Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio posted a little while ago that the All-22 coaches film, available through NFL Game Pass, clearly shows Miami Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon purposely dove at the knees of Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota. The play was called "bulls*** football" by Titans head coach Ken Wisenhunt, who said it was clear Vernon was trying to hurt the quarterback. Of course, Vernon has said it was not malicious, and Mariota said Vernon approached him after the game to apologize, and Mariota said he does not feel like it was intentionally targeting his knees.
But Florio clearly believes it was absolutely intentional. He writes, "This was a guy who was upright and who then dove at a guy's legs, turning just before impact and throwing his backside into Mariota's lower body." He then adds, "So, yes, it looks deliberate and, yes, it looks dirty. It may have been something he decided to do in the heat of the moment or with no conscious thought of any kind. Regardless, Vernon did it — and it's clear on the tape that he did."
Now, I want to see what is so obvious in the All-22 Film. I've looked at every angle the GamePass has, and here are the screenshots from them, with Vernon highlighted in yellow throughout.
Vernon lines up wide to the defense's right, the offense's left.
Another angle showing how wide Vernon is. Left tackle Taylor Lewan, who like Wisenhunt called the hit "bulls*** football," has responsibility for Vernon one-on-one.
At the snap, Vernon sets up Lewan by going outside, then trying to spin back inside.
Vernon spins back inside, but Lewan is there to block the move.
Lewan has done a good job of stopping the inside move from Vernon. The defensive end is not done on the play, however.
With his back still to Lewan, Vernon starts to spin back to the outside.
The move frees Vernon, with Ndamukong Suh also in pursuit of Mariota now. Lewan has fallen to his knee at this point, and, sensing the pressure coming from Suh, Mariota starts to step up into the pocket.
Here's the spin again, and you can see Suh coming around Vernon. Mariota is going to step up into the pocket and, basically, right into the path of Vernon's spin move.
Suh is getting to Mariota and suddenly you see Vernon shooting low on Mariota. This is from the broadcast angle and was discussed by the commentators as a dirty play that would "hurt Vernon in the pocketbook."
You can see Vernon hitting Mariota here, and it is clear the hit is low. It does have some look of being intentional, as there does not seem to be anything tripping Vernon. Having watched the play several times, however, it does seem like Vernon is slipping at this point. Former NFL safety Rodney Harrison agreed that it does appear Vernon is slipping and not intentionally targeting Mariota's knees, explaining the play on NBC's Sunday Night Football pre-game show Football Night in America. ESPN's Mike Golic, a former NFL defensive lineman including with the Dolphins, also agreed that the play was not dirty. But what would cause Vernon to suddenly slip?
Florio says it was intentional and that the All-22 film clearly demonstrates a jump at Mariota's knees. A player who has never had a reputation as a dirty player suddenly decided to take a cheap shot at a rookie quarterback, in a game in which Miami was already leading 10-3? There has to be something we are missing.
Oh, there it is.
Lewan is on his knee as Vernon blows past him on the second spin. Vernon now has a clear shot at Mariota...until Lewan reaches back and grabs Vernon by the left arm. That grab slides Vernon to his left and pulls him down - exactly where Mariota's knee is.
The NFL will probably fine Vernon for this hit, saying he should have somehow stopped himself from falling. Quarterbacks are extremely protected, and they will likely say this is the defensive end's fault. If this were Ryan Tannehill and a Titans defender hit him in the knee, we probably would be up in arms just like Tennessee fans. There does seem to be an explanation of the play that is not as straight forward a conclusion of intentional malicious play as Florio would have you believe, however.
If you watch the GIF of the play from SB Nation, and watch the very start of the animation, right in front of the legs of the jumping Derrick Shelby, you can still see Lewan's grab of Vernon.
Whatever the case, Mariota was able to stay in the game, though he does have a knee sprain. Luckily it was not a more serious injury, but it does seem like there is more to this play than just a low shot at a quarterback.