Charm City Collapse: How the Ravens Exposed a Blueprint for Beating the Dolphins
That sound you just heard? That was the sound of the Dolphins’ bubble bursting. While the streak was something out of a fairytale, it’s hard not to have a bad taste in your mouth after the beat down the Baltimore Ravens put on the Miami Dolphins. The warning signs were aplenty, but the talk leading up to the game was the impending return of Branden Albert and Laremy Tunsil; as well as the uncertain playing status of wideout, DeVante Parker. All three played, and for the most part, moving the ball wasn’t the issue; the clear issue on the day was defense.
The signs were all so clear, yet, Sunday’s humiliating defeat to the Ravens stills feels so sudden and unexpected.
Coming into the season, the deficiencies in both the linebacker corps and in also the secondary were easy to spot. Most expected those same groups on defense to be the ultimate reason this Dolphins squad wouldn’t even get to the current 7 wins they possess.
Somehow, Vance Joseph had pieced it together and made it work through 12 weeks. Sure, at times it wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t get in the way of 6 straight wins. In fact, at times that same defense made big plays to win the team games or kept them afloat when the offense couldn’t find its footing.
Thanksgiving may have been a couple weeks ago, but the Ravens made sure the Dolphins cashed in on some leftovers of sweet humble pie.
Miami was not only humiliated, but exposed. A defense that had built itself on bending but not breaking didn’t just break—it collapsed down to its non-sturdy foundation.
John Harbaugh laid out the blueprint on how to beat this defense, which has always been low on talent. Yes, the Ravens physically were too much for the Dolphins. Many, however, will interpret that statement as one in which Miami was pummeled in the trenches—that wasn’t the case on Sunday afternoon.
Miami simply couldn’t keep up with Baltimore’s quick passing game and athletic pass catchers.
Below we re-live (we’re sorry) the Dolphins poorest performance of the season and go in-depth on why John Harbaugh’s Ravens are just a bad matchup for the ‘Phins.
We start by focusing on the struggles of Spencer Paysinger. This play could also be used as the epitome of the Dolphins’ defensive ineptitude all afternoon in Baltimore. This play shows what we meant by saying the Ravens were just physically superior to the Dolphins—Steve Smith runs a shallow post route that attacks the weakest point of the field for Miami: the middle of the defense. The man with the best chance to make a play here was Spencer Paysinger, as he finds himself closest to the receiver and the ball. Instead, Smith gets by Paysinger easily; Flacco consistently was able to squeeze the ball through these tight windows on the day.
On this play, Darren Waller, the Ravens’ 3rd string tight end also finds it easy to expose Miami’s weak LB corps. Waller, who only had 6 catches going into his team’s meeting with the Dolphins, simply attacks the middle part of the field. As you can see, instead of sticking to Waller, both Kiko Alonso and Spencer Paysinger get caught trying to read the quarterbacks eyes and lose track of the Ravens’ tight end. The play leads to a first and goal for the Ravens; they would end up cashing in for 6 points a few plays later.
On 3rd and 15, Miami loses sight of Flacco’s best pass catcher on the afternoon, Dennis Pitta. In a down and distance such as this one, I understand why the Dolphins were willing to give up some yardage underneath. But there’s no excuse for not being in closer proximity to Pitta; after catching the pass from Flacco, all he simply does is turn his head up field and dive for a 14-yard gain that set up a 4th down conversion. While it should be pointed out that Paysinger was preoccupied with Steve Smith and Alonso was busy protecting the first down marker, there simply can’t be these types of breakdowns when the defense has a golden opportunity to get off the field.
Another reason Miami’s defense looked as putrid as it did was the Ravens’ game plan. It’s no secret the Dolphins’ strength on defense is their defensive line. However, what John Harbaugh and his coaching staff did was basically render it useless; Miami only had one QB hurry the entire game and zero TFL’s. John Harbaugh didn’t just quietly point to the Dolphins’ weak areas on defense, but he also dissected them all in a practice of slow torture. The game plan was to get rid of the ball quickly, therefore never allowing the Dolphins’ pass rushers ample time to get to the quarterback. The offensive strategy was truly immaculate; leaving you wondering how other teams will use it to exploit Miami.
Dennis Pitta hadn’t caught a touchdown since December of the 2013 season; he caught two touchdown receptions against the Dolphins. This was the first of the two—Kiko Alonso extends, and tries to make a play on the ball but is just short. Those were the type of plays it seemed the Dolphins made during their 6 game win-streak: when the opposing offense was driving someone would sell out and make a major play to shift the momentum. Obviously that play never came against the Ravens. Instead, every time the Dolphins’ gambled for a big play it just backfired; at this point, you felt the route was possibly on.
Poor, Spencer Paysinger; Here, once again, the Dolphins’ 2nd string linebacker is exposed by the Ravens. In Paysinger’s defense, the ‘Phins don’t truly possess a linebacker that could consistently make this play. Breshad Perriman, who possesses great speed, runs a crossing route with Paysinger covering him; the results weren’t great as you’d expect. This highlights the Dolphins need for a linebacker with true sideline-to-sideline speed. Joe Flacco found it too easy, picking on all Dolphins’ linebackers in one-on-one situations such as these.
Dennis Pitta’s second score of the day was due to Andre Brach dropping back in coverage. Here, Vance Joseph elects to rush with 5 on the linebacker blitz. To compensate for both his linebackers rushing the quarterback, Joseph drops Branch back in coverage. This subsequently leads to Branch being responsible for Pitta’s whereabouts on the field; Branch doesn’t notice Pitta initially sliver behind him and by the time he does it’s too late, Touchdown Baltimore.
Consider this play the cherry on top of a distasteful sundae for Miami. Perriman once again runs a simple crossing route, only this time the secondary has a humiliating sequence of miscommunication. What makes matters worse is Neville Hewitt (which was a troubling trend throughout the day) doesn’t notice Perriman running behind him. The gave the Ravens’ second year receiver all the green grass in the world to be able to make the catch and take it 53 yards for the score.
As humbling of a defeat as this was, no the season is not over yet. While this loss does make matters much more complicated for Miami in the Wild Card standings, a playoff berth is still a realistic proposition.
However, what’s concerning is this:
Now that the Ravens provided the rest of the league with the blueprint on how to dominate these Dolphins offensively, how can we be so sure the same issues that appeared Sunday at Baltimore won’t appear again throughout the end of the season?
In a lot of ways this loss felt like the mile-high meltdown that came at the hands of the Broncos in the 2014 season. If you recall, Miami came into that game at Denver boasting one of the best run defenses in the league. Adam Gase, at the time the Broncos’ offensive coordinator was able to create a blueprint to consistently and effectively run on the Dolphins. Miami went on to allow nearly 1,000 yards rushing in the last 6 games of the season following their loss to Denver.
The personnel won’t change, that’s why I’m not so sure this problem has a quick fix. Some have already pointed to next week’s home game against the Cardinals as the true barometer to measure the extent of this franchise’s culture change under Adam Gase. I find that rather unfair to Gase and his staff; what they’ve already done should be considered a success in the eyes of those who follow the team closely.
The bottom line is this: Miami has severe limitations on the defensive side of the ball that we always knew existed. What the Ravens did was simply rip off the Band-Aid and remind everyone around the league of those major defensive issues.
Next Sunday however, is the season for these Dolphins. It will be interesting to see if the Cardinals follow the Ravens’ blueprint because you know how the old adage goes:
The NFL is a copycat league.