The Miami Dolphins have, over the past several years, been a conservative team that does not take chances. They have run screen passes or draw plays on long-yardage situations, they have punted from inside the opposing team’s territory, and they have played scared. Fans have, for a long time, clamored for the team to be more aggressive. Heading into last night’s game at 0-6, the Dolphins have to be a team that is aggressive at times this year, finding opportunities to surprise an opponent, steal a possession, or stop a scoring threat.
On Monday, they were aggressive and it bit them. It bit them hard. Just before halftime, the Dolphins had the Pittsburgh Steelers facing a 3rd-and-20. Miami was up 14-3 at that point, and it appeared they were on their way to a comfortable halftime lead with momentum on their side.
An all-out blitz, with eight players rushing quarterback Mason Rudolph and three players in coverage, and a 45-yard touchdown later, Miami found themselves deep in quicksand and never pulled themselves out.
“We felt like that was the right call in that situation,” head coach Brian Flores said after the game. “We blitzed them a few times and had some success and they got us on that one. It’s one play in the game.”
Instead of 14-3 or 14-6, the Dolphins now were ahead just 14-10 and the air seemed out of the team. “We’re still up at halftime,” Flores continued. “We’ve still got an opportunity to play well and win the game. Look, there are bad plays in the game; there are good plays in the game. You’ve got to be able to overcome to bad ones. We just need to play better (in the) second half.”
Except Miami did not play better in the second half. “I don’t have any regrets on the call,” Flores said. “I think they made a play just like we had made some plays prior to that defensively, and we just move on.”
The Dolphins had designed the play to have Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard covering wide receiver Diontae Johnson, but he was playing deep coverage to not allow the first down, with no one near Johnson as he ran a slant across the middle. He then was able to find a seam between the defenders and, with a couple of good blocks, score.
Flores explained that he was not looking to be conservative in that situation. “We wanted to be aggressive,” he stated. “We can second-guess a lot of calls and I’m not going to second guess that one. I think we’d had success with the call and they made a play; but at the same time, it’s 14-10 at halftime. We had opportunities in the second half. We didn’t take advantage of them. I’m not going to sit here and say that was the play that was the detriment of the game. We turned the ball over four times so as a total team, we didn’t do enough to win the game. It’s easy to look at one play and say, ‘that’s the one,’ but there were 150 other plays in the game.”
There were plenty of plays in the second half of the game where Miami could have changed the game, but the 3rd-and-20 play was definitely the start of them in the quicksand. Being aggressive was fine, but somewhere, something did not execute as it should have on that play, and Miami suddenly found themselves ahead on the scoreboard but clearly trailing in the atmosphere of the game. The Dolphins failed to score another point as Pittsburgh added 17 points in the second half to win 27-14.
The Dolphins being aggressive was a nice change from the last several seasons. Unfortunately, it definitely back-fired on this play.