Fresh off embarrassing Week 4 losses, both the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens were motivated to address their weaknesses before their season was allowed to get any worse. The Ravens even went so far as to announce a major trade acquisition during the game week.
In defeating the Dolphins on the road, 26-23, in Week 5, Baltimore showed themselves able to get a tighter handle than Miami on some of the critical weaknesses that led to the two teams' poor showings in Week 4.
Here we will discuss how each position on the Dolphins performed in this tough home-field loss.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill's passer rating for the game ended up a mediocre 86.1 based on 21-of-40 passing for 307 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions.
However, that passer rating does not fully describe the afternoon he had against the Ravens.
The offensive line had arguably its worst performance of the season pass-protecting for Tannehill. The pocket was collapsing inward on him on a number of throws, forcing him to throw early at times or off-balance at others.
Despite this, Tannehill had moments of sheer brilliance during the game. He completed big 40-plus-yard passes to Brandon Gibson, Mike Wallace and Charles Clay during the game. The pass to Brandon Gibson came at the most critical moment of the game under high duress from the Ravens pass rush.
Tannehill was sacked six times, and very few of them could be blamed on him holding the football too long. The Ravens' pass-rushers were just able to close in on him that quickly. He was first contacted by Ravens sackers within 2.2, 2.4, 3.1, 2.5, 2.5 and 2.2 seconds. The primary problem was the pass protection, not Tannehill's ability to get the ball out of his hands.
He also dealt with a number of drops during the game. Most quarterbacks are forced to deal with drops by their receivers; however the Dolphins suffered five drops, with a sixth catch out of bounds that functions similarly to a drop, on a total of 40 pass attempts. This constitutes an unusual number.
His ball placement contributed to two of the dropped passes by receiver Mike Wallace. However, Wallace's own route running was at least partially to blame for the ball not quite being where it needed to be for him to make a clean catch.
On the first of these plays, Wallace failed to get his head around in time so that he could be in better position to see where Tannehill tried to bring him with the throw. That was something that happened a week ago against the Saints, and Wallace has yet to get the issue fixed. On the second of the throws, Wallace failed to tag his route correctly underneath zone coverage. Tannehill threw the football where it needed to be, but Wallace was not where he needed to be.
On one other play, which will not be scored as a drop but did go down as an incomplete pass, Wallace showed zero awareness of the play call because he blocked in the end zone as if the play were a run or screen pass. Tannehill threw the ball to him in the end zone, but Wallace never even looked for it.
Of the 19 incomplete passes, Tannehill had eight go incomplete due to significant receiver error, two broken up by defensive linemen in the backfield, one quarterback spike to kill the clock and four broken up by defenders in tight single coverage.
The remaining four incomplete passes were the result of poor decisions or poor throws on the part of Ryan Tannehill.
It should be noted that one of these throws was nearly disastrous. In the first quarter, Tannehill threw a deep ball intended for Charles Clay up the right sideline. He utilized a pump fake to get Ravens corner Corey Graham to bite on the double-move, creating vertical separation for Clay. However, Tannehill never felt the free safety reading his eyes and cheating to that side of the field.
The would-be interception was overturned because safety James Ihedigbo failed to get both feet down before his hand hit the ground out of bounds. However, the play constitutes Tannehill's biggest mistake of the day and prevents him from claiming top marks.
Position Grade: B+
The production of the wide receivers on the scoresheet makes them look a little better than they actually played during the game.
The overrated quality of the performance starts with receiver Mike Wallace, who caught seven passes for 105 yards yet did not have what should be known as a good day.
Wallace dropped three passes and failed to get his feet down on a fourth pass. Two of the drops featured lazy route running that contributed to the ball coming in to a place Wallace should have been but was not.
He also showed complete lack of awareness of the play call on another play in the end zone. He was blocking a defensive back as if the play were a run or screen while Tannehill attempted to throw to him.
On a few other incomplete passes, Wallace failed to get open and allowed the defensive back to break on the football.
On one play, Wallace had a step or two on his defensive back and Tannehill had the opportunity to hit him for a deep gain but underthrew the ball.
Wide receiver Brian Hartline had four catches for 60 yards. However, he contributed a drop of his own on an in-breaking route he ran from the slot on 3rd-and-2. He also showed poor chemistry with Ryan Tannehill on a back-shoulder attempt as Tannehill threw the ball at a depth of about 14-15 yards while Hartline overshot the depth and broke at about 16-17 yards.
Receiver Brandon Gibson had four catches for 74 yards and helped Tannehill make what could have been the play of the game on 4th-and-10 with less than two minutes remaining and zero timeouts.
Gibson broke his route deep when he saw Tannehill scramble out of the pocket and was able to catch the ball for a 46-yard gain that put the Dolphins immediately into field-goal range.
However, athletic limitations turned what could have been a spectacular day for Gibson into just a good day. Those limitations showed why he is a No. 3 receiver in the NFL and will never be confused for a No. 1 receiver.
Gibson ran a corner route from the slot into the end zone and was thrown the football. The ball was placed perfectly by Tannehill, and the alignment of the defense created a big advantage for Gibson on the route. However, he just did not have the athletic ability to create separation or go up and attack the football. Therefore, corner Lardarius Webb was able to catch up and break up the pass.
On the heroic 46-yard gain off 4th-and-10, Tannehill placed the ball slightly ahead of Gibson to where he had to jump forward for the football. If Gibson had the athletic ability and leg strength to keep his feet as he came down, the play could have been a game-winning touchdown instead of merely putting the team in position for a long field-goal attempt.
Position Grade: B-
Tailback Lamar Miller ran the football only seven times for a total of 15 yards. His primary backup, Daniel Thomas, ran the ball twice for only one yard.
Though Thomas and fellow tailback Marcus Thigpen contributed three catches for a total of 16 yards, the results are not good enough.
Much of the blame for lack of pure volume lies with the offensive coaches for showing almost no commitment to the establishment of a significant ground game. Yet more of it belongs to an offensive line that failed to produce running lanes for either tailback.
Yet the players themselves must also accept blame for the poor production.
Miller's speed is not in question. However his power, ability to break tackles and get yards after contact are very much in question.
One particular play in the first half looked cartoonish, as defensive end Courtney Upshaw grabbed ahold of Miller's jersey from behind and easily held him in place as Miller's legs churned futilely.
The Dolphins need to figure out during the bye week how this position fits into the offense. Through five weeks, there is very little sign of a strong fit.
Position Grade: D
A few plays marred what otherwise could have been a fantastic day at the office for tight end Charles Clay.
As it stands, he produced three catches for a total of 52 yards. This includes a fantastic 45-yard gain off of a vertical route in the fourth quarter. He also contributed a nine-yard touchdown at the end of the second quarter.
Clay was a true mismatch against the Ravens. His 45-yard gain came due to him being matched up one-on-one with safety James Ihedigbo, who could not keep up with his speed. On the touchdown play, he matched up in single coverage with corner Jimmy Smith, who was not able to stop Clay from catching the back-shoulder play.
Earlier in the game, corner Corey Graham found himself in man coverage with Charles Clay and bit on a double-move, opening Clay up for a deep ball. Ihedigbo read the quarterback's eyes and was able to swing over for what very nearly went down as an interception.
The play showed Clay's strengths and weaknesses. His ability to leave a corner like Graham in the dust off of a double-move is why he is such a dangerous mismatch weapon.
Yet, his complete lack of awareness of safety James Ihedigbo's approach as the ball came to him in the air nearly gave away the interception. Part of Clay's job, especially as a tight end, is to go up for the football in the air and physically attack it. He was supposed to make sure that the ball was either a long reception or an incomplete pass. Instead, he passively waited while Ihedigbo made a play on the ball.
Additionally, video replay of Clay's touchdown seemed to show him double-clutching the football on the way to the ground, which could easily have resulted in the play being overturned on review. Had the play been initially ruled a non-catch, the play would not likely have been overturned into a catch upon review.
Finally, on the most crucial drive of the game, Charles Clay dropped a ball that would have brought rookie place-kicker Caleb Sturgis a critical six yards closer to the uprights. Clay's drop on 3rd-and-17 kept the field-goal attempt at an unrealistic 57 yards as opposed to a much more realistic 51-yard attempt.
Clay has consistently laid down a record of performance that shows flashes of brilliance paired with poor plays. If he can iron out the mistakes, he may be the tight end the Dolphins are looking for in the longer term.
Position Grade: B
The Ravens game was by far the offensive line's worst performance of the season. That says a lot, because the offensive line performed poorly for the most part during the first four games of this season.
The difference between this performance and those other performances was that in addition to failing in both run-blocking and pass protection, even the best player on the line, center Mike Pouncey, had a poor day.
Pouncey had issues blocking for the run against nose tackle Haloti Ngata. If there is one weakness in Pouncey's game, it is his pure power. That weakness showed against a much more powerful player. Additionally, Pouncey had a poor shotgun snap in the first quarter, which contributed to the team's slow start.
Ryan Tannehill took another six sacks during the game, putting him on pace to be the most sacked quarterback in a decade.
The offensive tackles were even poorer in pass protection than usual. Jonathan Martin was bowled over several times by Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil en route to sacks and hits on Ryan Tannehill. When Martin was not the worst offender, his opposite at right tackle was often the man culpable in allowing a sack or pressure on the quarterback.
Interior pressure also played a large role in the game, as Tannehill lacked a pocket into which he could step up. The worst offender on the interior was clearly right guard John Jerry, although Richie Incognito also gave up pressure.
The players did not make up for their poor pass protection with strong run-blocking. Though the Dolphins tailbacks only carried the football a total of nine times, they averaged a paltry 1.8 yards per carry on those nine attempts. There were not very many open lanes through which they could run.
Position Grade: F
The trio of Randy Starks, Jared Odrick and Paul Soliai were at their absolute best against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the pair of interior pass-rushers Starks and Odrick combined for four hits on quarterback Joe Flacco as well as six additional hurries.
Flacco was constantly under pressure during the game. Most of that pressure came right up the middle. Though his final numbers did not look great on the scoresheet, Flacco continually stood tall and made throws he could not step into because of the pressure from the defensive tackles.
All three players made their presence felt against the run as well. The Ravens continued to pound the ball with the run throughout the game, hoping to break off big runs.
The middle of the defensive line was unrelenting as they held the pair of tailbacks Bernard Pierce and Ray Rice to 120 yards on 38 carries. The average of 3.2 yards per carry on 38 carries is an impressive feat considering the Ravens' commitment level.
This was the strongest performance of the year by the defensive tackles unit, which says something because the unit has performed extremely well the whole season.
Position Grade: A+
Unfortunately for Miami, star defensive end Cameron Wake only stepped onto the field for a total of three snaps before tweaking his injured knee and sitting out the rest of the game. While the development is discouraging, the Dolphins have an extra week to get him healthy again.
Defensive end Olivier Vernon had a strong day in pass-rushing as he was able to contribute one of the defense's two sacks on quarterback Joe Flacco.
According to Pro Football Focus, he was also able to contribute another hit on Flacco, as well as two hurries. He did this on a total of 33 pass rush snaps.
What was perhaps more encouraging were the plays Vernon made against the run. Setting the edge and keeping containment against tailbacks has been a surprising weakness of Vernon's during the 2013 season.
Defensive end Derrick Shelby spent a significant amount of time filling in for Cameron Wake for the third week in a row. He performed admirably for a backup defensive end. While he did not necessarily show starter potential in this game, he played like a quality backup by even the most stringent standards.
After struggling against the New Orleans Saints, rookie defensive end Dion Jordan bounced back with what could have been the play of the game against the Ravens. On 3rd-and-22, Jordan rushed around the outside shoulder of left tackle Bryant McKinnie, using his long frame to reach out and scrape the football with his fingers as Flacco cocked back to throw.
The ball came out of Flacco's hand like a week-old party balloon. It floated high in the sky, eventually coming down gently into the waiting arms of strong safety Reshad Jones, who returned the interception for a quick and easy game-tying touchdown.
Position Grade: B
Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe had his reunion with the Baltimore Ravens cut short by a shoulder injury that forced him out of the game after only 16 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. He struggled on a few early runs; however, he also pressured quarterback Joe Flacco a few times on blitzes.
Linebacker Philip Wheeler had become something of a whipping boy after a tough week against the New Orleans Saints in Week 4. He bounced back against Baltimore admirably. He was the best linebacker in the game on either side.
Pro Football Focus had Wheeler pressuring Flacco four times on only nine blitz attempts. He allowed only one catch for nine yards in coverage. He made 10 total tackles, six of which came on tailbacks Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce on run plays. Those tailbacks gained only 19 yards on those six tackles by Wheeler.
Though he entered the game with an injury, backup linebacker Jason Trusnik played through the pain and put forth a mediocre game. Based on some of his past performances as a fill-in, mediocre is a good start. If the Dolphins are without Ellerbe for any length of time, they will need Trusnik to build on this performance.
Position Grade: B
It is difficult to imagine giving an above-average grade to a unit that, according to Pro Football Focus, gave up 177 yards on 18 attempts in their direct coverage. This is especially true considering the unit also drew two pass interference penalties totaling 55 yards and resulting in a 1st-and-goal on the 1-yard line.
That is 11.6 yards every time Joe Flacco dared the Miami corners in coverage. Yet, the unit deserves the above-average grade.
Corner Brent Grimes had a fantastic battle with wide receiver Torrey Smith of the Ravens. He allowed five catches for 99 yards and was also flagged for a 17-yard defensive pass interference penalty in the end zone, yet he stayed in Smith's hip pocket the entire game.
The only reason the majority of those throws were completed was due to Flacco's unerring ball placement. Several of his throws exemplified the old NFL proverb that a great throw will beat great coverage.
Corner Nolan Carroll did not allow a catch on any of the five throws that went his direction during the game; however, he did draw a 38-yard defensive pass interference penalty on a sixth throw.
The penalty call looked suspect based on the television camera angles. However, a field-level camera showed that Carroll draped his arm around the shoulders of receiver Deonte Thompson as Carroll jumped up to try to knock down the pass. From the field-level view, it was difficult to tell whether Carroll's right arm turned Thompson's body, which left the official making a judgment call.
Even counting the penalty, Nolan Carroll only allowed 6.3 yards per attempt in his direction. That is a good number for a perimeter corner in the NFL.
Slot corner Jimmy Wilson was tried in coverage only three times, allowing an 11-yard catch to receiver Tandon Doss.
The worst-performing corner during the game was rookie Jamar Taylor, who allowed a big 40-yard gain to Doss as well as another 22-yard gain to Torrey Smith.
Position Grade: B-
The Dolphins safeties continued to be a weakness for the team despite strong safety Reshad Jones' Pro Bowl-caliber contract extension.
According to Pro Football Focus, Jones allowed 43-yard and eight-yard catches to tight end Ed Dickson in coverage. He also overshot Ravens tailback Ray Rice on a goal-line run, losing containment and allowing the touchdown.
Jones attempted to make up for his mistakes by catching the floater Joe Flacco threw up with the aid of rookie defensive end Dion Jordan and returning the ball for a touchdown. However, the play was one that many defensive players in the league could make.
The Dolphins paid Jones a handsome sum of money during the offseason to make difficult plays, not easy ones that are gift-wrapped to him.
Free safety Chris Clemons had another solid, unspectacular day in coverage.
Clemons remains a disciplined, albeit not instinctive player in coverage. He does not read plays well enough to intercept the football but once in a blue moon. Despite his speed, he can be a liability in coverage when isolated, as the Dolphins found out against the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints.
On the other hand, his speed plays a vital role in Miami's run defense. The speed gives him the range to limit the damage done by tailbacks when they are able to break through Miami's front-line defenses into the secondary.
This asset of Clemons' was on display again this Sunday as tailback Bernard Pierce broke into the clear from the Ravens' own 6-yard line, but was choked off by Clemons for a 28-yard gain on what technically could have been a 94-yard touchdown run.
Position Grade: D+
Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens was probably the Miami Dolphins' worst special teams showing of the season.
The fact that the special teams unit did not allow any touchdowns, big plays or turnovers on their worst day of the season speaks volumes for how the unit is performing in 2013.
That said, the Baltimore Ravens had higher punt and kick return averages, and even though his 57-yard field-goal attempt was too long to be considered a sure thing, rookie place-kicker Caleb Sturgis missed an opportunity to be a hero on Miami's final play of the game.
Altogether, Sturgis had an uncharacteristic day. He kicked off six times and only produced one touchback. He also kicked one of his kickoffs out of bounds, which gave the Ravens the football on the 40-yard line at a critical moment in the game.
Punter Brandon Fields continued to be a bright spot as he averaged 52.5 yards on eight punts with a net average of 46.3 yards. This included three punts he placed inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
Position Grade: C