Dolphins 24 (0-2)
Patriots 31 (2-0)
As they are one to do, the Dolphins put their fans through a buffet of emotions on Sunday. Starting with hope, we quickly turned to despair peaking ahead to April’s draft after just five quarters of football in 2016. After halftime, hope resurfaced as the Dolphins mounted a comeback effort that fell short by 30 yards as the clock, not the Patriots defense, became the biggest enemy.
When the schedule came out this past April, the Dolphins were penned in for two road losses to start the year. But after playing perennial contender, Seattle, down to the wire and a second half offensive onslaught in Foxboro, I’m not sure even the most pessimistic Dolphins fan would be satisfied.
Jarvis Landry said it best after the game mentioning that he’s tired of just coming close – to paraphrase. It’s unfortunate that moral victories can’t be cashed in for bigger prizes like they are at the county fair because the Dolphins have pockets full of “what could’ve been’s.”
Next week, the newly renovated Hard Rock Stadium opens its doors for its first regular season game as one of the few more downtrodden franchises in the NFL travels to Miami, the Cleveland Browns.
We’ll get to that later in the week. Here’s what happened Sunday.
As we normally do in this business, we start with the quarterback. Before Ryan Tannehill attempted his third official pass of the afternoon, the scoreboard read 21-0. After that moment, he had some struggles. His interception to Jaime Collins was as bad of a decision as he has made. Even without pressure in his face, that ball has no chance of getting through the New England linebacker.
But from that point on, Tannehill was straight fire. He extended plays with his legs and he’s a super athlete with a golden arm. The way he makes throws from various platforms with velocity is a marvel to watch. He has cleaned up the pocket awareness issue. He’s quicker to recognize trouble and has been extending plays more than we’ve seen with him in the past.
The one remaining knock I have on his game is the timing of his reads. I think this can be attributed to being in a new offense and he’s a bright kid so I think he’ll get it ironed out. When he does, he’s going to be balling on a level we haven’t seen in two decades in Miami.
The coaching match-up in this game was the difference. Without two future hall of famers (Brady and Gronk), two starting offensive linemen, a starting defensive end and the second best linebacker the Patriots have, they beat the Dolphins fundamentally on a consistent basis. They did some very elementary things with extraordinary results.
A staple of most offenses in the NFL is a play action misdirection with a counter passing option coming across the formation. Get the linebackers going one way, get it to the tight end early and allow the receivers to make some blocks down the field. This was a problem all day for the Miami linebackers and perimeter players struggling with angles and poor tackling.
Credit has to be given to Jimmy Garappolo, he played a hell of a game. There were plays where the Dolphins defense was on time and in position to make a play but Garappolo’s extension left the defense out of sorts. On the first touchdown, Danny Amendola ran a jerk route that lured Jelani Jenkins out of an area opening the path to the end-zone.
Another major coaching factor was the adjustment made in the running game. In the first half, the Dolphins weren’t shutting the Patriots down, but it was at least manageable. After pounding it between the guards early on, the Pats came out and tested the edges with stretch runs and toss plays and Miami had no answer.
Vance Joseph gets a glowing review from the opener, but this game brought him back to even par. Adam Gase’s first half play calling was unimaginative, uninspiring and questionable, to say the least. When the Dolphins have gone to a tempo offense through two games is when it has moved the ball most effectively. More downfield, in-breaking route concepts seem to be the bread and butter and should be the staple of the offense. I understand that the passing game needs to make up for the lack of running game, but these bull shit swings and bubble screens just don’t work for this group.
What’s more, the Patriots moved our defense exactly where they wanted to with deception and simple pattern concepts. On the Martellus Bennett touchdown, it’s a simple clear out route with the flanker, a dig from the slot and a stick from the back. This drew up the safety and left Bennett one-on-one with Kiko Alonso on the weak side – a match-up the Pats will win every time.
Arian Foster lasted all of five quarters before getting injured and Jay Ajayi made a greater impact watching the game last week from his couch. Kenyan Drake has earned more reps and Isaiah Pead should be promoted to a more prominent role when he’s healthy again. This backfield is a complete mess right now.
I suppose that could’ve area could’ve been addressed if they just would’ve brought back Lamar Miller. Adam Gase, Vance Joseph and Mike Tannenbaum – this game is on you three.
Jordan Cameron gets a mention as a tight end, but it’s because of a drop. Dion Sims, meanwhile, had two really nice run blocks including providing the escort on the Drake touchdown run.
Pass protection was good all day. Anthony Steen might be a viable replacement for Pouncey and this whole group pass protects well, but there’s no push. On the Tannehill sneak, Bushrod may has well just not have been in the line-up. He was literally as effective as the right guard position would’ve been if it were vacated.
Landry is terrific when catching the ball on the run, attacking up field. He dances way too much and yaps too much after the whistle, but he’s a load to bring down when he can get momentum. When he’s forced to pick up speed behind the line of scrimmage, it’s not good. He’s more than capable of being a 13-14 yards per reception guy but this offense hamstrings him as a 10 or 11 receiver.
If we’re going to harp on Kenny Stills for last week’s drop, he deserves credit for the touchdown today. That was a sensational route and a perfect throw right in the bucket with anticipation.
The focal point of the offense should be Devante Parker. It’s a different looking group when he’s on the field with the mismatches he creates. He’s the jack of all trades of the group with the ability to attack the intermediate and down the field.
He does such a good job of leaning into his routes and walling off defenders. It’s a talent you won’t see on the broadcast but on tape it’s clear. He finds ways to create openings and has a big catch radius. It took a little while, but he and Tannehill found a rhythm. Parker does need to secure that touchdown catch at the end of the first half, though.
Tannehill made things happen with his legs again today. I especially loved the run before the Drake touchdown where he pumped faked five yards down the field and still got the New England defender to leave his feet.
It’s time to play the what if game again because that’s what we do as Miami Dolphins fans.
If you give him the Stills TD from last week and take away the prayer pick today, Tannehill’s passer rating is 104.3. I have a hard time asking him to do anything more than he did on those two plays and the shame is it docks his passer rating to 86.3.
Defensively, the team was a disgrace – what can we say?
Tackling was a joke, alignments were bad and the linebackers were just dreadful. Jelani Jeknins and Koa Misi, in coverage, look like they’re just waiting for someone to make a catch. The Pats do a great job of getting advantages in that way, but my god.
The run game wasn’t their strong suit either, they got bullied all day.
Julius Warmsley has earned even more reps. He stays grounded in the run game and has a good first step as a pass rusher. He’s looking more and more like a hidden gem each week.
I’ve been nice to Byron Maxwell so far. But this off coverage, let them catch it in front of me and make the tackle 15 yards down the field bull shit is getting old. That’s why we cut Brent Grimes (among other reasons.)
Xavien Howard is the best cornerback on the team and Isa Abdul-Quddus’ personal foul penalty was one of the worst calls I’ve ever seen. The receiver dropped his head into the hit, there’s nothing Isa could’ve done.
The pass rush really wasn’t that bad. They just got the ball out of the quarterback’s hands and he manipulated the pocket nicely. Jordan Phillips, Mario Williams and Jason Jones all got to the spot from my account but Garappolo proved to be too much.
There’s no reason Cam Wake can’t get one sack per game as a situational rusher. But negating that on a penalty and falling behind by four scores will certainly nullify him
Bobby McCain excels at a few things but this staff seems hell bent on asking him to do other things. Going bump and trail technique with no help over the top in the slot is asking to get burnt, which he did. But he also punched the ball out and caused a turnover like the ball hawk he is.
Speaking of turnovers, we had four and New England had one. And we were still throwing into the end-zone with a chance to tie the game at the end.
As for those last couple of plays – Stills had a chance to make that catch if he just keeps running. Devante Parker was in position on the next play to elevate and come down with the football. Both passes were perfectly located by the quarterback.
The Pats offense only slowed because they were playing Jacoby Brissett. This comeback would NOT have happened if Garappolo stayed in. This defense is an issue and is cause for serious concern.
Here is the play chart from New England’s final drive.
Blount for 6, Blount for 6, Incomplete, Blount for 9, Brissett for 2, Blount for 1, Brissett to Bennett for 21, Blount for 9, Brissett for 2, Blount for negative 3, Blount no gain, Blount for 6.
No one is making a comeback when the run defense hasn’t got a prayer at making a stop when they know the run is coming – no one.
Remember that strip sack we had in the fourth quarter where the ball bounced around forever?
If Miami finds a way to get that fumble out of the scrum, they would’ve won this game. There’s no doubt in my mind that if there were an extra 30 seconds in this game, Miami would’ve scored that tying touchdown. The extra 50 yards of field position would’ve added the time onto the end of the game necessary for that final drive.
This loss falls solely on the defense and the coaching staff. You can’t allow perfect passer ratings (as they did until Garappolo got hurt and allow the opposition to rush the ball for five or six yards a pop when the running play is a given.
Tannehill then goes 41 yards in 64 seconds on six plays. If they get the stop one series earlier, it gives the Dolphins offense either an additional minute or two more timeouts. With the way the second half was going, there’s no way that wouldn’t have been enough. And when it comes to over time, I liked our chances to continue pounding the Patriots and their third string quarterback.
Two losses in the hole and the divisional race probably already too far gone is a pretty terrible start to the season. There are positives on the offensive side and the defense needs a lot of work.
The season is not yet lost so I won’t hit the panic button. With the schedule softening and some home games to come, let’s give it till the bye week before we all freak out.
I was live tweeting the game today and you can follow me there @Travis_Writes.
You can contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ll be joining Sam on the Perfectville Podcast next week so tune in for that.
Keep your fins up, everybody.