Several aspects of the team's offense showed weakness despite outplaying the Cleveland Browns for the entirety of the game.
What continues to strike me as strange is how many people truly did not see this result coming. The Browns were operating without two key defensive cogs in defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin and pass-rush specialist Barkevious Mingo. On offense, they were missing their top playmaker, wide receiver Josh Gordon, as well as the two players that were supposed to compete for the starting right guard position.
Simply put, the Browns were under-staffed.
That said, let's take a look at the individual performances for each positional unit on the Dolphins from Sunday, grading each one in terms of their effect on the outcome of the game.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill had a very solid outing. He got the football out of his hands quickly and decisively, and his throws were accurate and showed a lot of zip. He dealt with pressure as well as he could under the circumstances.
While the Miami ground game did not help him, he was able to manufacture scoring drives on his own with a lot of accurate passes.
The thing that separates Tannehill from an “A” grade is the fact that he did not take care of the football in the most optimal way.
He threw an interception that was 100 percent his fault. Tannehill locked his eyes on his target as he crossed from left to right, and did not see the defender. Additionally, Ryan had two more poor throws during the game that could have been picked off.
In both cases, the decision-making was sound but the throw was inaccurate. This is a big factor when it comes to grading a quarterback. Had the defense capitalized on all three opportunities, some people would look at the day Ryan had and call it a bad one. When a quarterback leaves the football out there for the defense to snatch away, it has to be taken seriously.
That said, I feel Ryan Tannehill is taking a little too much criticism for his handling of pressure during the game. In clocking his plays, I found that pass-rushers made first contact with Tannehill within 3.0 seconds on all four of his sacks. Tannehill either got the football out of his hands, pulled the football down to scramble, or was contacted by a defender in the pocket within 2.5 seconds on about 29 of 45 plays (counting those called back on penalty).
He had the football out of his hands within 2.0 seconds on 21 of 45 plays. He was extremely decisive with the football, but his protection was not holding up on those occasions when he held the football a little bit longer than 2.5 seconds.
Most quarterbacks hold the ball longer than 2.5 seconds about half the time. However, Dolphins fans have become so apologetic for the poor line play that a certain percentage of them will criticize Tannehill for holding the football too long any single time he does that.
There were several occasions when Ryan pulled the football down and tried to scramble because his internal clock went off—one of his sacks came on a play like this.
However, these plays are not usually going to turn into sacks if the protection is holding up. A lot of them will turn into positive scrambles, with good line play. Tannehill did not have the luxury of good line play and so he could not do that.
Wide receiver Brian Hartline was superb in the game. He did everything except produce a lot of yards after the catch. That did not factor heavily because he mixed up his ability to get open in single coverage with a big play he created on an out-and-up move against corner Buster Skrine, which went for a 34-yard touchdown.
Brandon Gibson did not have the game Brian Hartline had, but he had a good game overall. He found the soft spots in zone coverage and made himself available to the quarterback.
He had a critical drop on a third down early in the game, but made up for it with seven catches for 77 yards throughout the rest of the game. He even tossed in some yards after catch on a play where the defender took a terrible angle in the open field, and so Gibson was able to cut up the field and run for extra yardage.
Mike Wallace had a poor outing statistically, but I felt it was important to note that on the three attempts by Tannehill to hit Wallace deep, he was actually open. Had those footballs been thrown to a spot where he could have run under them, you might have seen a few big plays out of Wallace.
Wallace did have a little bit of difficulty with the physicality of Browns corner Joe Haden, but the way he ran on those plays told me that under different circumstances the Dolphins will do better.
The biggest problem I had with Wallace was his drop on one shorter throw attempt, and his lack of run-after-catch on the one catch he did have on the day.
Even though it was a good day for the Dolphins wide receivers, I feel it is important to note that the run-after-catch factor was still not present the way you would like in the Dolphins’ west coast offense. Brandon Gibson’s 24-yard catch-and-run play ended up being more about a poor angle taken by the defender than about Gibson’s shiftiness with the ball in his hands.
There will be occasions when the Dolphins will need their receivers to produce yards in addition to what Ryan Tannehill throws in the air, and it would be nice to see the Dolphins’ receivers prove up to that task. They did not do this in the preseason.
I wanted to give the tailbacks a higher grade as the offensive line blocking was so poor that it is hard to fault the tailbacks for not finding any room to run. However, to produce a result as poor as only 17 yards on 18 carries, it takes more than just poor line blocking.
Both tailbacks contributed to the poor result by not showing great vision, and in some cases tripping easily instead of running hard for yards after contact. Additionally, Lamar Miller had at least one poor block that got Ryan Tannehill smacked hard by a linebacker as he threw an incomplete football.
In my book, you have to do something positive to earn above a failing grade. That is the way of life in the NFL, where almost everyone in the league is capable of making plays.
In the case of the Dolphins tailbacks, what kept this one yard per carry unit from a failing grade was Daniel Thomas' touchdown run off 1st-and-Goal in the fourth quarter, as well as a 6-yard run by Lamar Miller that was called back for holding. But that is very thin, and that is why the unit gets a "D."
Charles Clay did some pretty good work as a pass-catcher during the game. He produced a fantastic 20-yard catch up the seam on a play where Ryan Tannehill placed the football on the back shoulder and Clay still came up with it. He had a catch-and-run for a first down of 3rd-and-2, and another 18-yard gain later in the game. Overall he had five catches for 54 yards.
It is important to note the downside as Clay also had several boneheaded penalties during the game. He was flagged for illegal motion on one play where he went in motion and began moving forward before the snap. This penalty not only cost the Dolphins five yards, it nullified what would have been a 12-yard gain on a catch by Brian Hartline.
Similarly, one of Lamar Miller’s few successful runs of the game, a 6-yard gain, was called back due to holding by Clay. In my book, that means Clay produced 21 net yards, and that is not cutting it for a player who was generally a weakness as a blocker during the game.
Yet, he was the bright point of the unit.
Dion Sims and Michael Egnew rarely got into the game, though I noted Sims on several poor blocks in the run blocking effort. The Dolphins clearly relied on a third wide receiver much more than a second tight end, and that fact is not very complimentary toward the unit.
This was almost as bad as it gets for an offensive line unit. The only reason I did not give the unit an “F” is because I have seen worse.
Right guard John Jerry did not make any significant progress compared to what he showed during the preseason after coming back from his knee injury.
Browns defensive tackle Desmond Bryant ate his lunch yesterday afternoon, and outside pass-rusher Paul Kruger stole his milk carton afterward. Jerry also blew a block on a blitzing linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, which allowed Jackson to hit Tannehill in the backfield, forcing him to scramble up the field for a minimal gain.
I had left tackle Jonathan Martin isolated for poor pass protection on about six occasions yesterday. The Dolphins regularly had to send extra protection to his side in order to make sure Ryan Tannehill had enough time to throw. Martin was beaten for a sack by reserve defensive end Quentin Groves, and allowed Ryan Tannehill to be pressured several more times.
Another major concern on the offensive line came from new addition Tyson Clabo, who also let up a sack during the game and at time struggled with his pass protection. That is bad news for the Miami Dolphins, because pass protection is Clabo’s strong suit. His run blocking was somewhere between bad and very bad during the game.
Left guard Richie Incognito did not have a good game, either. He allowed one sack on a play where Ryan Tannehill pulled the football down and attempted to scramble for yardage due to the coverage being too tight.
I have seen some people absolve Incognito of responsibility on this sack, but the fact of the matter is he was losing his battle with Desmond Bryant prior to the sack. If Tannehill had held the football instead of scrambling, he would have felt Bryant flash in front of his face and been forced to scramble anyway. In addition to the sack, Incognito had several, poor run blocking plays.
The “A” grade can be attributed almost entirely to the work of one defensive end: Cameron Wake.
He dominated the game at times when other players on his defensive line were not necessarily doing the same. Brandon Weeden had taken three sacks prior to going down by two scores with only about six minutes left in the ball game.
Cameron Wake was in on two of those three sacks. After the Dolphins got up on the scoreboard with too little time remaining to run the football, the Dolphins pass rush took over with an additional three sacks. Wake had his hand in one of those, as well.
Defensive end Olivier Vernon did not necessarily play his best game. He started out a little soft against the run and rarely got pressure on quarterback Brandon Weeden. However, I did not see him flashing in pass rush once or twice toward the end of the game.
If Cameron Wake saw no accompaniment in his pressure on Weeden, I might consider giving this unit a “B” grade. However, that was not the case. Vernon may have struggled getting pressure but reserve defensive end Derrick Shelby made up for it with a key sack-strip on Weeden.
Pass rush specialist Dion Jordan also flashed in pass rush on a few occasions, including one play that resulted in a sack. To be fair, though, Jordan was giving left tackle Joe Thomas almost no trouble on the play, until Brandon Weeden scrambled right into him, and Jordan finished the sack by illegally grabbing Weeden’s facemask, for which he was flagged.
This game was dominated by Miami’s defensive line, and that includes both the guys on the outside as well as the guys on the inside. Randy Starks and Paul Soliai in particular had excellent games. Jared Odrick was given the start over Randy Starks in the game.
I do not know if Starks was angry about that, but he certainly played like it. He was possessed, and made plays in both phases. Paul Soliai got into the act with great plays against the run as well as two balls he batted at the line of scrimmage. Jared Odrick was no disappointment by any means. He also dominated.
This three-man rotation was everything I hoped it would be in 2012 when the Dolphins disappointingly made the decision to start Odrick at defensive end instead of having him rotate with Starks and Soliai in the middle. All three players stayed fresh throughout the game, and all three made a tremendous number of plays.
Linebackers Dannell Ellerbe, Phil Wheeler and Koa Misi were generally very good against the run during the game. There are two things that separate them from an “A” grade.
First, Trent Richardson’s 3.6 yards per carry was a higher average than he should have ended up with, based on the work of the defensive line. This can be attributed to a few linebackers getting themselves out of place on some plays and missing tackles on other plays.
Secondly, Browns tight end Jordan Cameron had a career game. Some of that can be laid at the feet of the linebackers, who needed to be more physically aggressive with Cameron at the line of scrimmage and in coverage. Linebacker Phil Wheeler also helped allow a touchdown to Cameron at the end of the second quarter.
I was tempted to give the Miami corners less than an “A” grade here because I felt that corner Brent Grimes very quietly had a mediocre game. However, the bottom line is this unit alone produced three interceptions.
If you can’t get an “A” grade for holding the Browns wide receivers to a ludicrous 4.4 yards per attempt on throws in their direction, while snagging three interceptions, then when do you ever get an “A” grade?
That said, some of Brent Grimes’ miscues during the game are worth keeping an eye on. The Dolphins are counting on Grimes to be the player he was prior to tearing his Achilles tendon in the 2012 season.
The most significant action Grimes took in the preseason came against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and I felt he struggled in that game. Additionally, Dimitri Patterson pulled a groin during the game and that bears monitoring going forward.
The safeties do not carry as high a grade as the corners because they had a more direct hand in allowing the Browns tight ends to roam free and catch passes.
In fact, Reshad Jones was in direct coverage on tight end Gary Barnidge when Barnidge caught what would have been a 20-yard touchdown and given the Browns hope for winning the game in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter. The play was called back due to holding on right guard Oniel Cousins, but that doesn’t change the fact that Jones lost coverage on a backup quality player.
The above-average special teams grade comes about because of the work of two players: kicker Caleb Sturgis and punter Brandon Fields.
Sturgis was perfect on all three of his field goal attempts during the game, including a 49 yarder. Just as impressive was his work on kickoffs. He induced two touchbacks on his six kickoffs, which normally is not that impressive.
However the four kickoffs that Browns return man Bobby Rainey brought out of the end zone were caught seven yards, eight yards, eight yards and eight yards deep in the end zone. The Browns started their next offensive drive from their own 14, 14, 17 and 25-yard line on the four kickoffs that they returned from the back of the end zone.
In other words, kneeling on the football for a touchback was more efficient for the Browns than returning the kickoff, because the kickoffs generally went so far into the end zone.
Brandon Fields was no less impressive. He averaged a whopping 53.8 yards on his five punts, with a net average of 47.6 yards. He did this despite having to drop two of the five inside the 20-yard line.
On the down side, Marcus Thigpen’s return work was uneven. He returned a kickoff from seven yards deep in the end zone, but only got it out to the 17-yard line. He muffed a punt return, though it was called back for a re-kick on penalty.
Then again, he returned a punt 52 yards for a score, only to have that return called back on a penalty. Browns return man Travis Benjamin also had a 31-yard punt return against Miami’s coverage unit.