The 7-4 Miami Dolphins traveled to face the 6-5 Baltimore Ravens at M&T Stadium, Baltimore, Maryland. This week I did not catch the game live (unfortunately or thankfully) as I was in Paris. I did however, watch the game Monday and Tuesday evening, and the following is my reaction. If you are NOT interested in reliving the game then please scroll through to just the individual film studies and the closing thoughts section. This is my weekly Film Study for DolphinsTalk.com (a great hub for all things Miami Dolphins), for more from me... Go follow me on twitter @TomLikeFootball
Narrative throughout the week
As the schedule enters its latter stages, fans start to become obsessed with injuries and the schedules of other teams. Some curse the football gods for smiting their teams with difficult stretches down the road while others smile as they see their main rivals have to play over .500 teams on the road in December.
For the Dolphins it was injuries along the Offensive Line which again had many desperately checking their twitter feeds hourly throughout the week for a slight inclination as to whether Branden Albert, Laremy Tunsil or Mike Pouncey would start Sunday. The 'Fins were also sweating over whether WR DeVante Parker and LB Kiko Alonso would be able to suit up. The Dolphins at 7-4 had won all of their past six games landing them in the last wild card spot in the AFC. The other play off hopefuls all had difficult slates: Chiefs were @ Falcons, Bills hosted Raiders, Steelers were @ Giants while the Broncos had an easy match up facing Jacksonville at home.
The Dolphins had to travel to Baltimore to take on the AFC North leaders and a stingy Defense which would look to shut down Miami's playmakers and cause QB Ryan Tannehill problems all day. Terrelle Suggs has rolled back the clock this season and entered the game with 8.5 sacks on the year. The Dolphins would need all the help and indeed, push, they could get along the O-Line this week. The Ravens boast the NFLs best run Defense holding opponents to 74.9 rushing yards per game and only 3.43 yards per attempt. The Ravens have struggled on Offense recently and seem reluctant to establish any sort of ground game. The Dolphins will therefore hope their suspect secondary can tie down the likes of speedsters Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman and the ageless Steve Smith. After weeks of mediocre competition, the Dolphins will finally get to test their lot against a play-off caliber team and one of the League's top Defences.
This will be an asset test/ prove it game, or whatever you want to call it. The Dolphins were in for a difficult task and potentially long day.
Miami Dolphins @ Baltimore Ravens, Week 13
The first play was extremely indactive of what was to come the rest of the game. The first play saw Joe Flacco find WR Kamar Aiken straight down the middle for a 12 yard gain as he just sat down in a soft spot underneath zone coverage. The 1st Quarter saw the Ravens score 2 TDs and abuse Miami's zone coverage scheme as they routinely found their TEs and WRs wide open in a crater of space between Miami defenders. The 1st Quarter also saw the Ravens bully Dolphins CB Tony Lippett as he was routinely beat on slant passes for big gains. The holes in Miami's zone coverage scheme were so enormous, that the Ravens 3rd string TE managed to pick up 15 yards by running to the middle of the field and standing still in a gap between Miami's Linebackers. This play was extraordinary and you can see from the screenshot below that Miami had 6 players around the receiver when he makes the catch but no one in their zone closed the gap on the receiver.
The Ravens first touchdown was the result of a breakdown in communication and understanding by Miami as RB West caught the ball untouched for a TD, while their second came from yet another huge gap that Flacco exploited.
Dennis Pitta had his 2nd TD of the day just before the 2 minute warning. Below you can see how it was drawn up. Last week I complained about Vance Joseph dropping pass rushers into zone coverage (something Rex Ryan got fried for doing last year in Buffalo) but now it seems to be a weekly occurrence. Andre Branch is spying the QB; and yes this got the Dolphins and DT Jordan Philip an INT a few weeks ago, but it is something that should be used almost as a trick play; and not as a regular play call on Defense. This was also an epic 18 play, 88 yard, 8:57 drive.
It was obvious from the 1st Quarter than the Dolphins would struggle all game offensively as the Ravens shut down Tannehill's 1st read and forced him to hold the ball and scan the field allowing Baltimore's pass rush more time to disrupt the pocket. The Dolphins tried their favourite 'gimme' play the TE motion check down but that was shut down, however, Tannehill did connect with Dion Sims over the middle on a nice throw when the Dolphins dialled this up. Apart from the INT (which was a great play by the Safety), Tannehill played well in the 1st half despite the Dolphins trailing 24-0. Jay Ajayi ran hard and on two runs alone had 25 yards where he was hit for -3 yard combined but broke 4 tackles on these two plays. Ryan Tannehill had a beauty of a throw across his body (yes normally dangerous) to Damien Williams to pick up a first down on 3rd&4 with 1:52 to go in the 1st. Tannehill was flushed out of the pocket right but kept composed and scanning the field threw a perfect pass on the run to Williams to keep the drive alive. Byron Maxwell also had an interception in the 2nd Quarter, his 2nd for the season. The Ravens exploited the Dolphins down the middle on nearly every play in the first half and many must have felt that the Dolphins would surely make adjustments at half time and tighten up their incredibly loose zone coverage...
HT: 24-0, Baltimore
Ryan Tannehill had a pretty pass to Jarvis Landry which he threw on time while the pocket was collapsing all around him. Tannehill's hot route was his RB but after the Ravens Linebackers jumped the route Tannehill remained poised and turned his head to find Jarvis Landry running through the middle of zone coverage for a 26 yard gain. Dion Sims caught a crucial 3rd down catch and ended the game with 3 receptions for 39 yards off 4 targets. Sims is trying to prove to Head Coach Adam Gase that he is more than just a great run blocking TE, and can develop into a check down TE; something which Adam Gase's Offenses typically utilize. The next play was a 14 yard run by Ajayi which would have put the Dolphins within touching distance of the Ravens End Zone, had the play not been called back as rookie LG Laremy Tunsil was penalized for holding. Ryan Tannehill then threw his 2nd INT of the day on an ugly throw which he never should have attempted. The ball was thrown into triple coverage and under thrown which allowed the DB to tip the ball and allowed Weddle to pluck it out of the air. The Dolphins were 24-0 down but this was still a costly red zone turnover.
The Dolphins forced the Ravens to go 3 and out and moved the chains on Offense the following drive before a huge sack forced the Dolphins into a 3rd&18. Tannehill was coming off a bootleg and when he realised his first two reads were not there should have thrown the ball away. Instead he held the football for too long and took the sack, killing the drive for Miami. The Ravens were relentless passing the ball on Offense and despite being 24-0 up, refused to run the ball and threw almost exclusively. TE Dennis Pitta caught a short pass over the middle and turned it in to a 25 yard gain after a Matt Darr punt had the Ravens backed up near their own end zone. Miami's following Offensive drive after forcing the Ravens to punt was killed by penalties on LG Laremy Tunsil and RT Ja'Wuan James.
The Dolphins started the 4th Quarter forcing a Ravens fumble as TE Pitta (who was open over the middle of the field yet again) was tackled by IAQ before Maxwell poked the ball free. Linebacker Neville Hewitt recovered the ball and fumbled it... Before Safety Michael Thomas recovered the football. The Dolphins turned the great field psoition into points immediately as they scored a Touchdown on the very next play. A cleverly scripted play meant Parker found space in the back of the End Zone which Tannehill exploited with a pinpoint throw on the run. The DB had no chance of making a play on the back shoulder throw as DeVante Parker had to make a tremendous toe-tapping grab in order to haul in the 8 yard Touchdown pass (his 2nd in 3 weeks; and 3rd on the year).
The Dolphins failed on the 2 point attempt. Yet it was not long before the Dolphins secondary imploded as the Ravens went 75 yards in 1:53 on just 4 plays. Perriman had a 50+ yard TD which is analysed below.
The Dolphins failed to move the chains on Offense the rest of the game. They went 5 plays (punt), 5 plays (interception) and 3 plays (punt) to close out the game. Ryan Tannehill's 3rd INT came on a 3rd&10 and was on yet another horrendous throw. The ball was horribly under thrown into double coverage as Tannehill tried to force it. Adam Gase's facial reaction after the play says it all about the decision to throw the ball into double coverage.
The Ravens got their fifth Touchdown of the game as their mediocre run game carved up the Dolphins Defense. Ravens RB West ran for 17 yards, 15 yards and a 9 yard TD run as the Dolphins run Defense repeatedly struggled. This Dolphins run D is regressing and is a huge weakness of this unit, which unfortunately for Miami is also light in the secondary and vulnerable to big passing plays. This was an ugly performance from the Dolphins and Miami need to spend some time this week reviewing the film and addressing some of the obvious issues on Offense and Defense. Miami need to figure things out quickly if they want to compete next week against a Cardinals team that is loaded with talent but simply not performing.
7-5. 7-5. 7-5. Yes the loss was ugly but at 7-5 the Miami Dolphins are still alive and relevant in the AFC Wild Card race. The loss hurts but the score line and performance is what will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of many. The Dolphins lost the game in the first quarter. By the time it was 14-0 the Dolphins had to make up ground quickly and therefore RB Jay Ajayi (who played well, averaging 5.1 yards per carry) only got 12 carries. He broke 7 tackles on those 12 carries and 59 of his 61 yards came after contact... Insane! He is a clear building block for this Miami Offense and with rookie Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams in rotation, the Dolphins look set at RB for the foreseeable future.
Due to the Dolphins getting themselves in a hole early, they could not pin their ears back defensively. This is something which really does not play to Miami's strengths. The Dolphins again struggled in run D (against a poor Ravens run game that ranks 28th) and with David Johnson rolling in to town next Sunday, it looks worrying for the 'Fins. The biggest concern I have after watching over this game was the
gaps craters that the Ravens exploited in Miami's zone coverage. With Kiko Alonso still banged up and the Dolphins lacking the athleticism and coverage skills needed among their Linebacking corps, I am extremely concerned about Miami's last four games. The Dolphins play teams that boast excellent TEs and with the NFL being a copycat league, most Offensive Co-Ordinators will be scheming in Mesh routes with TEs and Receivers sitting down in the soft spots underneath zone coverage. This run Defense has also been troubling all year and the Dolphins face four teams with great RBs who the 'Fins will need to shut down if they want to compete for the final wild card spot.
However, lets try and keep this loss in perspective. This is not a fatal blow. The Dolphins still stand in good order and can still push for their first play off appearance in nearly a decade with this young team that is only its first year under current Head Coach Adam Gase. Lets not start burning our jerseys just yet. On to Arizona.