Receiver Mike Wallace groused after the game following a one-catch performance, quarterback Ryan Tannehill looked downright average for a long stretch and the running game looked pitiful while averaging less than one yard per carry.
Running backs Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas averaged 0.3 and 1.8 yards per carry, respectively, a horrific showing on the ground. For Miller's fantasy owners, the dud performance was the biggest bust of the day, at least until David Wilson's Sunday night debacle.
Good news: Lamar Miller had 8 carries to Daniel Thomas's 1. Bad news: Miller has 2 yards to Thomas's 1.— Sigmund Bloom (@SigmundBloom) September 8, 2013
The Dolphins have just 10 rushing yards today. Not what I was expecting from Lamar Miller. But it's Week 1!...— Michael Fabiano (@Michael_Fabiano) September 8, 2013
Miller put up one stinking fantasy point. The fantasy gods wept.
So what happened? Starting running backs don't just average a foot per carry on 10 tries. Let's discover what the tape has to say.
Note: There is no knowledge of play calls in the ensuing analysis.
Telegraphing the Run
This was Miller's first run of the day. It also happened to be his best one, outside of the six-yard gain that was called back on a ticky-tack holding call.
As you see here, the Browns were clearly expecting the Dolphins to run the ball in the shadow of their own end zone. Because of the 22 personnel package on the field—two tight ends and two running backs—Miami telegraphed the play call, an outside zone run.
Miller made a good cut inside on the play that netted him those five yards, but that was by far the best running play of the day for the Dolphins. Could it have ended differently?
It might have been an early gamble, but Tannehill had an opportunity for a big play here. Cornerback Joe Haden and safety Tashaun Gipson were looking into the backfield before the play, and he broke toward the line once Tannehill handed the ball off.
Had Tannehill play-faked, Wallace would have been in single-coverage against Haden or Gipson, assuming Wallace ran a sluggo route. Perhaps this sort of thing was a reason why Wallace voiced his displeasure after the game.
Of course, there are a lot of "what-ifs" in that case.
@AlexMiglio But the OL was run blocking and he sees that so he’s moving in run support. If OL were pass blocking, he drops in coverage.— Brendan Leister (@BrendanLeister) September 11, 2013
Hitting on a play like that might have opened up the run, though the Browns were pretty disciplined even after Tannehill heated up in the middle of the third quarter
At any rate, this was one of the only running plays for the offense where the Browns did not penetrate into the backfield. Unsurprisingly, it was the only real positive play for Miller.
It was all downhill from there.
Failing to Exploit Mismatches
This was Miller's second run of the game, and it exemplifies much of what went wrong for the ground game on Sunday.
You will note the Dolphins had the 11 personnel package on the field—one tight end, one running back and three receivers. The Browns, however, still had their base 3-4 personnel in the game, which put linebacker Jabaal Sheard in the slot lined up against receiver Brandon Gibson.
This was a mismatch that could have been exploited. Instead, Tannehill stuck with the called play and handed off to Miller, who was tackled by Sheard after Gibson's futile attempt to block the big linebacker. The mismatch worked in Cleveland's favor.
Sheard lined up to cover the slot receiver on multiple occasions throughout the day.
As for the run itself, the coaches film was rather enlightening.
You will note there was a rather large hole for Miller at the outset of the run. Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson was unblocked, however, and Phil Taylor was very much in the play at the point of this picture.
@AlexMiglio lot of work to make that happen. Gap looks big but Taylor had leverage if he cuts that way and probably makes the tackle— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) September 11, 2013
Miller saw the hole and briefly cut toward it, but opted to stick with the original run to the left side A gap. It's likely Miller realized Jackson would fill the hole quickly or that Taylor was about to disengage and wrap him up if he did hit that hole.
Had Miller stuck with the original run for one more step, he might have been able to entice the defenders to fill the left side A gap, leaving the right side hole open for him to burst through. The potential misstep may have cost him a nice play, and he wound up with a meager three-yard gain.
Unfortunately for Miller and his fantasy owners last Sunday, this might have been the only opportunity the offensive line gave him to make a play.
Offensive Line Woes
This final highlighted play will show what Miller had to deal with when the numbers or blocking matchups weren't in his favor: bad offensive line play.
Cleveland's defensive line was in the backfield often, and the running game was short-circuited as a result.
This play was actually promising, but a miscommunication on the offensive line caused a two-yard loss instead of a big potential gain.
Linebacker Paul Kruger was lined up outside offensive lineman Tyson Clabo, showing blitz. The play call was a jet sweep to the right for Miller, right into Kruger's arms. That is, of course, unless Clabo or pulling center Mike Pouncey blocked him.
Neither did—Clabo blocked down on defensive tackle John Hughes, and Pouncey both wound up putting hands on him while leaving Kruger free on the play. Had either one blocked the latter, that play might have ended quite differently.
Miller would have likely gotten to the outside, where there was a vast expanse of open space. A good downfield block or two—Wallace and Gibson were well downfield, blocking, and tackle Jonathan Martin was pulling to at least chip linebacker D'Qwell Jackson—and Miller might have taken it a long way.
Alas, one of Clabo or Pouncey appeared to have missed his assignment.
Like a double rainbow, what does all this mean?
Well, for starters, the Dolphins can and should get more creative with their play-calling. Maybe Mike Sherman wanted to keep it simple because Miami opened up on the road, but there wasn't much misdirection in this game.
The Dolphins telegraphed the run all game long, and Tannehill either wasn't given license to audible out of it or he chose not to. If the latter was true, Tannehill needs to have more confidence in his ability to diagnose opposing defenses.
As for the players themselves, it was difficult to judge Miller's performance given he was hit in the backfield the majority of the times he got the ball.
Miller does have that "home run" ability many other running backs lack. He is no LeSean McCoy, however—blocking is vital to his productivity, much like with Arian Foster.
The Dolphins have a great "get well" game against the Colts, who gave up 160 rushing yards to Terrelle Pryor and Darren McFadden—whose offensive line a patchwork quilt of sadness—last week, though the latter only had 48 yards. They follow that with games against the Falcons and Saints, not exactly defensive powerhouses either.
It's too early to panic, but if Miller cannot bounce back from his Week 1 dud in the next few weeks, his outlook will certainly change.