Dolphins Dichotomy: Film Review of the Best & Worst Plays from Dolphins vs. Rams

Good teams find ways to win. On Sunday, the Dolphins showed that they’re capable of getting the job done in the face of adversity. Yes, they were afforded some easy opportunities based on the fact that their opponent’s offense is one of the league’s least effective. However, the team still mustered up two TD drives when it mattered the most, facing a top-notch defense. 

At the end of the day, winning ugly is a necessary skill for any team that wants to find themselves in the postseason. It’s clear that Adam Gase’s squad is capable of winning in more ways than one based on their performance against the Rams. 

Here is our film breakdown of exactly how they got it done in L.A., moving to 2-0 on their West Coast trip.

Best Plays:

Dolphins Prepared Well for Rookie QB:

It was clear entering Sunday’s game that the Rams would be limited offensively. Not only was the team struggling in that area to begin with, but they also had decided leading up to the matchup to start Jared Goff for the first time in his career. This meant that the Dolphins would have a limited number of plays to prep for.

In addition to being able to call a limited number of plays, the Rams had to run plays that kept things easy for their QB in his debut. Throughout most of Sunday’s game, the Dolphins appeared highly prepared for the dump-offs and quick throws that define early starts for rookie passers.

Good Play - Dolphins Prepared for Dumpoff Again.gif

On the play above, Spencer Paysinger is ready for the outlet to Todd Gurley. He waits, staying in position, then makes it into the backfield for the stop.

Earlier in the game, the team had shut down a similar predetermined read intended to keep things simple for Jared Goff.

Good Play - Ready for Easy Play to Rookie.gif

Isa Abdul-Quddus comes down to cover the tight end the entire way, making sure that there was no significant yardage to be found for the Rams.

In the second quarter, Abdul-Quddus made another big play on the ball.

Great Play - Another Good Job Taking Away Easy Play.gif

In the fourth quarter, the Dolphins defense stopped a play in a fashion that epitomized their efforts on the week.

Great Play - Dolphins know Rams don't want ball in Goff's hands, ready for screendumpoff.gif

The Dolphins knew that the Rams didn’t want the ball in Goff’s hands for too long on key downs given the potential for a strong pass rush leading to mistakes. So, Miami was ready for the quick check-down. Vance Joseph has four plays on the line of scrimmage above and ends up only rushing two.

The defense shows great preparation and conviction, making sure that multiple players are ready to close on the easy outlet that they are confident Goff will look towards.

These moments were afforded to the Dolphins through preparation and situational awareness. It was clear that a rookie QB wouldn’t be looking to sit in the pocket, go through progressions and pick apart the defense. The Dolphins knew that if they got pressure on Goff and covered up easy options underneath that they would be able to make it a very, very long afternoon for the young QB. 

Spencer Paysinger Ready for Action:

Spencer Paysinger clearly has his limitations as a linebacker. However, he stood out as a big-time positive for the Dolphins on Sunday.

Payinger’s main limitation is his footspeed, unable to close ground with great efficiency and make tackles. However, he demonstrated a clear ability to stay ahead of the game mentally, and showed an improved tackling when he reached ball carriers.

Great Play - Paysinger Ready 100%.gif

On the play above, Paysinger is 100% ready for the route. He sits just to the side of the hash-marks, reading Goff’s eyes. Once the receiver breaks, so does Paysinger. He’s able to stick with the pass-catcher, disrupting the play and forcing the Rams into a third & long.

Earlier in the game, Paysinger set himself up well to make a play on a quick pass from Goff.

Great Play - Paysinger Set Up to Defend Well.gif

This play is remarkably similar to Kiko Alonso’s pick six. Paysinger sits and waits on a route he knows is coming, breaking at the right time to prevent any positive gains for the offense.

When you watch a player like Spencer Paysinger making similar plays to someone like Kiko Alonso, it shows how strong coaching is for that side of the ball. On Sunday, Vance Joseph continued building a case in one of the league’s most impressive season-long performances for a coordinator. Paysinger’s game on Sunday served as another sign that Joseph has complete control of the defense, and is truly helping the Dolphins thrive with lackluster talent.

Dolphins Get Smart with Play Action on Offense:

The Dolphins knew going in that the offense would have to get creative with the absence of Mike Pouncey and Branden Albert. Against the Rams defensive line, time to throw was surely going to be at a premium.

On a few occasions, the Dolphins showed the benefits of play-action passes by drawing linebackers out of coverage and creating easy throwing lanes for Ryan Tannehill.

Here is an example from the first quarter.

Great Play - PA Draws in LB, Easy 1st Down.gif

When Tannehill fakes the handoff to Ajayi, both of the Rams’ underneath defenders bite. They rush towards the line of scrimmage hoping to stuff Miami’s running back, only to realize that they’ve left an easy option for Ryan Tannehill. Thanks to a quick route by DeVante Parker, Tannehill barely has to finish his drop-back before he releases the ball, completing the pass for a first down.

Later in the game, Adam Gase went back to play-action passes in an even more subtle form to catch the Rams off-guard.

Great Play - Even Slight PA Draws Off LBs.gif

This is a very similar play to the first fake, except now Gase incorporates Landry on a dummy screen. Landry slides out as if he is waiting for one of the Dolphins’ oft-called passes behind the line, creating a decoy for the offense. In addition to this diversion, Tannehill fakes slightly in Ajayi’s direction, making sure that any potential disruption of the throwing lane is eliminated.

Once again, it’s an easy play for the Dolphins that allowed the team to work around their clear disadvantage on the offensive line. With Pouncey and Albert potentially out for another week, the Dolphins could go back to the well on play action to exploit San Francisco’s defense.

Jordan Phillips and Earl Mitchell Do Work:

When you have an all-world star like Ndamukong Suh on the defensive line, it should be obvious that teams will attempt to run in the opposite direction of the dominant player. This raises the importance of having solid depth on the defensive line, given that other players will face largely single-blocking and have opportunities to make plays on runners.

In recent weeks, Jordan Phillips has taken great strides in his ability to make plays opposite Suh and capitalize on opportunities afforded by the presence of others on the line. 

Good Play - Phillips penetration.gif

On the play above, the Rams simply miss an assignment on Phillips. However, Phillips still shows quickness to get into the backfield and close on Gurley before the dynamic runner can bounce the play outside. When you play on a line with Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh, you’ll get chances like that somewhat regularly. Now, Phillips is showing an ability to capitalize in those situations.

In addition to Phillips’ improvements, the Dolphins’ D-line has been aided by the return of Earl Mitchell. Throughout Mitchell’s career, he has demonstrated an inability to stay productive for a full 16-game schedule. However, given the fact that he missed the first half of 2016, he’ll only be asked to play for the final stretch of this season, meaning that there is a good chance that he can stay fresh.

Great Play - Earl Mitchell.gif

On the play above, Earl Mitchell completely works the blocker assigned to him. He manages to keep his ground, and reach out to stop Todd Gurley as the runner attempts to pass the line of scrimmage. This play was an impressive display of physical domination from Mitchell.

Later, Mitchell once again showed the ability to disengage and stop the running back.

Great Play - Earl again.gif

Mitchell spins around as Gurley reaches the line of scrimmage and wraps up the Rams’ RB. This served as another example of the boost that Mitchell has given Miami’s line.

If Jordan Phillips continues to develop and Earl Mitchell can stay fresh, the Dolphins’ defensive line will be in a good spot for the rest of 2016.

Defense Makes Goff Uncomfortable On Third Down: 

When facing a rookie QB, a pass rush is your greatest asset. The Dolphins showed just how much of a difference ratcheting up the heat makes against young signal-callers, pressuring Jared Goff throughout most of Sunday afternoon.

When pressure gets into the face (or around the feet) of a rookie QB, he has a tendency to drop his eyes out of the progression. At that point, it’s very difficult for an inexperienced QB to bring himself back into his reads and get rid of the ball.

Great Play - Dolphins Disrupt Goff, Interrupt Ability to Pass.gif

On the play above, Miami doesn’t wrap up the QB right away. However, Cameron Wake’s bull rush and Andre Branch’s blindside pressure force Goff out of the pocket. Once he starts scrambling, Jared Goff can’t get himself back into rhythm with his reads. He evades the pass rush for a bit longer, but is ultimately sandwiched by Wake and Suh.

Later, in the game’s biggest moment defensively, the Dolphins were able to once again get pressure on Jared Goff, forcing him into a throw that the defense was ready for on third down.

Great Play - Dolphins D steps up in biggest moment.gif

The Dolphins know where Goff will go in this situation. If the rush comes in quickly, he’ll have to go to a checkdown. Miami prepares for this and sends extra men on the blitz with confidence that they’ll have someone in the area of Goff’s target anyway.

Miami gets heat on Goff, who sends the ball to a receiver just past the line of scrimmage. Tony Lippett is ready and is there to make the tackle.

The Dolphins’ level of preparation allowed them to turn up the heat on Goff during Sunday’s game. By understanding where the intended targets would be (in a smaller area of the field than non-rookies work with), Vance Joseph was able to commit fewer men to coverage and more men to the pass rush. This obviously had a negative effect on the Rams’ offensive ceiling, helping the Dolphins win the battle on key downs.

Kiko Alonso Keeps Balling: 

During a big win-streak, there are usually a few key players that are stepping up, overachieving and making plays. Key word: overachieving. In the Dolphins’ five-game string of wins, Kiko Alonso has been a hugely positive force.

After his game-winning play in Week 10, Alonso showed again that he is capable of creating turnovers and generating opportunities for Miami’s offense.

Great Play - Kiko Forces Fumble.gif

Kiko Alonso manages to force the fumble on the play above. It’s a great play by Miami’s surprise standout that you truly need to see from the second angle to appreciate fully.

Great Play - Kiko Forces Fumble Angle 2.gif

He makes a clear effort to punch out the football, creating a turnover in wet conditions for Miami. Unfortunately, the Dolphins turned the ball over on their next possession. However, this play by Kiko Alonso was one of the best individual efforts that we saw during Sunday’s game.

Jay Ajayi is Very Good at Football: 

Yes, the offensive line has made a big difference for the Dolphins. However, it isn’t just the guys up front. Things are finally clicking for Jay Ajayi, and his individual improvements have made Miami’s winning streak possible. On Sunday, he had another strong outing.

Great Play - Ajayi Burst Through the Hole.gif

On the play above, Ajayi shows decisiveness and burst as he hits the hole. The blocking is good, but Ajayi’s acceleration in the second level and ability to make defenders miss help make this a special play.

His burst is even more evident from an additional angle.

Great Play - Ajayi Burst Through the Hole Angle .gif

Earlier in the game, Jay Ajayi was able to bounce outside and force a missed tackle to pick up a first down for Miami.

Great Play - Ajayi Bounces Out, Breaks Tackle.gif

Later in the second quarter, Ajayi caught a pass out of the backfield before making a jaw-dropping move to spring himself free.

Great Play - Ajayi Breaks Tackle, Gets First Down.gif

Those plays aren’t made by the offensive line. They’re clear sings that Jay Ajayi is finding himself as a running back, creating opportunities for big plays and huge contributions in Adam Gase’s offense through athletic ability and strength as a playmaker.

Ryan Tannehill Runs the Naked Boot:

This falls under the “selfish inclusion” category. One of my favorite plays for any team to call is the naked boot. On Sunday, the Dolphins pulled out this concept to give Ryan Tannehill a chance to rush for the first down.

Great Play - Ryan Tannehill Naked Boot.gif

The naked boot requires a QB with the foot speed to hit the edge without being caught by the unblocked defender. In this situation, Tannehill is able to round the corner and pick up the first down.

When your QB is as athletic as Ryan Tannehill is, you’re afforded unique opportunities to allow him to make plays outside of the pocket that others at the position cannot. This was a perfect example of Gase & Co. using Tannehill’s athleticism to their advantage.

Tannehill Impresses On Final Drives: 

The Dolphins’ final two drives in Sunday’s game are worthy of a film breakdown in and of themselves. We’ve decided that there will be an individual article posted on those series, but I wanted to cover some select plays in Dolphins Dichotomy given their importance to the game’s overall theme.

For three quarters, Ryan Tannehill played a game that teetered between safe and poor. He would approach plays tentatively or simply make bad reads. While he wasn’t terrible in the first three quarters, he was far from the passer that we saw late in the fourth.

On several instances late, Tannehill squeezed the ball into tight coverage, displaying excellent placement and poise under pressure.

On the play below, Tanneill actually throws the ball in between three Rams defenders who were around DeVante Parker.

Good Play - Tannehill Zips It Into Triple Cog.gif

As no-huddle drives progress, defenses lose their edge in terms of pass rush. This play was a perfect example of the pocket that a QB is allowed during long, quick-paced sequences. Tannehill has plenty of time to sit in the pocket, and he makes sure to capitalize. He dropped an absolute dime in to Parker to extend the drive that would end up putting Miami on the board.

Later, he put another pass right on the money to extend a key drive.

Great Play - Tannehill Into Traffic.gif

This throw was arguably better than the first because of the pressure Tannehill faced. The pocket wasn’t nearly as clean as it was on the first tight-window throw, but it didn’t impact Miami’s QB. Tannehill still laid the ball exactly where he needed to, threading the needle for a huge completion.

These throws defined Ryan Tannehill’s efforts at the end of Sunday’s game. As coaching adjusted and the team transitioned into the no huddle, L.A. couldn’t establish a pass rush on Tannehill. Miami’s signal caller capitalized on multiple occasions, showing a natural ability to work within Coach Gase’s system.

Tannehill Hits Parker for the Game: 

After going down 10-0, most thought it was over for the Dolphins.

Well, I’m sure those select fans couldn’t be happier to be wrong.

Late in Sunday’s game, Ryan Tannehill completed a huge game-winning touchdown pass to DeVante Parker.

Great Play - Tannehill Hits Game-Winner.gif

Given the situation, it was obvious that the Dolphins were taking a shot at the end zone. The important thing was that the ball be placed in an area where it could not be intercepted. Ryan Tannehill, eyeing his largest receiver, was able to put the ball out of the defensive back’s potential grasp, in an area that would also be well beyond the reach of Miami’s other pass-catchers.

Great Play - Tannehill Hits Game-Winner ANGLE 2.gif

Tannehill’s ball placement was spectacular on the play. DeVante Parker made a great catch, holding onto the football when pressure was at its highest.

This is what it takes for teams to eventually find a way to make it into the month of January; if you can find ways to win even when you aren’t at your best, you’ll have a shot. Adam Gase gave Ryan Tannehill chances to get the ball into the end zone, and the QB fully capitalized. The team is not only enjoying playing together, but also learning how to do so when it matters most. Tannehill is developing better chemistry with receivers as the coaching staff discovers new ways to implement the athletes on their 53-man roster.

They’re far from perfect, but the Dolphins are finding ways. At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.

Worst Plays: 

Tannehill’s Deep Interception: 

After Kiko Alonso’s big forced fumble, it looked as if the Dolphins could have a chance to cut L.A.’s lead.

Well, it didn’t exactly go down that way.

Bad Play - Tannehill Deep INT.gif

Many have asked me who I blame for this interception. To answer that, we’re going to have to return to a subject we covered during the team’s losses earlier in the year.

Blame can go to multiple players.

Ryan Tannehill surely could have placed the ball in a better spot here. However, his approach made sense – send the ball into the end zone, and let his receiver make a play.

Bad Play - Tannehill Deep INT Angle 2.gif

It does end up looking like Tannehill overthrew his receiver, but that really isn’t entirely descriptive of the full situation.

At the end of the day, it’s on DeVante Parker to maintain full speed and reach the end zone on this route.

Bad Play - Tannehill Deep Ball INT Angle 3.gif

It’s clear that DeVante Parker decelerates a bit early on the play, slowing down before he reaches a place where he’d be in the best possible position to fight for the ball. He instead leaps up and, for some reason, thinks that trying to get his hands up Odell Beckham-style is going to help.

There is blame to be placed on both parties for this play, but DeVante Parker needs to be more consistent when it comes to finishing routes and making sure that he puts himself in the best possible position to use his 6’4” frame to make plays.

Poor Decisions by Tannehill: 

Ryan Tannehill finished strong on Sunday. Really, that’s all that matters.

However, his errors early in Sunday’s game would have cost Miami the contest against most NFL offenses. However, the Rams’ unit sits far below most NFL offenses.

In the second quarter, Tannehill failed to read the play correctly and nearly threw an interception.

Bad Play - Tannehill Bad Decision.gif

Bad Play - Tannehill Deep INT Angle 2.gif

Tannehill clearly attempted to force this ball into coverage, failing to recognize that a more sure-handed DB would have taken it away in this situation.

Later, Tannehill made another bad read in a similar situation.

Bad Play - Another Bad Decision by Tannehill.gif

On the play above, Tannehill is moving around the pocket and eventually decides to try to sling the ball in to Kenny Stills. However, he fails to read the defensive back lurking. The Rams could have easily come away with a pick on the play.

On another snap, Tannehill simply failed to get rid of the ball in a timely matter.

Bad Play - Tannehill Needs to Get Rid Of It.gif

There really isn’t a reason for Tannehill to hold onto the ball here. He makes a good decision to roll out of the pocket; however, he needs to display more awareness as to when it’s time to simply send the ball out of bounds.

These plays didn’t end up sinking the Dolphins, but against well-coached teams like the Cardinals and Ravens down the stretch, Miami could lose matchups based on these types of decisions from their signal caller.

Damien Williams Misses Blocks: 

Early in Sunday’s game, Tannehill had very little help from his supporting cast. Yes, Jay Ajayi was making big plays, but outside of the team’s ball carrier, nothing was working.

One of the biggest problems proved to be Damien Williams’ failure to pick up blitzes on passing downs.

On the play below, Damien Williams and the offense misidentify the corner blitz.

Bad Play - Tannehill either makes bad call or doesn't see DB, or both.gif

This could fall on Ryan Tannehill, who is responsible for getting the offense lined up based on defensive shifts. However, Damien Williams was completely oblivious to the extra man on the blitz, leaving no chance for Tannehill to do anything other than take a sack.

Later, the issue popped up again in an even uglier fashion.

Bad Play - Tannehill Needs to ID Blitz, Warn Williams, Etc.gif

Williams simply whiffed on his assignment there. He knew where the blitz was coming from but was unable to make any impact as a blocker.

Yes, Ryan Tannehill needs to do a better job identifying blitzes. However, it appears that the odds weren’t very good that Damien Williams would have been able to help anyway, missing pass rushers on multiple occasions against the Rams.

Gurley Has Easy Running Lanes:

While the Dolphins’ run defense has improved in recent weeks, they’re still struggling in terms of allowing big plays.

Early in Sunday’s game, the Dolphins gave up a huge touchdown run to Todd Gurley.

Bad Play - Gurley TD.gif

Bad Play - Gurley TD Angle 2.gif

It’s clear that the Dolphins defenders not only fail at the line of scrimmage, but also in their attempts to close on Gurley later. Once he finds the lane, he’s gone. The Dolphins have shown a general inability to catch players from behind this year, or to close out when recovering on a tackle. Todd Gurley exposed the physical deficiencies of Miami’s run defense above.

Later, Gurley was able to run through a hole in the DL that looked to be the size of a semi-truck.

Bad Play - Gurley run out of end zone.gif

It’s hard to understand how absurd Gurley’s lane is on this play until a secondary angle is seen.

Bad Play - Gurley run out of end zone angle 2.gif

Yup. Let’s freeze frame it just for fun.

Screen Shot 2016-11-22 at 12.22.11 AM.png

While they have made some strides, the Dolphins’ run defense has a long way to go if they want to contain players like David Johnson and LeSean McCoy, both of whom have dates with Miami later in the year.

Physical Limitations of Defense Show Through:

While Vance Joseph has done an incredible job with Miami’s defense this season, moments still emerge during which it is clear that the Dolphins’ group is completely outgunned in terms of personnel.

On the play below, Spencer Paysinger fails to reach the edge on a Jared Goff scramble.

Bad Play - Dolphins Need LBs Who Can Close On These Plays Athletically.gif

Paysinger made plenty of plays on Sunday, but this is something he’ll never be able to do. He is limited physically, and at this point it’s clear that his current level of play is the maximum that a coach could get out of him. Vance Joseph is squeezing every last bit of talent out of this roster, and it showed on that play from Spencer Paysinger, who just hit a wall in terms of ability to make things happen.

Sure, this was categorized as a bad play, but there’s a huge positive here: Vance Joseph is helping make that guy look serviceable.

Tony Lippett Whiffs Again:

Following Miami’s game against the Titans, I included several GIFs of Tony Lippett diving at offensive players’ ankles in attempts to take them down. Following that inclusion, my mom told me that she thought it was “really funny watching him fall.”

Well, get ready to laugh again, Mom.

Bad Play - Lippett Whifs Twice.gif

Tony Lippett whiffs not once on this play…

Bad Play - Lippett Whifs 2.gif

BUT TWICE!

This is another example of a play that really represents the incredible job Vance Joseph is doing. He is managing to help coach a winning defense despite having a starting corner that thinks the rules of limbo apply to tackling ball carriers.

(The lower the better.)

Once again, Tony Lippett needs to work on his tackling technique. After 10 weeks, you can’t still be doing this:

Bad Play - Tony Lippett Goes Low Again.gif

Tony Lippett Terrifyingly Bad Tackle.gif

Lippett Embarassment.gif

Details Still Need Work: 

In some areas, it seems like Adam Gase’s team is still just a little bit off on their technique and approach, costing the team in minor ways (which add up quickly to become major ways). 

The Dolphins have had issues this season with linebackers flashing in front of intended targets over the middle but failing to turn those opportunities into INTs or pass breakups. On Sunday, this popped up once again.

Bad Play - Needs to be INT (Cant Disrupt Passing Lanes).gif

Bad Play - Needs to be INT (Cant Disrupt Passing Lanes) Angle 2.gif

Donald Butler, a veteran linebacker, needs to get his head around and be more aware in coverage. However, Miami’s entire group at the position has struggled in this area. If they can start displaying more awareness while lurking in pass defense, the unit could spark more turnovers.

The Dolphins are also having detail issues on offense.

Bad Play - Another Detail Needs to be Cleaned Up, Ball Placement.gif

Bad Play - Another Detail Needs to be Cleaned Up, Ball Placement Angle 2.gif

Ryan Tannehill’s ball placement needs to be much better, and Jay Ajayi can’t afford to run into teammates as he attempts to burst outside for the screen.

These are two examples of areas in which the Dolphins need to improve attention to detail. If they’re going to get every last drop of talent they can from a clearly undermanned roster, it’s going to come down to making sure the little things are cleaned up down the stretch.

Based on adjustments made by Gase and his staff to this point, I’m very confident that it will happen.

The Skinny: 

Five in a row isn’t easy. Hell, nothing is easy in the NFL.

The Dolphins have showed that they are a different team than other recent iterations of the franchise. Instead of finding ways to lose, the group has been scraping together ways to win. Against the Jets, Chargers and now Rams, the Dolphins were able to make plays in the biggest moments, leading to victory. Kenyan Drake’s kick return, Kiko Alonso’s pick six and Ryan Tannehill’s game-winning drives are all events that don’t occur for Dolphins teams of the past.

Before Sunday’s game, it was possible to question the change that has occurred with this team. Now, it’s undeniable. Adam Gase has ushered in a new culture within the Dolphins’ organization.

The main question becomes whether or not he can keep this team moving in the right direction. Can they keep the pedal to the metal? It will be important to not only maintain intensity, but also capitalize on all opportunities they are afforded down the stretch.

With only one team above 0.500 on the schedule for the rest of the season, Adam Gase has an opportunity to make 2016 a truly special season for the Miami Dolphins.

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