Dolphins Dichotomy: Film Review of the Best & Worst Plays from Bills vs. Dolphins
Oh how much can change in two weeks.
After being unbearably tough to watch from Weeks 3-5, the Miami Dolphins rebounded in Week 6. Many believed this to be a failing of the Steelers’, thinking that the Dolphins couldn’t possibly pull off another upset the very next week. However, Adam Gase’s squad was able to do just that.
The Dolphins didn’t just get lucky during this game. The team made conscious changes to their gameplan and preparation, and their work paid dividends on the field. Some of Miami’s strategies to defeat the division-rival Bills represented their best coaching of 2016, showing that this team’s recent turnaround could be far from a fluke.
Here is our film breakdown of the best and worst plays from Miami’s very impressive 28-25 win over Buffalo.
The Jay Train Rolls Again:
Once again, Jay Ajayi was the Dolphins’ greatest asset on offense. His level of play wasn’t achieved through particular play design or wrinkles in the system; he simply looked like the best player on the field (by far).
Miami’s improved health along the offensive line has afforded Ajayi new opportunities to get into the second level, and he has been very effective making defenders miss when he gets there.
Ajayi’s decisiveness allows him to slam into the line of scrimmage with impressive speed and force, as seen on one of his first runs in the game.
Ajayi’s quickness hitting the hole allows him to fall forward for extra yards.
At times, Ajayi also showed pure power to compliment his decisiveness.
When you combine his quickness to the hole, decisiveness and power?
Jay Ajayi’s performance is thanks largely to his own development. It isn’t just the health of the offensive line; Ajayi himself is improving on several areas of his game, allowing him to find a new level of success with Miami.
If Ajayi keeps trending in this direction, the season could continue to move in the right direction for the Dolphins.
Suh Lines Up at DE:
Last season the Dolphins had some of their best moments defensively when moving Ndamukong Suh around to create confusion for the offensive line. When Suh switches position before the ball is snapped, the offense’s blocking scheme and assignments are completely disrupted.
Luckily, the Dolphins went back to this approach against the Bills.
Buffalo’s interior offensive line is the unit’s strength. With players like Eric Woods and Richie Incognito, they are well-equipped to handle teams that attempt to break down the pocket from the inside.
To counteract this, the Dolphins moved players around on the line pre-snap to avoid playing directly into one of the Bills’ strengths.
Cameron Wake, who is not strong against the run, shifts inside. This leaves Ndamukong Suh as the defensive end. However, the plan isn’t to have Wake playing the run at all, and they aren’t worried about him on the interior because it is an obvious passing down.
The Dolphins end up dropping Cameron Wake back into coverage, getting an athletic defender into space while creating chaos for the Bills’ line in a way they couldn’t prepare for by shifting Suh over to DE.
By adding Bobby McCain to the mix, the Dolphins create a situation in which the Bills are forced to make a decision. Either they could leave Bobby McCain unblocked, or they could commit a tackle to him and have single-blocking on Suh.
Since the Dolphins made this shift so quickly, Buffalo didn’t necessarily have time to strategize.
This was Vance Joseph’s best moment yet as the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator. He creates chaos for the Bills, avoiding playing into the opposition’s strength in a way that also utilizes Miami’s greatest asset.
Well done. Very, very well done.
Cameron Wake Was Bred in a Lab:
Cameron Wake is not human. There is no way that he comes from the same species as you and me.
Wake’s explosiveness at his age, especially considering the fact that he just recovered from such a serious injury, is unbelievable. He is defying all expectations so far this season with the Dolphins.
This game was an interesting test for Wake – after playing the vast majority of the team’s defensive snaps in Week 6, he duplicated that workload in Week 7 and performed just as well.
On the sack, Buffalo’s right tackle seemingly tried to hold Cameron Wake. However, Wake is too explosive to even be held intentionally.
Cameron Wake, you are absurd. This game proves that Miami’s longtime edge rusher is still capable of playing more snaps and maintaining his effectiveness throughout a full game.
Dolphins Contain Tyrod Taylor:
One of the keys to stopping the Bills offense is containing Tyrod Taylor. I was pleasantly surprised by the Dolphins’ defensive line in this game, rising to the task of preventing one of the league’s most dynamic QBs from gaining ground.
On the play above, Miami’s defense is ready at the edge to prevent Taylor from springing free for a gain. Because the Dolphins’ linebackers lack athleticism, this had to be done in a deliberate manner. They clearly prepared and understood their assignments.
On another play, Mario Williams is able to pressure Taylor as he leaves the pocket.
Instead of rushing inside, which his initial move indicated he would do, Williams saw Taylor escaping and played back towards him. Much like Williams did against Russell Wilson, he kept the play in front of him, maintaining a very deliberate brand of football.
On other plays, pure athleticism helped Miami get the job done.
Cameron Wake’s speed is on full display here, closing the gap quickly with Taylor. He manages to force Taylor to the sidelines quickly, as the Bills QB has no choice but to throw it away.
The Dolphins’ ability to contain Tyrod Taylor was a huge factor in slowing down Buffalo’s offense.
Defense Prepares for the Wildcat:
After the Terrelle Pryor debacle, many expected the Wildcat formation (which the Bills use frequently) to rip Miami apart. However, the team appeared fully prepared for the formation this time around.
The Dolphins loaded up on the strong side, lining up in an interesting half-Wide 9. Only Andre Branch is offset, while Mario Williams and Ndamukong Suh are close together over the right side of the OL. The Dolphins are prepared for the direction that Gillislee tries to take the play, stuffing him for a loss.
This is another example of the Dolphins using their defensive line to its fullest. The team’s preparation allowed them to know where Buffalo was heading, so they were able to stack the line in that area.
Keeping it Simple for Tannehill, With a Twist:
Two of the plays that the Dolphins have relied on in key situations in Weeks 6 and 7 have been the slant (usually to DeVante Parker or Jarvis Landry) and the quick running back swing-out. Both of these plays make life easy for Ryan Tannehill, staying in a range that the coaches know he can manage.
The slant is an obvious part of the arsenal, used here to pick up a first down in short yardage.
Against Tennessee, the swing out helped them get Kenyan Drake involved in the game.
Against the Bills, the Dolphins decided to get both of these routes involved in one play.
This is consistent with how Adam Gase said he was going to handle Ryan Tannehill; he wants to evaluate the QB’s strengths and weaknesses, then continue adding more to his plate. Here, Tannehill doesn’t have the luxury of a quick one-read throw.
Tannehill first looks in Kenyan Drake’s direction (or at least fakes a look to get the defense to shift slightly). Then he fires into a tight window to pick up the first down to DeVante Parker.
This doesn’t seem like much, and in reality it isn’t much for a QB. However, it is a perfect demonstration of how the Dolphins are actually executing something that Gase spent so much time talking about this offseason; evaluate strengths, use those strengths to expand the offense and keep expanding until the QB can’t take more on his plate.
Luckily, the building blocks are there for the Dolphins to keep expanding after the bye.
Damien Williams Scores (With Jakeem Grant Trickery and Great Blocking):
It has been a seven-week wait to see Jakeem Grant on the field during non-return plays for the Dolphins. While one of his first offensive snaps didn’t go directly to him, he was an important part of a touchdown that put the Dolphins up 21-17 late in the fourth.
Jakeem Grant shifts out of the slot, coming across the formation as the ball is snapped. As a precaution, the Bills have to shadow him with someone in case the handoff goes his way. However, this is simply a decoy by Adam Gase and the staff.
Grant’s journey across the formation draws a defender away from Damien Williams’ path.
While most focus on Grant’s involvement, one of the most underrated parts of this play is the blocking switch by Laremy Tunsil.
This is what great offensive linemen do; instead of simply going straight to the second level, Tunsil is confident in his ability to be aware of the play, help out at the line of scrimmage, then make his way into the next level to help Williams continue towards the end zone.
Williams’ ability to force himself into the end zone has been on display for two straight weeks; in Week 6, he scored a huge TD lined up at the fullback position.
With the help of Adam Gase and Laremy Tunsil, he was able to get into the end zone again for the Dolphins.
Tannehill Makes It Happen in a Key Moment:
After Ryan Tannehill’s frustrating struggles in the pocket, his Week 7 performance was a welcomed sight.
On Sunday, he made one of his best plays on the run this season, converting a huge third down that kept Miami’s game-winning drive alive by scrambling and finding Jarvis Landry past the sticks.
Ryan Tannehill feels pressure coming both from his left and up the middle. The right side of the field is open, and he rolls in that direction. The protection does its job in one way because the part of the field that comes open is the direction that Jarvis Landry is running in across the middle.
Tannehill is able to deliver the ball to Landry for a huge first down.
This is the type of play that fans clamor to see from the Dolphins. In the biggest moments, the team didn’t fold. Instead, Ryan Tannehill made a very good play, using his athleticism to buy time, eventually finding his favorite target.
Dolphins Seal the Game (Thank Jay Ajayi For That Too):
The true intentions of this play will remain a mystery for the foreseeable future. However, there appear to have been two possibilities on the touchdown that sealed the Dolphins’ victory over the Bills.
The first possibility is that Tannehill underthrew the football and Kenny Stills made a great adjustment to come back to it. The other possibility is that Tannehill realized that there was no chance of a completion over the top due to Buffalo sending safety help, so he decided to throw the ball underneath to Stills.
Frankly, I don’t care which one is true. What I do know is that Kenny Stills made a phenomenal play in either case. Whether the route was a well-thrown comeback or an underthrown fly, Stills adjusted and held onto the ball before making defenders miss and making a b-line for the end zone.
One of the best elements of this way was watching the Dolphins add a dimension to their approach that we hadn’t seen used effectively to this point: running back pass blocking.
This play doesn’t happen without Jay Ajayi picking up the blitz perfectly. He is in the right spot and impedes the defender’s path to Ryan Tannehill. This allows Tannehill to get the ball off, hitting Stills down the right side.
This was an incredibly encouraging moment for the Dolphins – instead of folding and giving the ball back to the Bills, they made the most of their opportunities. Miami’s touchdown here sealed the victory and provided another sign that this team hasn’t just been getting lucky over the last two weeks. You are watching concrete changes to the team’s gameplan and preparation affect the Dolphins’ efforts to right a ship that many thought was plummeting towards the bottom of the sea after five weeks.
Tannehill Almost Costs Dolphins the Game:
While Ryan Tannehill hasn’t been a very turnover prone QB throughout his career, he sometimes throws some bone-headed passes.
This one definitely qualifies.
In this instance, Tannehill should do literally anything except what he did. He could try to take off and run, or he could throw it away. He could even look for a checkdown. While the Dolphins were down by four at this point, looking to fight back into the game, Tannehill can’t make this type of throw. Had this been one drive later, and had the defender hung on, Tannehill would’ve given away the ball on a potential game-winning drive.
Much like some of the interceptions he threw in the second half of 2015, this ball was pure poor decision making. Ryan Tannehill needs to clean up these moments if the Dolphins want to continue making the right plays in big moments as they have in the last two games.
Arian Foster Goes Out with a…Fizzle:
Unfortunately, this will be the last memorable play of Arian Foster’s NFL career.
Going forward, Kenyan Drake will be on the field in place of Ajayi for plays such as the one showed above. Based on what we have seen thus far from the rookie out of ‘Bama, we can expect that he will make the play.
The Dolphins couldn’t keep four running backs on the team. With injuries in the secondary and linebacker corps, they needed room for more defensive players. In addition to the mounting injury issue, the Dolphins have three RBs who have showed capability. Jay Ajayi, Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake have all proved their worth to some degree.
Arian Foster was the odd man out. In addition to being faced with recovering from another soft-tissue injury, Foster’s role would have likely been diminished even if he did work his way back. The best decision for all parties involved was for Foster to retire.
As an aside: Congratulations to Arian Foster on his career. Most guys don’t make it as long as he did, especially faced with the injury issues he worked through. When healthy, Foster was one of the best and most unique running backs in the NFL.
Bobby McCain Struggles On Reggie Bush:
Cornerbacks who play inside over slot receivers, also known as nickel corners, have to defend some of the shiftiest athletes and best route-runners in the NFL.
On Sunday, one play from Bobby McCain added to questions about his ability to develop into a strong option at this inside corner position.
Reggie Bush is 31 years old. He is not the speed demon he once was. A young NFL slot corner should be able to handle a 31-year-old RB flanked out at receiver. Yes, Bush excels in this part of his game, but you want a corner to be able to handle this assignment.
Bobby McCain has showed flashes of promise this season, but these are the types of moments he has to clean up if he wants to continue his development into a solid contributor for the Dolphins defense.
Blame Can Be Shared:
Some Dolphins fans seem to struggle with the concept of shared blame. Yes, two players can be responsible for something going wrong on any given snap.
Debate began immediately after this next play about who was truly to blame for an incompletion on an early opportunity to score for Miami.
This is not a very good throw from Ryan Tannehill. The QB’s job is to put the ball out in front of the receiver, who can catch it in stride and keep hauling towards the end zone. However, Kenny Stills isn’t totally absolved of blame either; a receiver’s job is still to make plays on the ball even when the throw is suboptimal.
In this situation, you want Kenny Stills to make a better effort to come down with the football.
At the end of the day, this is another missed opportunity for Ryan Tannehill. While that is true, Kenny Stills could have made a better play on the ball to try to hold on and keep the team moving.
Marquise Goodwin Beats Michael Thomas:
On Monday, Michael Thomas corrected a Pro Football Focus tweet that cited Byron Maxwell as the player responsible for Marquise Goodwin’s big touchdown, acknowledging that he was at fault.
He was correct to place the blame on himself.
The coaching staff knew going in that Goodwin, one of the league’s fastest receivers, would have a field day against Byron Maxwell if they didn’t provide safety help over the top. The initial thought after this play occurred was that Maxwell got roasted by Goodwin’s track-star speed. However, blame does fall on Michael Thomas.
Not only does Thomas take a poor angle here, but he also fails to anticipate the play and move into position to make up for his lack of speed. Thomas isn’t a slow player, but he isn’t the type of athlete that can afford to be late on a decision playing against Marquise Goodwin.
The Dolphins’ worst play of the day defensive ends up as a complete disaster as Thomas, the man assigned to prevent the Bills from exploiting Maxwell’s speed, failed to put himself in position to stop the touchdown.
(Michael Thomas also looks really funny flailing around at the bottom of the screen. Dolphins fans – they won. You can laugh about it.)
Good in Theory, Bad in Execution:
This was one of the more interesting play-calls that Adam Gase broke out during this game.
What initially looks like a basic checkdown actually appears to be a designed play with the receivers blocking at different levels for Jarvis Landry.
Immediately off of the snap, receivers head towards defenders to block. DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills initially look to be heading deep on routes, but it looks like they could have been positioning themselves to block.
The thought must have been that Jarvis Landry could get a step on the defender underneath as he came across towards the right side, at which point the receivers would be engaged in blocks. Then, the Dolphins’ best pass catcher could have tried to make a play.
While I like this play in theory, I really dislike it in this situation. On 3rd & 13 in the red zone, you need to try to take a shot deep. There is no reason to get fancy in this area of the field. On a 1st & 10 early in a drive, this could be an interesting play.
At that moment, Adam Gase might have been better off leaving that play in his back pocket.
(This play also could have not been designed, and could just be plain bad. After all, I am the guy who wrote an article about why the Bills are “perfectly equipped to carve up the Dolphins.”)
Dolphins Killed On the Drag Again:
The Dolphins could win every game for the rest of the season, beat their opponents by an average margin of 30 points, win the Super Bowl, and I’m still convinced they would have done it all without being able to learn how to defend a route over the middle of the field.
Vance Joseph did a ton of good things leading up to the Dolphins’ game against the Bills, showing that his team can prepare and improve in key areas of weakness. While this is true, they still got killed by the crossing route.
Against Buffalo, this wasn’t a huge issue. It likely won’t manifest itself as a problem until the Dolphins head out west to face receivers like Travis Benjamin and Tavon Austin, who could use their speed to make plays after catching the ball in this area of the field.
If Vance Joseph continues to improve in his ability to prepare Miami’s defense, it is possible that they have this issue ironed out after the bye week. However, it could also be an inherent problem with personnel and the linebacker corps’ ability to play in coverage.
Tannehill Misses a Huge Read:
While Tannehill made plenty of plays during this game, it is one that he didn’t make in the second quarter that would haunt Dolphins fans had the team not been able to pull out the W.
On the initial angle, this play looked like a mistake Tannehill has made before. It seemed that he failed to pull the trigger on a pass, debating too long between running and passing.
However, it is much worse on the coaches’ angle.
Ryan Tannehill cannot be missing this read. As Tannehill starts to run, the only defender in the tight end’s zip code comes down to tackle him. At that moment, Tannehill needs to quickly get the ball into his receiver’s hands.
Had Tannehill delivered on this play, it would have been at least a 20-yard gain for the Dolphins, who were facing a deficit at this point in the game.
While Ryan Tannehill did a lot of things very well during Sunday’s games, moments like this still linger in the background of Miami’s wins. Can Adam Gase continue to build on their recent success, eventually reaching a point where those mistakes come at a greatly reduced frequency? If the Dolphins want to continue efforts to turn around the 2016 season, he’ll need to.
The Miami Dolphins really couldn’t be hitting the bye week at a worse time. Not only are the Dolphins playing their best football, but they are also in a stretch of very good health.
However, I’m sure Jay Ajayi would disagree with me. His recent workload has been the defining change in Miami’s big wins over Pittsburgh and Buffalo – he has definitely earned the seven-day breather.
Adam Gase and his staff coached their best game against Buffalo, and it really isn’t close. The team’s gameplan was exactly what they needed, and they designed individual plays to help catch the Bills off-guard and attack specific weaknesses.
Now, we’ll see if the Dolphins’ turnaround is a real sign of improvement. Can the team take advantage of struggling teams in their upcoming schedule, facing the Jets, Rams and 49ers as three of their next four opponents?
If the Dolphins continue to play (and the coaches continue to coach) like they have in the team’s last two games, they surely could emerge victorious in those games. If they can pull that off, it would be an incredibly impressive, and surprising, turnaround for a team that was once believed to be dead in the water.
Don’t look now, Miami – the Dolphins could have some fight in them after all.