Dolphins Dichotomy: Film Review of the Best & Worst Plays From Browns vs. Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins faced the Cleveland Browns at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday afternoon. With a final score of 30-24, the Dolphins move to 0-2-0-1 on the season.
Oh, if you didn’t hear, I invented a new column for “wins” like that. You know, the ones that aren’t really wins.
After the Dolphins’ underwhelming performance against the Cleveland Browns, we once again learned several areas in which the team needs to improve and some in which they are actually making progress.
In this breakdown, we discuss the good, the bad and often the very ugly from Miami’s Week 3 matchup.
Byron Maxwell Shows Signs of Life:
Through the first two weeks of 2016, Byron Maxwell was victimized. Rather than attacking a rookie corner starting his first and second games, offenses elected to go after Maxwell, finding success when they did.
However, in Sunday’s game Byron Maxwell played well. While the statistics might show that Terrelle Pryor had a big day, there were still plenty of moments in which you saw Maxwell perform at a higher level than he previously has in coverage. Maxwell was able to break up several key plays and for the most part avoided the combination of mental errors and physical mistakes that led to easy completions for opposing offenses.
Late in the game we saw Byron Maxwell correct an issue with cushioning receivers and actually succeed because of it.
Maxwell jams Pryor at the line and is able to make a good play on the football to break up the slant.
Later, Maxwell was able to hold coverage over the middle of the field on an in-breaking route, which he struggled to cover in Weeks 1 and 2.
Not only does he put himself in a good position to disrupt the pass, but he also is able to use his hands to disrupt the ball.
Earlier in the game, he was able to shadow Terrelle Pryor perfectly deep, making an athletic play on the ball without drawing a pass interference call.
One of the reasons that Maxwell succeeded was because the area of the field you need to worry about defensively against Cody Kessler is so small. Teams will be willing to let Kessler try to beat them deep because of his struggles with the deep ball. So, Maxwell was able to play the underneath routes with regularity.
He was able to stick with Terrelle Pryor deep because he didn’t have to worry so much about being burnt with precision routes. Think of Pryor in terms of DeVante Parker, who Dolphins fans know isn’t an elite route runner. Maxwell just had to make sure he physically got between Pryor and the ball.
As a whole, this was a step in the right direction for Maxwell, but his improvement probably won’t carry over into a TNF showdown with A.J. Green.
Cameron Wake Obliterates Cody Kessler:
Cameron Wake’s ability to perform on passing downs has to be one of the most welcomed storylines thus far from the Dolphins’ season.
Early on against the Browns, Wake was able to force a turnover that gave the Dolphins the ball back following Ryan Tannehill’s opening-drive interception.
Explaining how impressive this play is, given the injury Wake suffered less than a year ago, requires an examination of three key elements:
First – his get-off at the line of scrimmage.
Second – his ability to continue to bend and slip by blockers. This was something I was concerned about following the injury, but he is showing that his ability when asked to go low has not declined.
The third element is his ability to maintain speed and explode off of the blocker when he slips through.
Watching Cameron Wake make plays like this less than a year removed from tearing his Achilles is not surprising. It’s just awesome.
Tannehill Hits DeVante Parker for Six:
Most Dolphins fans have accepted that 2016 is not going to be the year of DeVante Parker. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t show the team that he is on his way to living up to the expectations attached with being the 14th overall pick in the draft.
On Sunday, Parker was able to make a play that can help build coaches’ confidence in his ability to do what he needs to do in order to succeed: make plays using his frame.
This isn’t such a great catch for DeVante Parker. However, it is an example of things trending in the right direction in regards to the coaching staff’s faith in the young receiver. Whether or not he lives up to the hype he garnered entering 2016, he is still an asset they surely want to utilize.
The Browns line up with one safety high over the side of the field that Parker and Landry line up on. The touchdown is made possible when the safety elects to assist in coverage of Jarvis Landry.
The Browns are overly concerned with covering Jarvis Landry, and the safety makes a poor decision by allocating himself as the fourth man covering him. However, it is an error Ryan Tannehill is more than happy to exploit. Immediately once the safety breaks on Landry, Tannehill puts it up for Parker.
The combination of routes is designed to make Landry an option underneath, or to have Parker as the target in the end zone. Either way, the route’s inward break meant that Parker would be able to position himself in front of the corner. With his size and length, DeVante Parker puts the corner in an impossible position.
Good recognition from Tannehill. Good design by Gase. Good catch by Parker.
Overtime Play to Landry Sets Up Game-Winner:
The Cleveland Browns entered Sunday’s game daring the Miami Dolphins to run the ball. They sat back in zone coverage and wanted to make Miami beat them on the ground.
That mentality is part of what contributed to the Dolphins’ conversion on a key play in overtime which set up Jay Ajayi’s touchdown run.
The play action here doesn’t fool the front seven at all. The left side protection collapses in front of Tannehill leaving free rushers with an open shot. However, the play action did fool Jamar Taylor.
Jamar Taylor focuses down on the run, leaving Jarvis Landry with an opportunity to get open.
This is a perfect example of trapping a defense based on play-calling. The entire strategy for Cleveland defensively is to hope that the Dolphins go to the ground with extra resources allocated in the Browns’ secondary. The Dolphins knew this, and were able to convince the Browns on this play that their defensive strategy was dictating the offense.
Adam Gase was able to call a play that took advantage of a perceived strength in the Browns’ strategy. While the Jay Ajayi run technically won the game for the Dolphins, this play was just as important to convert and put them in position to score.
Dolphins Go No-Huddle in the Third Quarter:
This is your weekly public service announcement that the Dolphins’ offense has worked very well in the no-huddle.
In the third quarter, the Dolphins had strong stretches in this attack, recognizing a defensive look and turning it into two first down conversions.
On the first play, the Dolphins net almost no gain on a run. However, they continue to reinforce the Browns’ mentality that they are forcing the Dolphins into calling ground plays, trapping the Browns in a run stopping personnel group.
The Dolphins exploit this on the second play.
Tannehill finds Jarvis Landry, who was covered by one DB and a linebacker, which is not a recipe for defensive success when defending Landry over the middle.
On the third play, Tannehill knows two things. First, that he’ll likely face the same combination of players covering Landry. Second, that he will have more time as the pass rush grows fatigued.
Tannehill is able to hang in thanks to excellent protection and hit Jarvis Landry on another crossing route. Landry gained separation thanks to the time Tannehill had in the pocket due to the reduction in pass rush.
Throughout three weeks we have seen several occasions on which the benefits of the no-huddle spell success for the Dolphins, leading to big conversions on sustained drives.
Kenyan Drake Channels Arian Foster:
Some believe that you can teach a running back how to properly identify a lane for cutbacks. While I believe that you can teach this to a point, ball carriers either have the proper instinct to excel in this area or they don’t. Improvements can be made, but true excellence is either there or it isn’t.
Kenyan Drake showed at least once on Sunday that he is able to properly identify a cutback, demonstrating good feel and patience.
On this play, Drake sees a lane developing up the middle. He is able to wait then burst inside for a first down.
From the coaches’ film, you are able to see the patience that Kenyan Drake exhibits. Many running backs get nervous slowing their feet in open areas, especially near the line. However, Drake waits for the middle of the field to open up before using his explosiveness to cut inside.
The Dolphins’ running back approach on Sunday was not by committee. It was by the masses. I believe that for the team to have success on the ground, they will need to establish at least two primary ball carriers. Establishing a consistent attack from the running back position requires rhythm, which is easier to get with 2-3 backs splitting carries rather than 4-5.
When Arian Foster is healthy, I expect him and Kenyan Drake to be the primary recipients of touches at the position.
Reshad Jones Becomes the MVP:
Currently, Reshad Jones is the player on defense that the Miami Dolphins can least afford to lose. Not only is he the team’s best defensive back, but he is also their best linebacker.
While his impact is not always evident in the stat sheet (even though he usually still puts up a ridiculous line), he shows up everywhere on the film.
Here, Reshad Jones is not fooled by the misdirection, and he is the only player with the physical ability to close fast enough on the runner approaching the edge. Instead of trying to make the big play, Jones makes the smart play. He takes away the sideline from Andrew Hawkins, who would have been able to use that route to escape the defense with ease.
Jones then is able to cut back in and actually make the tackle on the play.
On some plays, Reshad Jones does earn a place on the highlight reel.
I don’t think many would argue that he is the Dolphins’ best option coming off of the edge outside of defensive linemen. He has the acceleration and vision to quickly find routes to the ball carrier.
In addition to being the Dolphins’ best linebacker off of the edge, he would be the team’s best option as a tackler.
Terrelle Pryor is not an easy man to bring down. Reshad Jones makes it look like it’s no problem at all.
Jones is one of the most entertaining players in the NFL to watch play defense. For the same reason that NBA fans are excited to watch Russell Westbrook dominate singlehandedly for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Dolphins fans should at least take solace in being able to watch Reshad Jones become a one-man wrecking crew defensively in South Florida.
Ryan Tannehill’s Turnovers:
During the Dolphins’ game against the Browns, Ryan Tannehill was the cause of three turnovers that jeopardized the Dolphins’ chances of victory.
The most forgivable was actually his pick six.
Pressure coming in off of the right side allows the defender to hit Tannehill’s arm on the release. However, he did the exact same thing last week against New England, throwing an INT to Jamie Collins. Ryan Tannehill needs to have a better feel in the pocket and understand that he must either use his feet to find a new space to throw or simply dump it down before pressure crashes in.
The next turnover, and the most dangerous to the game’s outcome, was his fumble on the team’s final attempt to prevent an overtime period.
In this situation, a quarterback needs to be aware that a sack is better than a fumble. When you are on your own 35-yard line with the game tied in the waning moments, taking the sack and heading to OT is the smartest play. If something is wide open, then sure, go ahead. However, it is unforgivable to try to make anything out of the play here when he knows that any error could directly cost them the game.
Had the Dolphins been playing any other NFL team, this would’ve been a loss due to that fumble. However, the Browns can always lose themselves a game. It’s a gift for them.
The most bone-headed, but least impactful, turnover of Tannehill’s was the early interception to Jamar Taylor.
There is just no explanation for this. The play was never there, and there is absolutely no reason to attempt that throw. I would call it a rookie mistake, but we’re past the point of Tannehill being able to make those errors.
While I have not given up on Ryan Tannehill, as those mistakes happen to any NFL quarterback occasionally, he needs to have those errors occur MUCH less frequently.
Jason Jones is Sent Into Coverage:
Yes, you read that right.
At one point on Sunday, Vance Joseph elected to shift defensive end Jason Jones into coverage in an area that Terrelle Pryor was coming across out of the slot.
I don’t know where to start with this. Reshad Jones is working on the running back out of the backfield, leaving Jason Jones as essentially the sole man on Pryor.
The Dolphins do not have linebackers that can cover, let alone defensive ends who will help stop opposing passing attacks. Why would the team even feel the need to blitz the linebackers? They have been completely ineffective rushing the passer at this point. The linebackers have been bad in coverage, but it seems obvious that defensive ends would be even worse.
I could not begin to explain the logic on this type of play, but it appears to be the most misguided approach taken by Vance Joseph during the team’s game against Cleveland. Hopefully that is the last time Jason Jones is given a task in coverage this season.
Terrelle Pryor’s Game-Tying TD:
The Miami Dolphins seemed to be completely unprepared for Terrelle Pryor out of the wildcat in this game.
The Browns exploited the Dolphins’ defense on the final play of their game-tying touchdown drive that would eventually force the Dolphins into overtime.
Kiko Alonso is the worst offender here. He does not have the quickness to cover Pryor heading to the pylon with a good angle, let alone when he approaches as he did on this play.
The next question is why did the Dolphins not have Reshad Jones working as a spy on Pryor? He demonstrated throughout the day that he is the only player with the ability to chase down the Browns’ dynamic hybrid player. It seems that the best option would have been to have Jones shadowing Pryor, especially here on the goal line.
This calls into question how prepared the Dolphins truly were for Terrelle Pryor at quarterback, something they should have known was a not-so strange possibility.
Jelani Jenkins Embarrasses Himself:
I was a well-documented fan of Jelani Jenkins heading into the 2015 season. At times, he made me look good for touting him as a potential contributor. At times, he didn’t.
This season, he has made my previous excitement over his development seem even more ridiculous, becoming an actual liability on the field for the Dolphins.
After one awful play, the team seemingly had enough.
When your defensive coordinator makes the right playcall and a player displays that type of tackling technique (especially on 3rd & 1 when you are in need of a big stop), it’s reasonable to expect that the player won’t be in the starting lineup for long.
Well, the Dolphins gave Neville Hewitt a shot given the magnitude of Jenkins’ struggles throughout this season. At times, it really worked.
Here, Neville Hewitt shows that he is capable of tackling an offensive player. For the Dolphins’ linebackers, this is improvement.
So, the whiff Jelani Jenkins laid earlier on 3rd & 1 could be a good thing if Neville Hewitt is able to perform, as we can reasonably expect to see him get more reps. However, it’s an incredibly embarrassing moment for Jenkins, who is showing himself to be another player who the Dolphins cannot rely on to start for them moving forward.
(Please continue to keep an eye out, as almost every remaining play features some mishap of Jenkins’ in coverage or run support.)
Dolphins Fooled by Misdirection Again:
The Miami Dolphins struggled with misdirections against the Patriots. Against the Browns, they were fooled again.
How many times will the Dolphins be tricked by a misdirection into letting the tight end open for easy completions? Yes, it has only been three weeks for defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, but at this point if the same play is giving you trouble for three consecutive weeks you would have to hope that it gets fixed soon.
Here it is easy to see that this is another embarrassing play for Jelani Jenkins, who could be the most oft-victimized player on the Dolphins’ defense thus far this season. However, this was a failure by the entire defense, which bit awfully on the fake.
The Dolphins will need to work out these issues, especially considering the offense they are facing on Thursday night features arguably the NFL’s most dynamic RB duo, providing a huge threat on play action.
Linebackers Don’t Diversify Their Approaches:
The Dolphins have been easily taken advantage of in short yardage situations. Frequently, it seems to be because there isn’t even a defender in the area. Part of what contributes to that is the pursuit taken by the team’s linebackers.
The Dolphins’ problem becomes clear on this play. The running back, while heading to the right, can still cut back or bounce outside. Why then do the Dolphins’ linebackers all attack within the same five-yard radius?
Not a single player in the group accounts for the outside as an option, leading to one of the easiest first down pickups you’ll see for an NFL running back.
(As a side-note, this play once again highlights Jelani Jenkins’ struggles. He seems to consistently engage unnecessarily with blockers.)
The Dolphins’ linebackers, based on their tendency to all approach in the same direction, are performing worse than most would have expected heading into the season, which is hard to believe because of how low expectations actually were.
Whether it’s scheming, personnel, or (more likely) both, the Dolphins desperately need to make a change at the position.
The Miami Dolphins face a tough task on Thursday night, heading to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals. While the Dolphins did notch their first win of the season against the Browns, most would agree that it wasn’t the feel-good affair most expected it to be.
While there were some positives to take away from Sunday’s game, it was not the type of performance you want to see from a team that many expected to cruise to a win following close games against the Patriots and Seahawks.
However, this early in a coaching tenure, a huge emphasis has to be placed on learning. Not only does Gase learn from each week, but fans also learn watching him adjust and develop this team. While the Dolphins are on a short week, it will be interesting to see how many improvements the team can incorporate as they prepare to take on the Bengals on Thursday Night Football.