This is my weekly Film Study article for DolphinsTalk.com: The 4-5 Los Angeles Rams hosted the 5-4 Miami Dolphins at The Coliseum, L.A. The following is my reaction to the game after watching the game live Sunday and then re-watching it in its entirety Tuesday morning. If you are not interested in reliving the game then please scroll through to just the individual film studies and the closing thoughts section. For more from me, go follow me on twitter @TomLikeFootball
Narrative throughout the week
Much of the narrative throughout the week centred on the announcement early in the week that the LA Rams would start their no.1 overall pick rookie QB Jared Goff. Goff has so far sat behind Case Keenum, however, Keenum’s weak arm and inability to push the ball down field made the Rams one-dimensional as opposing Defenses filled the box and shut down RB Todd Gurley. A big narrative throughout this week was that the Dolphins Coaches would have no credible game film on Goff. Yet many still talked of Goff’s significantly bigger arm and whether he would push the ball down the field forcing the Dolphins to play two deep safeties and allowing Gurley more room to operate.
Another major narrative that developed throughout the week (and even during the game) was injuries beginning to take their toll on Miami. The Offensive Line which has been a instrumental in Miami’s four game win streak would have to suit up without Pro-Bowl LT Branden Albert and Pro-Bowl Center Mike Pouncey (one of the best Centers in the League). This Dolphins O-Line the past four games has average 180 rushing yards (1st NFL) and allowed only 3 sacks compared to the 15 that were allowed in the first five games. Miami were clearly going to struggle particularly against a Rams D-Line who are physical tone setters and a team with athletic Linebackers and DBs who appear to fly all over the field.
The loss of Albert would hurt any team, however, 1st round pick Laremy Tunsil slid from LG to LT for limited periods @ Cincinnati and @ San Diego and did not look totally inept. The biggest loss for the Dolphins would be Center Mike Pouncey. Not only is Pouncey excellent in pass protection but is also one of the best run blocking Centers in the NFL and the Leagues best at pulling and getting quickly into the second level. However, what Miami would miss most is what Pouncey does pre-snap. Pouncey at Center is the one who calls out coverages to Tannehill and who gets his fellow O-Line in place as he calls out protection, adjustments and also pick ups (who has who). While starting Kraig Urbik at LG and a rookie at LT would hurt any O-Line unit, it is the loss of Pouncey which would make this game an incredibly difficult match up against a strong Rams Defense and the best DT in football not named Ndamukong Suh (Aaron Donald). The Dolphins also stayed out on the West Coast instead of flying home which would harm the creatures of nature that are football players and coaches.
Trap Game? Most Definitely.
Miami Dolphins @ LA Rams, Week 11
This was always going to be a difficult game to write about considering the sloppy nature in which it panned out but here we go…
The first play of the game was a 38-yard kick off return for the Rams, something that seemed to occur repeatedly throughout the game. If this was a different week against a team with an offense that could push the ball down the field and move the chains then this could have been a dangerous development. Thankfully, the Dolphins were able to force LA into punting and held the Rams Defense in check for most of the game. The Dolphins first play was a play action dump off to TE Dion Sims who was streaking towards the sideline for a quick 9-yard gain. This is a play that the Dolphins have used frequently in the past five weeks, particularly early in the game to help the Offense build rhythm and give Tannehill a few ‘easier’ throws and reads to ease him into the game. On 2nd & 1 Gase dialled up a RPO (Run, Pass Option) where Tannehill took the ball from Ajayi on a read option before throwing a quick pass to Landry on the side lines for a 1st down. This was creative play calling from Gase as he looked to build rhythm early in the game.
The only score of the first half came on the Rams second possession which ended with a Todd Gurley 24 yard TD run. The play has been broken down below, however, it was similar to the Jets game where Forte walked untouched into the end zone. The Dolphins brought pressure but were moved out of their lanes too easily by an unbalanced line (6 Offensive Linemen) and the Linebackers were unable to maintain their gap assignments.
This is a Rams O-Line that has got no push all year but manhandled the Dolphins on this drive. Don’t worry ‘Fins fans, the Dolphins made adjustments and were able to shut down the run to small gains the rest of the game.
Not much more to say about the first half… There was one play design that I loved which was a play action pass to Parker for 12 yards. To sell the run even more the Dolphins LG pulled as Tannehill faked the hand off. Little nuances like this are what sell deceptions and the Dolphins Offense expertly executed it perfectly. Sadly something you cannot say much for the rest of the first three quarters.
After the Gurley Touchdown he was largely stuffed the rest of the first half and the Dolphins have a great rotation at DT with both Jordan Phillips and Earl Mitchell registering tackles for a loss backing the Rams up to 2nd and 3rd & long. Sadly the Offense was less positive and the absence of Mike Pouncey and what he brings pre-snap was largely missed. On 3rd & 5 the Rams lined up a Safety on the line of scrimmage and either the protection totally missed it or the RB Williams just couldn’t get over in time as Tunsil past off the Safety while the RB was late to adjust which resulted in a Rams Sack as Tannehill took a big hit.
Miami love using the double A-Gap blitz with one of Linebackers blitzing and the other dropping into coverage and picking up the underneath routes. It was the play design that got Miami their pick-Six last week and the Dolphins used it numerous times Sunday. First LB Spencer Paysinger dropped back into coverage and read a slant perfectly to force the Rams into punting before Alonso dropped back late in the third quarter and stopped the underneath route. Spencer Paysinger played extremely well in coverage all game long and was regularly breaking on the ball before it was thrown.
The Dolphins got their adjustments wrong again just before half time as a Safety blitz from the left side, again, was missed by the RB Williams, again, as the untouched Safety rocketed into Tannehill’s blindside. The Rams registered their third sack of the game just before half time as Robert Quinn who was beaten to the floor by LT Laremy Tunsil crawled along the floor and tapped Tannehill’s ankles for a sack. The Dolphins did get a sack of their own as Cam Wake welcomed Jared Goff to the NFL with a hit to chest as Suh and Branch were closing in on the rookie signal caller.
HT: 7-0 LA Rams
Some of my thoughts at Half Time that I jotted down were that the Dolphins needed to sort out their pass protection along the Offensive Line and needed to get DeVante Parker more involved on Offense. When Parker gets involved it draws coverage and thus allows Miami’s playmakers in Jay Ajayi and Jarvis Landry more space to operate and be productive.
Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill overthrew WR Kenny Stills on the opening possession of the third quarter and was picked by the Safety, however, Stills managed to hit the Safety hard enough to force him to drop the ball saving a turnover. The following drive Kiko Alonso (who had a good game) forced a fumble giving Miami excellent field position near mid-field… Yet, the very next play Tannehill tried to take a shot deep, which was picked as Parker was boxed out in the end zone by the Safety. The throw came on a play action and Parker was actually open when Tannehill planted his foot following the play action, however, a combination of the ball being slightly overthrow and Tannehill seeing the play late allowed the Safety to recover and break on the ball before ultimately picking it out of the air.
Byron Maxwell played well for the Dolphins and had an excellent solo tackle in the open field to stop Todd Gurley square in his tracks and drive him backwards on a Tackle for a Loss. This was an important tackle as the Dolphins had brought eight and therefore any missed tackle would likely have resulted in 6 points. The Rams went 10-0 up late in the third on a series that saw CB Tony Lippett miss THREE tackles in eight seconds on WR Tavon Austin. The Rams were forced to kick a Field Goal and with the way the Dolphins Offense was playing, 10-0 and a two score game felt like Game Over.
Penalties seem to be a common theme this season with the Dolphins (ranked 2nd most in NFL) and they couldn’t get out of their own way as Kenny Stills was flagged for a stupid push in the back after Ajayi had spun out of one tackle and fought for yardage to move the chains. The following play Tannehill was rocked for a 3-yard sack as the Dolphins surrendered five sacks on the day (more than the past four weeks combined). The next sack was due to RG Jermon Bushrod being driven into the backfield as the pocket collapsed all around Tannehill. The Rams then missed a 48 Field Goal attempt with 6:40 left in the fourth quarter and the Dolphins were handed a lifeline with great field position.
These last two drives for Miami both resulted in Touchdowns after the Dolphins had gone 0-10 on third down and their first eleven drives resulted in ten punts (a league high this season) and an interception. Ryan Tannehill was 12-21 for 57 yards and an Interception before these two drives yet went 12-13 for 115 yards and 2 TDs during crunch time. Tannehill threw almost exclusively to Ajayi and Parker during these two drives apart from a couple of throws to Jarvis Landry, one of which resulted in the Dolphins first touchdown (this should have been flagged for a penalty as he was stopped at the 5 yard line before the O-Line piled Landry and a couple of Rams defenders into the end zone).
Yet the score was only 10-7 with 4:02 to go in the fourth quarter and the Dolphins had burnt a timeout on a costly mistake where Adam Gase got bad information from upstairs to challenge a Parker incomplete catch. The Double A-Gap Blitz appeared yet again and was successful for the third time. The Dolphins eventually got the ball back with 2:11 to go and 1 time out before Tannehill and Parker took over the game which was capped by a Parker 9 yard touchdown catch.
The Dolphins were awful on Offense and somehow won this game despite converting only one third down. Tannehill made plays when it was crunch time and the Defense played extremely well and kept this game close throughout.
Goodness me what an awful yet exhilarating game, only the Dolphins! Miami some how came away with a win against a strong Rams Defensive showing. The Dolphins struggled mightily on Offense the entire game (apart from two drives at the end). The Dolphins managed to do what most play off bound teams do and get a win no matter what. Whether it was the new rookie QB with no game film, 3 injuries along the Offensive Line, Penalties, Penalties, Penalties! Or the weather conditions where the rain was relentless throughout; Miami found a way to chalk up another W. Good teams find ways to win whether its against a high powered San Diego Offense in the California sunshine or a Defensive slug fest in the monsoon LA rain against a strong Rams Defense.
Miami won its 5th game in a row and now sits at 6-4 in a prime position to challenge for the final wild card play off spot (and yes, the Chiefs lost!). Miami overcame adversity in this game and despite punting ten times (yes TEN!) the Dolphins put enough together late in the fourth quarter offensively to steal this one. The Offense never got going throughout the game, however, the Defense deserves a tonne of credit. Despite giving up a TD early in the game they held the Rams out of the end zone the rest of the way and largely shut down the Rams passing and rushing attack.
This D-Line continues to impress week after week and the Dolphins have a sneakily good rotation at the DT spot next to Suh with either Jordan Philips (proving himself a disruptive pass rusher) or Earl Mitchel (who has been a force against the run the past couple of weeks). Cam Wake is Cam Wake and is defying age and science as he comes back from his torn Achilles tendon. Suh is Suh, lets leave it at that. But Andre Branch is a guy who was largely overlooked in the offseason as many fans gushed over the newly arriving Mario Williams. Branch is 25 and a FA at the end of this season. He has the potential to be an above-average starting DE in the NFL and I believe the Dolphins Front Office needs to be given credit for finding an economical long term solution who can match the production of Olivier Vernon without his price tag. I thought Kiko Alonso was excellent yet again today and LB Spencer Paysinger was excellent in coverage. This Dolphins Defense looked good for a fifth consecutive week and Ryan Tannehill again led his team down the field and effectively took over the game to ensure Miami got the W. He went 12 of 13 for 115 yards and 2 TDs in crunch time to lead Miami to their fifth consecutive win.
Game manager? I’ll let you decide.
On to San Francisco - Fins Up!