Dolphins Dichotomy: Film Review of the Best & Worst Plays From Steelers vs. Dolphins
Expectations had reached rock bottom entering Sunday’s game. Several experts actually predicted that the Steelers would break records en route to a blowout victory over the Dolphins. However, they (myself included) could not have been more wrong.
Antonio Brown was contained completely. Le’Veon Bell was eliminated, with the front-seven focused entirely on the run as the secondary shut down wide receivers. Ben Roethlisberger’s injury surely slowed Pittsburgh’s offense, but the Dolphins thoroughly dominated the Steelers in every phase of the game.
Here is our film review of the best plays from the Dolphins’ spirit-lifting win over the heavily-favored Steelers.
Improved 3rd Down Play-Calling:
Thanks to the Dolphins’ running attack, the team was more effective on third downs through the air. Their offense was actually two dimensional, showing what types of options are open for play-callers when the defense fears the ground attack.
Adam Gase also called plays that largely went ahead of the sticks, giving Tannehill opportunities to move the chains on the easy first reads that the offense is predicated upon.
This play is a strong example. The defense is sitting off in zone, so Ryan Tannehill knows that he will be able to quickly zip the ball in to DeVante Parker on the slant.
Here is another plan on which the Dolphins sent Tannehill’s primary target past the sticks, this time underneath a linebacker’s zone.
This is easy money for the Tannehill-Landry tandem. Landry sits underneath the zone and Tannehill hits him with a quick pass to move the chains.
Previously, the Dolphins had been in situations in which they were forced to let plays develop downfield to pick up 8-10 yards for conversions. This added pressure for the offensive line and for Tannehill when his protection inevitably failed. On Sunday they were able to open up the short portion of Adam Gase’s playbook, where his offense thrives, as they faced 3rd & short/medium much more often.
The plays above are both examples of the luxury Miami was afforded thanks to strong third down field position and an effective rushing attack.
Dolphins Get Back to Quick, Two-Play Sequences:
Adam Gase’s offense works best when the quarterback can get in a flow with quick, decisive completions. Deep shots are not the staple of Gase’s attack; just take what the defense gives you and get to the next play quickly.
On Sunday, the Dolphins finally took the time offensively to return to this approach, following its absence against Cincinnati, Cleveland and Tennessee.
Here, the Dolphins find themselves in 2nd & 10, knowing that a no huddle sequence will be the best way to pick up the first.
Ryan Tannehill flips it out quickly to DeVante Parker. The Dolphins then get to the line of scrimmage with haste, prepared for 3rd & 4, knowing that the defense is stuck in its personnel for a longer situation.
First read. Dump it down. Get the first. It really doesn’t have to be more complicated than this; by not huddling, the Dolphins both neutralize the pass rush and get the defense stuck in a grouping they understand.
If Ryan Tannehill didn’t like the look, they wouldn’t have gone no-huddle. However, this is a perfect example of where Adam Gase’s offense thrives; Tannehill likes what he sees and has two plays in his pocket that allow them to pick up the first.
Dolphins Capitalize Twice on Forced Throws:
When your team is facing a gunslinger at quarterback, you need to capitalize on mistakes.
Ben Roethlisberger’s combination of scrambling ability and reckless-abandonment lends itself to his status as the league’s most notorious “risk it for the biscuit” quarterback. On Sunday, the Dolphins were able to do what every team that beats Pittsburgh needs to do at some point: capitalize on those risks.
Towards the end of the first half, Big Ben escaped the pocket and threw the ball into triple coverage.
Reshad Jones was able to come up with the pick here.
Later in the game, Isa Abdul-Quddus was the beneficiary of a Ben Roethlisberger heave.
Winning the turnover battle is key, and against the Steelers you’ll need to make sure that you make the most of the chances that Ben Roethlisberger affords you.
Utilizing Ndamukong Suh:
When you have a force like Ndamukong Suh on defense, you need to make sure that you find every possible way to maximize their impact.
The Dolphins had been killed offensively by stunts for weeks, unable to account for rushers reversing their approach and attacking weak spots in the line. Eventually, they figured that they might want to try this tactic.
The best way to utilize Ndamukong Suh is by having linebackers exploit the gaps that he creates by drawing double blocking. However, the Dolphins don’t have any linebackers who can do that. This means that sometimes Suh can even draw triple blocking, with no fear from opposition that a linebacker will slam through the free area in the line.
By stunting Suh on one play, Vance Joseph was able to close escape lanes on Ben Roethlisberger.
Andre Branch’s bull rush and Cameron Wake’s speed both help collapse the tackles. Usually, Ben Roethlisberger would slip through the middle. However, the Steelers’ double blocking fails because they decide to swing Ndamukong Suh to the other side on a stunt.
He closes any escape lanes for Roethlisberger, helping net the Dolphins a sack.
Dolphins Use Defensive Ends on the Inside:
In 2015, Derrick Shelby was very effective as a DT/DE hybrid for the Dolphins. So far, Terrence Fede and Julius Warmsley have been unable to fill the void as players who can rush inside and play against tackles on the outside.
Why is it so important to fill this role? Because if you want to have Ndamukong Suh switching around the line to create confusion and avoid double blocks, you need someone that can play with versatility and replace him in key sets inside.
On the play discussed above, the Dolphins use Jason Jones as a DT with Ndamukong Suh when they stunted with Suh to close out the middle for Big Ben.
In another instance, they were able to create a dynamic on the defensive line by putting Andre Branch inside.
The Steelers were clearly not prepared for this wrinkle, as the Dolphins’ second snap on which a defensive end goes inside to tackle ends up netting them a second sack.
These are the tactics you need to use when you are short on personnel. The element of surprise surely helped Miami generate pass rush by shifting their groupings up front.
Tannehill Hits Gray on the Bootleg:
Dolphins fans spent years clamoring for more Ryan Tannehill bootleg plays. Without the presence of the ground game, Adam Gase was unable to call them heavily in Weeks 1-5. In Week 6, they finally got going.
This was one example of what the Dolphins can do when they get Tannehill out in space and give him options.
On the initial play fake, the Dolphins get a good portion of the Steelers’ defenders to at least shift slightly towards the fake direction of the handoff. Tannehill then begins rolling out to his right.
On 3rd & 1, Tannehill surely could have gotten the first down on the ground. However, he sees that there is space to throw to MarQueis Gray at the last second. Tyler Matakevich (Steelers LB #44) was fooled completely by the bootleg and was not in position to stop the pass to Gray.
At the last second, Tannehill placed the ball perfectly to gain a substantial chunk of yardage rather than just ducking out of bounds with enough for the first.
Obviously, this was only the second most successful play from Tannehill to Gray on Sunday.
Tannehill Shows Special Ability:
Regardless of how you feel about Ryan Tannehill, it is impossible to ignore the rare arm talent that he possesses. This ability took center stage on his bomb to MarQueis Gray.
First, Tannehill escapes the pocket in the face of what could have been a sack. While rolling out, Tannehill is able to heave the ball to Gray. Gray initially came open because the defender didn’t track him to the sidelines, keeping his eyes up the field towards a potential underneath pass.
Gray gets free to the sidelines, and Ryan Tannehill makes a throw that very few NFL QBs could complete. Some say that the hardest throws to make for right-handed quarterbacks are rollouts to the left. However, Tannehill flicks the ball 50 yards in the air to a spot.
For all of the complaints about Tannehill (many of which are justified), there are only a small number of quarterbacks in the NFL who can make this happen.
Reshad Jones’ Absurdity Allows Miami to Slow Down Bell and Brown:
Reshad Jones made plays all day for the Dolphins’ defense. He continues to be the team’s best asset in the secondary, and he could be their best run stopper.
Two specific instances highlighted Jones’ versatility for the team.
On the play above, Reshad Jones recognizes the call from a mile away. He knows where the ball is going before it is snapped and manages to get down the field in time without tipping off the QB pre-snap. His physical ability allows him to close and stuff DeAngelo Williams on the run.
Reshad Jones also helped close running lanes while playing in the box as an extra linebacker.
Here he is able to recognize the play and close the running lane on Le’Veon Bell. Even though he doesn’t make the tackle, he comes in quickly enough to surprise Bell and gain some push in the hole that Bell was trying to run into.
Reshad Jones was the key to Miami’s ability to stop Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. By putting Jones in the box, the Dolphins knew that they wouldn’t have to contribute other extra defenders to stopping the Steelers’ dynamic running back. They also knew that they could use Isa Abdul-Quddus over the top to help corners guarding Brown.
Without the thoroughly prepared and physically dominant Reshad Jones, the Dolphins wouldn’t have had such an easy time taking away two of the NFL’s best offensive weapons.
Finally Some Creativity:
Heading into Sunday’s game, Adam Gase had done nothing to show that he deserved the “offensive genius” moniker he carried into Miami. However, he finally pulled some tricks out of his sleeves against the Steelers.
One of the best plays he designed involved lining Damien Williams up as a fullback and letting him punch the ball in.
This play would have been easier for the defense to spot had Jay Ajayi, the more powerful runner, been lined up at fullback. However, they go with Damien Williams for the spot.
Winning in the NFL requires catching opposing teams off-guard. This is a perfect example of how you can design an incredibly simple play that the defense will be unprepared for.
The fullback set could be my favorite play that the Dolphins ran on Sunday.
(As a side-note: It doesn’t hurt to get the kind of push provided by the OL here on the goal line.)
Tannehill Hits Juice Before the Half:
We’ve seen Jarvis Landry do ridiculous things many, many times. For someone with the ability he has, this type of catch barely registers.
However, this play is worth recognizing holistically.
The offensive line buys Ryan Tannehill infinite time. He stands in the pocket, watches the play develop down the field and delivers the ball to a perfect spot. He puts the ball on Landry’s back shoulder, away from the safety who came over to defend the ball when it was thrown.
Tannehill sees the cornerback covering Jarvis Landry drift to take Kenny Stills over the middle of the field. However, the safety isn’t in position to get to Landry quickly enough. This is an easy read for Ryan Tannehill and a great catch by Jarvis Landry.
These types of plays right before the half are serious game changers for a team. Adam Gase clearly had plenty of plays he was ready to break out on Sunday, and his players executed perfectly in this instance.
Jay Ajayi & the Run Game:
The difference-maker for the Dolphins on Sunday was Jay Ajayi. Period.
The team finally allowed one of their ball carriers to get into a groove, and it showed as he gashed the Steelers’ defense repeatedly.
On many instances, he was able to extend plays that were already going for large gains thanks to blocking and balance.
Here, Jay Ajayi’s balance allows him to stay on his feet while Laremy Tunsil gets downfield to lay important blocks.
Jermon Bushrod also got downfield in some instances to help Ajayi continue to gain yards.
Later in the week, we will be doing a full breakdown of the Dolphins’ ground attack in this game (once coaches film is available). However, it’s pretty easy to sum up what happened.
- The offensive line actually blocked. Downfield. Like, how you’re supposed to for run plays.
- Jay Ajayi got into a groove because they didn’t take him out every other series.
If the Dolphins’ offensive line can continue to block like they did on Sunday, and the coaching staff keeps giving Jay Ajayi carries, the second-year RB could continue to help propel Miami’s offense towards a more balanced attack.
(An article will be devoted later this week fully detailing the Dolphins’ Week 6 success in the ground game.)
DeVante Parker Struggles:
DeVante Parker is having an identity crisis. He’s a small receiver trapped in a big receiver’s body.
Parker struggles to make the plays using his height that most WRs of his size are asked (and drafted) to make.
As a larger pass catcher, Parker needs to be able to use his body to shield the defender from this ball. He also cannot fully take advantage of his long arms if he isn’t able to extend and haul the football in. He uses his arms, but isn’t able to catch the ball or use his body to make life easier.
Parker’s worst play obviously came on the dropped touchdown early in the game.
DeVante Parker needs to make this play. Plain and simple, this isn’t a pass that he can drop.
At his size, this type of pass is exactly what he was drafted to bring down. Go up over the defender (in this case, not even that high) and bring it down.
Dolphins fans should be getting nervous as DeVante Parker fails to hone his craft, seemingly unable to lock down the intricacies of the wide receiver position.
(And the parts that aren’t so intricate – like catching the ball.)
Dion Sims Still Isn’t a Receiver:
Dion Sims used up all of his pass-catching fuel against the Falcons in 2013.
Sims has always struggled as a receiver, making his money as an in-line blocker against the run. He made plenty of great plays in the ground game on Sunday, but in the modern NFL you can’t be a tight end and struggle as much as he does when catching the ball.
Sims’ drop here was a costly one for the Dolphins. Red zone opportunities cannot be wasted, and he let the ball bounce directly off of his chest on this play.
Déjà Vu for the Dolphins’ Defense:
Look familiar? Well, it should.
The Dolphins still can’t defend the middle of the field at times. This is clearly a result of their deficiencies at linebacker, but it’s an area where the team has been unable to improve throughout the season.
The Dolphins simply can’t play defense against really fast players.
When this play happened in the first quarter, Dolphins fans felt like they were in for an afternoon of abuse. The Steelers’ explosive personnel really only shone through on one play, and this was definitely it.
Darrius Heyward-Bey really made the Dolphins look silly here. The end around fooled the defense, and nobody was able to close on the speedster when he hit open space.
Miami has to be concerned heading into this Sunday, as the Buffalo Bills will threaten them with an even greater level of speed. They will have to be incredibly smart to not let LeSean McCoy and Tyrod Taylor make them look as silly as Darrius Heyward-Bey did.
Dolphins Put the Wrong Guy In:
The Miami Dolphins’ running back rotation wasn’t going to get completely fixed overnight.
Why was Arian Foster in the game on this play? Even if Jay Ajayi is gassed, the coaching staff needs to keep him on the field for short yardage situations like this.
He is not only the team’s most powerful runner, but he was also their hottest runner on Sunday. In a situation that important, the coaching staff can’t make the mistake of taking Jay Ajayi out of the game.
(Hopefully, this is an issue that will be resolved when Adam Gase has the ability to make an offseason selection for an every-down running back that he feels comfortable riding in key situations.)
Lippett Goes Low:
Tony Lippett remains an atrocious tackler.
You would think that after Week 5 he would have learned.
You would think that after Week 4, he would have learned.
You get the point. If Tony Lippett wants to become a competent NFL corner, it will involve playing in run support. If he wants to do that effectively, he’ll have to learn not to dive at offensive players’ shins and ankles when he wants to bring them down.
Tannehill Disrupts Rhythm:
As we discussed above, Adam Gase’s offense is all about rhythm and tempo. An incompletion (especially when soft coverage is identified) can completely break up that rhythm, stalling the drive.
Here, Ryan Tannehill simply fails to deliver the ball. As a fifth year quarterback, you cannot simply fail to deliver a pass this easy.
Even if the play were to only gain 3-4 yards, the team can go into the no-huddle and potentially pick up a first to move them further into Steelers’ territory. Instead, the ball flutters to the ground.
Ryan Tannehill’s execution has obviously been lacking at times in 2016. While Sunday was one of his best performances, he needs to prevent these brief lapses that do have a harmful cumulative effect on the team.
Soak it in, Dolphins fans. There might not be many more.
The team is in the midst of one of the NFL’s longest home stands. Miami clearly got healthier, and it showed specifically on the offensive line. The Dolphins’ running game made the difference, as they were able to improve third down situations, burn clock, keep the ball for longer and make sure their defense stayed off of the field.
The formula for a team like the Dolphins involves playing exactly as they did on Sunday. However, it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll be able to sustain that level of play up front against tougher competition.
In Week 7, the Dolphins will face a team that has physically dominated them for three years. The Bills are effective up front on offense and defense and will also enter Hard Rock Stadium with plenty of explosive players. The Dolphins will have their hands full against the division rivals who could match up with them as well as any team in the league.
For now, just soak in Week 6. After so many outings during which the team fell flat on its face, fans deserved to see the Dolphins thoroughly outperform the opposition as they did against the Steelers on Sunday afternoon.