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Miami Dolphins vs. Seattle Seahawks: Film Review

The Miami Dolphins had the unenviable task of going on the road to face the Seattle Seahawks for their opening game. Despite low expectations, Miami kept it close, but was unable to prevail in the end.

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The Tannehill spike.
The Tannehill spike.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the film breakdown session on the Phinsider.  This season, I'm still going to bring you pictures and breakdowns of various plays.  But I'm also going to chart both offensive and defensive formation usage, broken down by halves.  That will give us a better idea of what the team is doing and how they are approaching things.


If I had said to you last week, that the Miami Dolphins would go into Seattle and would go toe-to-toe with their defense and have a late fourth quarter lead, you would have laughed at me, or worse.  Perhaps you would have shrugged it off as fanatical optimism.  Yet, Miami was 31 seconds away from being the first team in 8 seasons to beat Seattle in their home opener.  Seattle is a Super Bowl contender that expects to get to the big game every season.  Miami is looking to have their first winning season since 2008.  Despite expectations, Miami looked like it belonged in this game.  They weren't the doormats people made them out to be.  Expectations haven't been raised by any means - it was still a loss.  But this game showed that the Dolphins may be a tougher out than expected.  No loss is positive, but this loss was about as positive a loss as one can get.  Despite the final score, there was hope and optimism that sprung from this game.  We, as fans, can only hope they build upon this.


Official Box Score

Offensively, there wasn't much on the box score to be proud of.  But that's to be expected facing an elite defense on their home turf with a rookie head coach and a new offense.  Ryan Tannehill wasn't great in the numbers department, but it's not all on him.  The box score says he was sacked 5 times, however I have yet to find the 5th sack.  It appeared he was sacked in the end zone at the end of regulation, however that sack didn't happen because time had expired, so there was no play.  If you can find it, please point it out to me, just click that link.  Anyway, I counted 4 sacks, but 2 of them were inconsequential.  He had a sack on the drive where the field goal was blocked.  However, that "sack" was nothing more than him running out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage.  That "sack" only lost 2 yards making the field goal attempt at 27 yards instead of 25 yards.  It would have been blocked either way.  The final sack was on the final, desperation drive and technically was the final play of the game.  Given the situation, a sack was irrelevant and it was due to Tannehill getting the ball hit as he was squaring to throw while running left.  The other two sacks are what I would consider legitimate sacks.  Profootballfocus claimed that the offensive line allowed pressure on 48.5% of his dropbacks.  The running game wasn't impressive, however Seattle led the league in rushing defense last season, so it was expected that Miami would struggle to run.

New head coach Adam Gase is an offensive guru and it was expected that Miami's offense would have to carry the banner this season as the defense lacked talent.  But in this game, it was the defense that prevailed.  The box score isn't completely indicative of the defensive play.  They allowed 112 yards rushing, but it took Seattle 32 carries to get it.  That's an acceptable 3.5 yards per attempt average for the defense.  Russell Wilson was under duress all day and was sacked 3 times while throwing an interception.  He threw for 258 yards, but did so on a career high 42 pass attempts for a paltry 6.0 yards per attempt average.  New free safety Isa Abdul-Quddus pulled in the interception (highlighted later).


On defense, the Dolphins played 5 defensive backs (or nickel package) for ~81% of their snaps.  Seattle used a lot of 3 receiver looks, necessitating this formation.  They were in nickel 34 snaps in the first half compared to just four in their base 4-3 defense.  They started the second half in base, but with a 4-3 under look (shifted alignment of the defensive line and linebackers).  However, they only ran base 10 total snaps in the second half compared to 27 in nickel.

Offensively, the Dolphins stayed in a 3 receiver, 1 tight end, 1 running back set for most of the game.  They had 24 snaps in that alignment versus only 1 with 2 receivers, 2 tight ends, and 1 running back.  They only had 4 such snaps in the second half and 1 with single back set, 1 receiver, and 3 tight ends, compared to 24 in the 3 receiver set.  That's ~89% of the snaps that Miami was using 3 receivers, 1 tight end, and 1 running back.


3-1-1 sets: 48 snaps

2-2-1 sets: 5 snaps

1-3-1 sets: 1 snaps


Base 4-3: 14 snaps

Nickel (5 DBs): 61 snaps


Anatomy of a Series

For all of Ryan Tannehill's professional career, the biggest knock on his game was the lack of a deep ball.  This subject has been broken down and analyzed by just about everyone who does that sort of thing.  Some say he's accurate and it's not a problem.  Some say he's not accurate at all.  Some say accuracy isn't the issue, but rather recognizing the deep play and taking the shot is the issue.  All of that came into focus on one critical play in this game.  It happened early in the second quarter.  The Seahawks had punted and the Dolphins were starting this drive on their own 19 yard line.

Miami lines up with an empty backfield.  Running back Arian Foster is lined up offset in a typical tight end spot and the tight end Jordan Cameron is lined up in-line on the right side of the formation.  Leonte Carroo and Jarvis Landry are lined up to the right and Kenny Stills is lined up alone on the left.  The Seahawks appear to be in a nickel package with a single high safety.  A general rule of thumb is that if a defense gives you a single high safety, then the offense can take a deep shot.

Here you can see the result of the play after the snap.  Seattle has rushed three, keeping eight in coverage.  On safety Earl Thomas (red arrow) is covering the deep part of the field.  Tannehill recognizes this and waits for Stills to come open.  Most of the other receivers are covered anyway.

Here is the moment after Tannehill throws the ball.  There is a receiver in the middle of the field now open, but Tannehill has seen the opening and takes his shot.  You can see Thomas moving into coverage.  But something weird happens.

Here is the end zone angle of this play.  The ball is already in the air, but Thomas makes a turn to his right for some unexpected reason.  There is not a single Dolphins receiver going to where he is turning.  This momentary lapse is all that is needed to get Stills wide open.  But we all know what happens and we've seen THAT play enough.  I'm not going to show it again.

Now it's 2nd and 10.

Here is the snap of the very next play.  Tannehill starts his progression to the left and will work back to the right.  Seattle is only rushing four defenders.

The offensive line appears to have this in hand.  Rookie center Anthony Steen and right guard Jermon Bushrod have one defensive lineman locked up.  Right tackle Ja'Wuan James is kick-sliding back to handle the left end.  Rookie left guard Laremy Tunsil seems to have his defender locked up and left tackle Branden Albert is getting his mitts on the right end.  But the right end packs a mean punch on Albert.

As you can see from this frame, that punch has knocked Albert off balanced and the right end decides to use that advantage and make an inside move.  At this point, the defender that Tunsil is blocking is too far up the field to allow Tunsil to pass him off.  Tannehill has now moved to the right in his progressions.

Albert cannot recover and the defender has a clear lane to Tannehill.  Tannehill is looking to his right and does not see the rusher.  Now this is where things get interesting when trying to assess who is at fault for this sack.  During the game, it's very easy to say it was on Tannehill.  But the film review shows it's not quite that easy.  First thing to look for is feeling.  QBs are taught/developed to sense pressure rather than see it.  Tannehill clearly doesn't see this rusher, but also doesn't sense him.  But QBs are usually accustomed to sensing outside pressure rather than interior pressure, which this becomes.  This means it's an unusual pressure for a QB to sense regularly.  The second thing to look for is the escape route.  Where could Tannehill have gone?  He cannot step up into the pocket and attempting to run in the direction he's looking only makes this happen quicker.  He could attempt to run back and around the right side, but I'll get to that in a moment.  The other option is to curl back and run to his left.

One thing I've always noticed about Tannehill is he seems to have heavy feet.  His counterpart in this game has very quick, nimble feet.  Aaron Rodgers looks like he's floating back there.  Tannehill is very heavy footed to me.  That's not a bad thing.  At this point in the situation, Tom Brady chucks the ball in the dirt (he can get those non-calls) or he takes the sack.  Same for Peyton Manning.  At any point in their careers.  Some QBs just don't have the ballerina feet like others have.  That's something to consider regarding Tannehill.  While he is a good athlete, I don't like the idea of him running backwards to escape a sack in the manner that Russell Wilson does, simply become I don't think he has the foot quickness to make it happen.

From this angle, you can also see he has no one to throw it to, other than the running back, who is on the other side of the field from where Tannehill is looking.

All of this happens in a blink of an eye.  From the moment the defensive end has a clear lane to the sack takes about 0.5 seconds.  In actuality, I couldn't really blame the OL or Tannehill for this sack.  It's more a great play by the defender than any offensive player's fault.  Even though Albert does get beat, Tannehill still had a moment to make something happen.  If any offensive player is at fault, it would be him.  But it's not as cut and dry as it first appeared.

3rd and 18

There always seems to be complaints about Tannehill throwing short on 3rd down.  This play highlights why he has to do that sometimes.  In this frame, Tannehill has already thrown the ball towards Jarvis Landry.  The blue arrows show the Dolphins pass catchers in action.  The red arrows show the defenders busting through the line.  Notice that only Landry is open at this point.  Notice that Tannehill doesn't have the time to fine anyone else who may or may not be getting open because of the rushers.  This is a simple 4-man rush too; no exotic blitz or free rusher to account for.  Just a simple offensive line breakdown that forces a quick pass.

On the first play, Miami had a chance for a HUGE touchdown play.  The end result was a 3rd and long and a failed drive.

Reading The Blitz

Let's get to a positive play.  Here Miami is lined up in a 3 WR set with Stills the lone receiver to the left, Landry anbd Carroo to the right.  Cameron is lined up in-line on the left.  Seattle appears to be in nickel package with tight man coverage.  The linebackers and and strong safety Kam Chancellor are pressing the line of scrimmage in the appearance of a blitz.  Another knock on Tannehill is blitz recognition.  But in this case, he sees it and makes the correct read.

Seattle sends the blitz with man-free coverage (Cover 1 or single high safety with no CB help).  The red arrows point to the defenders, all in man coverage except Earl Thomas deep.  Kenny Stills runs his route directly towards Thomas, drawing his defender into the middle of the field.  Cameron runs a drag route across the middle, drawing his defender away from the edge.  Tannehill then drops a pass right into Arian Foster, who is covered by no one on a wheel route.

The routes of Stills and Cameron have drawn all the defenders to the middle of the field (circled) and the blue arrow indicates the open running room that Foster has.  Foster then stiff arms his way down the field for a 50 yard gain.  Imagine if this play was called with the speedy Kenyan Drake in the backfield, or perhaps some trickeration with Jakeem Grant?

The Interception

Yes, the defense folded in the last few minutes of the game.  But they played very well outside of that and looked better than expected.  Therefore, I won't pick on them today.  I will just highlight how the entire defense worked together to make an interception.

Seattle is lined up in a 3 WR set with their tight end lined up in-line to the right.  Miami is in nickel.  Koa Misi and Kiko Alonzo are the two linebackers.

At the snap, you can see that is in a man-free defense with Misi blitzing up the middle.   Mario Williams has a free run at Wilson.  Alonzo is moving to cover the running back (dotted line). Notice the nice jam Byron Maxwell gets on the receiver at the top of the screen.

From this picture, you can see that Cameron Wake is getting free from the right tackle.  Russell Wilson has turned to his left, but Williams is attempting to cut off that angle.

Wilson's path to the left was cut off by Williams and he has to swerve back to his right.  Jason Jones had dropped down to defensive tackle on this play and has now shook free and angling to pursue Wilson.  Free safety Isa Abdul-Quddus is highlighted on the right.  He is on the far hash.

Wilson is a dangerous quarterback when he gets on the outside.  He has the speed to run away from the rush and pick up yards on the ground.  The pursue of Jason Jones prevents that scenario, which is good, because Wilson would have had plenty of room.  Jones' pursuit angle has forced Wilson to heave this ball downfield.  IAQ has now moved from the far hash to the left side of the field.

From this shot, Wilson has already released the ball, but every receiver is covered.  It is impossible to tell what Wilson was expecting or who he was throwing to; either the receiver highlighted by the arrow or the circled receiver.  The circled receiver appears to cut his route short and it's very possible Wilson was expecting him to continue downfield.  IAQ is highlighted with the blue arrow.  This play shows excellent range.

You can see the ball has been overthrown as the receivers are looking downfield at the ball.  Kiko Alonzo has dropped back expecting an easy interception.  But IAQ is making a play on the ball too.

IAQ snags the ball out of the air and creates a turnover for the Dolphins.  Look at how close all three defenders are together.  In years past, this would have been a play where the Dolphins defenders bumped into each other and no one would have picked off that pass.

In this shot, Alonzo has his hands out in a manner that suggests "Dude, what are you doing?  I had that!"  I'm not sure he's completely aware that IAQ had possession of the ball.  He probably doesn't care in the grand scheme of things, but I'm sure he also wanted to pad his stats.  I found this scene funny.


A loss is a loss and this one stung like any other.  But despite that, it was somewhat reassuring to see Miami take it to a Super Bowl caliber team for the entire game.  At no point did the game ever seen out of reach for Miami and one could argue that without sloppy mistakes like the aforementioned drop, blocked kicks, and others, that Miami could have rolled out of there with a double digit win.  Maybe the winds of change are finally blowing for the Dolphins.  We shall see this weekend, as they face another daunting challenge: on the road in New England.