Thanks to another big spending spree in the offseason, the Miami Dolphins entered the 2015 with high expectations. Opening a season against a team most considered dysfunctional and vying for the first overall draft pick, Miami was favored to win. Miami earned the win, but squeaked out the win versus the blowout many were expecting. The game served as a harbinger of what was to come for the Dolphins: an inconsistent offense coupled with a leaky defense.
Joe Philbin maintained his aversion to running the football, deciding to throw 37 times (attempts + sacks) versus 18 rushing attempts. This was despite the fact the game was close throughout. Lamar Miller had 13 attempts for 53 yards, for a 4.1 YPA average. Of his 53 yards, 29 of them came on 2 runs late in the 3rd quarter. Much of his ineffectiveness was due to poor blocking, as the rushing lanes just never materialized.
Ryan Tannehill didn't play his best game. He had some good throws mixed in with some bad throws. He went 22-34, 226 yards, and a TD. Tannehill showed an immediate connection with new tight end Jordan Cameron. Cameron caught 4 passes for 73 yards, including a beautiful 27 yard pass down the seam towards the end of the first half that helped Miami get on the board. The rest of the receivers posted modest stats, with Rishard Matthews picking up the sole touchdown toss from Tannehill.
Defensively, the Dolphins held the Redskins to 10 points. That's the good. The bad is that they were gashed on the ground. Miami yielded 161 yards on 37 attempts (4.4 YPA), with Alfred Morris leading the charge with 125 yards on 25 attempts. Rookie Matt Jones pitched in 28 yards on 6 attempts. Kirk Cousins was the starter and he, like Tannehill, was inconsistent. He threw 2 interceptions, though one occurred thanks to a Herculean effort by Brice McCain. Both Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed led the receiving unit with 6-74-0 and 7-63-1 respectively. DeSean Jackson was injured on a deep pass attempt early in the game and did not return. He didn't have a catch.
Special teams factored a major part of this game. The highlight play from this game was a 67 yard punt return TD for Jarvis Landry, which became the deciding score in this game. Rookie undrafted kicker Andrew Franks was good on his only field goal attempt from 22 yards and was 2-2 on extra points. Rookie undrafted punter Matt Darr did well, averaging 54.3 yards per punt on 4 punts. Washington kicker Kai Forbath was 1-2 on field goal attempts.
I looked at several plays that I thought would encapsulate how this game went for Miami. We'll start with the first play of the game. The Redskins show how to run against the Dolphins.
Here the Redskins line up offset, with the tight end brought in motion to the right, lining up in-line.Koa Misi is lined up weakside with Jelani Jenkins sneaking into the picture, following the TE in what appears to be man coverage. Wake and Vernon are lined up at DE, Suh is lined up at 3-tech (gap between the OG and OT), and Mitchell is at 1-tech (gap between the OG and C). Sheppard is lined up at MIKE (middle linebacker).
At the snap, you can see the RT immediately cut block Suh, a technique they used much of the game. Rookie Brandon Scherff at RG moves to block Jenkins as the flow of the play will bring Jenkins to him. Mitchell is handled by the center, allowing the LG to move to the second level to block Sheppard. Misi shoots the gap and it met by the fullback.
The fullback blocks Misi low, taking him out of the play. Trent Williams, who was outstanding last season, handles Olivier Vernon. At this point, you can see how well this play is blocked and how poorly the Dolphins' defense plays it. Mitchell is the key on this play. As a 1-tech, he needs to command a double team. He doesn't and that allows the LG to block the MLB. If Mitchell forces the LG to block him, Sheppard can be in position to make the play. Being single teamed, Mitchell needs to shed that block and get to the runner. Neither of those things happened.
From this view, you can see Mitchell is blocked out of the play. Sheppard does a nice job of not letting #77 get a clean block on him. But Reshad Jones dives at Morris, tripping him up, and Morris basically falls into Sheppard.
This play was only a gain of 5 yards, but it highlights the ineffectiveness of Miami's run defense in this game.
Onto offense. First the bad.
Here's one of the three sacks the Redskins earned in this game.
Miami is in an empty set. The Redskins are showing an overload blitz to the right.
Here is just after Tannehill receives the ball. The blitzing DB is picked up by James, and you can see Ryan Kerrigan (91) and the DT running a stunt (the DT moves outside and the DE crosses back inside to confuse or mix up the OL).
Here is Tannehill at about 1.5 seconds after the snap, hitting the top of his drop. Three things you can notice about the offensive line. One, the right side has correctly picked up the stunt. James and Douglas have eliminated their defenders to the point they don't really matter. Two, Jeff Linkenbach has kept the left edge rusher out of the picture, pushing him beyond the pocket. Three, Dallas Thomas engaged the defender while standing on the 29 yard hashmark (LOS was the 31) in the previous picture. In this picture, you can see he has been pushed back to the 26 yard hashmark. This was a big issue for him all season. One reason new head coach Adam Gase wanted to make sure the OL stayed in the weight room this offseason.
This is the moment Tannehill sense the pressure and starts to move. He would have had a lane to his left if Dallas Thomas anchors a little better. Notice that it's Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey getting beaten by Ryan Kerrigan on this play.
This is 2.08 from the snap. Tannehill has sensed the pressure to his right and tried to move into an escape lane that isn't there. The sack is imminent. Neither Pouncey nor Thomas has held their block, causing their QB to suffer a sack.
In the picture showing Tannehill at the top of his drop, he is looking to his right. That's where his progression is taking him. This picture shows what Tannehill is seeing the moment just before he starts to run. He doesn't have any open options. The main reason is the lack of time. Tannehill is under duress in 2 seconds and you can see that two receivers aren't even into their breaks yet. This has been a problem for at least 3 seasons now.
This is the aftermath, 2.43 seconds after the play. Two Dolphins offensive linemen, Pouncey and Thomas, are on the ground. Meanwhile, Jeff Linkenbach is still standing, still blocking, having effectively taken care of his assignment. Tom Brady had the fastest time to throw in 2015 (when Edelman played) at 2.19 seconds. Tannehill is getting hit in less than that. Not only that, but Tannehill senses the pressure (or just sees it) and tries to get away. He can't because the blocking failed.
Here is a failed running situation. The first offensive play of Miami's season was a 8 yard pass to Greg Jennings. This is the next play, a 2nd and 2. Dion Sims has gone in motion from the left side to the right side of the offensive formation. Both offensive tackles appear to be in a pass blocking stance. Washington has 7 in the box, with the DB #24 following Sims. As soon as Sims gets set, the ball is snapped.
As Tannehill hands the ball off, the Dolphins begin to block for a outside run. Albert cut blocks his defender. Thomas moves up to hit the linebacker #56. Pouncey attempts to seal the nose tackle #98. Douglas moves up to block the linebacker #52. James has to block Ryan Kerrigan and Sims has to stalk block the DB #24.
Pouncey and Thomas have blocked their defenders well enough. James has Kerrigan blocked well enough for Miller to get outside. Sims has a decent block on his defender. But you can see #52 has already disengaged from Douglas and is taking a pursuit angle to Miller.
Sims' defender has gotten off the block and #52 has taken aim at the tackle. Miller would still have had a change to break the ankle-tackle of the linebacker. But #24 has now moved into position to prevent that. It was 2nd and 2 and Miami gains 1 yard here.
This is the most overlooked aspect of the poor offensive line play. The media tends to focus on the sacks and pressures. However, their poor performance in run blocking also caused major issues with the offense. On the sack discussed above, it was 2 guys failing. In this play, it was 2 guys failing. All Miami needed to move the sticks was 2 yards. They can't get it here. That leaves 3rd and 1.
This is the very next play. It's 3rd and 1. Miami has a double tight end set. You can see Washington has 9 players within 7 yards of the line of scrimmage.
Here's the handoff. There are three unblocked defenders to the left of the formation, though Sims is aiming for one. Branden Albert needs to seal off #97 in order for this play to even have a chance. If he can seal his defender and Sims can hold off #24 for just a second, Miami can get the 1 yard they need.
Sims misses his block and #97 throws off Albert. The play gains zero yards and Miami is forced to punt.
This sequence highlights so much that was wrong with the Dolphins. They were a finesse team that couldn't pick up two simple yards for a first down. Play calling was questionable, e.g. an outside run on 2nd and 2 instead of a regular run. Plus, we now know that Tannehill couldn't audible. I'm sure he could see 9 in the box and couldn't change out of the play. As some commentators have mentioned, you cannot run plays that are destined to fail. This was such a play. That's on the coaching staff.
Now for some good.
Tannehill normally does well in 2 minute situations and he showed that again in this game. The Redskins had just scored a touchdown and Tannehill gets the ball back on his own 20 with 1:49 on the clock.
Landry is out wide with Jordan Cameron in the slot right. Washington is showing a two deep safety look with the outside cornerbacks showing a zone look.
The Redskins have dropped into a what appears to be a Cover-3 zone with one deep safety and the safety on the far side of the field moving up to cover the middle zone. Cameron has shown an out cut, but this is the setup of the double move. He will now head up the field up the numbers. The deep safety is held in the middle of the field...
because Tannehill's first read are to the left. This holds the deep safety allowing the gap in between the dropping linebacker, the deep cornerback, and the deep safety.
Here is the gap in that zone. The deep safety and deep cornerback have now altered their paths to meet Cameron. An underthrown pass in incomplete at best, picked off at worst; same for an overthrown pass.
Here's where Tannehill puts it. That pass is right on the money. At this point, Cameron has the ball and is turning up field. This was the first play of a touchdown drive that got Miami on the board and kept them in the game.
Here is the end zone view. Dallas Thomas was pushed back into Tannehill, but Tannehill had enough of a clean pocket to deliver a touch strike down the seam to Cameron. Of course, after watching plays like this, the coaching staff decided to use Cameron differently. But that's a story for another time.
Despite the win, Dolphins fans didn't really feel good about this game. Neither the offense nor defense shined in this game. Had this game been played later in the season, the outcome may have been different. Tannehill was inconsistent this game and Branden Albert appeared sluggish, perhaps rushing back from his 2014 injury too soon. He tried to play in the game following this one, but didn't make it all the way through. He took two games to get right and played well enough over the course of the rest of the season. The defense did enough to get a win against this team, but many weaknesses were revealed that were exploited all season. But hey... a win is a win. Next week, the Jacksonville Jaguars.