Dolphins Dichotomy: Film Review of the Best & Worst Plays From Dolphins vs. Cowboys

Friday’s game was certainly a mixed bag for the Dolphins. While the offense looked to be making positive strides, the defense was lost. Tackling issues and coverage breakdowns plagued the unit.

Following a game with so many highs and lows for the team, it is important to take a look at what went right (and why it worked) and what went wrong (and why it failed). Here is our analysis of the Dolphins’ best and worst plays from their showdown with the Cowboys.

Best Plays:

Tannehill’s Deep Ball to Stills:

Tannehill Stills Deep

Let’s kick it off with a simple one.

If you have studied Ryan Tannehill’s career carefully, you know that he is a gifted passer on the run. The Dolphins’ previous coaching staff did not utilize bootlegs and play action enough to help take advantage of his unique ability.

This is a good example of a QB rolling out to the weak side in a misdirection.


The play almost doesn’t happen, as Jordan Cameron struggles with his block. However, Tannehill’s athleticism keeps it alive. He threw a perfect pass to Kenny Stills down the right sideline, once again showing rare accuracy and power while getting rid of the ball on the run.

Jordan Cameron’s Goal Line Drop: 

No, drops are not good. However, in the preseason when the final score isn’t a factor, you can be happy just to see where the staff is going in terms of play design. Here, they are taking a step in the right direction.


Tight end play in the red zone is key to an effective modern NFL offense. For the Dolphins, the position has been vastly underutilized on the goal line. This play is a perfect example of an easy score (if the ball is caught).

The release is simple when you have the right mismatch, and the throw is quick. Protection isn’t required for very long, which makes it a strong option to counteract a blitz or to take advantage of linebackers misreading the play.

Here, Tannehill zips the ball exactly where he needs to. If the team were running a no huddle set, or setting up in a similar 1st & Goal situation, this play would be easy money.

(Once again, a drop is a drop. In the preseason, scheme is what I look for. The Dolphins are showing here that the scheme is headed in the right direction.)

Route Concepts:

This was the most beautiful play design that the Dolphins have had offensively since the Wild Cat. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But dammit, this play was pretty.


The Miami Dolphins’ previous staff failed to utilize complimentary route combinations that allowed receivers to spring one another open by clearing areas of the field. This is a key concept in most NFL offenses that Miami sorely missed. Now fans can see just how much good it can do.

On this play, they know the ball is going to Kenny Stills when it is snapped. They can be confident that he will be open thanks to the routes being run by Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker, with credit also going to Ryan Tannehill’s work through his reads.


Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker actually cross on this play. Landry starts on the inside and ends up running an out-breaking route, while DeVante Parker starts outside and makes a break for the middle of the field.

The most important part of this play has to be Ryan Tannehill’s progression. Once the ball is snapped, he immediately looks towards Jarvis Landry. This draws the extra man away from the middle of the receivers’ cluster and out into coverage on Landry.

However, there is still one man to clear. Since coverage is tight on Kenny Stills, Ryan Tannehill has to place the ball away from his body. That means there will have to be clear air space for Tannehill to zip it into.


Here you see where it all comes together. Excellent protection allows Tannehill to slide out of the pocket. His eyes stay on Landry, which draws one defender. DeVante Parker’s route across the middle takes a linebacker off of his mark, clearing air space for Tannehill to throw the ball. Then, Tannehill flips his eyes back and places the ball in open space, where Kenny Stills comes down with the touchdown.

Design. Protection. Vision. Execution. This play had everything you want to see from the Adam Gase offense. Even more importantly, it showed that with protection and enough time to get in rhythm, this offense is capable of executing the plays that Gase designs.

Worst Plays:

Tannehill Misses Arian Foster:

The offense only has one appearance in the worst plays category, so we’ll get it over with right out of the gate.


Jermon Bushrod does a poor job blocking on this play, which allows pressure on Ryan Tannehill. At that moment, the Adam Gase offense requires quick decision-making and cerebral knowledge of where the check down is.

In this situation, Ryan Tannehill needs to be aware of Arian Foster’s location and be prepared to dump the ball off to him. If he does, it’s a first down, and potentially even more.


Tannehill has displayed an ability to alter his throwing angle to deliver under pressure in the past. This would have been a perfect place to use that ability and get the ball out to his running back. Subbing Foster in on 3rd down is designed to allow for these situations precisely.

Instead of simply going to his check down, Tannehill was locked in on receivers down field and ended up taking a sack. He will need to improve his processing, which one can expect will happen naturally as he gains more experience in the system.

Tackling & Angles: 

It was impossible to just pick one play in which the Dolphins demonstrated woeful tackling against the Cowboys. However, taking suboptimal angles was just as big of an issue as the tackles themselves.


Everything that could go wrong went wrong. Jelani Jenkins is easily blocked thanks to his angle choice. Kiko Alonso isn’t in the right direction to make a play. Isa Abdul-Quddus trips on his way to the sideline. Reshad Jones ends the run, but the team needs to be smarter about their angles and pursuit.

The Dolphins also allowed an embarrassing Dak Prescott touchdown.


This could be the worst play from Friday’s game. Everybody in the secondary has blinders on, seemingly unaware that Dak Prescott is approaching the second level. The group that is supposed to be the last line of defense between the opposing offense and the end zone is caught completely off guard. This play highlights the issues with angles and awareness that plagued the team on Friday.

The Dolphins also failed to finish plays due to what seemed to be a combination of all of their issues.


On this play, the Dolphins should have been able to make a tackle for a loss. However, what should have been a three-yard loss turns into a touchdown for the Cowboys.

Andre Branch’s mistake is the most notable on this play. He provides a textbook example for how not to attempt to tackle.

Byron Maxwell is also at fault and was unable to disengage and impede Morris’ path to the end zone despite being able to see him emerge from the pile.

This play encapsulates all of the Dolphins’ defensive issues from this game. First, defensive linemen can’t finish the job and penetrate. Second, the linebackers are out of position. Third, tackling technique and physicality are lacking, allowing offensive players to run through for points.

The Dolphins still have a few weeks to improve their tackling ahead of the season. Yes, they were playing against the NFL’s best offensive line, but that doesn’t make the performance acceptable.

Byron Maxwell On Dez Bryant: 

These plays give Dolphins fans the worst time of sinking feeling; the one where what you knew you should be afraid of plays out in front of your eyes.

Early on, Maxwell was beat by Dez Bryant on a completion over the middle of the field.

This wasn’t an example of Maxwell getting completely burnt, but his day would get much, much worse.

Later in the game, Dak Prescott and Dez Bryant took advantage of Byron Maxwell.


On this play, Maxwell doesn’t play the ball whatsoever. This has been an issue throughout the Dolphins’ defense early in the preseason, as plays have been allowed because passes weren’t disrupted. However, Maxwell is the team’s number one cornerback.

This is exactly what Dolphins fans worried about. With a schedule that features matchups with Brandon Marshall, Antonio Brown, AJ Green and Larry Fitzgerald, just to name a few, the team cannot afford to let receivers burn them with so much ease.

Dolphins fans nightmares played out in front of them on Friday night, and they will just have to hope that improvements can be made that give Byron Maxwell and his fellow corners in the secondary the coverage help they need.

The Skinny:

It would have been difficult to pick one singular play on which the defense struggled the most. Their issues seemed to show up so frequently across the tape that it was easier to highlight the recurring nature of their problems.

The Dolphins’ defense did not have one specific moment of failure. They had a failure in their level of play throughout on defense. The team does have time to improve ahead of the regular season debut. However, after Friday’s display, observers will be forced to wonder how much they could fortify the unit’s tackling, awareness and physicality ahead of a tough Week 1 matchup with the Seahawks.

On offense, the Dolphins made strides. Adam Gase said that he wanted to keep throwing things at Ryan Tannehill until he couldn’t handle any more, and it was clear that the responsibilities and concepts of the new system were dialed up in Week 2. This led to much more consistent production, which can be partially accredited to the performance of Laremy Tunsil with the starting unit.

Next week, we will see how much more Ryan Tannehill can handle from Coach Gase and whether or not the defense can get itself on track as the regular season grows near.

 


 

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