Ravens vs. Dolphins: Takeaways from Miami's 26-23 Loss to Baltimore
The game went down to the wire and ended with failure. The team attempted a desperate 57-yard field-goal attempt with less than a minute remaining to try and tie the game for overtime. The Dolphins defense played tough for most of the game, but the offense could only manage a total of 10 first downs, one of which came via penalty.
Here we will run through some of the most significant takeaways from the loss.
The Miami Dolphins' shaky pass protection has become more than an annoying distraction on the road to the playoffs.
Ryan Tannehill took another six sacks during the Week 5 contest after taking 18 sacks in the previous four weeks.
The total 24 sacks puts Tannehill on pace for about 77 sacks on the season. That total is on par with the number of sacks taken by quarterback David Carr during the Houston Texans' initial post-expansion season.
While there is plenty of blame to spread around, the primary problem is the Miami offensive line.
Left tackle Jonathan Martin is a consistent weakness in pass protection, as are right guard John Jerry and right tackle Tyson Clabo. Richie Incognito is not a consistent pass protector, although his overall performance would tend to draw much less notice if he were surrounded by better players.
Heading into Week 5 according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Ryan Tannehill took on average 2.29 seconds to release the ball on throw attempts. This was the third-fastest average in the NFL. The whistle was blown on average 3.62 seconds after the snap during his 18 sacks, which was seventh-fastest in the NFL.
During his scrambles for positive yardage, Tannehill took on average 4.20 seconds before he crossed the line of scrimmage with the football in his hands. This was fifth-fastest in the NFL.
Speaking of those scrambles, using the data we see that Tannehill scrambled on 5.5 percent of the plays during which he was pressured. The NFL average is approximately 5.8 percent, suggesting Tannehill's tendency to scramble for positive yardage when pressured is not necessarily deficient.
The primary problem with the sacks allowed heading into the game was not Tannehill, and that showed during the game. He was constantly under duress due to poor protection from the offensive line.
The roster may not hold many answers for the Dolphins as they try and limit the damage this problem causes during the remainder of the season. There are no ideal solutions from a schematic standpoint. The team just needs certain players to perform better.
The Final Drive
The Miami Dolphins' final drive of the game was a microcosm of the team's offensive troubles on the day. It featured: zero attempts to run the football, questionable play-calling, heroic efforts by quarterback Ryan Tannehill, poor pass protection and a pair of drops.
On first down, Tannehill dropped back to pass and attempted to hit Mike Wallace on a post pattern as he crossed between zones. The offensive line was not able to hold its blocks, and Tannehill was forced to throw the football before Wallace's speed could open up an angle beyond the corner and underneath the safety.
As he was hit in the legs, he threw the ball the only safe place he could. Because of the pressured timing, Wallace was not there yet.
On second down, Wallace ran an in-breaking route underneath zone coverage. Television analyst Rich Gannon pointed out upon review that Wallace most likely should have stopped his cut and begun working back to the outside due to a linebacker playing zone right in Wallace's path.
Tannehill clearly threw the football with that expectation in mind, but Wallace did not execute the route. The result was Wallace dropping the football as it was thrown behind him.
The ensuing 3rd-and-10 put the offense under tremendous strain due to the situation, and it showed.
Tight end Charles Clay ran a route against the coverage of linebacker Daryl Smith, who used the knowledge that Clay could not come back to the football and risk being stopped short of the first down marker to stay tight and undercut the throw. Smith was able to break up the pass.
The following 4th-and-10 featured a play that would have run across most television highlight-reel compilations for the entire week had the Dolphins managed to capitalize on the play by tying or winning the game. The play should be etched in the minds of Dolphins fans, despite the disappointing outcome.
Left tackle Jonathan Martin was bowled over in pass protection by Ravens defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who was nearly able to sack Tannehill. He failed to do so. Tannehill spun out and scrambled to his left. As he scrambled, he found receiver Brandon Gibson for a 46-yard gain that turned an impossible situation into the field position needed for a potential 51-yard, game-tying field goal.
With a full minute remaining on the scoreboard and no timeouts, the coaches made the decision to signal that Tannehill should spike the football on first down instead of executing another play.
The decision was a questionable one, and it proved costly.
On the next second down, Tannehill once again succumbed to the pressure of poor offensive line protection. Right tackle Tyson Clabo allowed Dumervil to pull the quarterback down for a loss. The offense had been in position for a makeable 51-yard field goal attempt. After the sack, the field-goal attempt would have to come from 57 yards out.
Figuring his offense needed enough yards to give the team's place-kicker a realistic chance at a game-tying field goal, Tannehill threw the football underneath the coverage on 3rd-and-17 to tight end Charles Clay. The play had the potential to earn the offense about six more yards, which could have made all the difference for the following field goal.
Clay dropped the ball.
Overall, the drive exemplified the alternating moments of frustration and joy felt by fans as they watched the offense flash potential against the Ravens and follow it up with poor execution.
Wallace's Poor Route Running
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill and wide receiver Mike Wallace combined for seven catches and 105 yards during the Week 5 game against the Baltimore Ravens.
The total production shown on the stat sheet is something any Miami Dolphins fan would have welcomed against the Cleveland Browns, Atlanta Falcons or New Orleans Saints. During those three games, Wallace had a total of six catches and 61 yards.
The problem is it took 16 attempts to get those 105 yards. That is not a winning average.
At some point during the game, the "lack of chemistry" narrative between the two players, which had been running for a number of weeks, began tipping toward Wallace failing to execute properly.
Wallace dropped three balls during the game. He failed to get both feet inbounds on a well-thrown back-shoulder fade. Much like a week ago, his failure to get his head around on time led to another incomplete pass. On the final drive he failed to tag his route properly back to the outside underneath the zone coverage, which led to another incomplete pass.
Wallace and Tannehill showed their potential as a pair by connecting for a 49-yard gain on a play which featured enough pass protection for Tannehill to wait for the route to develop.
However, this pair will continue to underperform so long as Wallace does not embrace the details of his position.
Nobody likes fans complaining that officiating lost their team the game.
Therefore we should point out that the Miami Dolphins had plenty of opportunities to win their Week 5 game against the Baltimore Ravens despite whatever complaints the fans may have about the uneven officiating.
That said, the Dolphins were at the losing end of a couple of very high-impact calls against the Ravens.
The highest-impact and perhaps most questionable calls came on the first drive of the third quarter as the Dolphins attempted to protect a 13-6 lead. On 2nd-and-6, Joe Flacco released a deep attempt toward receiver Deonte Thompson, who was covered by corner Nolan Carroll. The referees flagged Carroll for defensive pass interference.
The initial angle of the television broadcast seemed to show minimal contact between Carroll and Thompson. However, a second camera angle shown later in the third quarter showed that Carroll draped his right arm around the back of Thompson as he jumped up to try and knock down the pass.
Officials are taught to key on a defender throwing his arm around the back side of a receiver in that situation. If it happens, they must make a judgment call as to whether the contact affected the receiver's ability to catch the football. Carroll's use of his right arm subjected him to that judgment call, and whether it was ultimately right or wrong, the call went against Miami.
Exacerbating the issue was the fact that a mere two plays later, the officials made another high-impact call against corner Brent Grimes as he covered Baltimore wide receiver Torrey Smith in the end zone.
The defensive pass interference penalty on this play was a little more clear-cut than the previous play. Close-up replays showed Grimes sticking out his right arm to bar Smith from getting beyond him to where the football had been thrown. Officials key on defenders in coverage whenever they stick out their arm in that manner, and they will consistently call defensive pass interference for an armbar.
The unfortunate end result of two calls was an 80-yard touchdown drive that featured 55 yards awarded to the Ravens based on subjective judgment calls.
Lack of Balance
During the contest with the Baltimore Ravens, the Miami Dolphins ran tailbacks Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas a total of nine times for 16 yards. The team executed 47 pass plays for a net total of 252 yards, including the 18-yard loss as a result of a bad shotgun snap by center Mike Pouncey.
This was anything but a balanced football team.
The lack of balance is confusing. While ineffectiveness certainly played a part in the tendency for offensive coordinator Mike Sherman to ignore the ground game, the team did not lack for opportunities to establish the run.
The game was tight. The Ravens never established a lead which would have called for Miami to abandon the run in order to play catch-up.
The coaches apparently made the decision that the running game was unimportant to winning the game.
Successful Pass Rush
Ryan Tannehill was not the only quarterback under heavy duress during the Week 5 game between the Dolphins and Ravens.
Joe Flacco faced an immense amount of pressure by the Dolphins' defensive line, led by the interior push from defensive tackles Randy Starks and Jared Odrick.
Though Flacco was only sacked a total of two times by defensive end Olivier Vernon and linebacker Koa Misi, he was hit as he threw the football several times. Several other pressures forced early or errant throws.
The sacks themselves featured pressure up the middle, forcing Flacco to scramble into the waiting arms of other defensive players.
Rookie defensive end Dion Jordan made what could have been the play of the game when he ran around Ravens left tackle Bryant McKinnie and hit the football as Flacco released a deep attempt in the fourth quarter. Jordan's swat resulted in an errant throw that was easily caught by Dolphins safety Reshad Jones, who returned the ball for a game-tying touchdown.
Reshad Jones' Struggles
Despite being on the receiving end of an interception gifted by rookie teammate Dion Jordan in the fourth quarter, Dolphins strong safety Reshad Jones continued his poor season.
The interception and ensuing touchdown return were far more fortune than skill; Jordan's interference with the football as it came out of quarterback Joe Flacco's hand caused the ball to take an extremely high trajectory with hang time approaching that of a punt. The ball fell far short of its intended target and right into Jones' lap.
Prior to that play, Jones took a poor angle and lost containment on a touchdown run by Ravens tailback Ray Rice. He also allowed several catches in direct coverage.
The game was in many ways an extension of his previous struggles against the Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints.
Brent Grimes' Coverage
Dolphins corner Brent Grimes shadowed Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith in coverage during the entire Week 5 contest between the two teams.
The results of the matchup look terrible on the score sheet. Smith caught six balls for 121 yards, and he drew a 17-yard defensive pass interference penalty from Grimes which gave the Ravens a 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
The statistics do not tell the full story.
Grimes was plastered on Smith in coverage the entire game. He broke up several passes intended for Smith.
While the pass interference call was most likely Grimes' fault, several of the pass completions featured superlative ball placement by quarterback Joe Flacco. The connection between Flacco and Smith overcame Grimes' tight coverage and best exemplified the old football proverb that a great throw beats great coverage.
Grimes could play the exact same way in any other game and end up a hero.