Dolphins Dichotomy: Film Review of the Best & Worst Plays From Dolphins vs. Patriots
The “tale of two halves” cliché is thrown around too often in the NFL. For the Dolphins, Sunday’s game is best described by that phrase, as the team quite literally looked like entirely different units in respective halves of the game.
A performance like Miami’s leads to a game with immense contrast between highs and lows. Here is our breakdown of the best and worst plays from the Dolphins’ 31-24 loss at Gillette Stadium to the division-rival Patriots.
Defense Finally Gets Aggressive:
It should not surprise any of you that this is the Dolphins’ only defensive play that makes it into the positive section of this article.
Vance Joseph’s defense has played the vast majority of the team’s first two games with an incredible amount of caution. They are demonstrating little to no aggressiveness and are playing with fear of giving up a big play rather than with the intent of making one themselves.
The Dolphins do not have the right defensive personnel to sit back and play conservatively. Their deficiency of talent at almost every position means they need to be aggressive in their schemes. Really, what’s the difference between blitzing an extra DB and keeping them in coverage? Are we actually confident that they’ll make a difference on the back end?
The Dolphins’ defense did flash aggressiveness late in the game against New England.
Here, the team finally decides to attack. They bring Michael Thomas down to blitz off of Jacoby Brissett’s blind side. He completely takes Brissett by surprise, forcing the fumble in a critical moment.
Vance Joseph had to be confident that Brissett would have no clue how to identify the blitz and shift the offense accordingly. He dialed one up, and it paid off.
One of the things that cost the Dolphins this game was their passive play on defense. For at least one moment, we were able to get a glimpse of what an attacking style could do for a team that lacks the talent to play conservatively.
Kenny Stills’ Second-Half Touchdown:
Late in the game, the Dolphins pulled out all of the stops to get points on the board. On this play, Adam Gase had the perfect call, and his team executed it without a single lapse.
Ryan Tannehill has just enough time in the pocket to allow Stills to run his route here. Tannehill’s pass is lofted up to Stills who runs under it for six points.
Two things had to go right for this play to work. First, Jay Ajayi had to make his block.
His play here allows Tannehill the time needed for Stills’ route to develop down the field.
The second thing that needed to go right was fooling the safety in the middle of the field.
Jarvis Landry’s route over the middle of the field and Ryan Tannehill’s initial look towards Landry, draw the safety in that direction. As the safety drifts, Tannehill flips his eyes to Stills, who has enough room to make the play.
Everything went right for the Dolphins here. Jay Ajayi made his block. Jarvis Landry and Ryan Tannehill drew off the safety. Kenny Stills used his speed to separate for the touchdown.
Poetry in motion.
Jordan Cameron Slips Out of Blocking:
In Adam Gase’s past offenses, he has tended towards trickery with tight ends to help them get opportunities to make plays. One of his favorite moves is to have the tight end initially fake a block, but slip out of the blocking as an outlet option for the QB.
In Chicago, he called this play as a QB rollout on the goal line.
In Miami, we saw this concept incorporated against the Patriots.
Jordan Cameron pretends to be blocking on the play, and the defensive back buys it. Then, Cameron slips out into the flat without drawing the DB’s attention.
Tannehill also shows progress here. Usually, the Dolphins’ quarterback struggles to flip to the other side of his progression when it involves turning his body. However, he recognizes in this situation that he will have Cameron open on the other side.
This is a strong example of the Dolphins making things easy for Ryan Tannehill and of Tannehill taking advantage of great play design.
Dolphins Utilize No-Huddle in the First Half:
If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I am a huge proponent of the Dolphins using a no-huddle attack intermittently to pick up first downs.
(If you don’t follow me on Twitter, @HimmelrichNFL is the place to be. It’s a wild ride.)
The Dolphins obviously cannot go no-huddle on every play. However, it’s a strategy that has an incredible success rate when quickly trying to exploit defensive formations to pick up easy first downs.
In the first half, the Dolphins’ only effective moments came in this no-huddle attack.
The Dolphins got close to the first down on this play. They also clearly have the Patriots in a defensive grouping that they are comfortable working against.
Easy money. Jarvis Landry’s route clears out defenders for Jordan Cameron on the short route to pick up the first down.
It really doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. After an effective first down play, the no-huddle allows you to exploit the defense for an easier conversion. There’s no need to go with this tempo on every play; it makes sense in these short bursts to move the chains.
Dolphins Utilize No-Huddle in the Second Half:
The Miami Dolphins realized that the no-huddle was the only thing that worked in the first half. Luckily for them, it worked even better in the second half.
That is the beauty of this offensive attack; if your offense is conditioned well enough to execute with good tempo in short bursts, it gets harder and harder for the defense to stop them as the game progresses.
Here is the Dolphins’ first play after drawing an early penalty on their opening drive of the second half.
This is a solid pickup to put the team back where they started. Ryan Tannehill and the offense then elect to move into the no-huddle.
Tannehill hits his favorite weapon over the middle for a solid chunk on 2nd & 9. The defense’s coverage became more lax facing the no-huddle (less confidence in what the offense will do), and Landry capitalizes.
Suddenly, the Dolphins have turned 1st & 20 into 3rd & 1.
On third down, the defense is on its heels. Ryan Tannehill sets out on a bootleg, fooling the defense that expected a simple strong side run for the conversion on 3rd & 1. Instead, the Dolphins get greedy in the best way possible.
They know that the entire defense will be waiting for the handoff with a strong formation. So, DeVante Parker moves back to the weakside, where Tannehill ends up on the bootleg.
The weakside linebacker obviously can’t reach Parker in time, and it ends up netting the Dolphins a huge gain.
1st & 20 at the 15-yard line. Less than two minutes later, 1st & 10 at the 50.
Ladies and gentlemen, the power of the no-huddle.
Tannehill Hits Cameron for Six:
Big moment. Big throw.
It’s just really, really pretty.
If I included every single bad play from the Dolphins’ defense, this article would qualify as a Russian novel. It would also qualify as the most depressing of all Russian novels. I have never read a Russian novel, but I imagine that would be a feat.
Enough about the Russians. Please refrain from commenting, “you missed the worst play,” because they were all bad. Let’s just accept that I feel some were more terrible than others.
Byron Maxwell is a Serious Problem:
Byron Maxwell was a good Seahawk. Byron Maxwell was a bad Eagle. Byron Maxwell is a bad Dolphin.
1-2 as animals is not very good. I recommend an industrial mascot next.
(Any Dolphins fan would love to see Byron Maxwell on the Jets.)
The New England Patriots repeatedly exposed Maxwell as someone who not only struggles in coverage, but also with tackling.
I have absolutely no idea what Byron Maxwell is supposed to be doing on this play. I have a fleeting suspicion that Maxwell doesn’t know either.
It really is never going to be pretty for Byron Maxwell. Fans who expected him to turn it around because of a scheme fail to realize that it wasn’t even the scheme that made him good in Seattle; it was being the fourth player in a secondary that had three Pro Bowlers.
Byron Maxwell also never really had to do much tackling in Seattle considering that they have a gaggle of Pro Bowlers up front as well.
That is called imposing your will. The Patriots do it well.
LeGarette Blount decided that after Martellus Bennett went through Maxwell, he would go over him.
It actually hurts to watch Byron Maxwell play football at this point.
Patriots Feast on Red Zone Mismatches:
When this play unfolded, many of you probably saw a problem before the ball was even snapped.
Why did the Dolphins leave two linebackers who can’t cover on a Patriots slot receiver in the red zone?
In a situation like this, Jimmy Garoppolo is taught to identify the weakest area of the defense. For the Dolphins, that is almost always where the linebackers are covering.
Jelani Jenkins is taken advantage of horrifically on this play. Danny Amendola sneaks out behind the coverage for an easy touchdown.
It’s hard not to rely on your linebackers in coverage in the red zone. However, you can’t leave them with the task of taking away Danny Amendola in that area of the field against New England. The Patriots will make you pay every time.
Sure enough, they did. While this is an extreme example given the opponent, it will be a long season for the Dolphins trying to play defense in the red zone against any team.
Jelani Jenkins Misses an Easy INT:
Linebackers must be aware of their surroundings at all times.
In this case, Jelani Jenkins needs to be aware that the football is passing directly in front of him.
This play sums up the Dolphins’ defensive woes. A linebacker who manages to put himself where he needs to be in coverage and still finds a way to give up a first down to the opposition. In a game that is slipping away from your team, you cannot give away chances at a turnover.
Had Jelani Jenkins been aware of the football, this would have been a huge play for the Dolphins.
At the time of the draft, I suggested that the Dolphins draft Reggie Ragland to shore up the run defense in short yardage. Most people responded by saying that Ragland can’t play coverage and is a liability on third down. Well, I hate to break it to those people, but the Dolphins seem to have three linebackers who are all liabilities in coverage, none of whom are as good against the run as Ragland.
The past is the past, and the present is the present. Unfortunately, the present is ugly for the Dolphins’ linebackers in coverage. Hopefully the future can be a bit prettier at the position.
This Time, They All Fail:
The file name for this one in my computer?
Now you see why.
On third down, the Dolphins expect Kiko Alonso and Koa Misi to be able to stop the Patriots’ best weapon on offense. However, Kiko Alonso is fooled by an underneath route. He abandons Edelman, who is picked up too late by Misi.
Even if Koa Misi had picked him up on time, there is no chance that Misi, who really should exclusively be used to stop the run, is going to be able to cover Julian Edelman.
All they needed was a sliver of opportunity. Linebackers covering Julian Edelman will almost always give them that sliver.
The Dolphins will need to attempt to mask their linebacking corps in coverage. On third down, they cannot give them any task as serious as locking down Julian Edelman. Obviously it is not possible to play coverage without your linebackers in the modern NFL. However, if the Dolphins keep giving top weapons easy opportunities, this defense could set records for allowing opponents to convert third downs.
New England’s Final Drive:
While the Patriots’ final drive did not prove to be fatal from a scoring perspective (as Gostkowski missed what would have been a game-ending field goal), it did kill a ton of clock.
The Dolphins were unable to get a stop when they needed to the most for the second consecutive week.
One of the team’s biggest issues was an inability to gain push against the run.
Here, New England easily exploits the Dolphins’ defense outside of the box, knowing that they’ll be able to take advantage of a conservative defense sitting back waiting for a run over the middle.
The Dolphins were simply overpowered on the play above. Everyone is pushed off of the line of scrimmage, linebackers are collapsing and everything crumbles simultaneously in the front-seven at a moment when the team needed a stop more than ever.
On one of the last plays, things were just too easy for Blount.
While it didn’t end up mattering, the team did give the NFL’s best kicker an extra 9-yards ahead of a deciding attempt. That is never a good approach. Also, one yard separated Blount from a first down that would have iced the entire thing.
The Dolphins’ next issue was, once again, leaving linebackers with key assignments on third down.
It is unclear to me exactly how the team thought that any part of this defensive play would work. Even with a bad throw from Brissett, Bennett is able to pick up the first down.
If Kiko Alonso is going to play man coverage against Bennett, he needs to be more physical and play aggressively. Here, it looks like Alonso is in zone and is the only player in the area. That is a very, very bad recipe.
Regardless, this drive was a repeat performance of the Dolphins’ defensive closing efforts against Seattle. The team was unable, two weeks in a row, to get a stop when they needed it the most.
While both sides contributed to the Dolphins falling behind by a huge margin in the first half, the defense was clearly to blame for the failure to complete what would have been a remarkable comeback.
There really isn’t much to discuss here. As a fifth-year QB, Ryan Tannehill needs to be smarter, recognizing that taking a sack would be much better than trying to make a ridiculous throw.
I’m sure that it will be tough for Tannehill to re-watch this play leading up to next week, and hopefully he avoids making the same decision again in the future.
Jarvis Landry’s Fumble:
Sometimes, Jarvis Landry gets a bit too carried away with fighting for yards.
This is a perfect example of a time when Landry’s decisions come back to bite him. Instead of just trying to beat one defender near the sideline (which would have been easier), Landry decides to attempt to side step him.
Then, in the act of fighting for more yards, Landry straightens himself out into a standing position. For a second, imagine yourself holding a football. How is it easier to keep that ball in your hands, standing up with your back straight, or bending slightly?
Jarvis Landry put himself in a position to fumble the ball, which gave possession right back to New England after they had turned it over to Miami. While his level of heart and determination is admirable, there are times when he would benefit from simply taking what the defense gave him instead of losing yards (or risking turnovers).
Once again, the Dolphins lost a game they could have won because the team did not limit mistakes. Third downs featured miscues for the offense and defense. Careless turnovers torpedoed the team’s chances. Passiveness led to missed opportunities on both sides of the ball.
The Dolphins could be 2-0 right now, giving away a win in Seattle and missing an opportunity to take advantage of Garoppolo’s injury against the Patriots. However, the team is exactly where most experts believed they would be: 0-2 after a grueling opening two weeks.
The Dolphins now enter a much more manageable stretch of their schedule, with games coming up against less dominant opponents. Hopefully we can learn something about the true identity of this team as they grow within new offensive and defensive systems and as they figure out the level of consistency that is required of players and coaches to win games in the NFL.