In an effort to keep things fresh around these parts, we thought of this NEW AND EXCITING feature here at FN where resident beer holster owner / draft guru / chicken wing fan / overall 5-star FN commenter, CK Parrot, will break down each week's game via the NFL's recent rule change regarding 'All-22' film action. We hoped to have this up yesterday but, uh, sorry? Warning: if you haven't gotten your coffee and breakfast yet, you might want to do that now so you can just sit back, read and enjoy. There's a plethora of good information here and our man is very thorough. Take it away, CK!
You don’t joke after your mom’s funeral. You don’t feel upbeat after a day of court arraignments. You just are. Your life’s narration just subbed out Daniel Tosh for Alan Rickman.
The good news to come from this game is that there isn’t any REALLY bad news. Everything bad is something we already knew. Despite whatever “I got a feeling…” crap you may have heard (felt) pre-game, this was always destined to be an ugly loss. And this was ugly. As ugly as…something really ugly (call me, Family Guy writers). The Dolphins actually winning this game would have been a mind-blowing development that would call into question everything we assumed about everything. That was never realistic, and so we still don’t know if this team is bad, really bad, or just kind of mediocre. No needles have moved.
The big story to come out of the game is Ryan Tannehill’s tipped passes. He came out of Texas A&M getting his passes batted at the line far more than any of his fellow first round quarterbacks, about twice the rate considered acceptable in the NFL. He had about half a dozen tipped during the preseason, which is a rate twice what he had in college which was already twice what was acceptable. Now come the regular season, he had at least four passes tipped at the line out of 36 attempts. At this rate, if the Dolphins ever reach the playoffs with Tannehill, every defensive lineman they face will be Serge Ibaka.
The why’s and how’s have been pretty well explored by now. No, I do not believe Tannehill has a slow or low delivery that results in these tips. You have to understand that Ryan Tannehill is not the only import from Texas A&M, where the tipped pass situation was unacceptable. The Dolphins ported over most of the offensive coaching staff. There are suggestions that the offensive linemen are not gut-punching the defensive linemen effectively enough. I really only found that to be a factor on one play during the game, although I noted several times on three step drops where Jonathan Martin was not engaging firmly enough to prevent a tip had the ball come out over him. Jim Turner is the offensive line coach in Miami, and he was the offensive line coach at Texas A&M as well. If it was a problem there, and it is now a problem here, perhaps Turner needs to make an adjustment to how he coaches his guys.
There are suggestions that Ryan Tannehill is not using the right technique on these short throws. I buy this more than I buy the offensive line blame. Ryan is very good at switching to sidearm in the appropriate situation, but he also needs to be good at switching to an extremely high reach release when the situation calls for that. It isn’t that Tannehill’s release is naturally too low. What I am suggesting is not a natural delivery for pretty much any quarterback, but it is an adjustment that needs to be in his arsenal. He also needs to be able to hold his weight on his back foot for half a beat longer, or pump fake, when he senses a threat in his throwing lane. Finally, Tannehill needs to not be so wooden and predictable in his drop and his angles. He needs to create his own lane better, or get a deeper drop without changing the timing of the play. Zac Taylor was his quarterbacks coach in Texas A&M, and he is his quarterbacks coach in Miami. Perhaps Taylor needs to look at himself in the mirror and ask whether he is coaching Tannehill well enough on this point.
Personally I feel about half of the problem is the design and tendency of the passing offense, and sure enough Mike Sherman’s offense also came from Texas A&M to Miami. This is the one aspect that seems to escape blame. Ryan Tannehill did not take many sacks at Texas A&M. We would like to think that was all skill but the truth is his offense helped him to keep those sacks down. Everything in football is a give and take. If a defense knows it is facing an offense that will not give them very many valid shots at a sack, they find other ways to affect the throw. Those tipped passes become in essence 0 yard sacks, with the occasional pressured interception thrown in. It will be Mike Sherman’s job to institute some changes that take advantage of defensive ends’ tendencies to sell out on the tipped pass, and to make the passing lane less predictable. I believe every single one of Tannehill’s tipped passes came out of the shotgun this Sunday. It is possible that a real three step drop from center, or some added play-action passes, might affect the defensive tendencies.
Either way, the only man with the outside perspective who does not hail from an offense infected with this tipped pass problem is Joe Philbin, and if they can’t get this problem under control then to me that ends up a direct reflection on him.
It feels good to have a quarterback that sees developments on the field in real time after the snap and actually changes his decision making accordingly. That hasn’t been a frequent occurrence in recent years. On a designed screen to Daniel Thomas, Tannehill sees that the outside linebacker flowed out to the perimeter with the back instead of biting on the rush. I’m sure others would have loved Ryan to find one of the other receivers running routes on the play (there were several, and Fasano was open), but the fact of the matter is Jonathan Martin came firing out to the screen side so fast and so deep down the field you practically thought he was a tight end running a route, and so if Tannehill had thrown the ball beyond the line of scrimmage he would have drawn an ineligible player downfield penalty. Thomas was his only choice, and as he was well covered, Tannehill threw the football 10 feet over his head out of bounds. How many quarterbacks have you seen throw the football at the back anyway, unable to react in real time to quick developments?
The interception Tannehill threw toward Legedu Naanee was a confusing route. I did not necessarily feel the route matched the drop concept. The play was a shotgun three step equivalent. Jonathan Joseph gave Naanee a big cushion on the play and I am confused as to why Naanee took five steps vertically before he cut sharp inside on the slant, on a three step drop concept. Joseph read the quarterback’s drop, so he wasn’t worried about the slant-n-go, he just beat Naanee to the football while Legedu took his sweet ass time to make his cut, as if he were going to get Joseph to open up his hips. Of course, Legedu finished off by making zero attempt to knock the ball away and prevent the interception.
The play highlights the total inadequacy of the wide receivers unit. The fact of the matter is they are just not able to do their jobs well enough for the offense to function. We like to pick on Legedu Naanee but he was only on the field for 12 pass plays. The rest of the time he was on the field to block. Yet, if that is your role, you need to be good at it. I am not necessarily a fan of motioning the flanking receiver tighter to the formation in preparation for a run play, as I feel it often just draws the safety down into the box, however when you are doing that, you do it with a purpose. That receiver is now an extra blocker for the run. On one play, exactly what I don't necessarily like happened, with the motion causing an extra safety to drop down into the box, and it was the extra safety that made the play on Reggie Bush for very little gain. But on multiple plays, including this one, Legedu completely whiffed on his block. If Legedu is there essentially as just a blocker, a role decided by the fact that he’s motioning tighter to the formation pre-snap, BE GOOD AT IT. He completely whiffed on several of his blocks in this role, and it adversely affected the play results.
Similarly, you’ll notice Jonathan Joseph was squatting on Naanee’s short route on that interception. There is a reason. He was squatting on everything all day, because he had zero fear of being beaten deep. The Dolphins executed a nice play-action pass that drew the safeties up and out of their deep coverage, exactly as you hope. This left Brian Hartline singled up on Jonathan Joseph, faking a stalk block and then releasing down the deep middle. In this situation your receiver should either be able to get open in the single coverage, or at least press the defender to such a degree that the quarterback has the ability to throw the receiver open and have him make an adjustment. Joseph felt zero pressure as he ran stride for stride, and would have been able to knock the ball away (or intercept it) no matter where Tannehill threw it, unless Ryan threw it uncatchable which is exactly what happened. Run plays where you motion a receiver tighter to be an extra blocker look useless when that receiver can’t execute a block, and play-action passes that design you one-on-one situations deep down the field off the double move with a four-way-go also end up looking pretty useless when that receiver can be so easily covered. It’s the same thing. Good design, inadequate talent. Brian Hartline’s role should not see him threatening the deep middle. He is a threat with his agility, body control and kinesthetic sense on the perimeter where you ask him to catch the ball over his outside shoulder, adjust to the back shoulder throw, or run the out, comeback or slant.
Speaking of inadequate, Charles Clay needs to put on his big boy pants and show some awareness. Several times I noted that he had no idea what his role within the play was supposed to be. On a rub concept designed to pick-off the man coverage of Anthony Fasano on his way to the outside, Clay nearly broke up the pass thinking it was meant for him. On a run play out of the I Formation with Clay as the upback, Tannehill had to take Clay aside and correct him after the (disastrous) play because Clay sprinted out to the offensive tackle and essentially plowed Anthony Fasano over from behind, where he was supposed to take on the linebacker in the hole. He just did not understand the blocking concept on the play, and the linebacker was free to run through the hole and pummel Reggie Bush so hard he fumbled. On another play he had man coverage on a slant over the middle and he just could not shake it, even to a minor degree. Yet with the coverage scheme if he’d gotten open Tannehill could have hit him and he would have been running 30 yards before the defensive backs in man coverage even noticed someone else had the ball.
Every single offensive lineman had his up and down moments. Mike Pouncey generally did a good job and had an “all eyes on me” moment when he got 15 yards down the field and knocked the hell out of a defensive back freeing up Daniel Thomas to continue gaining 30 yards on a screen pass. Plays like that are just rare. But then, there were times Mike was also on an egg timer, with his man ready to reach the quarterback if he doesn’t get the ball out. I continue to be disappointed in Jake Long’s performance. If you want to be paid over 10% of the team’s salary cap on an annual basis as an offensive lineman, why are you on the ground so much? Why are you blocking the wrong linebacker at the second level? Why aren’t you the picture perfect model of what the coaches talk about when they ask their linemen to engage defensive linemen more firmly to prevent tipped passes? Richie Incognito was really mediocre for a starter, which is to say not bad at all, but very few offensive guards in the game of football are worth 20 yards in penalties a game. This was his problem in St. Louis. This is why he was dismissed. He averaged a penalty in 4 out of 5 games in 2008 and 2009. He came to Miami on his best behavior, knowing the entire league was sick of his crap and that Tony Sparano was one of the few still willing to give him a chance, and he pulled only 3 penalties in 2010. But by 2011 and now 2012 he’s back to his old tricks, a penalty in 7 out of 10 games. Believe it or not, John Jerry and Jonathan Martin were not nearly as bad as they could have been. Neither was a strong player, but neither were reasons you lose. Although, Martin was tossed around like a rag doll by J.J. Watt on that sack.
The Dolphins need to feature their backfield more. This offense has a potential identity, but I don’t know if the staff realizes it or has the will to make it so. Reggie Bush is by far the best player on the offense, as of right now. I never thought I would see the day that he plays as a true tailback the way he has played. I have no problem admitting I was very wrong about him. There is not a single Miami Dolphin on offense playing as good football as Reggie Bush, and that includes Jake Long. His combination of speed, vision, cutting ability, ability in the passing game, and even ability after contact, make him legitimately one of the better tailbacks in the NFL today. The team needs to feature him and lean on him.
On the other hand, I can’t help but feel (still) that Daniel Thomas is an arrow-down player. He has almost zero instincts as a tailback. At the beginning of this game, another zone play, Jonathan Martin is having some trouble with J.J. Watt yet it wasn’t terrible, Thomas still had two viable ways to go, either continue to stretch the play outside looking for his cutback, or take the cutback to the interior where there was space. Daniel chose neither, because he can’t see the field, and he ran smack into Watt. It was like he had a homing beacon for the one place he could run to and gain no yards.
The play where he fumbled and got himself concussed was a great example. This is a zone play, and he’s attempting to cut back right into the teeth of free defenders. He isn’t reading the field out there. He’s just reacting, and his reaction instincts are often baffling. When you have bad instincts you find yourself in weird and awkward situations and that means you end up fumbling the football. This was something I pointed out in the preseason game against the Falcons when Thomas leapt into the air and was flipped over about 8 to 10 yards shy of the goal line. How does he not know that as a tailback you don’t leave your feet like that unless you’re in a very short yardage dive situation? It’s risky. He fumbled on that play, but it was after he’d hit the ground. It could have been a real fumble, or it could have been a neck break.
It is not that he doesn’t have ability. He showed some of that ability when he made the first defender miss en route to a big gain on the screen play. He lacks instincts and this makes it hard to count on him if you are football coach. That is his greatest sin, and it will get him benched quickly if it continues to manifest. Joe Philbin knows that Daniel’s fumble with 30 seconds left in the half makes him look foolish for not just kneeling on the ball into halftime down 17-3. He and Sherman called that run play because it was a reasonable call in the situation (it could have gained big yardage against the Texans’ dime defense), and you really just do not expect a fumble in that situation. No matter how mild Daniel Thomas’ concussion is, whether he dresses and plays or not this next week, you can bet Lamar Miller will be active. I think that fumble may have just cost Thomas greatly in the eyes of the coaches.
The defensive side of the ball was a truly mixed bag. The Texans scored 24 points off turnover-shortened fields. Three of those short fields had them in field goal range before they even ran a play. I felt the Dolphins offense handed the Texans 10 or 12 points worth of field position, but the Texans did a great job doubling that and not committing a turnover of their own. You are left unimpressed with the defense, but slightly hopeful for seeing something better, down the road.
Cameron Wake’s new position left him head up on a tight end at times against the run and in those situations, you need him to win and get off his block. He was disruptive in these situations most of the time, but could not finish the plays. In pass rush, he was the same guy we know. Unless you send extra protection his way (and even then) you are on an egg timer before your quarterback is forced to at the very least move off his spot.
The problem is, he is just one man. He was off the field for 13 snaps and when he is off the field, the pass rush is mostly non-existent. The Texans executed a lot of play-action passes within the pocket during the game and most of the time they had a clean pocket with plenty of time to throw. Randy Starks had an excellent game, but he isn’t a reason you change your offensive tendencies with respect to play-action passes, or 5- and 7-step drops. He had a fantastic sack where he really got to the quarterback early, but most of the rest of his interaction with the quarterback was on extended time. Jared Odrick offers next to nothing as a pass rusher from his end position, although he did a good job reacting and pressuring Schaub on play-action boot legs. Paul Soliai is not known for pass rush, either.
Olivier Vernon continued his string of uselessness in pass rush, and even added some inadequate coverage on a big pass to his record, but I have to credit him for two big plays. On one play, he had gotten way too far up the field on a screen play behind him (go figure, his awareness is low), but he showed off his athleticism retracing and making a play on the ball, limiting the play to a decent gain. On the Marcus Thigpen touchdown return, Olivier Vernon had what I consider to be the toughest, most key block of the play. Other players like newcomer Troy Nolan and Jason Trusnik had blocks which helped spring Thigpen, but their blocks were not that difficult. Vernon had to back pedal and mirror a player over a distance of 20 yards and did it well, preventing the player from bottling up the hole Thigpen had found.
Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett both looked rusty. You can always tell when Karlos is rusty because his man coverage is off. He is traditionally one of the best in the league in coverage, but on several plays he took false steps in man, was easily faked, never got his head around, or otherwise botched his coverage. On a zone coverage, he was supposed to be reading the quarterback’s eyes, but he completely ignored them and jumped on a break Arian Foster was making in front of him all while Matt Schaub was gearing up to throw the other way. Dansby was specifically one of the reasons the middle of the field was open to Schaub in passing. On the other hand, most of Kevin Burnett’s issues were in the ground game. I don’t know that Kevin has ever been or will ever be a force in short yardage situations, but he left something to be desired in goal line work. He also overpursued on several cutback runs, and his coverage was rusty at times as well.
Believe it or not, Koa Misi was the most decisive and impactful linebacker on the field. He was the one guy you could pick out on every play and see that even if he’s not going where he’s supposed to be going, he’s in full commit and going full speed. This was how Jason Trusnik also played when he relieved Koa Misi as a Sam linebacker in the Tampa preseason game, if you recall. The fact Trusnik could not reproduce that at any of the other positions makes me wonder if the position itself simplifies Koa’s responsibilities and makes him able to play faster. Either way he brought his stellar preseason performance over to the regular season.
The secondary continues to be the big weakness, which should come as no surprise. Reshad Jones had a strong game as a run defender and also played pretty well in man coverage. However, he and Chris Clemons are practically non-existent as deep safeties. Chris Clemons is like a nuclear missile, and I don’t mean that in the flattering way. He’s mainly a deterrent, and if you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to use him, God help you. You might as well replace he and Reshad Jones with cardboard cutouts for all that they factor in the passing game when they’re not in man coverage. The ability to anticipate is just not there right now.
The player with perhaps the best instincts in coverage from a safety position is currently playing out of position at corner. Richard Marshall wasn’t even wanted by the Arizona Cardinals as a starting perimeter cornerback, and so you can imagine my level of surprise (i.e. non-existent) when he finds himself struggling as a starting perimeter corner for the Dolphins. The problem Marshall showed in Arizona is that you can’t trust him in deep man coverage. He showed that on the 26 yard (well deserved) pass interference penalty he drew while covering Kevin Walter, which handed the Texans a touchdown. On another play, he was asked to stay deep with lesser known Lestar Jean in tight man coverage, but he could not prevent the catch. Replay showed that Jean only barely didn’t get the ball and both feet, but the play could have been another Texans touchdown. That was not the only time Jean beat Marshall for a catch on the day, though. Marshall was caught too soft and flat footed on a 3rd & 4, a situation where you should never be caught soft or flat footed as a corner. Andre Johnson scared Marshall so much as a deep threat that Andre barely had to wink at Richard to get him to open his hips, which allowed the easy 10 yard completion underneath the coverage.
Sean Smith went through a period at the beginning of the game where judging by the All 22 tape, I was starting to wonder if he could do anything right. There was a situation where he gave a ridiculous amount of cushion to Andre Johnson and then still back pedaled off the snap. Then when the play started to come underneath, Smith is left looking like a 15 year old trying to drive stick for the first time, stuck between gears while trying to break on the ball. He had a few plays just like this at the beginning of the game until he smoothed out the kink in his break. But at some point he flipped a switch and the difference was night and day. He blanketed Andre in man coverage on several plays, even directly causing a sack by staying plastered on Andre deep down the field to such a degree that Schaub could not have even thrown Andre open. There were a lot of plays where Sean was asked to cover a lot of ground with Andre, and he did. Somewhere in the middle of that run of good coverage, he allowed a touchdown to Andre. I don’t hold that against Sean Smith too much because I don’t know if anyone covers Andre Johnson without some give and take. My honest opinion is that Sean walked into the game a little bit apprehensive of Andre Johnson, but that when he started to get his feet wet and hands dirty, he started to play more naturally. Confidence is a huge issue in Sean Smith’s game. When he has it, he plays well in all phases, even against the run.
The last comment I will make is on the coaching. I thought for the most part the schemes were pretty fundamentally sound. There were specifics that I questioned at times, but that will always be the case. I am not particularly a fan of dropping a guy like Paul Soliai back into a zone coverage and when that happens I think you’re begging for a nice gain on a crosser by Andre Johnson. I have trouble with why you have a two-deep look on 3rd & 4. I have issues with the predictability of the passing lanes which contributes to the blocked passes problem. I’m not sure why Legedu Naanee is coached (if he is) to run the slant the way he did, which resulted in an interception. Some of these are nit picks and they may be unfounded for all I know. One criticism I see a lot right now is the fact that they called so few boot legs for Ryan Tannehill. To that I say, pay attention to what happened when they did call those boot legs. On one, Ryan had to stop on a dime and throw a sidewinder (inaccurately) to Davone Bess just to avoid getting murdered. Lucky for him Davone happens to be the only receiver that can adjust on the football even in quick pass situations where he only just barely gets his head around, but even with the good result you were lucky to escape that play without something bad happening. The Texans defensive ends neither sold out on, nor were completely oblivious to defending the boot. They were just damn good at it, with instant recognition and great reaction time. This probably has something to do with the offense those defensive ends face in practice every day.
But I look at the fact that the offense moved the ball pretty well on the Texans defense in the first quarter, which is usually a sign of how well you scripted your offensive game plan for the day, and I look at how the defense allowed only two field goals in the second half, which is usually a sign of how you’re able to correct problems, and I see some hope in the way the team is coached. They are just constantly forced into position to ask their players to do things that they are incapable of doing, because in the end the talent on the roster has glaring holes.
(Ed. Note: Eat a fat dick, Jeff Ireland)