Dolphins Dichotomy: Film Review of the Best and Worst Plays From Dolphins vs. Bengals
It’s tough to remember a Dolphins game that was as immensely difficult to watch as last week’s.
Fans sitting down for Thursday Night Football were not treated to a good, or even watchable, performance from the Miami Dolphins; the team looked flat, unprepared and unexciting. Everything went wrong for the team on defense and offense with A.J. Green destroying Miami’s secondary, and the offense being unable to hold back anyone in Cincy’s defensive front.
For the third time in four weeks, the Dolphins walked away with a loss. While there aren’t very many positives from this game, we still tried to find enough to live up to the name “Dolphins Dichotomy.”
Kenny Stills Hangs On:
Dolphins fans collectively held their breath during this play. Early on against the Bengals, it was an opportunity for redemption.
He caught it. He scored.
At this point, people felt there was a chance. The Dolphins took a shot deep on the first play, exploiting a perceived weakness in the Bengals’ defense.
The Dolphins utilized DeVante Parker on the same route he ran for his Week 3 touchdown, obviously calling it in a very different scenario. However, the Bengals’ DBs clearly were watching for plays where Parker could use body position to shield the ball.
The safety bit on DeVante Parker underneath, which freed up Kenny Stills deep. The defense realized far too late that they had forgotten to account for Stills deep, and Ryan Tannehill made them pay.
This is an example of when things go well for the Dolphins. Protection was good. The routes were well designed. Everything was perfect, allowing Ryan Tannehill to deliver a tough pass. However, in the NFL you can’t expect to only make big plays when everything is perfect.
Kiko Alonso Tracks the RB, Makes a Play:
Kiko Alonso is clearly a shell of his former self physically. However, he showed on Sunday that when he is more mentally in tune with what he needs to do, he can make plays.
(Disclaimer: He still didn’t have a good game. This is simply an illustration of a manner in which he can be used.)
Before the ball is snapped, Alonso creeps towards the line of scrimmage. When Dalton takes the ball, Alonso immediately makes a break for Giovani Bernard. He knew the play was coming, and sold out to tackle the runner in the backfield. Give him one job, and allow him to keep it simple.
Kiko Alonso isn’t going to cover the width of the field and close out on a carrier before the first down like he did in Buffalo. However, it is possible for him to put himself in the position to make plays.
Kenyan Drake and Jay Ajayi Make Plays:
Isaiah Pead and Damien Williams inspired no confidence on Thursday. No ball carrier can shine when you’re dividing touches amongst four players. While this may be true, there were flashes from Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake on Thursday.
Kenyan Drake’s ability to identify a lane and quickly cut inside has been a welcomed sight in his first two games seeing real action.
He is moving towards the right sideline, but sees an opening and gets inside for the first down.
In a contrasting style, Jay Ajayi showed that he can be productive with physicality and force.
Ajayi was able to bounce off of tacklers on several occasions in Cincinnati, displaying an ability to compliment the quicker style of Kenyan Drake.
Nobody can have success on the ground in a four RB system. The Dolphins could be served well by dividing up the workload directly between Ajayi and Drake until Foster returns. At that point, they will have to decide on a primary backup if they want to consistently create a rushing attack for the offense.
Quick Pass Works Wonders:
Adam Gase’s offense is designed to work off of quick, decisive passing. This wasn’t executed against the Bengals, but we did get a glimpse of the concept on a third down attempt for the team.
This is as easy as it gets. Wait to make sure the running back has a step on the defender in man coverage, then flip it out. Quick and easy five yards.
However, the Dolphins’ offensive line failed to allow the team to even execute on these short plays against Cincy.
I am not deflecting blame from Ryan Tannehill, who did play very poorly. However, the basis of Adam Gase’s offense is designed to make life easy for an offensive line as they have to hold blocks for less time. Even then, the Dolphins’ Week 4 starting lineup was unable to give Tannehill the short amount of time needed to make things run smoothly in his new system.
Please note: It would be impossible to break down every bad play from Thursday night. These are the ones that stood out:
Tannehill Can’t Evade the Rush:
Dolphins fans love buzzwords. Dolphins fans really love when they can take two buzzwords and combine them into a buzz phrase. Their favorite buzz phrase?
Fans often don’t understand that you can’t have good pocket presence if there isn’t a pocket in the first place.
The issue for Ryan Tannehill at this point is not this intangible “pocket presence.” The issue is one specific element of being a pocket passer: climbing away from pressure.
Tannehill does a very good job of standing in the pocket and making plays in the face of defenders. Often, he does this too much, either taking a sack or having his arm hit for an INT. During Thursday’s game, we got a glimpse of a specific instance in which Tannehill stayed put too long, not realizing that he has room to move to evade a hit.
Here, Ryan Tannehill must feel the opening to his right. Immediately as Jay Ajayi slips out, Tannehill should be moving into that area.
Instead, he stands clueless in the danger zone, ending up with the ball stripped away by a defender.
This is an instance in which you can pull out the buzz phrase. Tannehill needs to have a much better feel for the pocket, stepping up here or simply dumping the ball out to Jay Ajayi. (In Gase’s offense, your first read is often your best read.)
Also of importance: Tannehill really could work on his grip of the football. At this point, it’s a weekly fumble. Whether it’s keeping two hands on the ball or just tightening his hold on the ball, Tannehill needs to make sure that even when hands get onto it that he can maintain possession.
Dolphins Still Fail to Cover the TE:
On some plays, there will be a soft spot in a given defense. For the Dolphins, they have had a soft spot in their defense all season.
Whenever an opposing quarterback looks towards their tight end just past the sticks, they’ll find him open.
Linebackers fail to cover. Tight end hits weak spot in coverage. Rinse and repeat.
The Dolphins could spend the entire season giving up plays in this area of the field for all that I know. After doing so for three weeks, they still didn’t make adjustments heading into Thursday’s game.
The saying about the definition of insanity being “doing the same thing twice and expecting different results,” is a cliché. However, it’s impossible for your mind not to drift there while watching the Dolphins’ defense try to cover tight ends up to this point in 2016.
Tony Lippett Embarrassed:
A.J. Green had a monster game against the Dolphins. This would not surprise anyone. The surprise came in how he was able to do so.
Vance Joseph on several occasions called coverages that failed to account for the fact that the Dolphins were up against one of the NFL’s top receivers. The coaching staff also elected to bench Byron Maxwell in favor of second-year CB, and preseason disappointment, Tony Lippett.
On this play, Cincinnati takes advantage of Miami’s coverage with incredible ease. However, the play makes Lippett look incredibly clumsy in his pursuit and distance from Green.
It is clear that the Bengals are running a legal pick play once the ball is snapped here. However, you need to be ready for those plays on third down. It’s great design, but something that most teams in the NFL utilize. It isn’t unstoppable, but the Dolphins make it look like it is. In this situation, it also doesn’t help to throw in an unseasoned play like Lippett.
Later in the game, Tony Lippett was beaten by A.J. Green again.
Reshad Jones was late getting over on this play, as it was his job to make sure that they weren’t able to simply loft the ball over Tony Lippett’s head down the sideline. However, it’s still awful to watch Green outrun Lippett with so much ease.
While A.J. Green is fast, he is far from the fastest receiver in a straight line that Lippett will face on the outside. However, Green is still able to cruise past Lippett with almost no trouble. I don’t want to see what happens in two weeks when Miami faces Pittsburgh.
In the red zone in the first half, Tony Lippett had his worst snap of the game by far.
Why? Just, why?
Tackling A.J. Green for a two-yard loss here means very little. You aren’t forcing them out of field goal range. It isn’t a 3rd & 1. There is no reason to sell out for a tackle and use such poor technique in this situation.
Instead of setting his base and wrapping up Green’s body closer to the line, Lippett elects to try to make the highlight play. He shoots forward, diving at Green’s knees and clumsily allowing the touchdown.
While Byron Maxwell was by no means good in Weeks 1-3, it still doesn’t make sense to throw Tony Lippett in for this situation. He will be unprepared. He will certainly not be an upgrade. Yes, it makes a point, but I believe that it could have done so at a cost to the team.
The Linebacker Corps’ Struggles:
The Dolphins were facing a rash of injuries to their linebackers entering Thursday’s game. With the team’s group already struggling terribly in coverage during the first three games of 2016, it didn’t seem like it would make a big difference to start Spencer Paysinger and Neville Hewitt.
However, it was worse than we could have imagined.
On two plays, we saw how tough of a position the Dolphins’ personnel has put coaches in.
Spencer Paysinger is a solid special teams player, but the team knows that he will not be an asset at linebacker. On two occasions, it was clear just how tough the task of getting him ready to start would be.
Here, Paysinger simply fails to make the tackle against the tight end.
Later, he failed in coverage against Giovani Bernard.
Spencer Paysinger is the player who Giovani Bernard shakes easily for the first down.
Later, A.J. Green took advantage of the Dolphins’ linebackers over the middle. (Specifically, he beat Neville Hewitt in zone. Hewitt is far from ready to play in coverage.)
The Dolphins have no means of covering over the middle of the field. As a defensive coordinator, can you imagine not being able to rely on a single linebacker to hold down their zone in coverage? Calling good plays for this group really is an impossible task.
Right now, the Dolphins have no options defensively considering their current personnel. While it is easy to watch some plays and wonder what the coaching staff is thinking, we can’t forget how tough the task is that they have been handed.
Defense Can’t Tackle, Doesn’t Capitalize:
This was a “pull your hair out” play for the Dolphins’ defense.
First, Mario Williams isn’t able to wrap up Jeremy Hill on a play when the coaches clearly made the perfect call. Then, Jason Jones whiffs on the ball carrier. Then, Andy Dalton is able to block Isa Abdul-Quddus, allowing Hill to turn the play into a short gain.
If your coordinator calls the right play and you put yourself in the proper position to capitalize, you have to make the tackle.
The Dolphins failed to take advantage of opportunities in Weeks 1-3 and showed again in Week 4 just how poor of a position your team ends up in when you do so.
MarQueis Gray Drop:
This play was a textbook drive killer.
This is a lose-lose situation for Ryan Tannehill. If he puts the ball too low and it’s batted, it’ll be his fault. If he throws it too high and it’s dropped, it’s still somehow his fault.
Well, he chose the latter.
There is nothing that you could possibly do to convince me that this isn’t a drop by MarQueis Gray. Ryan Tannehill had a bad game, but this was not a bad play by him. The ball goes high to avoid the defensive end, and Gray is unable to make the adjustment. The ball hits him right in the hands, falling to the ground.
You can blame Ryan Tannehill for plenty of the things that went wrong against the Bengals, but this play is not one of them.
Draw Play on 3rd & 6:
There really is not a definitive way to know whether or not Ryan Tannehill audibled into a specific play at the line of scrimmage. However, he is now partially responsible for the play calling. Previously, if a coach made a bad choice, he didn’t have the power to alter it; he now does have that ability.
On third down, it is unclear whether he chose the specific audible or elected not to correct the coaching staff’s mistake. Either way, it falls on him.
Unless you have Le’Veon Bell, Adrian Peterson, Todd Gurley or another dominant running back on your team, there is absolutely no reason to call a draw play on 3rd & 6.
Based on Adam Gase’s history and offensive prowess, I do not believe that he sent that play to the line. This means that Ryan Tannehill could have audibled into a run in a third and slightly-longer-than-short. There is absolutely no reason to make this decision, especially with Isaiah Pead as your back.
The other potential scenario is that Gase did send that play to the line, but Tannehill didn’t check out of it. While this doesn’t seem likely, even if it did happen, it is on Tannehill to correct the issue.
I would expect it to take between six and eight games for the team to straighten out issues with the new offense. While some level of error is excusable early, it really doesn’t seem hard to understand why a draw play is the wrong call in that situation.
On some plays, Ryan Tannehill is at fault for not making anything happen. However, there were some times that he didn’t even have an opportunity to drop back and make his first read.
(Strike for Billy Turner.)
(Jermon Bushrod is the Dolphins’ sack leader for the game.)
Or even this:
Those three plays either occurred on first or third down. The protection was much better when the Dolphins had Albert, Tunsil, Steen, Bushrod and James as the starting group, and the downgrade on Thursday was obvious.
However, Ja’Wuan James specifically showed a huge decline in play at the end of Week 3 and throughout the entirety of Week 4. As a former first round pick, James can’t be dead weight (or, more accurately, an active detriment to the team) if the Dolphins want to find success.
Yes, Tannehill needs to be better. But so does the pass protection.
Shielding your eyes was probably the best option if you came within fifteen feet of a TV on Thursday night.
Some will look at this game as the first (or hopefully very few) major disappointments from the coaching staff. Even more than a negative for the staff, this game clearly represents a personnel failing. The Dolphins couldn’t defend against anything one-on-one or as a group, and they couldn’t attack the Bengals’ defense in any way offensively (after a good play-call on their second snap of the game).
Now, the Dolphins will be forced to go back to the drawing board. Schemes will have to be reexamined, player fits will be studied and hopefully some level of change is instituted before Sunday. If they can’t make improvements, it will be a long day at Hard Rock Stadium against the Titans.