The Dan Campbell era started with a bang as they walloped the lowly Titans and struggling Texans. But the real test was the facing Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in Foxborough on a short week. To be fair, most fans expected the Dolphins to lose this game. The Pats simply don't lose at home on Thursday. But most were expecting a tougher team than before and maybe, just maybe they could do the impossible. They could not and worst of all, they lost right tackle Ja'Wuan James and star pass rusher Cameron Wake for the season due to injury. Those injuries were too much for the Dolphins to overcome in this game and ultimately the season.
The final score doesn't reflect the true closeness of the game. The Pats got the opening kickoff and scored. But they didn't run away with it early and the game was relatively manageable into the 4th quarter. Unfortunately the offense was too out of sync to be effective. Lack of a running game once again was an issue. The Dolphins only ran 13 times for 15 yards (4 attempts came in the first 11 minutes; 9 in the remaining 49 minutes. Pathetic). Ryan Tannehill dropped back to pass 49 times (5 sacks), making the pass-to-run ratio 79% (seriously, this is ridiculous). Drops were an issue, as you'll see in the film review. Tannehill threw 2 INTs, only one of which truly came back to hurt the Dolphins. He was just OK in this game. He could have used more help, but he wasn't stellar by any means. No receiver truly distinguished himself.
Defensively, the Dolphins kept Brady and crew at bay for as long as they could. They had them on the ropes on the first drive with a 3rd and 16. They gave up 17 yards on a screen pass to allow the first down. Three plays later, Rob Gronkowski beats both safeties and scores the opening TD. But they held them in check most of the night. It was 22-7 in the 4th quarter; not exactly great, but manageable. The offense was just too inept and the defense finally gave it up in the 4th. Brady finished with 4 TDs and the Pats ran for 95 yards on 26 carries.
The defense held the Pats to 22 points until the 4th quarter. They weren't good and had bad moments. But they did enough to keep this game within reach while the offense fell on it's face. So congrats fellas, you get the week off. There were SO many plays I could highlight, but I chose a select few to show how bad it really was for the offense. The interceptions were bad and were due to miscommunications, poor routes, bad throws, whatever; they happen. I wanted to look at plays that showed the total ineptitude of the offense. Here is a look at a sequence in the second quarter. Miami is down 9-0 and has just picked up 10 yards on first down, giving them 1st and 10 at their own 37.
1st and 10
Miami is in a 3 wide set with Jonas Gray as the single back. New England appears to have their nickel defense on the field with a man coverage look and a single high safety.
Here's the end zone view.
This is after the snap. You see the offensive line blocking to the left. This is standard zone blocking stuff.
This is a typical zone run. The design gives the running back 3 options: outside, straight up the middle, or a cutback. The key player is the linebacker #54. Jonas Gray wants to go where he is not.
The linebacker has chosen to protect the cut back lane, giving Gray a crease up the middle. Directly to Gray's right is right guard Billy Turner. He needs to get enough of a block on the defensive tackle to keep the crease open.
He does not and the crease closes on Gray. Linebacker #54 has closed off any chance Gray may have had if he'd chosen to try an cut back now.
The Pats converge on Gray.
Despite the situation, Gray still breaks free, but is tripped up by a defender (looks like #90). If Gray isn't tripped up, he has McCourty (#32) to beat for a big gain. He cannot however and the play is for no gain.
2nd and 10
On the 2nd and 10 play, Miami goes to a 2 tight end set with Cameron lined up in-line outside of the left tackle and Sims in the slot. Sims has now started to go in motion to the left side of the formation. The pats have a single high safety.
At the top of Tannehill's drop, you can see it's a 4 man route, with the primary pass catchers highlighted with blue arrows. Jonas Gray is hidden amongst the O-line, but he will slip out into the flat. The receiver at the top of the screen is well covered. It will be on the other two to get open.
Here's a broadcast view. Tannehill has sensed/seen the pressure from Ninkovich (#50) and is moving to escape. Gray is now moving to the flat.
Back to the All-22. This is an interesting discussion for fans. From this shot, you can see Tannehill has two real options. Due to the pressure, Tannehill cannot look for the slot receiver (at the logo). Plus there are plenty of defenders in the vicinity. His best options are Gray in the flat or the receiver deep. The flat is the safer option and the deep receiver is the more aggressive option. Some folks would like to see Tannehill become more aggressive and take more shots downfield. While he took plenty last season (top 5 in 20+ yard attempts I believe), this is a case where he COULD have been more aggressive. However, his choice to the flat was NOT WRONG, just safer.
In this end zone angle shot, you can see Tannehill is looking off the safety, either with his read or intentionally.
Here is the moment the pass hits Gray in the hands. All he has to do is turn up-field.
From this shot, you can see three things: the area in which Gray has to run, the closest defender to him, and the deep receiver. Tannehill has space to throw. As I said before, his choice wasn't wrong, just safer. But the shot was there.
It doesn't matter either way because the ball hits the turf. Gray had room to run and would have made 3rd down easier, it not picking up the first (or more) outright.
Back to the decision for a moment. From this shot, you can see Ninkovich beating Jason Fox to generate the pressure. Tannehill wasn't feeling phantom pressure. I also believe this pressure forced him to make the checkdown instead of looking at the deep receiver.
3rd and 10
Miami has gone back to the 3 receiver set. Jarvis Landry started out to the left, but has gone in motion right and is just now getting set. New England appears to be using a Cover-2 look.
This is Tannehill at the top of his drop. It's a deep drop; his back foot is on the 26 and the LOS is the 37. The arrow at the bottom of the screen highlights the receiver that will be the guy who gets open and most likely the primary target. The receiver to the left of the arrow has already come out of his break and the receiver to the right is about to make a cut to the outside. New England has changed it's look to a single high safety. Tannehill sees this and knows he can take the deep shot.
From this shot, you can see the route developing. Their will be an open area between the two safeties (or a corner at the top of the screen) and the cornerback in man.
Here's the end zone angle of the pocket. Tannehill has reached the top of his drop and is now moving back up into the pocket. This is also known as a hitch on deeper dropbacks. A hitch is simply a timing step for longer routes (Think of it in terms of steps: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 steps backs, slide-step forward, and throw). Notice the clean pocket as highlighted.
Here is the broadcast view. The tackles have been highlighted. They are "riding" the defender out of the pocket, or pushing him past where the QB was just standing. If the interior OL holds it's blocks, then Tannehill can cleaning "climb the pocket" or move forward into the empty area highlighted by the biggest blue arrow. Interior pass protection is just as critical for climbing the pocket as outside protection. From this picture, you can see Branden Albert and Jordan Cameron have Chandler Jones doubled and seemingly blocked out of the play.
But nope! Jones inexplicably beats a double teams and is a step from hitting Tannehill. At this moment, Tannehill is initial stages of his windup.
Tannehill is hit just before he can start his throw, which is probably a good thing as a moment later the ball could have been exposed for a strip-sack. Some will watch this play at full speed and lament poor pocket presence. But Tannehill is in the process of attempting a pass. He cannot throw it away. He cannot escape the pocket. He could not throw it any earlier (as the film shows no one was open yet). He doesn't need special senses for this play. He needs his blockers to make the block. They didn't and it resulted in a sack.
This shot is to highlight that the Pats used a 3 man rush. It was a 3 man rush and Tannehill had to look deep due to down and distance. Yet, he still gets sacked because or poor blocking.
Think Tannehill doesn't know this? Jordan Cameron tries to help him up and Tannehill doesn't take the help. Probably because he's upset that a 3 man rush got to him. Branden Albert looks like he's watching the view screen and doesn't like what he sees. Fans didn't either. All season long.
4th and long. Dolphins have to punt. Poor blocking, drop, and a mistake by the OL caused this drive to fail. But there's one more play that caps off the evening.
Miami has finally scored and the defense held the Pats to a field goal. It's 22-7 and the offense is driving. If they can get points here, they can get right back into this game.
3rd and 1
Miami is in a 3 receiver, single back set. The Pats appear to be in their nickel package in man coverage with a single high safety.
There are a couple of questions I have about the blocking on this play. First off, what is Dallas Thomas doing? He appears to be immediately beaten here. That was my first impression. However, as I reviewed the play more and more, my question was about the assignment. Notice that Branden Albert is reaching out to the defender as if he's supposed to block him. Whatever the case, Dallas Thomas messed up. Either he needed to aim for the linebacker (#55) and let Albert block #96, or he was beaten.
From this shot it appears that a) Pouncey has been beaten, b) Thomas was supposed to take the DT, and c) Albert is supposed to black #55. Pouncey looks beaten, but is not. He simply pushes the defender behind the play. Thomas is still beaten though.
Thomas' defender gets his hands on Miller and Albert cannot get to the linebacker in time.
Here's where Miller gets hit. The broadcast show the LOS with the blue line. Miller is hit nearly 4 yards behind it. It was 3rd and 1.
Here are all the unblocked/barely blocked Patriot defenders with a shot on Miller. There's five of them... five.
Here the pile of Patriot defenders stuffing Lamar Miller while Miami has 4 offensive linemen standing around watching. This play sequence completely highlights exactly why the Laremy Tunsil draft pick was the right pick. On 3rd and 1, Miami loses yards and has to punt. Can't blame the QB here. Can't blame the RB either, unless you think a RB should drive through 5 defenders coming at him from every angle at the same time. This is all on the O-line.
This play isn't highlighting something the Dolphins did, but rather something that Brady DIDN'T do.
Here is Gronk mid route. You can see he is running a go route. At this point, Brady has already released the ball. A well placed ball over Gronk's outside shoulder and he could be taking this one to the house.
Here's how Gronk caught it. From another angle...
Based on the standard argument used on this site, this was not an accurate deep pass. I'm sure some might say Brady was "throwing him open". How so? The underthrown ball put the pass IN harm's way of the defender in coverage. Was it a back shoulder throw? Not a very good one. It wasn't placed there due to other defenders as they are all 5 or more yards from the play. A better throw here and the only thing stopping Gronk would be if Jones tackles him. No one else matters on this play. Yet the throw allows Jones and the rest of the defenders to stop Gronk.
I point this play out to show what I've been saying for a while. Tannehill gets criticized for stuff that even the best QBs on earth do. If Tannehill makes this EXACT throw and the EXACT same result happens, a good number of fans would be complaining how the ball wasn't throwing in stride and that it wasn't an accurate throw even if the receiver caught it. This plays shows that it happens to all QBs.
The Dolphins weren't good enough. After two weeks of dominant football, albeit against weaker teams, they resorted back to the extemely unbalanced offense that few teams can succeed with. They lost two key players and that was enough to end any hope of salvaging the 2015 season. Up next: a rematch with Buffalo.