Dolphins Dichotomy: Film Review of the Best and Worst Plays from Jets vs. Dolphins
December 1st, 2014. The date itself won’t mean much to Dolphins fans, but the feeling associated with it will.
It was the last time that Miami had beaten the Jets heading into Sunday’s game.
Losing doesn’t feel good – losing to a division rival really doesn’t feel good. The Dolphins finally were able to get into the right column of their rivalry with the Jets after dropping three straight games, coming out on top 27-23 in the most recent showdown.
Despite facing the league’s best rushing defense, Jay Ajayi was able to clear 100 yards. The Dolphins’ defense was able to contain Brandon Marshall and exploit the weaknesses of Ryan Fitzpatrick. However, execution issues plagued the team. It was a win, but it definitely wasn’t the pinnacle of beauty.
After enduring a long drought of victories over New York, Dolphins fans shouldn’t complain – the team was able to move back to 0.500 after many believed they were dead in the water less than halfway through 2016.
While the team will enter San Diego riding a three-game win streak, there is plenty of cause for concern in Miami. Sure, there were plenty of positives that emerged from Week 9 as well, but there were just as many moments that would have sunk the team against a more capable foe.
Kiko Alonso Shows Up:
Early in the season, Kiko Alonso was struggling mightily for the Dolphins. However, since his poor performances early on, Alonso has been able to flip the script and develop into a solid player for Miami’s defense.
In Buffalo, Kiko Alonso made plays with speed and athleticism. After several injuries, he no longer possesses the same physical ability to cover space. While he is no longer able to chase down ball carriers or get into position for a stop thanks to pure athletic gifts, he is learning how to put himself in position to make smarter plays; he has displayed an increased ability to position himself before a play so he can make stops and to use his hands to disrupt passes.
Here is one example from early in the game against New York:
Kiko Alonso is asked to cover Quincy Enunwa up the seam. The receiver is able to use his speed to get a step on the coverage, but that doesn’t stop Alonso from making the play.
Kiko Alonso is able to disrupt the ball with his hands, forcing an incompletion on a play that the Jets clearly designed specifically to exploit the Dolphins’ linebacker. When you can disrupt an opponent’s gameplan, it makes a huge difference in key situations.
Here is another example of a play on which the Jets tried to exploit Kiko Alonso in coverage:
Matt Forte shifts out to his right, knowing that Alonso is covering him one-on-one. As per usual, Ryan Fitzpatrick locks onto the target who he perceives has a mismatch. However, Kiko Alonso is able to use his hands to disrupt the pass. Had Fitzpatrick thrown the ball out further, it could have actually been picked off by Baccari Rambo.
Had roughing the passer not been called on the next play, it would have been another example of Alonso’s newfound comfort within the system.
Early in the season, Alonso struggled to make plays on the ball in zone before it left the quarterback’s hand. Here, he is able to see the intended target and make a break towards the receiver before the ball is thrown.
Kiko Alonso’s growth has been a huge positive for the Dolphins in their recent wins. His newfound ability to compensate for decreased athleticism with preparation and foresight has allowed him to become a true asset in the middle of the defense.
If things continue to trend up for Alonso as the team’s inside linebacker, the Dolphins could have one less need to fill this offseason.
Cameron Wake Still Isn’t Human:
375 days after tearing his Achilles tendon in Foxborough, Massachusetts, Cameron Wake was playing in his eighth game of the 2016 season.
And it didn’t look like he had lost a step.
The burst Cameron Wake has showed off the line this season is otherworldly considering his circumstances – he is now a 34-year-old defensive end who can still shoot off the line with speed that makes the league’s nimblest linemen look slow is unheard of.
Cameron Wake is currently Pro Football Focus’ third-best 4-3 defensive end on the season, and he has earned every part of that grade. His ability to rush the passer has been a huge factor in Miami’s turnaround, consistently generating pressure to help ease the load of the Dolphins’ undermanned secondary.
In Miami, 34 is the new 25.
The Third Down Rainbow:
Ryan Tannehill has been a frustrating passer this season. There have been key plays on which he has missed easy targets, followed up by throws few NFL passers could deliver. However, one cannot deny that he has grown as a complete quarterback (specifically as a director of the unit) with the ability to survey at the line of scrimmage, adjust plays and work within a growing offense.
During Sunday’s game, the Dolphins demonstrated the exact difference that Adam Gase’s system has made for the team’s quarterback.
On a key 3rd & 9, the Dolphins were able to convert and sustain their drive thanks to a gorgeous throw from Ryan Tannehill and an impressive catch by Damien Williams.
Yes, the execution was flawless on the play. Damien Williams got a step on the defender, and Ryan Tannehill couldn’t have placed the pass better. But what really made the play happen was a defensive decision by the Jets and a subsequent reaction by Adam Gase.
The Jets bring down one safety on the blitz, with the other hovering deep down the field. This opens up a clear window for the Dolphins to exploit. The call clearly takes advantage of an aggressive play by the Jets, and Ryan Tannehill is able to prepare for the pressure. He knows there will be extra pass rushers, but also understands that he can quickly set his feet and loft up the pass to Williams.
All in all, this is a perfect example of scheming to an opponent’s tendencies. The Dolphins took advantage of an aggressive play by the Jets, and Ryan Tannehill was ready to execute. These key calls make an enormous difference in situations like 3rd & 9 that can ultimately decide a team’s fate in tight games.
Jordan Phillips’ Comes Up with the Fat-Guy Pick:
The most memorable play from the Dolphins’ showdown with the Jets was undoubtedly the graceful interception by 335 lb. defensive lineman Jordan Phillips.
On a play clearly designed to exploit a weakness of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s, the Dolphins only rush three men, while dropping Jordan Phillips into coverage.
Fitzpatrick is liable to lock in on his target, ignoring the coverage and making questionable decisions after the snap. Here, he failed to recognize Phillips dropping into coverage and decided to throw the ball anyway.
Really not sure how you miss a massive defensive lineman suddenly darting into the middle of the field.
It’s easy to see Fitzpatrick stare down his target from the moment the ball is snapped. All Jordan Phillips had to do was make the catch. (The hurdle was just a bonus.)
This was one of Vance Joseph’s finest moments thus far in Miami. This call was clearly designed to exploit a specific play that had appeared to be a vulnerable area for the opposing QB.
Vance Joseph used his opponent’s weakness to create a huge opportunity for the Dolphins.
Ryan Tannehill Audibles, Stays Within His Means
Here is another example of the difference that Adam Gase’s offense has made in Miami, demonstrated by Ryan Tannehill’s ability to call an audible in a key third down situation:
Tannehill recognizes the Jets linebackers’ assignments and realizes that they won’t be immediately spreading out to the left side of the field. He correctly assumes that a quick flip to Ajayi will be able to get the first down with ease given that the linebackers are staying inside to stop what they assumed would be a running play on 3rd and short.
The switch allows Jay Ajayi to easily cross the marker, exploiting the Jets’ belief that Miami would run it with their hot-handed ball carrier.
Ndamukong Suh Closes Out the Game:
When a player is signed to a deal that pays $20M+ per year, the expectation is domination. For Ndamukong Suh, the ability to dominate has never been in question. However, his domination is only sometimes visible to most fans given the fact that he draws so many double and triple blocks. It usually won’t show up in a box score.
While Suh’s dominance isn’t always visible, on the Jets’ last (failed) opportunity to fight down the field and take the lead, Ndamukong Suh made sure that he made his presence felt.
First, Suh closes a cutback lane on a run play to set up a tough third down for the Jets.
On the next play, Suh notches a sack that pushes the Jets back even further.
New York’s center clearly didn’t get the memo on this play; he is late coming over to help the RG block Suh, who bulldozes through for a crucial sack.
The play above shows just how valuable Suh is – he has to be double blocked on literally every play. The Jets had one snap on which a blown assignment meant that they didn’t have multiple blockers on Suh, and even that one opportunity was enough to make the Jets pay dearly.
Kenyan Drake Wins It:
Prior to this season, the Dolphins would not have won this game. Tony Sparano’s Dolphins, and especially Joe Philbin’s Dolphins, would have found a way to lose.
However, the last three wins have proven that this year’s team could be different at least in that regard. This time, Kenyan Drake had the honor of pulling out late-game heroics.
Kenyan Drake’s game-winning 97-yard punt return made up for an earlier play on which he was (possibly incorrectly) called for an illegal block in the back, voiding a touchdown return by Jakeem Grant. Darren Rizzi told Drake that it was on him to pick up the slack after that, and he delivered.
After pulling away by capitalizing on several opportunities against the Steelers, and extending their late lead with a highlight reel touchdown to Kenny Stills against the Bills, the Dolphins did it again when they took a lead late vs. the Jets. After watching Tannehill struggle to move the ball, knowing that a game-winning 80-yard drive was unlikely, the team found a way to get it done.
These moments are meaningful for a young team settling in with a new coaching staff. It will take a long stretch of wins for the Dolphins to salvage this season, and the team will have to make sure that they stress the importance of grinding out victories (no matter how ugly) just like they did against New York.
Last week, it was Kenyan Drake. For a win at San Diego, they’ll need more than just special teams to get the job done.
Situational awareness and discipline remain huge issues for the Dolphins, and the problems showed up again against the Jets.
While Cameron Wake, Jason Jones and Ndamukong Suh apply pressure and collapse the pocket on Fitzpatrick, Andre Branch drops back into coverage. (You might notice that this play was later called again, resulting in the Phillips INT.)
The pressure forces Fitzpatrick to dump the ball off on 3rd & 12, which, as Dolphins fans know from Bill Lazor’s escapades, won’t get the job done. Through a lack of situational awareness, Andre Branch singlehandedly gives the Jets a first down.
Branch could have handled this situation in almost any way other than how he did and it would have been a better outcome. He could have run past Marshall and let the rest of the defense bring him down, and that would have been a much better option.
The Dolphins will have to be much smarter in this situation going forward if they want to continue their winning streak against more potent offenses.
Pre-Determined Reads Fall Flat:
The Dolphins’ coaching staff did a good job of sticking with the run and creating ways to exploit the Jets’ many weaknesses. However, Adam Gase did a poor job in this game on third down plays.
In many situations, the Dolphins were running screen passes and quick plays with pre-determined reads, designed to maximize the ability (and minimize the risk) for a QB like Ryan Tannehill. However, the Jets defense was set on making the Dolphins beat them deep down the field. Instead of recognizing this, the short calls on third down kept coming.
The Jets were clearly ready to come up and attack the Dolphins in these situations. Despite this, Adam Gase was still not comfortable letting Ryan Tannehill hold the ball and try to make plays down the field. This is a concerning development, and one that does not bode well for the team as they look to keep pace with the league’s more effective offenses.
While the ground game has been effective, the Dolphins won’t be able to make anything meaningful out of the 2016 season if Adam Gase and his staff aren’t comfortable with the ball in Ryan Tannehill’s hands.
Ryan Tannehill Misses Deep:
Why didn’t the coaches trust Ryan Tannehill on the third down situations discussed above?
It could have something to do with plays like this:
I do not believe that Ryan Tannehill “can’t throw the deep ball.” It’s a narrative that has been disproven through statistics and the eye test over the last three seasons. However, he misses some. So does every QB.
The fact of the matter is, sometimes you can’t afford to miss.
Gase had clearly been saving this play, confident it would provide an opportunity to gain a huge hunk of yardage downfield. Tannehill passes up on a receiver open underneath on the slant, opting to go deep to Leonte Carroo. This is a good decision, because a well-thrown ball on this play is a touchdown. However, he overthrows the rookie receiver.
In moments like this, on a key third down emerging as the staff calls a play they have great confidence in, the quarterback can’t miss. If these failures to execute continue, the Dolphins will not be able to stick with teams like San Diego and Arizona coming up on the schedule.
Defense Breaks Down vs. Matt Forte:
Since Sunday’s game, Adam Gase has revealed that technique breakdowns led to Matt Forte’s two huge runs against the Dolphins.
That doesn’t make them excusable.
Next Sunday, the Dolphins will head to San Diego to face an offense that features much-improved running back Melvin Gordon. These mental errors cannot be happening in Week 9 of the season, let alone twice in a single game at this point in the year. If they continue against Gordon in Week 10, it could spell disaster for a team that can’t afford to drop many more games.
Matt Darr Drops the Punt:
This play looked like an old school football follies segment.
Fine, I will admit it: John Denney sent the snap slightly high on this play. However, it was far from uncatchable. Darr did not have to come out of his stance or adjust his position significantly to be in position to catch it. However, the ball simply bounces off of his hands.
Once again – it’s Week 9. If the Dolphins want to go on a winning streak that lasts deep into the year, they’ll need to clean up these moments that, against a more capable team, would have changed the complexion of the game.
Jelani Jenkins Struggles Mightily:
On the Dolphins’ first drive, it appeared that Jelani Jenkins was singlehandedly going to spot the Jets 200 yards for the day.
Early in the series, the Jets attacked Jelani Jenkins in coverage up the seam.
From a second angle, the play is even worse.
In this situation, the linebacker needs to have the awareness to know where the pass is heading and disrupt it, even if it reaches the receiver. We saw this on Kiko Alonso’s pass breakup; he doesn’t get his head around, but still makes a play by disrupting the receiver.
An even worse play for Jenkins came later, when he made Ryan Fitzpatrick look like Randall Cunningham on a scramble up the middle.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is a better athlete than most would give him credit for, but this play is just embarrassing for a linebacker. Jenkins’ indecision and poor angle cause him to be completely out of position to make the tackle. Adding insult to injury is the fact that he couldn’t even wrap up Fitzpatrick by the legs.
Later in the game, Jenkins did it again.
On a 3rd & 5, with the coaches calling the right play to put him in position to make the tackle, Jenkins completely whiffs, over-pursuing Bilal Powell and allowing him to slip through for the first down.
Despite flashing promise in his first two seasons, these moments make it tough to imagine Jenkins developing into an asset for the Dolphins.
At the end of the day, a win is a win.
It’s easy to say that the Dolphins got lucky in their 27-23 victory, benefiting from mistakes by the Jets and a rare opportunity to score on special teams (really, two chances at points on returns). The truth is that if you want to win in the NFL, you need to get lucky every once in a while.
Eli Manning’s ability to pull his way out of a sack and fling the ball over the middle of the field to David Tyree wasn’t pure skill. The Patriots had no control over Pete Carroll’s questionable decision not to hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch. Do you think that Tom Brady knew what the Tuck Rule was before he and his team marched past Oakland on the road to the big game?
Obviously, these plays occurred on a different stage. The sentiment, however, remains the same. In a game of inches, seconds and whichever other finite measurement you can think of, you take what you get.
Adam Gase and the Dolphins will certainly take this one, moving to 0.500 with their third-consecutive win.