The Miami Dolphins need to try something different after three consecutive losses on national television, two in catastrophic fashion. So The Daily Dolphin felt like trying something a little different in this week’s film study.
We’re going to hit on a few more specific plays than usual and blast through them in sequential order. Hopefully we all pick up a few things along the way.
Dolphins coach Adam Gase says, “The tape don’t lie.”
So each week, I’ll give the game tape a closer look. Here are some things I noticed:
First quarter, 12:12 left, Miami ball on 3rd-and-5 at Miami 43
The play: Jay Cutler has Jarvis Landry wide open. And he’s not under pressure. Cutler does a nice job of stepping up into the pocket, but leaps into the air and throws high and wide of Landry. Cutler was not accurate this game. He hasn’t been terribly accurate at all when throwing downfield this year. Cutler also easily could have ran for the first down, as the marker was six yards away and there wasn’t a Panther in the vicinity. It’s pretty clear what Cutler is and is not going to bring this season. As expected, he is bringing inconsistency. It must be demoralizing when a receiver feels he has a shot to make a play and the ball is delivered, for example, at his feet, as Cutler throws off his back foot, which happened several times Monday. We think Landry must really, really miss Ryan Tannehill. On one play in the first quarter, Cutler overthrew DeVante Parker by 10 yards. On a pass in the third quarter, Cutler way overthrew an open Kenny Stills.
First quarter, 11:20 left, Carolina ball on 3rd-and-8 at Carolina 19
The play: This was a rough night for Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso. The Panthers felt he would have a tough time handling Christian McCaffrey and they were right. On this play, McCaffrey catches a short pass at the 20, seven yards away from the first-down marker. But Alonso overruns McCaffrey, who turns inside and gains 18 more yards as Alonso tries to pivot on his skates. On a red zone touchdown by the Panthers in the second quarter, Alonso again overran the play as McCaffrey slinked his way into the end zone. Miami’s linebackers must be better in coverage. And here’s the thing: Alonso is supposed to be better in coverage than Rey Maualuga and Lawrence Timmons. Alonso has not gotten off of blocks as often as he did last year. He has not been effective as he was last year. We also noticed on the first McCaffrey play (third-and-long) that Cam Wake dropped back into coverage from his left end position, while Timmons blitzed from a long way away. Not a fan. Wake hasn’t had a sack in any of his last three games. Wake also over-pursued and failed to contain on Cam Newton’s 69-yard zone-read run in the third quarter. Safety T.J. McDonald bit hard, too, on the fake handoff to Christian McCaffrey.
Second quarter, 13:31 left, Miami ball on 3rd-and-10 at Miami 49
Score: 3-0 Carolina
The play: It is hard to describe how slow Julius Thomas runs at this stage of his career. He lumbers. There is no explosiveness. There is no suddenness. On this play, coach Adam Gase found a matchup he felt he liked. Thomas was split wide left against a safety, Mike Adams, who is 36 years old and no gazelle at this point of his career, either. Well, Jay Cutler could have thrown a little better ball on the deep sideline route, but Thomas took himself out of bounds, allowing no chance for the big gainer. Thomas has suffered through numerous injuries over the last few seasons. He seems like an interesting, intelligent guy. But it seems the time has come to give up on the idea that Thomas can have a positive impact on Miami’s season. Later, Cutler made a poor decision throwing a pass toward Thomas just before halftime. The pass should never have been thrown. Miami should have run the clock out. But aside from that, passes to Thomas are prone to go badly. It’s time to give seldom-used MarQuies Gray some more reps. Gray is a much better blocker and even made a few key catches last season.
Third quarter, 14:54 left, Carolina ball on 1st-and-10 at Carolina’s 22
The play: Cam Newton hits Devin Funchess on a 17-yard slant, in front of Xavien Howard. On the surface, the play is unremarkable. But it’s indicative of two things. Firstly, the middle of the field has been extraordinarily vulnerable on defense for most of the year. And secondly, Howard has just given up too many completions this year. Completion after completion. It’s been quite disappointing for the sophomore, who had a very good camp and preseason. Howard gave up three touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus, though we’ll say he was directly responsible on two (one to tight end Ed Dickson) and one which was mostly due to a great back-shoulder sideline throw from Newton to Funchess, who tortured Howard Monday night. One wonders if Howard has lost some confidence. When he tries to play tight and physical, his strength, he’s often called for pass interference (as he was in the end zone on a separate play when trying to cover Funchess. Howard has to be better. He has to get it together fast.
Third quarter, 11:57 left, Carolina ball on 3rd-and-10 at Miami’s 28
The play: The game is not out of reach at this point, but it becomes virtually hopeless after Cam Newton correctly identifies a six-man Dolphins blitz, makes an adjustment at the line, throws a screen out to the left for Devin Funchess, who runs in for the score. The Dolphins placed eight men near the line of scrimmage and Newton knew exactly what was coming. Reshad Jones and Xavien Howard are taken out on blocks by Christian McCaffrey (with assist on a shove of Jones by a tackle) and Funchess is off to the races. Here’s what piqued my interest about the play. Former Pro Bowl Dolphins cornerback Patrick Surtain tweeted after the play, “When the quarterback checking and knows exactly what blitz you’re running…you have to get out of that defense!!!” So on Wednesday, I followed up with Surtain, who is head coach at American Heritage in Plantation. Surtain added: “Check out of it into a safer coverage. Cam recognized the blitz and checked to their perfect play from countless hours of film study. Safer coverage allows you to make the tackle and live to see another day.” So, Surtain is saying that an on-field adjustment should have been made. And, in general, defensive adjustments in the second half are a sore spot for the Dolphins. In five of Miami’s nine games, the opponent has scored a touchdown in the first half of the third quarter.
Third quarter, 9:41 left, Miami ball on 4th-and-1 at Miami 49
Score: 24-7 Carolina
The play: We’re not thrilled with the decision to go for the first down in this spot (it felt desperate, although we understand Adam Gase not wanting to see his defense back on the field). But we’re really not thrilled with handing the ball to Damien Williams and running at Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short, one of the best in the game, behind Ted Larsen. Did Larsen, making his first start as a Dolphin, beat Short on a block? No, of course he didn’t. Larsen had his struggles in this game. In the first quarter, Damien Williams was dropped for a loss of four, when Short flew past him without help from center Mike Pouncey (miscommunication between Larsen and Pouncey?). Earlier in the third quarter, Williams was dropped for a loss of five on a first down. On that play, is appeared several Dolphins either failed to execute their assignment or their blocks, leading to displays of frustration from tight end Anthony Fasano and center Mike Pouncey.
Third quarter, 8:53 left, Carolina ball on 2nd-and-3 at Miami’s 41
Score: 24-7 Carolina
The play: It’s a 16-yard run by Jonathan Stewart, which would usually be a pretty big deal, except it was commonplace on Monday night. But this play highlights how, as dominant as Ndamukong Suh can be, he and his $19 million salary can be neutralized with an effective combo block by a typical center and a guard. On this play, the Panthers run right at Suh and as you’ll see, his attempt to split the double-team fails, as the Panthers literally lift him up into the air and out of the play. On this play, linebacker Kiko Alonso is unable to work through some trash and gets caught up on the inside, as Stewart runs past Alonso’s outside. When Suh is taken out of plays, it puts more pressure on his teammates. And if they don’t get the job done, his impact is taken away from the game.
Third quarter, 5:58 left, Miami ball on 3rd-and-1 at Miami’s 34
Score: 31-7 Carolina
The play: The game is out of reach, and there isn’t much to like about what’s happened to this point. But a 66-yard touchdown run by Kenyan Drake provides at least one positive outcome. The key blocks here come from left tackle Laremy Tunsil and tight end MarQuies Gray, who really should get more playing time moving forward. Drake shows of his blazing speed and also makes a nice cut back to the middle of the field to wash out a safety as he breaks into the open. Drake and Jay Ajayi are different players, but speed, burst, big-play ability are areas in which Drake does have an edge.
EXTRA POINTS. There seems to be a failure to communicate in Miami’s secondary and a failure to communicate between the front seven and the secondary. Too many times, receivers run wide open. Too many times, running backs surge through holes virtually untouched or literally untouched. Communication is a key phrase many players have used to describe the reason for recent failures… T.J. McDonald looked very rusty on a few missed tackles. But he did sho potential as an effective run-blitzer on two run stops… Davon Godchaux has been very good this season, but he was pushed back more than usual on Monday… Kenyan Drake had a really nice blitz pickup on a corner blitz on a third down completion to DeVante Parker… Who the hell was supposed to be covering a wide-open Ed Dickson? Why do tight ends so often run wide open against the Dolphins?… Thank God for William Hayes. If it wasn’t for William Hayes, the Panthers may have run for 400 yards… Right tackle Jesse Davis did a really nice job in the run game and pass protection. Jesse Davis is strong enough to handle the very strongest defensive lineman but also moves his feet fairly well for a gigantic man. Even if this guy isn’t the full-time answer at starter, he’s got a chance to stay in the league a long time as a swing tackle/guard… Lawrence Timmons‘ tackling consistency has waned since I wrote about how he’s basically the perfect tackler… DeVante Parker needs to be a bigger and bigger and bigger part of the offense. Think Demaryius Thomas. Think Larry Fitzgerald. Parker should be Miami’s first choice on every play. Parker should be targeted 9 times a game, as Thomas and Fitzgerald have been in their careers. Parker’s career average is 5 targets per game… Mo Smith missed a back tackle on a 43-yard run by Cameron Artis-Payne that won’t help his cause to be on the field more often.