Late in the second quarter of the Miami Dolphins' 15-13 win over the Baltimore Ravens, the Dolphins appeared to be moving the ball. The team had taken over the ball at their own two-yard line when the Ravens attempted to convert on a fourth-and-one. A three-yard gain from running back Lamar Miller, followed by another six-yard run and a 22-yard gain had Miami up to their own 33-yard line and a first down.
On the next play, quarterback Ryan Tannehill connected with tight end Jordan Cameron for four yards, then found tight end Dion Sims for another four yards on second down. After a Baltimore time out, Cameron was called for a false start when he fell out of his stance at the line of scrimmage. Miami, now backed up to a 3rd-and-7, called a time out, then came out in a shotgun formation, with trips left, one receiver right, and Miller in the backfield.
The play ended up gaining just five yards, which immediately started fans complaining that the Dolphins always run plays short of the first-down markers on third down. This afternoon, I took a look at the coaches film, just to see what actually happened on the play.
The Dolphins came to the line of scrimmage with Dion Sims, Greg Jennings, and Jarvis Landry to the left of the line of scrimmage, DeVante Parker to the right, and Miller with Tannehill in the backfield.
The route tree has Sims working down the seam, Landry running a quick out into the flat, Jennings running a crossing route 10 yards down the field, Parker running a post pattern, and Miller coming out of the backfield on a square-in. When Tannehill threw the ball to Miller, I received several tweets and messages about why Tannehill would make the 5-yard throw and that there was no way the Ravens had covered everyone else on the field. Which, it does actually look like they did.
Parker is in single coverage, but does not get separation. Sims coming down the seam is in tight coverage, with the safety rolling over to double cover him. Jennings' route appears to either be Tannehill's first read, or he is trying to lure the coverage that way, and find Sims on the seam route. Whatever the case, Jennings is double covered, and Landry is covered on the flat route. Miller's in-cut will be the only thing that gets open as Tannehill releases the ball, and, if he caught a little break, he could have picked up two yards.
As Tannehill releases the ball every player is covered, except Miller, who Tannehill can lead and give the team a shot at making the first down. The only other real option was to try to drop the ball into Sims on the seam route, but that does not appear to be a realistic attempt.
As Miller catches the ball and is immediately tackles, the double coverage on Sims also shows that Tannehill really did not have that throw either. So, yes, everyone except Miller was covered on this play. Tannehill made the one throw that made sense, and it just did not work.
Television coverage never shows everything that is happening on the play, and as fans, we tend to forget that. We get frustrated by what we think should have happened, forgetting that the play not have been what we thought.
It is frustrating to have a team that continually does not pick up first downs on third down, but that does not mean the quarterback made the wrong throw. Could Miller have run two more yards on his route? Was there something else that could have been done on the route tree? Those are questions that make sense. Looking at Tannehill as messing up this play does not.