Miami Dolphins Secondary: The Good, Bad and Ugly from Loss to New York Jets
An overtime loss to a bitter division rival is a gut punch, especially considering the Dolphins were a Dan Carpenter field goal away from winning it.
There were some positives along the way, though, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
Here are some of the game's best and worst plays from Sean Smith, Richard Marshall and the rest of the Dolphins' defensive backfield.
Richard Marshall Interception—First Quarter, 13:32
This was a marvelous result on the opening drive for Miami's defense.
Marshall starts out in press coverage on Clyde Gates. This could be considered bold when taking Gates' speed into consideration, but Marshall knows better. Perhaps it helped having lined up against Gates a few times in this year's training camp.
The Dolphins are in Cover 1 Robber on this play.
Marshall funnels Gates inside, where he has help from a safety deep and a linebacker underneath, in case Gates decides either to cut inside early or go deep to the post. But the additional coverage does not matter because Marshall is covering him like a wet blanket.
Any closer coverage and the replacement referees might have called this an illegal-contact penalty. (Considering their penchant for calling that foul last week, it is almost surprising they let it go.)
Marshall is practically draped over Gates, who has done a poor job of running his route. Meanwhile, Sanchez has locked onto Gates for some reason, though nobody else is really open on this play.
Sanchez basically throws this pass to Marshall, who is in perfect position to intercept it.
More than anything, this turnover is a product of poor route-running on the part of the receiver and questionable decision-making on the part of the quarterback. The announcer notes Gates was supposed to cut inside instead of run toward the post.
Why Sanchez still throws it is anybody's guess.
Perhaps Rex Ryan wanted to try to burn Miami with Gates—whom the Jets picked up after the Dolphins cut him—but this is a clear example of why he could not stick in Miami.
All in all, Marshall did an excellent job of running the designed coverage and sticking to his man.
Coverage Sack—Second Quarter, 14:55
The Dolphins do an excellent job of disguising their coverage here. As you can see, they have 10 defenders at the line of scrimmage, showing blitz.
Instead of blitzing anyone, they rush four defensive linemen and the rest drop into coverage. Because there are so many defenders on the line just before the snap, Mark Sanchez may not know right away that he is not being blitzed.
Miami decides to bracket Santonio Holmes on this play—a wise decision considering the day he had. He is taken away, leaving leaves safety Chris Clemons free to help the left side of the field in the event someone comes loose.
Sanchez has a brief window of opportunity to throw it to Gates here, who momentarily comes uncovered in the deep middle as Clemons breaks to close on him.
The fourth-year quarterback may have had that in mind when he steps up, but Jared Odrick puts pressure on Sanchez as he's about to wind up, causing that brief window to close.
Gates is no longer open, and neither is any other receiver except Bilal Powell underneath, who would have likely been tackled well short of the first-down marker.
This was a nice play from the secondary and defensive line alike.
Richard Marshall Illegal Contact—First Quarter, 1:29
Things went downhill a bit when Richard Marshall was put on Santonio Holmes. Here Holmes basically runs a go route with a little hitch at the beginning. Marshall bites, which is enough for Holmes to gain the advantage to the outside.
Without a jam, Marshall is unable to stay close to Holmes or drive him closer to the sideline. Holmes is fast enough to get around Marshall and get separation.
That is too much space to be giving a talented receiver like Holmes.
As you can see, the sideline official behind the play had a perfect angle to see the play. Marshall is fast enough to get a hand on Holmes and prevent the catch.
Unfortunately, that's illegal. Marshall is lucky that pass interference was not the penalty here—it should have been.
At first blush, this penalty seemed rather "ticky tack." It is clear here that Marshall's last-gasp grasp helped prevent a catch, though. He would not have had to do this had Holmes not fooled him at the play's outset.
Chris Clemons Interception—Third Quarter
What? A defensive interception is a bad play? While the outcome was great, the beginning of the play portends certain disaster.
If we substitute, say, Peyton Manning for Sanchez here, he almost certainly calls a quick snap and throws a pass to Jeff Cumberland, who is completely uncovered as the Dolphins sort out coverage coming out of the huddle.
Thankfully for Miami's sake, Sanchez is more concerned about trying to figure out where the blitz is coming from than changing the snap count to take advantage of the mismatch. (After all, receivers usually win their matchups against air.)
This gives Chris Clemons time to get to Cumberland and cover him properly.
The play was never going to the big tight end, though, as Stephen Hill heads to the corner and beats his man in the process.
Fortunately for Miami, Sanchez throws the ball a tad late and significantly short of his target. This is the biggest reason why Clemons is able to intercept the ball.
The announcer mentioned that Cumberland took Clemons too far into the end zone with his route, which is also true. But if Sanchez had simply thrown a good pass, Clemons would not have been able to get to the ball.
It was a great play by Clemons to stay alert and see the pass coming, but the Dolphins were fortunate that he even got a chance.
Sean Smith Burned—Fourth Quarter, 10:41
This is an ugly play all around. It starts with Smith in press coverage on Stephen Hill, which the offense compensates for by covering up the line with the tight end, allowing Hill to line up behind the line of scrimmage.
Hill begins his route by taking a slight angle to the outside, then cutting toward the post. Smith backpedals through all of this, but breaks toward Hill when Mark Sanchez executes a pump fake.
Why he would do this when Hill practically stumbled cutting back to the outside is a bit perplexing.
This allows Hill to get a completely clean release behind Smith, who gets turned around by the pump fake.
Once again Miami finds itself fortunate that Mark Sanchez is not a terribly accurate passer. He severely overthrows the speedy Hill—perhaps his stumble threw off the timing of the play—and the ball falls incomplete.
How many other quarterbacks would have made Miami pay for that mistake by Smith?
Sean Smith Burned Again—Fourth Quarter, 4:32
It's deja vu all over again for Smith, who is nearly beaten deep for the second time in the quarter.
This time, Smith is in soft coverage, allowing Chaz Schilens to drive on him and sell the fake.
Schilens stops, turns and presents a target for Mark Sanchez, who pump fakes again. Smith bites hard this time, breaking for Schilens as the receiver is starting to turn and head back up the field.
This was a well-designed play for the Jets, who caught the Dolphins in a poorly matched coverage. Jeremy Kerley runs up the seam, taking the safety—and any hope of help for Smith—out of the play, while the right side of the defense is left with nobody to cover.
If you look at the opposite side of the field, however, you will note that Santonio Holmes has run the same route as Schilens, but Carroll stays with him. Granted, had Sanchez thrown the ball to Holmes on the curl, he would have easily gotten the first down, but at least Carroll was not fooled into a potential touchdown.
Smith is completely toasted on this play. There is no good reason why this did not result in a touchdown.
Oh, wait, Mark Sanchez is still the man throwing the football in this scenario.
While the defense did make some key plays, including an interception in the end zone, the Jets missed some opportunities that better offenses might have exploited.
Miami's secondary must continue to improve and eliminate mistakes that could lead to big plays, otherwise they may find themselves looking at big deficits.
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