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Miami Dolphins vs. New England Patriots: Film Review

After a close loss on the road to Seattle, the Dolphins looked to try and steal a divisional road game. It looked bad early, but Ryan Tannehill led a furious charge in the second half that just fell short.

What might have been...
What might have been...
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports


The Dolphins just can't win in Foxborough.  It's not happening.  They had everything going in their favor for this matchup.  And the didn't show up.  Well, the defense didn't show up.  The offense tried to get it going in the first half, but absolved themselves in the second half. It still wasn't enough.  The silver lining?  These were games most fans had marked as losses on their calendar from day one and they are now out of the way.


Official Box Score

Box scores often don't tell the whole story, but this one has some pretty clear indicators of how this game went.  The defense was hold-your-nose awful, and that's being nice.  Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo marched the offense up and down the field at will.  And it wasn't like he was throwing deep or making spectacular plays either.  He simply ran the offense - dink and dunk - while the Patriots pass catchers ran free all over the field.  He had 3 touchdowns in the first half.  It took an injury to Garoppolo and a rookie third-string quarterback for Miami's defense to have a chance.  I will add a caveat that if Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski had played, the defensive calls would have been different.  That isn't to say it would have been effective, just different.  But it was still a horrible showing.  The run defense was gashed for 161 yards on 38 carries (4.2 YPC).  After the offense got the Dolphins back within one score, the defense had a chance to hold the Patriots offense with 6:06 left on the game clock.  One stop was all that was needed.  The Patriots defense was gassed and had no answer for Ryan Tannehill.  If the Dolphins can get a 3-and-out, the offense would likely have scored again, tying the game.  The Patriots have a 3rd string QB and EVERYONE in the Alpha, Delta, and Gamma quadrants of this galaxy, knows they are going to run the ball and eat up the clock.  The Patriots marched 54 yards down the field, taking 5 minutes off the clock before missing a chip-shot field goal to give the Dolphins a chance.  THAT drive encapsulated the defensive performance on the day.

Offensively, it looked rough in the first half.  Ryan Tannehill had 2 official pass attempts in the 1st quarter.  He actually started playing well in the 2nd quarter, but a combination of drops, fumbles, and other miscues stunted what could be a productive offense.  Ryan Tannehill was the leading rusher for Miami in this game.  Read that again: Ryan Tannehill was the leading rusher for Miami in this game.  Arian Foster was injured (surprise) and Jay Ajayi was less than effective rushing the ball and had a costly, costly fumble.  Kenyan Drake saw his first NFL carry this game and also scored on the ground.  He had 2 rushes of 7 yards and 5 yards.  That's a tiny sample size to work with, but it's enough for me to say he needs to start and get more reps against Cleveland.  Tannehill was mostly good for the afternoon.  He missed some throws, but was mostly limited due to time of possession.  He had two interceptions on the game, but neither was truly his fault.  His arm was hit on the first INT and the final INT was on a semi Hail Mary on 4th down at the end of the game that DeVante Parker ABSOLUTELY could and should have come down with.  That would have tied the game, assuming a made PAT by Franks.  He had the 2 aforementioned pass attempts in the 1st quarter that weren't completed.  He had some up-and-down moments in the second quarter.  But he was masterful in the second half of the game.  It's a quaint thought to think it was garbage time stats and the Patriots were playing soft in the second half due to the score.  But the Patriots stayed in relatively aggressive coverage in the second half.  They just simply couldn't stop Tannehill.

Another positive note from this box score: zero sacks.  The Patriots aren't exactly loaded on the defensive line, but they used a variety of ways to generate pressure.  They just couldn't get to Tannehill thanks to quality pocket movement and quality pass protection. Miami's pass protection has been an issue in years past.  But in this game, they didn't allow a single sack on 45 dropbacks.  Pass protection was not an issue in this game.  Kudos.


On offense, the Dolphins camped out in the 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB set for most of the game.  In the first half, they had 27 total plays.  Of those, 22 were from that set.  They used a 2 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB set for 2 snaps.  They mixed in some new sets this week with a 3 WR, 0 TE, 2 RB set and a 3 WR, 2 TE, 0 RB set.  They used a heavy set (1 WR, 3 TE, 1 RB) for 1 snap.  In the second half, they 32 plays, of which, 28 were in a 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB set.  They used 2 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB for 3 snaps.  They also broke out a 4 WR, 0 TE, 1 RB set for one snap.  The percentage of 3/1/1 per half was ~81% in the first half and ~88% in the second half, for a game total ~85%

On defense in the first half, the Dolphins were in nickel for 34 total plays and base 4-3 for 12 total plays.  They were in nickel on 30 of 40 possible snaps when Jimmy Garoppolo was playing and 4 of 6 when Jacoby Brissett took over.  In the second half, the Dolphins were in nickel for 14 snaps and in base 4-3 for 15 snaps.  This is mostly due to the formations the Pats used and a 3rd string QB at the helm.  On the final drive for New England, when they ran all over Miami's defense, the Dolphins were in base 10 snaps of 12 (that I counted).  For the first half, they were in nickel for ~74% of the snaps.  In the second half, they were in nickel on ~48% of the snaps.


The defense was horrid this game.  It wasn't until Belichick was forced to play ultra-conservative that Miami had a chance to get off the field.  It would be easy to pick on them.  But as with all losses, the blame typically falls on one player: the quarterback.  This type of game would have lessened the effect if Brady and Gronk were playing.  Brady is a future Hall-of-Famer and it would be expected of him to pick apart Miami's questionable defense.  But the effect was amplified because the Patriots were using a backup.  So, after seeing twitter and so on after the game, I'm going to focus on the offense, particularly Ryan Tannehill.  So we're going to go pass attempt by pass attempt in the first half, save for just a couple of plays from the final scoring drive.

Also, pay attention to the Pats defense in the first half, because we will compare it to the second half.

Tannehill's actual first attempt was a 9-yard completion to Stills, but the Pats were called for a holding and the Dolphins took the penalty, nullifying the attempt.  This is the first attempt that counts on 2nd and 7.  The Dolphins are in a 2 TE set with the Pats in a Cover-1 look.

This is the throw.  As you can see, no one is really open.  Stills has a step on his defender, which was where Tannehill went with the ball.  However, Stills was running in the direction noted by the aqua arrow whilst the throw was in the direction of the red arrow.  It's possible this was a miscommunication and Tannehill thought Stills was going to continue upfield instead of towards the sideline.  Miscommunication or a bad throw.

This is the next play on 3rd and 7.  Miami is in a 3 WR set, with Cameron out wide to the left.  Pats appear to be in a 2-deep look.

Here's the play call.  The WRs have cleared out the underneath for Cameron, who is running a crossing route.  He is between the hashes.

Here, Tannehill has thrown the ball.  Cameron is open.

I put this shot in to highlight that Tannehill is looking to his right and not staring down Cameron.

Here is the catch point.  The ball is in Cameron's hands.  But the safety is making a play on the ball.  With the way Cameron has been playing, it would be easy to bash him for this play.  However, the defender does disrupt the play AND I think the ball is there slightly late.  If the pass gets to Cameron a fraction of a second earlier, this is likely a catch and a possible first down.  I'm going to have to put this on the QB, despite the fact the ball is there and catchable.

This is the next drive for Miami.  It's 2nd and 5.  The Dolphins are in a 3 WR set with Sims going in motion to the left.  The Pats appear to be in a man-free look. This play doesn't count as an actual pass attempt because Tannehill scrambles.  But it does give you a look at what he was looking at.

The Pats only rush 3 and drop 8 into coverage, as highlighted.  Unfortunately, the 3 man rush gets pressure and Tannehill has to bail from the pocket.  No one is remotely open.

In this frame, Tannehill puts on a pump fake, possibly thinking of making a difficult throw to Landry who is running towards the sideline.  However, Tannehill really isn't in a great position to throw, despite his shoulders being square to the target, and he tucks this and runs.

It's 3rd and 1 and the Dolphins have crept to the line to attempt the sneak.  This is the point of the snap and Tannehill is getting the ball now.  The defensive tackle highlighted hasn't put his hand on the ground yet.  The defense has players in position, but they are not yet fully prepared at the snap.

Here is Tannehill getting driven backward.  On a QB sneak where the DL wasn't completely ready.  The OL gets zero push and the drive fails.  This is pathetic.  This concludes the 1st quarter drives for Miami.  A grand total of 2 pass attempts.

This is the next drive on 2nd and 9.  Gase dials up a quick hit play just to get something going.  This is a 3 WR, 2 RB set, with Foster lined up in the slot and Drake in the backfield.

It's a quick pass to Kenyan Drake that gains 4 yards.

This is 3rd and 5.  The Dolphins have sent Cameron in motion to the left and he is running at the snap.  The Pats have man-free again.

This is the pass attempt.  It is just slightly overthrown deep down the sideline to Cameron.  The defender in man was hand-fighting with Cameron which MAY have slowed him down slightly.  But this is most likely just overthrown.  The deep safety has come into play and makes a play on the ball.  Tannehill must have stared the receiver down again right?

Nope.  Tannehill attempts to look the deep safety off.  However, this was just great discipline by the safety and he showed great range.  He never budges from the lower hash, despite this attempt to look him off by Tannehill.  If he moves a step or two to the offensive right, he is never in play as shown in the previous shot.

Here is the next drive.  Miami is in a 3 WR set.  The Pats have a single safety deep.

This is a simple slant route to Landry in the slot.  The arrow highlights his route, as he used a hard outside release with a slight hesitation to freeze the corner.  That gets him wide open.  The linebackers vacate the middle, leaving all kinds of room for Landry, who picks up 21 yards.  Excellent route running.

Miami has a 3 WR set and the Pats appear to be in man-free again.  DeVante Parker is the single WR lined up left.

I used this shot to highlight DeVante Parker.  He is running a simple go route but uses a hard jab step to the outside to set up his release.  This is a good move by Parker, who has struggled winning off the line of scrimmage in man coverage.

That jab step has now cleared room for Parker to get inside of the defender.  Tannehill is looking to the right, either reading his progressions or holding the safety.

The deep safety is held just long enough and Tannehill has his opening to Parker, who has beaten the defender.

This is the catch point.  The ball wasn't thrown "in stride", but was put into a place where Parker could go up and get it.  This is why having a player like Parker is critical.  He has the potential to become what some refer to as an "accuracy eraser"; meaning that the QB can just put the ball anywhere near him and he will come away with it.  Andy Dalton has A.J. Green.  The Cowboys have Dez Bryant.  Matt Ryan has Julio Jones.  Ryan Tannehill needs Parker to become that guy.  This is a ball that Parker must come down with.  He was drafted high to become THAT guy.  This shot shows the ball in his hands.  Just secure it and move the chains.  This drive ends with a fumbled snap and a punt.

Next drive, Miami gets the ball after a Patriots fumble.  They are in a 3 WR set, with Parker lined up alone to the right.  The Pats show a 2-deep look.

Tannehill sees an open area to the right side.  I assume he thinks Parker will run into the highlighted area.

For whatever reason, Parker runs into the defender on a shallow route.  While it appears Tannehill wanted Parker to run up the field (dotted arrow), it's also possible that Tannehill was expecting Parker to continue the route in which he was disrupted.  The top arrow shows the trajectory.  Who really knows, but this seems like a busted play, either due to miscommunication or the disrupted route.

This is the next play.  It's a 3 WR set for Miami and a two-deep look for New England.

This is just a quick out to Landry.  He fumbled fighting for extra yards.

Next drive: 3 WR set for Miami, man-free for NE.

This is a well-designed play.  Landry in the slot runs inside while Cameron runs into the flat behind him.  Since the Pats are in man coverage, the outside WR naturally clears an area for Cameron.  This is pitch and catch for Tannehill for an easy 13 yards.

Another 3 WR set for Miami.  NE has 2 deep safeties.

Tannehill is pressured and no receiver is truly open unless he tries to thread a tough pass down the middle to Cameron.  He has his check down option Ajayi (circled) who he makes the pass to for 8 yards.

This is the interception play.  Miami is in a 3 WR set and the Pats have a single high safety.

This is where the All-22 is SO handy.  During the live broadcast, I saw this play and tweeted, "Ok, that was just bad."  It appeared as if he just threw it to the linebacker.  However, replays showed that Tannehill's arm was hit.  Ok, fine.  Whatever.  It was still a bad decision because he was throwing in the direction of the guy RIGHT IN FRONT of the WR.  At least, that's how the broadcast angles showed it.  This picture shows what Tannehill is trying to do.  Landry is heading towards an opening in the zone and a well placed pass would give him room to run for a big play.

This was the broadcast replay angle and you can see why it would be viewed as a bad decision.  It looks like Tannehill just doesn't see Collins.  All you can see is the WR running behind him.

The All-22 end zone angle shows what Tannehill sees much better.  He will be attempting to lob a touch pass right over to Landry.  This angle shows a greater depth of the route behind Collins. Could Collins still have gotten a hand on it?  Sure.  It is possible that Tannehill just didn't see him?  Sure.  We will never know because of his arm being hit.  However, this shows that decision wasn't as bad as I originally thought.

The Dolphins get a stop and get the ball back before the end of the half.  The march down the field thanks to plays like this.  That's putting the ball up where your playmakers can go get it.  Beautiful.

The Dolphins are now at the 10-yard line with 11 seconds left in the half.  Miami has a 3 WR, 2 TE empty set with Cameron in the slot right and Sims lined up in-line left.

The play ultimately breaks down and Tannehill scrambles right.  This is a point of contention amongst some fans I've see on twitter.  They complain about that when Tannehill rolls out, his passes drift too far in the direction he's going.  My thoughts when I see those comments are "Well, um... yeah.  It's called physics."  Imagine, if you will, that the field is portrayed as a Cartesian plane, with end zone-to-end zone being the Y-axis and sideline-to-sideline being the X-axis.  If a quarterback is stationary in the pocket, you can assign his release point as the (0,0) point.  The ball travels in those 2 planes from a stationary point to a spot we'll call (X1, Y1).  If the QB is rolling out along the X-axis, and he throws on the move, then the throw has to be altered to get to the same (X1, Y1) spot.  The difficulty is that the player's momentum will ALWAYS cause the ball to move in the direction he is traveling.  Thus, he has to throw more inside in order to account for that natural drift.  While that is possible, it's also not very easy, even for the best of QBs.  So the end zone angle of this throw makes it look as if he throws it too far outside.  But that's a natural effect of the rollout.  Fans should ALWAYS expect a ball thrown on the run to move in that direction.  It's already a harder throw anyway, and expectations seem to want to make the throw even more difficult.

Case in point.  If Tannehill tries to put this into Parker's chest, he would have to essentially throw across his body to do so.  Can he do that?  Absolutely.  He's got the talent for this.  However, this shot also shows that this is a catchable ball for Parker, GIVEN THE CIRCUMSTANCES.

The ball was placed well enough GIVEN THE CIRCUMSTANCES.  I understand it's a loss and fans want to complain and they will say it's a bad throw.  But I've seen this before.

Remember this guy?  Remember this play?  This was a similar play, however this throw is actually easier for Tannehill than the current play.  The catch is about the same degree of difficulty.  DeVante Parker was drafted to be THE GUY.  He was drafted to make plays that other guys can't.  Brian Hartline makes this play.  DeVante Parker doesn't make his.  I have no doubt in my mind that if you replace Parker in the picture above with Hartline, Miami scored a TD before the end of the half.  This play from 3 seasons ago is why I'm not giving Parker a pass.  Parker is supposed to be a better WR and supremely more talented than Hartline.  I know the vogue thing is to blame Tannehill for a bad pass.  But passes aren't going to be perfect 100% of the time.  Sometimes, a WR has to bail out his QB.  If the WR needs everything to be perfect, than why waste a high draft pick on him?  Parker was drafted to make plays like this.  Dez Bryant does it.  Odell Bechham, Jr. does it.  Julio Jones does it.  A.J. Green does it.  It's time for the #1 WR to play like it.

Now we move on to the second half.  The Pats are up big and that means it will be "garbage time" for Tannehill.  He'll rack up all these meaningless stats to pad his numbers, while the Pats sit back and sip on tea.

The first play in the second half, with the Pats up 24-3, they blitz.  This play didn't count because of a penalty.  But it was an aggressive defensive call.

Two plays later, the Pats are back to man-free; a coverage they called quite a bit in the first half.  The Dolphins were moving the ball quite effectively until Jay Ajayi fumbled.  The Pats score again, making it 31-3.

The Patriots have a 2-deep look with what eventually becomes a Cover-4 or quarters look.  That's where the safeties drop deep like Cover-2 and the edge CBs drop back into a deep zone.  THERE'S that soft coverage.

Nope.  After a short 5 yard gain to Parker, the Pats are back to man-free, showing a heavy blitz.  They're up 31-3.

Man coverage across the board.  Not a passive or soft defense.  This was single coverage on the outside and Tannehill makes a big boy throw here.

Later in that drive, the Pats go with a Cover-2 man look or Man-Under.

Again, not the soft zone, pad-your-stats coverage.  Parker runs a semi-pick route, leaving Ajayi open on the wheel route for a big gain.

This is the TD play to Stills.  Man-free again.  Stills beats his defender on an out-and-up and Tannehill places a perfect pass for the score.  It is now 31-10.

Another man-free look on the following drive.  This time, Tannehill drops one right over the defender to Landry for a big gain.

Same drive now in the 4th quarter and the Dolphins are in the red zone.  The Pats use a standard Cover-2 look here.  Tannehill finds Cameron inside for a big TD.

Remember when the beat writers were complaining about Tannehill not throwing the ball into tight windows in training camp?  Yeah, me neither.

The Dolphins get the ball back with the score now 31-17 after that beautiful TD pass to Cameron.  It's only a 2 score game and the Patriots offense has been struggling.  On this play, the Patriots appear to be in a Cover-1 zone.  The CBs don't get deep enough to be a Cover-3 zone, but that could be a result of the route combos.

Later in the drive, a Cover-3 zone look.  At this point, the Pats are throwing various looks and disguises at Tannehill to no avail.

Back to the man-free later in the drive.

Same drive and the Pats are going with a Cover-2 man look.

This is on the final drive of the game.  The Pats have seen a 31-3 lead shrink to 31-24.  This is Cover-2 man.  The Pats actually used more softer zones on this drive due to the time on the clock and Miami having no timeouts.  Since Miami needed a TD, yards yielded doesn't matter.  Miami makes it to the Patriots' 29 yard line and has 4th and 5 with 9 seconds to go.  Tannehill takes a shot to the end zone...

This is the deciding play of the game.  Tannehill gets what he wants: his 6'3" red zone threat, jump-ball WR down in the end zone.  You can see from this shot that Parker is facing back to the line of scrimmage, preparing to post up the defender.

Parker is now facing the other direction.  WHY?  Running into a defender only helps him there.  Why did he feel the need to look back?  Did he lose his balance?  There is no reason at all that he should be turned in this direction.  At all.

This moment right here cost him a half second of forward momentum.  If he continues to backpedal, he's in a great position.  Now?  He's playing defense instead of making a game-changing play.  Twitter exploded saying Tannehill "didn't give his WR a chance".  Sorry, but that is false.  Parker simply failed his QB here.

Even with that mistake, Parker still gets his hand on the ball.  If he played this right, Miami had the momentum going into overtime, assuming the PAT is made.  Again, Parker was selected 14th overall for plays like this.  I'm honestly not trying to pick on the kid.  But he was drafted to be a top-end playmaker and he didn't get it done this game.  This moment ties the game.  If he catches that other TD pass, this could have been THE game.  Or perhaps, the Dolphins kick a FG to tie here instead of heaving this throw.


Ugh!  This was a terrible game in so many ways.  Miami's defense isn't ready to make the Dolphins a competitive team.  The offense struggled in the first half, but the defense put them in a hole and Ryan Tannehill, like a true franchise QB, tried to drag this team out of it.  Going forward, Miami's playmakers should make more plays.  Parker will get more comfortable and these mishaps will turn into game-changers.  The running game needs to get going too.  This week, they face a Cleveland team that seems bent on collecting draft picks more than wins.  They may be starting their 3rd string QB though, so I wouldn't be surprised in the least if he has a career day and pulls off a win.  I hope Tannehill plays with the same aggression and mentality against the Browns - who have a suspect secondary like Miami - that he did in this game.  It's the home opener too, so perhaps fans in the newly refurbished Hard Rock Stadium can give this club a boost.  They certainly need to avoid going 0-3 and give Adam Gase his first win and something to build on.