Anatomy of the Drives: How Adam Gase & Ryan Tannehill Led the Dolphins’ Week 11 Comeback

It’s impossible to identify one quality that defines all winning teams. Some, like the Patriots, kill you with preparation, finding ways to exploit opponents’ weaknesses with lethal efficiency. The Cowboys serve as an example of a team that does it by bullying you up front, winning through brute force. Others, like the Colts during Peyton Manning’s time, have one player that elevates the entire team, producing a well-oiled machine.

However, there is one overarching quality that defines all of these franchises: they make plays when it counts.

The Dolphins are not a winning team yet. After toiling in mediocrity for the first month and a half of 2016, ghosts of mediocrity that haunt this group. However, based purely on the last five weeks, the Dolphins are well on their way to consistently finding ways to win matchups.

Under Joe Philbin (and Tony Sparano), the Dolphins managed to lose close games every year. “Next year they’ll get better and be able to finish.”

Well, Adam Gase has the team in a very different position. The Dolphins are finishing games. When they get better over the offseason, things will just get easier. Maybe they won’t have to engineer a fourth-quarter comeback, as they did against the Rams in Week 11.

At the end of the day, all that matters is that the Dolphins are finding ways to make plays late in games, displaying an ability to notch victory from the jaws of defeat, rather than things playing out in the opposite fashion.

Against the Rams, the Dolphins’ coaches put the team in a situation to pull off the season’s best late-game heroics yet.

Drive No. 1: 

Early in the Dolphins’ penultimate drive, it looked like the offense was stalling as it had throughout the first 3.5 quarters of their clash at the Coliseum.

However, one play was able to ignite the team’s efforts.

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On 3rd & 3, Ryan Tannehill got the ball out of his hand quickly, finding Jarvis Landry for a first down. The play design used DeVante Parker to draw the corner in press coverage away from Landry, who was able to secure the ball before the defender sitting back in zone was able to come back to break up the play.

It served as a perfect example of how good coaches use different route designs to attack defensive coverages, exploiting a specific look by the Rams’ defense with staggered DBs off of the line and press.

On the next play, the Dolphins went no-huddle and found Jarvis Landry on another screen. This time, Alec Ogletree ended up providing Miami with a boost towards their efforts.

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Ogletree was flagged for unnecessary roughness on the play, hitting Landry once he was already out of bounds.

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While it could be debated whether or not Ogletree deserved the call, the NFL is trying to reduce player injuries by limiting excess hits. In this situation, Ogletree could have pulled up from the tackle.

Once again, the good teams get lucky.

Tannehill then was able to help the Dolphins keep things moving with a great pass to DeVante Parker.

D1, P3 - Keeps it moving.gif

Adam Gase started calling plays with routes in this area of the field by this time. Tannehill is at his best when throwing these comebacks and curls into tight coverage – his ability to place the ball accurately with outstanding zip is among his greatest gifts as a passer.

On the next play, Tannehill was able to help keep the drive moving with another throw to his left. However, this play was made possible by the coaching staff.

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At first, it looks like a simple out-route to DeVante Parker. The ball was placed well, but it wasn’t anything special from a quarterbacking perspective. Upon viewing the coaches film, it becomes easier to see how a schematic decision turned an ordinary play into something truly impressive.

D1, P4 - Coaches.gif

DeVante Parker is lined up on the outside, with Kenny Stills to his right. It’s clear that this is another look that Gase wanted to capitalize on; the Rams had the cornerback on Kenny Stills’ side playing in man, with someone dropped back into zone above DeVante Parker to prevent a deep route.

Kenny Stills ends up running a post from the inside slot position, which draws the man-defender away from DeVante Parker. This provides a window for Ryan Tannehill, who delivers the pass before the defender in zone can come down; this also exploited the defender who bit on Stills’ route, which placed the cornerback too far out of position to get back to Parker.

After a one-yard run by Jay Ajayi, the Dolphins scored their first TD of the day.

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For the Dolphins teams of years past, this is not a scoring play. However, things are different in 2016. The team is invested, and there is a true commitment to laying everything on the line each Sunday. Watching motivated players give efforts like they did on plays above is a welcomed sight.

Down 10-0, the team didn’t give up. Nobody folded. Nobody stopped giving everything they had.

Why is this? Once players taste winning, it’s hard to stomach the idea of going back to putting L’s on the schedule.

Adam Gase has this team ready to give everything for 60 minutes to keep putting up wins.

Drive No. 2: 

The Dolphins’ game-winning drive was kicked off by a huge play, with a great throw from Ryan Tannehill compounded by a poor decision from Aaron Donald.

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Adam Gase does what any good coach would do in an important situation: let your QB deliver the ball to the area where he is most comfortable throwing to. He calls a play that allows Tannehill to go right back to the intermediate throws he capitalized on earlier.

Kenny Stills and Dion Sims ran routes underneath, which cleared a throwing lane that Tannehill wasn’t given earlier in the game. Thanks to work by the coaching staff, the Dolphins’ quarterback had chances to do what he does best.

However, a somewhat questionable call by the officials made this play even bigger for Miami.

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This is another play that emphasizes the NFL’s current desire to change the nature of the game through officiating. If a defender goes high on a QB, causing even a slight collision of helmets, chances are that a flag will fly in.

While Donald clearly takes an extra step and does go helmet-first towards Tannehill, Dolphins fans would be fairly upset had the same play been called against Miami in a similar situation. At the end of the day, decisions by refs are a huge part of the game, and Donald did commit a play that could be construed as leading with his helmet.

Following a 2-yard rush from Jay Ajayi, the Dolphins picked up another first down on another play that called for Tannehill to put the ball in what emerged as a sweet spot for his passing ability.

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On this play, defenders don’t fall for Jarvis Landry on an underneath route. However, it doesn’t affect Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill makes an amazing throw, threading the needle despite pressure coming in from the side he was looking to throw towards.

Sometimes coaching can’t do it all, causing the onus to fall on players to execute in spectacular fashion.

The throw above was not the only example of this from the game-winning drive. DeVante Parker provided his own eye-popping save on the next play.

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DeVante Parker makes an outstanding catch to help the Dolphins keep driving down the field.

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It doesn’t get much better than that for a wide receiver in crunch time. While the touchdown that followed later was the biggest play from Parker, the catch above to keep things moving was undoubtedly his best.

The play didn’t give Miami a first down, but a savvy call by the coaching staff would help them convert on the next play.

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The Dolphins were already in field-goal range, and they had the defense on its heels thanks to their rapid pace. With 1:20 on the clock, the goal was to eat up time while still working towards a touchdown.

An incomplete pass would have meant that the Dolphins stopped the clock and had to convert through the air. Even if the running play above hadn’t gone for the first down (and more), it would have at least allowed the Dolphins to run time off of the clock.

Coaches call for a double-block on Aaron Donald, which gives Ajayi a lane in the a-gap (between the center and guard). It allows the Dolphins’ breakout star to use his quickness, producing a big gain for the Dolphins on a great play-call.

The next play was arguably the Dolphins’ only mistake on the drive.

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The best situation for Miami would’ve been to have Ajayi get out of bounds here. It wasn’t a back-breaking play because the Dolphins still had a timeout, but the team could have saved that timeout had Ajayi been able to get to the sideline.

It doesn’t seem like a mental error by Ajayi; he appears to have stumbled when trying to get where he needed to be.

I don’t think I need to remind you what happens on the next play.

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On the final offensive snap of the game, the Dolphins did what they had been unable to do in recent years: play good football late despite struggling in the first three quarters.

Ryan Tannehill drops back on the play and quickly rifles the ball to DeVante Parker for the touchdown.

While the throw might not have been eye-popping, it is important to recognize the situational awareness showed by Miami’s QB. Tannehill needed to place the ball where it would either be caught by Parker or fall to the ground. Given Parker’s length, Tannehill knows that there is a better chance that Parker can extend for a pass further away from his body. This was also a great decision by the coaching staff, knowing that putting Parker in that spot reduced the chance of a pick.

Tannehill puts the ball far away from his receiver’s body, and Parker is able to lay out and hold on.

The final play of the game serves as a confidence booster for two of the Dolphins’ most important players on offense. Ryan Tannehill delivered in the biggest moment; he led the team to two touchdowns when they needed someone to step up. DeVante Parker showed that he’s capable of being a true No. 1 target, hauling in pass after pass in the final four minutes of Sunday’s game.

The Skinny:

This was the game that those who have spent years watching the Dolphins were waiting for. In the past, the team has sunken down to the level of poor competition, creating opportunities for opponents to steal wins that should be easy chances at victory for the Dolphins.

Would the change Adam Gase has instilled hold up in one of those games? Can he finally propel a team to avoid the dreaded trap games?

Miami’s win was encouraging not only because they managed to beat a team whom they clearly had out-manned (and out-coached), but also because they did so after three quarters of atrocious play.

Adam Gase and Ryan Tannehill made the end of Sunday’s game possible together. While the pairing had a rocky start, they are hitting their stride when it matters most. Down the stretch, the Dolphins are getting it done in the fourth quarter to keep the win total climbing.

Four fourth-quarter comebacks in a row is nothing to scoff at. The Dolphins might not have dominant personnel or a plethora of top-shelf talent on offense, but they are finding ways to keep winning no matter the opponent.

The Dolphins aren’t just playing good football. Right now, they’re playing winning football.

If they can keep up the pace, winning football could lead the Dolphins towards another type of football that they have awaited for nearly a decade.

January football.

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