything I wanted to see in this game was called.
But after Lazor called two rollouts in a row (a sequence described above), the second ending with a sack for an eight-yard loss, his play-calling went downhill.
Lazor reverted to a much more basic style of play calling in the second half, electing to drop Tannehill back a majority of the time and trust his young quarterback to advance the ball.
Unfortunately Lazor, much like Mike Sherman last year, learned that calling plays is much harder when you are getting destroyed up front nearly every play.
Still, Lazor, also much like Sherman, did not help himself and his offensive line with good play calls (as he had done in the first half).
Possibly the oddest thing about the offensive play calling was...
6. Three runs in the second half?
Yes, you read that correctly. Three runs in the second half.
This is possibly my biggest gripe with Lazor on the day-- ending the balance he had created early in the game.
Lamar Miller was having a great day despite running behind the questionable line, consistently creating yards on his Barry Sanders-esque runs. But then Miller was virtually taken out of the gameplan. The fact that the Dolphins were ahead in the game when the number of rushes decreased makes the decision even more of a head-scratcher.
Now, the Dolphins limited use of Miller isn't new. The coaching staff is obviously keeping him on a pitch count. But lack of balance plagued these Dolphins in the second half as Baltimore's pass rushers were able to tee off on a Tannehill, finishing with six sacks.
The lack of balance can be highlighted with one series. The Dolphins got the ball to start the second half up three and did not run the ball one time. To be fair, the Dolphins were faced with a few pre-snap penalties that put then in unfavorable down-and-distance situations on that drive, but even so not running the ball once was very odd.
The Dolphins rush attempts decreased each quarter, going from eight, to four, to two and then just one rush in the fourth quarter.
The abandonment of the run game, which actually happened while the Dolphins were still ahead, was bad coaching.
7. Dallas Thomas was a turnstile
It was a forgettable day for Thomas. Thomas allowed four of the Ravens' six sacks and was literally laughed at when Ravens defensive end Terrell Suggs was asked what Baltimore did to Thomas.
Thomas had an awful day of pass blocking, struggling mightily to stay in front of Elvis Dumervil, who now is tied for the league lead in sacks after terrorizing Thomas.
Thomas seemed to have metal shoes on, failing to move his feet at all on some of the sacks he allowed. Thomas was a liability that limited the offense and played an abysmal game.
The question is--why was Dallas Thomas kept on the field all game? He was absolutely abused. Jason Fox couldn't have done better?
8. Where do Dolphins go from here?
They keep playing of course. They keep playing for their slim playoff hopes and their resumes.
But things don't seem to be all good in Dolphinland. Fans are angry and players are angry. After another game where the team failed to uphold their intensity and failed to put together 60 minutes of football, the coaching staff is justifiably being questioned.
Do Philbin's teams possess the willpower to be able to pull out tight games against good teams? They have proven unable to do so this season. This makes many question his future.
It's a tough time for a franchise when they realize they are not the team they thought they were, but the good news for this Dolphins team is they're close. Miami has clear pieces to build on, starting with quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins have a clear picture of what positions needs be upgraded.
Will the Steve Ross fire Joe Philbin, which would create all sorts of collateral damage and firings? It likely depend how the team performs in the final three games. Will Philbin's team put together full, 60-minute performances on all three phases of the game? Philbin better prepare his troops well these final three games, his job hinges on the team's performance.
QUICK HITS & QUOTES
- I am thoroughly against the "why don't Dolphins throw deep" argument. It's a philosophy thing. It's a pass protection thing. Dolphins don't have time for deep throws to develop and would rather face a 3rd & 5 after taking a checkdown than face 3rd & 10 because of an ill-advised deep ball attempt.
- Another turning point in this game was a 4th & 1 play for the Ravens on their own 34-yard line. The Dolphins, who had stopped two 3rd and 1's earlier in the game, failed to stop the Ravens, who eventually went on to score a touchdown on that drive.
- Coaching was odd in this one. Philbin's magical "halftime adjustments" did nothing as Miami was outscored 21-3 in the second half.
- It's tough to win December football when you lose the trench war. Pretenders and contenders are usually determined in the trenches.
- Jared Odrick lashed out at Joe Philbin on the sideline, angrily saying what looked to be "every week" to Philbin.
- The non-contact knee injury to Louis Delmas was devastating to watch. Delmas has been an emotional leader for this defense and a ball of energy from his safety position. It's extremely unfortunate but Delmas, who is only on a one-year contract, may be done in Miami.
- The Dolphins signed three injury-prone players this offseason. All three are currently on injured reserve.
- The Dolphins have ended up on the negative side of far too many game-changing plays in 2014.
- Last year this game ended 26-23. We've talked about how much progress has been made this year, but is it true? While individuals players have undoubtedly developed and gotten better, has the team as a whole? Are they mentally stronger? Right now it doesn't seem so.
- "We’ve got to go on a plane and play a very good New England team that is an excellent football team. That’s really all that I’m concerned about at this point. I’m sure there’s a million scenarios and I really don’t have time to consider. I’m probably not smart enough to figure out all of them. The best way is to win games. Certainly this one didn’t turn out that way. We have one next week and we need to start getting ready for that." - Joe Philbin.
- "Yes, we understood what it was coming in. [It was an] opportunity [that] we let slip [away]. You never know what can happen. Obviously other things have to happen and it is out of our hands to some extent. We still have to keep fighting. This team is full of fighters. We’ll find a way to respond and come back and do the best that we can the rest of the year. Whatever happens, happens. I don’t think the door is completely shut at this point and we can still control how we play in our next game."- Ryan Tannehill.
- "It’s an emotional game. Sometimes it’s a player and a coach, or anyone that’s involved in an organization that plays football. It’s tough to find that gauge of what’s too much emotion and what’s not enough. You never want to border that line of not enough. I think one thing that I bring to the game of football is emotion and I try to do it in the most positive way possible. It may have looked like I was yelling negative things and that there was a disagreement, but every game there’s a disagreement. Emotions are running high and I hate to say that any of that was a detriment to our team."- Jared Odrick of his outburst at Philbin.
- "I mean, going into the game we obviously knew this was a big one and guys came out firing on all cylinders and we just had to carry that momentum into the second half and it didn't happen on all fronts. It was disappointing to say the least, I mean, one of the biggest games of the year, probably the biggest and to finish out the game like that is just... it’s a little mind blowing." - Cameron Wake.